It was like breathing in soup. I could hear nothing but horns, see nothing but people, and smell nothing but spice and heat, dense and overpowering. Everything felt close. My skin and clothing were plastered in layers of sweat and dust. Thick, heavy, grimey. The smells that invaded my nostrils changed with every step I took, switching from sharp incense, to fiery curry, to pungent waste. The scene before me was drenched in colour. Vehicles and store fronts burnt with reds, pinks, yellows, blues, greens. I couldn’t focus on one sound because I was immersed in too many ringing, roaring, thundering noises.
I had arrived in New Delhi.
India was the reason why I started writing. I got off that plane at Indira Gandhi International Airport, and my senses were assaulted from the moment I stepped out of arrivals. Having experienced this country, even for a very brief time, I can tell you that nothing can ever really prepare you for India. Nothing I can write, or anyone else can say, will truly predict how you will feel once you arrive. Some will fall deeply in love, others will feel overwhelmed and want to retreat. At times, I did both. But for the most part and without doubt, I was inspired, and feel inspired by India to this very day, four years after my journey there.
One of the things I love about travel is observing the way that people live. So many travellers enjoy seeing the world because of its natural wonders and staggering beauty, and while I too travel because of these things, it’s my fascination with human beings that motivates me to travel. There are few more perfect places on the planet to discover the ways of mankind than India, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that my journey there changed the way I look at life, the way I look at death, at money, at possessions, employment, health, at Western society, at Eastern society, at religion, and at spirituality. I could go on.
If I had to choose one thing I took away from my time in India it would be simplicity. This could seem like a contradiction in terms in that everything in Indian cities like Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, and Mumbai is chaotic, turbulent, and therefore seemingly complicated. But in reflection I realised that the sheer density and volume of activity going on in India can easily confuse visitors into thinking life there is one rampageous rollercoaster that doesn’t end until you leave this world. Take each person singularly, however, and you realise the admirable beauty of the simple life the people of India are trying to lead.
During my time in India, I talked with humble shop owners, met eager, intelligent, and driven young women, and even played cricket with a group of kids in the middle of an abandoned square in Jaipur (a decision I regretted ever so slightly when I realised quite how fast their star player could bowl). It was these pure and uncluttered interactions that made me realise that all these people were doing was trying to get by and live a modest lifestyle. I saw past the veil of complexity that India presents at first glance, and took a peek into the world of the individual in India, and was astonished by what I saw. It is that honest, proud, and unpretentious nature that I experienced in these moments that I still strive to carry with me today. Not every single person in India is like this of course; you still find cheat and greed, as with anywhere else, but it is with huge admiration and respect that I remember the majority of the people I met.
India is a unique mix between frustrating, exotic, and thrilling. No matter how much they love the country, anyone who’s travelled to India will tell you of moments they felt defeated by it. Power outages, sporadic or non-existent hot water supplies, irregular transport departures and delays, to name a few. So many moments of discomfort absolutely will find you in India. It is the country that taught me how to be patient with travel, how to allow travel to absorb me, letting the bad things happen as and when they will, and washing them away with the faith that everything will work out eventually. It’s a characteristic that I’ve taken with me on my travels and at home ever since, something I am endlessly grateful for. Travel for the last five years would have been far more aggravating had I not learnt that patience in India.
I’m not a religious person, but India managed to tap into my spirituality. I used to call myself a Christian, so the values we associate with Christianity have rooted themselves in my brain, yet India made me question everything I had ever thought about the idea of a higher power. I think this is the greatest change I saw in myself after my return from India. It taught me the value of simply being good. While religion plays a huge role in the life of almost every person in India, it didn’t seem as complex and overbearing as the religion I know back in my home in the UK. These people’s lives were not significantly altered by rules and demands stating what they could or could not do. Those things do exist for them, of course, but instead of dwelling on these and feeling surrounded by temptation, they take pleasure in the things they do have, and want for nothing more. Family. Friends. An honest living. A simple life to be proud of. Plain acts of good, such as inviting me into their homes for tea, seemed to be the most devout of practices, and that is yet another quality from India I have taken. It doesn’t have to be grand, elaborate, or monumental, and it doesn’t matter who you’re doing it for, whether it’s a god or another person – it should just be good.
From all this you can see that even after so long, India still has a grip on me. One day, when I return, I hope these lessons will come flooding back to me, and develop into even greater things that I can take around the world – I have no doubt that they will. Your experience in India might be completely different to mine; you might hate it and never want to go back, as many do, or it might shape your life far more drastically than mine. It will almost certainly make you re-evaluate. It will show you how significant and insignificant you are, and how powerful or powerless you can be. India is the place where people go to find themselves, and lose themselves. India is life, unadulterated, and uncensored.