Traveling, for me, is not only beautiful and enriching because of the deep histories, architecture, gastronomical culture, languages, and myriad of landscapes and climates; it is beautiful as you are exposed to so many people in the country, while you are journeying to the destination. Through the people is how we are able to break down barriers, share stories and ideas, identify commonalities and transcendence, and find a sense of openness, excitement and inspiration yet accompanied with a sweet humility and peace. The people are where the real “heartbeat” of travel, and for me, where the real enchantment lies.
My journey and encounter with India was no different. The moment when I stepped on my connecting flight from Qatar to India, the aroma of curry and spice, the long grey beards, the traditional Indian dress, bindis, and more importantly the abundance of turbans, made it crystal clear that I was on my way to India. I was traveling solo and on my way to meet Sucheta and Dipak who were coming from USA. I was one of very few non-Indians on the Qatar Airways flight and curiosity quickly overcame me. At the time, I had been living in Spain, and certainly was no novice to travel, yet, for me India brought such an array of thoughts and feelings, as it was my first voyage into the eastern world, one perceived to be exotic, mystical, and very complex. I felt like little Ms. America in the midst of the unknown.
On my flight, I came across a jolly old Indian man with bright pearly whites, a turban and a beard who just kept smiling at me. I felt welcome as he started to communicate with me in Hindi (he quickly realized I was clueless) and even more grateful as he began attempting to teach me some of the local language. He did it with such enthusiasm and such support as I stumbled across the words and the pronunciation so much so that three rows of seats in the airplane were laughing. The passengers would all nod with encouragement as they saw me desperately trying to connect with them. We shared snacks and smiles and it was then that my angst turned to comfort.
Arriving in New Delhi was fascinating and overly stimulating especially at 3:00 am in the morning. My senses were on overload because of the entire aroma, the taxi company ripped me off, and I felt like an actress walking on the red carpet as I exited the airport. My hair was blonde at the time and well the Indian’s didn’t see people like me very often so they looked at me in complete fascination and wonder.
Upon awakening on the first morning, I was greeted by a serene and kind Indian grandmother who had prepared an authentic meal and later she and her friend took me to purchase my first Salwar Kameez and for my first ricksaw adventure. We followed the afternoon sharing our ideas of love and they shared with me their love stories and the Indian culture and arranged marriage over chai. Seriously, I thought, someone please pinch me. I am halfway across the world speaking to two lovely older women about love and life.
And the Indian hospitality continued to unfold throughout my stay. The people that I encountered along the way not only opened their homes, they opened their hearts.
The majority of the rest of my stay was with Sucheta’s grandmother, an absolute beauty, in Chandigarh. She shared authentic meals, chai and conversations, and more importantly she integrated me into her morning routine where we feed the roses and the birds. She persistently encouraged me to pray to god for a husband and assured me that god would listen. Not sure where they came from, but I wasn’t going to argue, I rolled with it.
My experience also included being invited to an authentic Indian wedding and to prepare, I received the full induction of the sari and accessory shopping experience. The vibrant colors and array of textiles, patterns, beautiful bling, and intricate details to the parties and the weddings, the Hindu ceremony and the feeding of the fire, the food, the family, and the friends were certainly all elements to make ones spirit soar. The Bollywood dancing and actually wearing a sari, a sleeve of bling bangles, was purely icing on the cake.
The stories are endless, the prayers of the tour guides, the countless picture taking with the locals, family meals, shopping and learning about the countries trends and natural resources and most importantly what makes India go round.
It was indeed a vivid country, with a plethora of religious and economic contrast, world-renowned tourist destinations, rich traditions, customs, and history. My writing could certainly go on for days about my humorous and embarrassing culture shock moments, the perplexity of seeing the stark and heartbreaking divide between the rich and the poor, to describing the elaborate details of the Golden Temple, going solo to the Taj Mahal and getting prayed over, (again for a husband), to a “How to dance Bollywood guide” as all of those created an amazing experience for me, yet, I do believe what is everlasting, was the hospitality and care of my local friends, and whom I would refer to as teachers. I am eternally grateful for having gone to the land of enchantment with a native, as the insights and authenticity were invaluable. We shared perceptions. I was able to challenge ideas and opinions with those with deep cultural awareness and insights, which proved to be very thought provoking and at times, quite enlightening.
For the intellectually curious and spiritual seekers looking to experience India, I would recommend really integrating yourself into the culture via a local as the experience will be richer and more rewarding than you can imagine.
~ By guest blogger, Gina Cooper. Gina traveled with Go Eat Give to India in November 2012.