Incredible India. This phrase doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of describing this unique country. I was only able to visit a few cities during my time there, but in that short amount of time I had more incredible things happen to me than all my other travels combined. India reminds me of Wonderland. Nothing makes sense, it’s sometimes scary, but you can find delightful and unbelievable things everywhere. It reminds me of the quote from Lewis Carrol’s Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There, “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast”. I had my own set of impossible things happen to me while in India:
1. I ended up on a movie set where the one actress who’s show I’d been binge watching all summer said good morning to me and smiled. – So this summer I got really into watching The X-files. I binged watched my way through a few seasons before leaving for my trip. Someone had once told me I looked like Special Agent Dana Scully, and I didn’t know who that was at the time. While staying in Jodhpur, the owner of our hostel asked us if we’d be willing to stay a couple more days, because he knew a guy who needed extras for a film. We assumed it was a Bollywood movie or some scam deal, but we decided to hear them out. When the talent agent came by the hostel and told us about the film, we were so shocked that it was a real thing. He told us Gillian Anderson was in it, and I think I actually started jumping up in the air. I couldn’t think straight. I knew we had to stay. The film was being shot in the palace, where tourists weren’t allowed to go. I already knew I wanted to spend more time in Jodhpur, so I had no problem agreeing to stay the extra days. I was a little upset that I wasn’t able to be in the film, because they were mostly looking for Caucasian men. I was happy to be able to go to the set. It was a lot of sitting around for me that day, but it was all worth it when I was in the changing hall for the bigger actors/actresses and Gillian Anderson walked out from behind the curtain, looked at me with my deer in the headlights smile, smiled at me, nodded, said good morning, and walked away. It was too frozen to do anything. I felt my entire life had been fulfilled at that moment. I had never experienced being star struck before. All I could think about is how this set of perfect circumstances found me. This is just a testament to how India is a magical place, where everything unexpected can happen. I felt like I must have been doing something right to deserve that happening to me. It was a good day.
2. The country I was most scared to travel to, ended up being the country I couldn’t have imagined leaving. – Before heading to India, I had read so many cautionary tales about safety issues in the country. The guide books and blogs discuss the issues with women travelling alone. They give you all sorts of tips to avoid unwanted attention. They describe the men in India as pushy and lacking boundaries. Not only women’s issues, but I think there’s just a general safety concern traveling in a place so dense in population with so much poverty. Once there, though, I was completely surprised about how not scary of a place India is. Sure tourists can fall victim to a multitude of scams. There are bad things that happen there. I did receive a lot of attention and unwanted flattery from men, but I was never in a situation where I felt I couldn’t handle it. It would not be a place for a woman to travel who is too accommodating and afraid to stand up for herself. I would frequently be cat-called, stared at, or have men follow me and talk with me. Once I told them that I would like to walk alone and that I didn’t need their help, they’d just leave me be. I discussed these occurrences with locals and they were able to give me some good perspective, which put me much more at ease. Once I understood the culture a little better, I was able to avoid being offended and realized that most of it is harmless curiosity and that I just have to be very clear about not being interested. With my fears and worries removed, I was able to confidently explore the country. I ventured out into the winding streets without being concerned for my safety. This calmness allowed me to really appreciate everything I was seeing.
3. My fantasy of the future was shattered and I looked forward to the uncertainty and the knowledge that nothing is set in stone, and I can adapt to my constantly changing dreams. – Just as India seems nonsensical and upside down, it was able to turn my mind upside down and provide me new perspective. The first few countries we went to, I felt like a tourist. In India, I felt like a guest. I felt welcomed. I felt comfortable. I felt happy. I realized I could feel familiar and comfortable in places other than my home town. I met someone who was working for an NGO in India for a year. I thought that was fascinating and inspiring. While I am passionate about specializing in not-for-profit at work, I feel like actually working for one abroad would be really fulfilling for me. I realized the path I was on might not be the same path I imagined before I left. I have short term goals still, like finishing my CPA and gaining more experience at work, but now that I know I can travel comfortably long term, I can definitely see myself continuing on that route in the future. This new realization was so freeing to me. I think I was trying to grow up faster than I needed to. I thought that this trip would make me feel more comfortable settling down into my career and my life, where really it just expanded my brain into realizing I want more. I want more than a small world and a routine. I can definitely comfortably do that in order to reach the goals I set for myself, but I don’t imagine this will be my last long-term travel.
4. Even in the sight of immense poverty and filth, my empathy didn’t destroy my ability to be happy there. – This was a big one for me. I really had anticipated that I’d feel sorrowful in India when I encountered people in horrible circumstances. I was almost embarrassed at the amount of pity I was ready to give these people due to my first world upbringing. Once I arrived, to my astonishment, people were for the most part very joyful. They smiled frequently. They spread love and blessings. They didn’t bring up resentment for their station in life. This is a bit of a grand generalization, so I should clarify that I am speaking to the majority of people that I encountered. I’m sure there are parts of the country where the joy might not be so abundant. As a tourist, I can imagine I was sheltered from some of the real horrors. That being said, my experiences with the people were very positive. I felt sad at the amount of trash that was piled in the streets. I felt guilty knowing that the major western powers were the culprits of bringing massive amounts of plastic packaging to the country. Solve one problem, mass distribution of foods that are not perishable, create another, what to do with all the packaging. I think the most empathetic I felt in India was towards the dogs. It was especially noticeable in Varanasi. Dogs were treated very poorly and often were hard to look at due to poor nutrition and infected sores. I think one dog in particular is the most prominent bad memory of the trip thus far. I definitely learned a lesson while being in India. I learned that I shouldn’t be so quick to pity people. It puts me on a pedestal. Just because someone may have much less than I do in material terms, they may have much more than me mentally or spiritually, which are the more significant measurements anyway. I learned that empathy can be misguided in some respects, and I appreciate that I learned that lesson from these beautiful individuals.
5. In such a short amount of time, I managed to meet some of the most inspiring people. – I know the reason that I felt so connected to India was that I met such wonderful people. From having conversations with locals about cultural differences, to fellow travelers who decided to take the leap and explore crazy India, I was never lacking in new and exciting things to think about. I could not possibly condense the feelings I had for the people I met in India within just this paragraph. That needs a whole post for itself. I would say that the most inspirational person I met was a woman who taught my cooking class in Jodhpur. I learned a very important lesson from her about feminism. I knew that when I arrived in India, I’d have such a hard time with the way women were treated. I thought I was going to be filled with the passion of a thousand suns to stop the oppression of women in the country. Me, on my pedestal again, thought I knew exactly what these women needed. And then I met this wonderfully happy woman. She was happy in her marriage. She was happy in her life. She didn’t resent her husband being the head of the household. She loved him with such an intensity that she wanted to help him succeed in any way possible and in return she knew he would love her so dearly for her contributions as a wife, a business partner, and a mother. I was absolutely blown away by how romantic they both were towards each other. Who am I, some young, self-proclaimed feminist, who wants to tell this woman that she needs freedom and independence? The only thing oppressive in that household was me walking in there thinking I needed to shove my western mentality on this woman who seemed to have a pretty happy life. I left there with such a different perspective. I was so appreciative that I was able to break down some of my preconceived notions of right and wrong.
6. There wasn’t a single day in India that I didn’t at some point feel overwhelmed with joy and happiness, like my heart was going to explode out of my chest. – Overwhelming is the best word I can use to describe India. While at home, I live a pretty underwhelming life. It’s quiet and comfortable. I get my vices when I need them, and have a controlled, enjoyable existence. India punched me in the face with energy. It woke me up. I never in my life felt so continually inspired and present. I couldn’t possibly process everything that was happening in front of me. It was so wonderfully fresh and new. With all my senses stimulated constantly, I felt so alive. It’s kind of a cliché term, but I honestly can’t think of any other way to describe it. I was in it! I would realize I had not moved or thought anything for such a long time. I was just watching life happen. I was a sponge, soaking it all in. Usually I live in my head, analyzing and processing everything around me. In India, there was no processing, only laughter and enjoyment at the harmonious chaos occurring before me. In the times I was able to slow down and think, it was all positive. It was all so different than anything I’d ever experienced, and I loved all of it. I was surprised that I didn’t really feel drained there, maybe because I wasn’t overanalyzing my life, I was just living it. I learned that I need to work on just absorbing more, and focusing less on trying to understand it all. I want to be present, so I’m not missing out on the crazy beautiful moments that are taking place all around me.
While my impossible thoughts of india weren’t unicorns and magic (except for meeting Gillian Anderson), they were things that I could not have fathomed before arriving there. My brain and heart were expanded. My imagination was filled with so many new possibilities. I knew in the time I was there, that I grew as a person immensely. I tore away the idea that maturing was settling down, and realized that maturing was realizing I’m not ready to settle down. I have so much more to learn. I have so many more people to meet. Learning the different perspectives of people around the world is the best thing I can do for myself. I am replacing the judgements and stereotypes that were ingrained in me with real life encounters. My time in India had such an impact on me, and I hope to be able to use that to steer myself on a path to spread the wisdom that I’ve learned there.
Onward and Upward,