For the most part, I have refrained from writing about India since I got back. I found my experience pretty overwhelming and I wanted to take some time to really think about it and make sure that I was writing something true instead of simply being a victim of something akin to "Jerusalem Syndrome."
In India nothing is quite the way people described it, yet it
is almost exactly what I expected. The people are the real magic in
the spell that overtook me while I was there. Whether it is the breathtaking kindness of old friends or
the con artist looking for another $5 in ‘taxes’ it makes no difference –
India is heady, "through the looking glass", "back of the wardrobe"
I wanted to go to India for 6+ years. No doubt the anticipation colored my experience. However, I’ve run into lots of people who wanted something for a very long time only to discover that they hate it in actuality — they were only in love with the idea.
My trip was not entirely without minor hardship. I had to change hotel and air travel plans to accommodate the realities of traffic. I was asked to pay taxes that don’t exist. I was pestered by shopkeepers unwilling for me to leave their store without some trinket. I slept in a hotel room with no heat where I could see my breath every night. My driver pulled out in front of a large oncoming vehicle more than once. I ran into strikes that changed my plans and demonstrations that blocked my progress. I could go on, but you get the idea. There were obstacles in my travels.
India itself is a magical place to visit because of it’s sharp contrasts and fascinating history and cultures. Not only are there contrasts between Minnesota and India, there are significant contrasts to be found in India. Every street scene you encounter has the kinds of contrasts and variations that you usually only find in an Ansel Adams print. Beyond the simple magic of the place, I think there were four things I brought to India that helped that made my trip such a positive experience.
I had a good attitude. I’m sure my experience of India, overwhelmingly positive as it was, was colored by my attitude. I generally couldn’t wait to see what was going to happen next. I genuinely hoped that the thing I saw wasn’t the wheels of a speeding Tata truck running me over, but generally I was just waiting for the next good thing to happen. This attitude was my good luck charm.
I was prepared. Based on what I had read and heard from other people I was prepared for realities much worse than what I experienced. I think knowing that you will run into a bathroom on a road side which isn’t configured like the road side rests in the states helps you mentally prepare.
I was lucky. I ate things which may not have been 100% safe. I never got sick. I spent hours in cars on busy roads and didn’t experience an accident.I’m sure my trip would have a lot less fun if things hadn’t gone so well. For instance, being in a car accident where drivers are having heated exchanges would have been difficult. Being robbed would be awful. Being sick in certain circumstances would have been difficult. Combining bad experiences would have been beyond tough. I can understand why long term travelers hit a certain wall where they face difficulties and road blocks for days on end and suddenly reach their wits end where they just want a day without hassles. I wasn’t there long enough to be that “tired exhausted traveler.”
I had friends. In Pune where I spent the first week working with my peers I was the recipient of overwhelming hospitality. They gave me good advice and made me believe I would be just fine. They made sure that I knew I could call them day or night if I was in need of assistance. I didn’t have to call on them, but knowing that I could was a powerful backup plan. I don’t know if it was entirely true, but the way I was received by friends – both old and new – in Pune made me believe that I would make friends while I was traveling. Having the attitude that I would make friends, made the everything better.
I can’t wait to go back. There is an amazing amount of natural and man made beauty to soak up. I think I could travel for a year and still miss seeing entire civilizations and epochs.
Next time I want to spend more time there, both in the office and exploring the countryside.