Between mystical fascination & pragmatism,
Dare to explore the motherland and yourself at once.
India lets no one indifferent. You raise in Love or you fall in the distance, with no return point. Beside the appreciation of the trip, India might change you forever. It is a mess, and for the foreigner’s eyes, no doubts, it is chaotic, dirty, spicy, devoted, somehow incommode- but also meaningful, vibrant and alive. Intense in all dimensions at the same time. This is what makes it so special.
Reality is a distortion in itself, and we interpret rather we “like“ it or not. A fact is a fact and human mind has the capacity to build up critical thinking, which determines the quality of the experience.
Our mind is powerful and judgmental. India is a release of the mind, to connect with a deeper space, another state of consciousness.
India is a good place to create a new disposition to experience reality, to embrace Life and further of a qualitative experience, it connects you with your soul. How to optimise the India experience?
△ △ A CULTURAL SHOCK
Before I properly stepped on the sub-continent, at the checking in London airport, I remember getting down the stairs to the gate, and facing India already: women in saris, lots of kids, mostly upper class people as they were travelling but still, one facet of India, releasing spicy perfumes and bright colours, an oriental landscape as I could imagine it.
Once I landed, for the first time in the dense city of Madras, also known as Chennai (name after British colonisation recovered), the city was built in a jungle and little altars were growing like mushrooms in a wet tropical forest. I would bound to Ganesh and make a little offering, while I was receiving my first jasmin collar to tight in the hair. On the collapsed streets, Life was crawling.
Maybe a European mind can’t get the sense of all the agitation, straight away, but very quickly, it becomes natural, as an accelerated process of evolution in a country of 1,21 billion inhabitants. It is a perfect description of what is “order within chaos, and chaos within order”, a metaphor for the nature of things to follow the path I believe.
Among the other little things that surprised me in the motherland, when I landed for the first time.
◇ Yes, No, Maybe… don’t panic Babe!
This slight inclination of the head towards the side is a sign for YES always even when it is NO, so the answer is to take it as a MAYBE. This way is the safe way 🙂
◇ Uniqueness & loneliness
People are everywhere at every time, there is no chance of being alone anywhere. No matter how far you go, how quick you go, it is unbelievable that in the middle of a field, napping on top of a haystack, a head will suddenly appear just looking at you or asking “where you go Ma’ame?”, even if the answer doesn’t preoccupy them, it’s just for the sake of it.
◇ Poverty discrepancies
Yes, they are very poor areas, many ghettos around each bigger metropolis, and lots of handicapped people, but besides the beggars you meet everywhere in every country, travelling in the land doesn’t feel it unsustainable to me, as in our European cities we have equal injustice between middle and upper classes and disadvantaged people, totally excluded of the society.
There the ghetto is a mad organisation, I visited Haridwar in Mumbai, and it was mind-blowing, no one starves, everyone complete a function in this marginal area generating so much cash by dealing with the leftover functions the government wouldn’t assume (recycling brass, copper, plastic), producing textile, and so on and so fourth. You would even find improvised cinema projecting Indian best Bollywoods!
Maybe like in communistic times, the fact that there is misery is less perceptible because it is spread in the mass..?
Plastic is all over, and I miss the authoritarian politics of Rwanda which banned plastic bags from the country. Some policies are tried out by governments, signals like “don’t let your trash” is hanged aside the one “don’t split here” (another shocking Indian costume by the way). In Varanasi students organised to wash the Ganga borders and the city really benefits from this fresh initiative, but lack of care for waste is a tragic constatation yet.
Every year, when I get there, I first feel disappointed, and then it becomes an unacceptable acceptance, part of the surroundings.
In the North of the country, the volume of horn is higher than in the South, which is louder than our average regulative systems on cars and bikes in Europe. My worst souvenir in Rishikesh is being blocked by a cow sitting on the bridge, with a line of motorbikes horning as often and as loud they could as if they were screaming to death “I horn and I exist”, I felt so agressive that I could throw them directly back to Mama Ganga river! But again, the Yoga begins when you can turn internally to balance the outer world and that is a kind of harmonisation exercise to undertake in cities there.
Also how many times could you have died in the rickshaw, or tuck tuck, this little cabs so emblematic of India. Traffic is always overcrowded. You don’t drive by rules, you drive by instinct. Pretty impressive, but trust and you will be safe, that’s the kind of bet.
◇ About travelling alone as a lady.
If you take care of yourself, it is not more dangerous than any other place where a woman travels alone. You can immerse yourself in dense cities, visit local villages or bubbles of a different way of life. Indian women dress with saris letting appear their belly but neither the shoulders, nor the knees. Being a smart lady traveller is imitating the locals. Sometimes I would put a shawl or any scarf to pass more anonymous, among the crowd.
In Goa, I would recommend not to top less bath, but that sounds like an evidence of cultural respect, nonetheless in the name of freedom many visitor women can appear slightly provocative. Goa is not representative of India, but it is a place with less protocol and more freedom, possible just because it is a “western nest within India”.
◇ Common sense revisited.
There is nothing you can take for granted.
In Tiruvanmalai, I wanted to go to this exhibition, that the rickshaw driver never heard of before, but I thought my indications would guide us straight away there as described on the internet link I found. As he was assertively telling me “yes ma’ame”. Eventually we reached the place in two hours time when it was 10 km drive maybe… I lost patience many times until I laugh on the stupid or better said un-necessary worry it is to my structured mind of expectations and the derision of the shit-uation. Yes, we just can relativize our priorities, beliefs and way of being…
Moral: Anything can be done in India, one way or the other- straight or complicated, but overall really anything- so you better get ready for anything to happen.
△ △ INDIA’S DELIGHTS
What is there so special and attractive then? India opens the empty space within, unlocking the reluctances. Anyone can get a lifetime experience by an immersion in the holy land.
◇ People do have time and are generally friendly.
Imagine a world where most of the Western people live a happy shanti (peaceful) life. They made up their money beforehand and travel backpack style, sometimes in quest of yoga, or developing artistic projects. Sometimes you can distinguish lost wandering souls diluted in their travels, but most of the time they will be anchored to this life and an add on to your trip. All depends how you meet.
Any coffee place is an opportunity to engage a conversation. When I sip my coffee after the practice in the Dreamland café in Arambol, Goa, everyone is joining and connecting, it becomes eventually a handstand playground, other times a philosophical intimate space or just a good coffee on the go, but you easily stay.
Imagine stepping into the table’s conversation on a Parisian terrace, probably people would be frightened or felt disturbed.. In India the only rule is to flow with your inspiration. How grateful I am for daring to speak with those two ladies with whom my journeys continues here and there until now, Sea who is a super talented photographer and Lian, who wrote a book on Varanasi and is a public influencer in Brasil. Because they were talking yoga i jumped into the debate and we shared the first chocolate dosa of our taurus sisterhood!
Eventually, you become easily part of this Nomadic tribe and the travel goes on.
◇ Flow means, the story follows the migration tracks…
According to the climate, you go to Goa between Novembre and March, the season is there. Then, people go to Auroville before June, when the monsoon (tropical rain season) starts or to Rishikesh after the winter refreshed this northern part of India, next to Himalaya mountain. You’ll also hear people are renewing their visas in Nepal or Sri Lanka, the closest destinations. Also, you might take your first trip to India and plan to go back on a certain date, many times it simply doesn’t happen, also India opens the doors of curiosity to the further East, like Bali, Andaman islands or Thailand or who know what will cross your path…
Travel requires savings, India is generally cheap, so travelling at reduced costs allows you a greater margin of unprevisbility. And you can avoid to plan too long in advance and follow your heartbeat if you want to embark on someone’s trail for a while. Ooooh, those blue trains, taking you 33, 48h or 75h to reach a destination! But they will be seeing “chai, chai, chai” (tea with spices and loads of sugar!).
And this is without talking about the food, the exotic fruits, the beautiful landscapes, the incredible history, all the mythology around, the temples, the local communities…
△ △ WHAT DO YOU LEARN THEN?
Reality is made of the best and the worst. Which angle do you approach it with in general?
Optimistic natures have an asset to experience life, pessimists easier get lost. India is an opportunity to lever it all, a chance to change perspective on things and life, because it gets out of the confort zone and out of everything that conditions your mind.
Somehow, it is so different that with an adequate disposition, you can reset your mind.
◇ Develop super powers of resilience.
We assume things function a certain way, well, India will prove you the contrary.
If you face the administration and think your parcel will reach your home, because people at the post office are serious, you might be disappointed. One of my parcel never reached destination, the other arrived with half things missing.
Most of the time, it is efficient, but be prepared to other possibilities, your driver might take you the long ride, stopping to ask million times the way, to buy the tobacco he chews or to talk with some relatives on the way. And what is the most surprising is that the guy is really doing his best! He has good faith and is at your entire service, but he has another concept of the map (actually there is no maps there, only random ones for tourists) and of relationship.
◇ Unlearn everything you think you know.
India is a space of experimentation. Here time has another quality, it is easier to take time for the simple things. Geographical distances have another space reference. Smiles open doors of compassion with the entire Existence. Frustration or exasperation is part of the joyful path. Relativity is a key process to fulfilment, alike meditation.
◇ Learn on the power of contemplation.
India pacified my Heart. At my first travel, I could feel the power of Contemplation, this state of becoming an observer of the feelings, non-judgmental and in the flow. It was a release to contrast and relate with all I was taught throughout my education.
In Varanasi, the holy city of Moksha (ultimate liberation after death, with no reincarnation), death (burial of the bodies) and life (with everyday’s routines) merge at the border go Ganga river into a spiritual quest. The sacred (of Human beliefs) and the shit (of the cows) reside at the exact same place. Both an answer, a release and a question mark.
India is about embracing Life with an attitude: the Path of Faith. India is all the range of possibilities, according to one’s perception as the opposite poles of Life itself, a drastic antagonism, where everything and its contrary can coexist, transforming the perception of my beliefs.
Part of the experience lies in the ability of adaptation, overcoming cultural shock and shifting the mind’s perceptions. The opportunity lies in amplifying resilience, finding new ways of behaving, learning new codes to communicate and acceptance. A journey on the road that switch existence to another mode of being.