“You either love it or you hate it.” This was the reply I heard most when asking other travellers about their experience in India.
It would be too easy to say my time in India was an experience in numbers: two months spent in eight cities and nine regions (of 28), nearly 5,500 kilometres travelled and 18 pounds gained. Numbers are easily an extension of the country: 1.2 billion people, 122 languages, a handful of spiritual faiths and religions, and a billion other stats I’m sure I could reference.
The numbers help, but it’s hard to provide context in a country as overwhelming as this one.
India is an assault on the senses. I saw colours in every pigment possible, from the billowing saris draped around the curves of women walking in the streets to the distinct, bright yellow taxis that help choke Kolkata’s congested streets. Food, both familiar and distinctly different in each region, from rich curries and spicy vindaloo to steaming, hot chai served in clay cups on Kolkata street corners or in plastic glasses on a clattering train. From the fervor of New Delhi and Mumbai to the peaceful, meditative surroundings of Rishikesh and Darjeeling and countless other landscapes that slip almost seamlessly from desert to jungle in between. And above all: extreme beauty in stark contrast to extreme poverty at (almost) every corner.
And still, I barely scratched the surface of this immensely humbling and challenging country. I didn’t make it to Rajasthan to see the empty and inhospitable Thar desert or the pink-walled city of Jaipur. I never drifted down Kerala’s waterways, floating underneath smooth beaches fringed with palm trees and eating spicy seafood with my hands. I hope one day to visit Kashmir, a region of Northern India long fraught with political strife, to see how its residents make their home at the base of the vast and starkly beautiful Himalayan Mountains.
I’m excited to reflect on my time in India; how I travelled to the places I stayed, my favourite meals, and general hard-learned tips and tricks that, had I not learned, might easily have shifted my answer from “I love it” to “I hate it,” when asked.
Stay tuned for Part 1: Kolkata to Darjeeling, next.