Bright, loud, busy, vibrant, historic, welcoming, warm, curious, exciting, confusing, beautiful, enchanting. These are just some of the words I use to describe the indescribable India. It seems contradictory, but India simply can’t be put into words. It needs to be seen, it needs to be felt and in order to truly get a sense for what this magnificent country is really like, you need to plant your own two feet on its ground.
I was fortunate to do just that. For a little more than 10 days I went on a whirlwind tour of this fast paced, sensory stimulating country with my mom, Linda. This was actually her 3rd trip to the country and she couldn’t have been more excited to return. Both the entire continent of Africa and India are currently duking it out for top spot on her favorite destinations list. Ever since her first trip to India, I’ve been hearing how much she loved the people, the culture, THE FOOD. I really wanted to experience all of this for myself. And now I finally had my chance.
In the next few paragraphs I’ll give you a tiny insight into my first impressions of this unique country. I want to preface all of it by saying these are solely MY experiences and I can only speak to what I know and what I experienced. I will also say that we, by no means, “roughed it” on this trip. I feel like travel to India can be done one of two ways. On the cheap or not so much. We fell under the not so much category. I bring this up not to be boastful but more so to say that my experiences will be TOTALLY different from someone who might be staying at different categories of accommodation, using public transportation or navigating the city without an escorted guide.
Okay, let’s get to it!
I really try not to visit a country with too many expectations. But with India it was hard not to envision what it would be like driving through the streets for the first time. I have to say that was THE MOST exciting part of this whole trip. That seems so lame right? Not visiting the Taj or staying in the beautiful hotels. I mean all of that was of course EPIC. But for me it was experiencing Indian traffic. I won’t sugar coat it. Indian roads/road rules are NUTS. It’s jarring to see groups of people zig zag through 5 lanes of traffic, ON A HIGHWAY, just to cross the other side. The sound of car horns starts to become its very own language shared between drivers all trying to get to their destinations first. And that whole cow in the middle of the street thing...yeah they’re EVERYWHERE. But despite what sounds like pure chaos, it truly was fascinating to watch.
And somehow, miraculously, it all seemed to work. I could spend hours (often times I did when we were traveling between cities) just staring out the window looking at how cars maneuvered through the streets. I know it seems like an odd thing to get excited about in a country with so many amazing aspects to it, but there you have it.
Aside from the traffic, one of the things that struck me most about India was how welcoming its people were. Not only that, but I felt as if these complete strangers were genuinely happy I was there. It’s no secret that Indian people are notorious world wide for their hospitality and unmatched kindness. While of course the hotels put on a big show of welcoming you with a necklace of marigolds, a refreshing drink and warm towels for your hands (I loved every minute of that). But it was the taxi driver or the tour guide who equally made you feel like you were the most important person to ever come across their path. And if you want to know what it feels like to be Justin Bieber or Taylor Swift, just head to any major Indian monument and watch the throngs of people come up to you and ask you for a picture. Honestly, I should have started charging $5 for a picture, it would have paid for the plane ticket lol.
OMG THE FOODDDDDDDD. I can’t say this enough. There is simply NOTHING that compares to true, authentic, real, Indian food. NOTHING. The curry, the naan, the buttery chicken, all the sauces, oh my gosh I could go on for hours. I was in food heaven and truly, I existed in a functioning food coma the entire trip because I ate so much. But that’s the beauty of travel. When you find a cuisine in a foreign country that is so delicious you can’t get enough of it, I say why hold yourself back? You can always diet when you’re home. That’s what I told myself every time I reached for the 3rd and 4th helping of glistening, buttery, naan bread. Here’s another thing, the food really isn’t that spicy. Again, this is only my personal experience, but I really didn’t think the spice level in any of the dishes I ate was intolerable. And let me say, I have a VERY low tolerance for spicy food. Some dishes do have a kick, don’t get me wrong, but nothing an average human can’t handle.
I could, and probably should, dedicate an entire post to just the vast history of this country. But for the sake of time and brevity, I will just briefly touch on it here. India is one of the oldest and most influential civilizations in the world. From the creation of yoga to the game of chess, we can thank India for many things. But what’s crazy to me is that this massive country has only “recently” found its freedom. India only became free from British rule in 1947. While that still is many years ago, when you look at the history of the country, it’s actually quite recent. And while the country’s independence might be new, their monuments certainly are not. From the Taj Mahal to Humayun’s Tomb, the magnificence of each of these extraordinary monuments is mind blowing. What’s most amazing is the precision and delicate nature of every detail carved into the buildings. I mean it took 17 years to create the Taj Mahal, so that gives you a sense as to how intricate the work was.
It’s no secret I love bright and beautiful colors. So you can imagine how over the moon I was in India. There’s color EVERYWHERE. From the clothes women wear to the gorgeous palaces. There’s no shortage of bright vibrant colors. I have to say this is what initially drew to me India. I find it so refreshing to see a culture embrace color in this way. Color plays a huge role in Indian culture. Red is one of the most important colors as it’s the color worn on the wedding day. It signifies fertility and prosperity. And as for the color black it signifies evil and negativity and is often associated with death. There’s not nearly enough time to get into all the meanings of colors here, but I was so fascinated to learn about their significance in Indian culture.
THE STUFF PEOPLE DON’T WANT TO TALK ABOUT
I have to admit. I’m really not a person who plays into the nervous traveler hype. What I mean to say is, when people asked me if I was worried about getting sick, or if I was worried about seeing poverty, my answers were no and no. India has this stigma that if you go and eat the food you’re going to get a stomach bug. Now, let me preface this by saying, if you plan to walk around to many of the street vendors and drink freshly squeezed juices, sure you will probably get a healthy case of “Delhi Belly”. But if you’re conscious about what you eat and you’re staying in reputable hotels, then in my experience, you’ve got nothing to worry about. But I’ll be frank, there were a few nights where it felt like a rock concert was being performed in my belly, but it’s nothing a little Pepto Bismol couldn’t handle lol.
Aside from the stomach situation, many people asked me how I felt about seeing so much poverty. And my answer is simple, you must see it. Here’s the thing. I was VERY fortunate to have stayed at some of the top 5-star luxury hotels in India on this trip. And to be honest, I felt guilty half the time when I walked in, was greeted with a cold towel in one hand and had a glass of champagne in the other 30 minutes later. It’s impossible not to feel that way when you see people making their breakfast on the sidewalk or bathing in the streets.
But what I can say is this. When you travel, anywhere, make sure to see ALL of the country. Don’t just see the pretty parts. When you see the truth of the place you’re visiting, it gives you a different perspective and most importantly it makes you understand what it’s like for some of the people who live there. And while it’s impossible to try and change the situation you see in front of you, there are ways in which you can help. For me that’s finding a nonprofit organization to donate to or learn about in some way. I’ll share in a future post about the Salaam Baalak Trust and how we spent a day learning about the children who call the streets of Delhi home. It’s a small gesture and honestly I hope to do more with Voluntourism in the future. But until that time, taking small steps to positively impact the country you’re traveling to is important for ANY traveler.
OKAY WRAPPING UP.
There is SOOOO MUCH I have yet to share with you about my experience in India. I’ve gotta say I’m kinda overwhelmed because there’s just so many things I want to share and just not enough hours in the day to get it all out there. But I’m going to be sharing tons of great videos, guides and tips in the coming weeks. Most importantly, I REALLY hope you consider a trip to India in the future. There is literally NOTHING that compares to this country and I feel it’s important for anyone who loves to travel to visit this destination. There’s a million ways to see this country and you most certainly do not need to see it the way I have. I just hope that you do SEE IT. I can promise you that your life will never be the same once you do.
Okay! Talk soon! Until then…