You arrive in India mid day. The airport is surprisingly nicer than you expected..especially compared to Katmandu. The bathrooms even have toilet paper!
You think, “Okay, maybe this won’t be so bad. Maybe it’s not like everyone described. After all, I’ve been traveling a while…maybe I can handle it.”
And for a while, you can. It’s fine.
Sure, India is crowded. It’s humid. It’s dirty. In short, it’s a literal hot mess of a country.
But, more than that, it’s also wonderful. It’s bright, its happening, it’s colorful. You feel something there that you haven’t felt for a long time. Maybe a little something like love. After all, isn’t this the experience we all search for? Isn’t this the in your face, no apologies, culture shock that you have been hoping for your entire trip?
The food is incredible. Seriously, maybe some of the best you’ve ever eaten. It beats China hands down. It even beats Thailand. The colors are amazing – everywhere you point your camera, there is something to photograph. Every city is full of sites that you’ve waited your whole life to see. You realize you can’t possibly see the entire country in the month you set aside. You want more time everywhere you go.
But, It’s not just the food. Or the sights. It’s something more.
India offers you something new. Something interesting. It’s the experience that asks all the right questions and gives some of the answers you’ve been looking for on your travels.
You spend time in Delhi, and Agra, and Jaipur and Rishikesh – you see famous mosque’s and the fabled markets. You explore the Red Fort and visit Ghandi’s grave. You wake up early to see the Taj Mahal and spend hours wandering through the Amber Fort. You take rickshaws and learn to avoid touts. You get your hands painted in beautiful henna, and get ripped off by the price. You spend way to long searching the crowded streets for a cold beer or a strong wifi signal. You dodge cows and dogs as you walk through the crowded lanes and attempt (unsuccessfully) to cross through the insane traffic. You try to take it all in, but can’t help feel that you’re just scratching the surface.
You eat the food. Way too much of it. Then you get sick. Then you get sick again.
You meet amazing people. Hostel owners, rickshaw drivers, salesmen. But also, other travelers. After all, India attracts a certain kind of traveler. The kind of traveler you want to meet. Right?
But still, it’s India. This is where you’ve dreamed to travel for as long as … well for as long as you’ve dreamed of travel.
You visit Varanasi and boat along the Holy Ganges. You marvel at the holy people and stare without meaning to at the burning at the ghats. You watch small children and grown men swim and play in the same water where bodies are dumped and cows rest. You shudder as you see garbage washed into the river just upstream.
Your feet once again get so embarrassingly dirty that a guy you meet over breakfast buys you a foot scraper as a going away present. Like I said, you meet some really great people.
You explore more markets and take more rickshaws. You step in mud and poop and god knows what and seriously debate switching to wearing around hiking boots. You get ripped off again. You get frustrated at the touts. You yell at people who approach you.
One day, you spot a baby goat and smile. A man picks it up and hands it to you to hold. You expect him to ask for money, but he doesn’t. He just smiles while you pet the baby goat. You feel awful. How did you get so jaded?
You take long train rides in crowded compartments and long overnight buses on steep windy roads. Well…when you’re lucky. Otherwise you spend hours in a small office trying to get train tickets to…Cochi? Mombai? Delhi? – anywhere?
Finally you give up. Throw in the towel. It’s over. Time to move on. You tried, you really did. You visited the sites, you experience the culture. It’s just not working. It’s not India, it’s you. Maybe you just weren’t ready to handle it. Besides you’ve been there almost a month – you did what you came to do. And really, you liked it. It’s not that you didn’t. You are just ready to leave.
You board your plane, you take your seat. The AC feels good. Thing seem surprisingly calm.
You think back on your trip. Your time in India. You think of the things you did, the places you went. But more than that, you think of the things you didn’t see. The food’s you didn’t try. The alley’s left unexplored. The small villages and big cities that you have yet to see.
And, unexpectedly, you find yourself planning your next trip. You’ve already started to miss India – to think about coming back.
Of course you will come back. How could you not? This. Is. India.
Maybe, it’s possible, that India is the one that got away.