I’m struggling to describe India, to put my experience into words. Trash. Cows. Slums. These are the first that come to mind. Although accurate, they are unfair. India goes beyond these negatives that leap out at you upon arrival.
“I’ve heard India is terrible and that I should never go.” One friend said this to me, but I refused to agree.
Instead, I replied that it was intense, because India’s not a tourist destination, it’s a living entity. In visiting Notre Dame in Paris, you file through the most magnificent cathedral with throngs of other tourists. In Palitana, I walked alongside the Jain people, learning of their yearly pilgrimage. They were amazed that a tourist was interested in climbing 400 steps, while we were in disbelief that we were allowed to participate in a holy event, to be part of something so important to them. In order for me to arrive in Palitana, I was forced to sleep on a dirty bus overnight, take another bus 4 hours to a dusty little town where one hotel over-charged us for a room in which we turned on the ceiling fan and tried not to touch anything. The beauty that lies beneath the layer of trash, around the cows, and beyond the slums is one that goes beyond aesthetic appeal, and it deserved all the crap we put up with to get to it. When you peak through that surface layer of cringe-inducing debris, you discover what India is really about.
Indians are accepting. They accept and encourage other people’s beliefs. A small, Hindu temple stands just down the street from a Muslim mosque. In Kerala, God’s country, traditional Christian churches stand tall every few blocks. Small children run around in Catholic school uniforms. Grown Indian women, speaking Hindi, wear full burkas. Devout Hindus are marked on their foreheads with red or white or orange dust, depending upon which Hindu God they prayed to that morning. There are no sideways glances. All religions are present. All religions are accepted. As said by the Guru at the Sivananda Ashram, “the paths are many, but the truth is one.” Indians worry if you don’t believe, not whether you call Him God or Allah or Siva.
The Indian society seems comfortable with where they are in life. On a day to day basis, I saw people living and making ends meet with the resources they had available to them, with a smile on their face. The only people I saw outwardly wanting more than they already had were the wealthy, the people in contact with tourists each day, and small children who didn’t know any better. Working in the tourist industry puts you in the face of privileged foreigners everyday. I can understand how they might resent us. But I learned to look past the children begging for money on the streets, to not judge a society by this one element, because these children were born into a terrible situation in which people have taught them to beg and to believe that they deserve our money, rather than attending school and working for it. The Indians that I met, living in their own element, away from the chaos of travelers, focus on what they have and not what they wish they had. They live their lives and make the best of the situation they are given. This was refreshing to witness and encouraged me to focus on what I had, to learn to be content and comfortable with all that is present in my life.
Trash is everywhere. I couldn’t stop wondering why they didn’t take better care of their land, their country. On a 26-hour train, my grocery bag became a trash bag as I ate through its contents. The Indians had to step over this on their way to throw their unwanted items out the window.
A Turkish pilot on our flight to a Saudi Arabian layover turned to ask where our final destination was. Cringing, when we told him “New Delhi”, he told us, “Indians are dirty. We have to hose down the plane after they’ve been on board.” I didn’t want to believe him. His words weren’t kind, but after 3 months traveling around India, I can accept that he might not have been exaggerating. By haphazardly throwing their unwanted items all over their land, I feel they are disrespectful of the Earth; but then again, maybe Earth is not their priority.
Turmeric–a wonderspice in Ayurveda and Indian cuisine
Meditation. Yoga. Ayurveda. You meditate for the health of your mind and your soul. You practice yoga for the well-being of your physical body. The ancient health practice of Ayurveda offers recommendations to what type of diet you should follow, and it has a treatment for every ailment a person could encounter, none of which involve Western medicine. The human body is as natural as the soil that makes up our Earth, and the Indian culture believes that what we injest, food, ideas, medicine or otherwise, should also be this way. This all-natural sense of well-being embedded itself deep during my travels. My curiosity has always been sparked when it concerns other cultures, but I learned something so fascinating and so new to me that my general curiosity transformed into practice. The combination of Ayurveda, yoga, and meditation just makes sense to me. If India changes the lives of those who have visited, this is how it affected me.
The experience for each person who visits India will be unpredictable. Some love it and return multiple times, others scare easily and leave before giving the country a real chance, while I really developed a love-hate relationship. In each state, with each local dialect, each religion, and each variation of Indian cuisine, India is unpredictable. Everywhere you go differs from the last, but you are ever present in India.
India is comprised of a unique combination of attributes that can be found in no other country. No matter what you’ve heard or what you think your opinion is, you should visit. Immerse yourself in the intensity that is India, and knowledge will race toward you. Observe their dedication to their spiritual beliefs, and take note of their acceptance of everyone around them. Consume their willingness to be comfortable in the life that has been given to them. Contemplate both their all-natural minds and bodies, and how they trash the land surrounding them. Discover the country that is unique and unpredictable. Discover India.