People warned me before I got to India. They said: traffic is insane, Indians drive along constantly honking, everything is dirty, cows wander on the streets, men pee along city streets, people throw trash down anywhere and everywhere, it’s such a mix of people and cultures, it’s the land of extremes. They said, it’s an assault on the senses – a barrage of colors, beauty and ugliness, words, music, sounds, smells. Not much works efficiently, logically, predictably. People told me: nothing can prepare you. So, I took all their words to heart, and was ready for too much.
But, indeed: I was not ready. My first day, as I rode from the Varanasi airport into town, it was like the opening scene to … well, it was like whatever that Star Wars prequel was that began with Obi Wan Trainspotting and Anakin Poutnik zipping through a space battle full of space fighters and just about space crashing into a whole space lot of them. It felt like what I imagine waking up from a nap, groggy and half awake, in the middle of a stadium when the home team had just scored and everyone was going apeshit, would feel like.
My autorickshaw (motorcycle taxi) zipped all around what seemed like completely random traffic patterns, there were trucks taxis pedestrians and animals everywhere, and about eight hundred times we headed straight for another vehicle going the other way before we or they veered off at the last second. Everything was hyper-real. It was way too much. I was all like, “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. Really. This can not be really happening in real reality.”
And after arriving at my hotel, putting down my stuff, and I went back down onto the streets, I was all like, “I can’t handle this – this is insane – I need to get out of here.” Before I got to India, people said there are cows in the street. Well, nobody told me that, in some places in India, there’s cows (and water buffalo) everywhere in the street, doing, well, all the things that animals tend to do. For weeks, I regularly felt like I wanted to leave – it would just get to me – the crowds of pushy people, cows, mangy dogs, vehicle honking, people yelling, dirt and shit, open sewers, piles of nasty old garbage, rusting metal and crumbling buildings, things broken or barely working, public transit running late, power outages, slaughtered animals hanging on hooks, people staring, guys calling to me to shop at their store or ride their rickshaw, constant little scams and dishonesties.
People also kept telling me, just when you’re ready to give up on India’s dirty crowed pushy noisiness, you will notice how beautiful, graceful, fascinating, timeless, and ancient the whole thing is, or you find an oasis in the chaos that feels magical, or a local will reach out and do something kind, and you’ll feel refreshed again. As people say, India has a mysterious and compelling heart that cannot be explained, only experienced. As most people in America know, Indian cultural achievements (cuisines, classical music and dance, traditional architecture, philosophy) are among the most sophisticated and impressive in the world, there is many thousands of years of history evident in India, and it is the cradle of Buddhism, the Vedas, yoga, meditation, the ever-present sense of the sacred will continuously surprise you, there are many sophisticated intelligent up-and-coming world-power people who are interesting to talk to, so much wonderful stuff like that. And, of course, it’s nice that the nation is so cheap to travel in. People said, you will come to love India, in such a deep way that you will not understand. You’ll never believe it when you get there, they told me, but, the instant you leave, you will want to come back. And, yeah. That too.
I like this from quote from the travel web site Travel Independent
India: Miss at your peril – it’s the ‘highlight of independent travel’ – However bear in mind: a lot of hassle, heat and long distances. Wow, here it is – the epitome of Asia and all travel. That love it / hate it thing that everyone speaks about. Yes, it’s damn trying and hard work, but India has so much to offer on and off the tourist trail: English spoken, culturally/historically fascinating, good transport, cheap, and just plain brilliant. But take it easy and do a little bit at a time. This really is one of the few places on the globe you can still get serious culture shock and sensual overload. India really is just so much it’s almost impossible to introduce and summarize, perhaps the only common theme is you’ll feel like all your senses are being assaulted. It’s hard to understand and explain just why somewhere so often dirty, hot, ugly and full of hassle has such an appeal. The answer lies enigmatically with it being often the exact opposite. There is just no way that it won’t have an effect on you and if (like me and thousands of others) you leave after your first trip loathing it, you’ll probably remember your visit fondly, and be back many, many times.
I spoze that an encounter with the unfamiliar and unpredictable is a big part of the spiritual benefit of travel – it shows (like in meditation) that what one formerly thought was an absolute of the human condition is instead relative. And allowing the strange experiences to make me bigger was a wonderful part for me of being in India.