I’ve just touched down after spending a month meandering through India and Nepal. Far from being a romantic jaunt, it was an overwhelming, refreshing, confronting feast for the senses.
I deliberately avoided the internet while I was away, choosing instead to fill an entire Moleskin with my thoughts and reflections. I think it’s important to switch off every once and a while and really live, without wondering how to describe an incredible experience in a status update. So my apologies for being MIA!
July is the hottest time of the year in India. The desert sun is harsh, the humidity heavy and the monsoon rains were late and light. After a cold shower, I was sweaty again before I even had the chance to get dressed. The water in my bottle was constantly coloured orange, as I poured in fistfuls of hydralytes to stay energised. The rugged land sapped my energy, the endless stares and questions from strangers wore me down and by the end of the four weeks, I was ready to head home.
But India is a beautiful place and one of stark contrasts. The poverty, the rubbish, the begging children and the skinny animals tugged at my heart. Yet the colours, the smiles, the sounds and the staggering architecture sent it soaring.
On long train trips, we chose the non-air conditioned cars to save money and see the real India. The locals who weren’t shy would sit next to me as I wrote by the open door and start chatting, eager to practise their English. Others would stare and then say quickly, ‘You are very beautiful’. Most of the time, however, I could feel a thousand pairs of eyes on me as I trudged on with my pack.
In Jaisalmer, my friend gave a small square of chocolate to three children. Their eyes grew wide, their grins swamped their faces and they nibbled on the sweet treat as though it were the most precious and rare gift. I felt ashamed – how often do I swiftly scoff a block of chocolate at home without savouring it or really appreciating it? I learned to give more, take less and treasure even the most basic things.
In Udaipiur, I slept on a hotel rooftop under the stars with nothing but a thin sheet. As the sun rose and the incredible view to the mountains and Floating Palace appeared before us, I felt like I was in paradise. It was all I needed. I learned that life can be simple, and that beauty is all around us.
In Jodphur, my travelling buddies and I decided to go cross-country and wander into a steep valley to attempt to find an alternative route back to town from the old fort. After scratching our legs on prickly bushes and descending deep into the darkening land, we discovered a wide ghat, into which dozens of children and men were jumping and splashing. Two of our friends had taken a different route and got stuck scaling a 20-metre wall. One misstep and they would have plummeted into the ghat. Immediately, a few friendly locals appeared and pulled them around to safety. A large group gathered around them, the children jumping and hollering with excitement. I learned that kindness is free and there’s nothing as gorgeous as a giggling child.
In Agra, we were surprised by the state of the streets. While the Taj Mahal boasted manicured lawns and raked in millions (perhaps even billions) of dollars a year from visitors, the surrounding city was filthy. There were many desperate people, malnourished animals and dingy hotels and eateries. It was a confronting scene and made us wonder where the money from the Taj Mahal goes. I learned that we can’t rely on governments to look after their people. It’s up to us to look after one another and be the change we want to see in the world.
In Varanasi, we sat by the main ghat as the sky turned a spectacular shade of burnt orange and magenta. People of all faiths gathered at the ghat to worship and rest. I felt an overwhelming sense of love, acceptance and understanding. A man blessed us by rubbing red spots on our third eyes. A woman in a dirty sari sat beside me and smiled. As dusk turned to night, great big golden bells tolled in unison, boats gathered at the front of the ghat and worshipers chanted, prayed and sang. I learned that while our beliefs may differ, our intentions are the same. We simply seek happiness, both here on earth and once we’ve passed on.
There are so many other things India taught me, unveiled to me and threw in front of me. I imagine it’s going to take some time to make sense of the experience and mull over my new mindset.
India – stunning, shocking, staggering. You can’t help but be moved.