How India Took its Hold, and Never Let Go

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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.

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Chaotic New Delhi. Photo by mckaysavage via Creative Commons

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.

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The Ganges. Photo by BoNoNoBo via Creative Commons

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.

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Women bathing in the Ganges. Photo by Matt Paish 2014 via Creative Commons

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.

Photo by Meanest India via Creative Commons

Photo by Meanest Indian via Creative Commons

Have you ever travelled to India?

If so, is your connection anything like this?

If not, do you want to travel to India in the future?




There are 29 comments

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    • ehiggs88

      Next week! I’m so jealous! Like I said, it’s not for everyone, but I truly hope that you connect with it like I did. Remember – never take anything of face value in India – it’s a place that will always deserve a bit of digging. Have a fantastic time!

    • ehiggs88

      Yes! Nice work, Zofia. New Delhi is absolutely insane, I cannot express that enough. But well worth an experience for a few days, and then get out into the wild in India – which is ever better!

    • ehiggs88

      Thanks you so much for your kind words – I put a lot into this piece so it’s so nice when people say they have enjoyed it. And very happy to inspire people to visit India!

    • ehiggs88

      Thanks so much, Anna! I think that’s a big thing that I’m thankful for when I travel – understanding the beauty of simplicity. And you’ll understand it even more when you go to India one day! I think you’ll love it. It’s CRAZY, but I think you’ll like it :) Can’t wait for you to go!

  1. Heather

    I haven’t traveled to India and vacillate between wanting to go and not. Having traveled through SE Asia and China, I feel like I’m ready for the heat and crowds, but it’s the filth and odors that I worry about. But witnessing the poverty and kindness in Cambodia had a profound affect on me so maybe India is the next step to my enlightenment. Beautiful post!
    Heather recently posted…Exploring the Cultural Quirks of JapanMy Profile

    • ehiggs88

      India is very difficult to travel through for those reasons, yes Heather. I have the ability to completely look past it, and it didn’t bother me too much, but it’s definitely not for everyone. However, I will say that you can pick out some better places to go if it’s not your thing – fly into a big city and get out right away. Outside the cities you won’t find as much dirt, plus they’re also very interesting places. Head up into the Himalaya – Dharamasala/McLeod Ganj is gorgeous and far cleaner. Plenty of places that could suit you perfectly – don’t forget how MASSIVE India is!

    • ehiggs88

      That is so exciting! I’m very envious, and if I’m in Mumbai anytime soon I’ll come and visit! As I’ve said to almost everyone, you either love it or hate it. I love it, and clearly so do you. Glad to have reignited some India love in you through this post, and look forward to reading all your stories about moving there. Best of luck!

  2. Nita

    Very beautifully written, Emma! India is unique is every sense of the word. A moment of frustration can instantly be followed by immense excitement. I’ve been to India several times and I am still always overwhelmed. There is such a charm in all the chaos. You are so right – it really makes you reflect on your life. Great job in capturing the essence of India :)
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  3. Heather

    Thank you for this gorgeous post!! I surrendered to India 2 years ago for a month long yoga teacher training in an ashram in southern Kerala. I ended up staying in the country for a few months…forever altering my life trajectory. Your words transported me there again and are a reminder of how much gratitude I have for such a rich experience.
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    • Gotta Keep Movin'

      What up, Lorenzo! Thanks very much – as I’ve said many times, it’s not for everyone but it completely fascinates me. And yep, the phrase ‘patience is a virtue’ has never rung truer than for a traveller :)

    • Gotta Keep Movin'

      I hope you have an awesome time, Katie! As I’ve said here, India’s not for everyone, but if you leave yourself open to the experience, you may well love it. All the best, and safe travels to India :) Send it my love!

    • Gotta Keep Movin'

      Thanks, Phoebe! Split crowd for sure, which is indeed very interesting. I think a lot of that comes down to different levels of patience – you need to have a lot to travel in India! Glad to hear you enjoyed your time there :)

    • Gotta Keep Movin'

      Thanks so much Erika, your kind words mean a lot. Definitely get there to see it someday – the Taj Mahal is phenomenal :)

  4. Tamara (Globe Guide)

    Beautiful story Emma! After hearing how chaotic India was (and the fact that I can’t handle spicy food) the country was not anywhere close to being on my must-see list. However, over the past few years of hearing spectacular stories about the country’s beauty and hospitality, I’m starting to come around to it and may even be brave enough to book a ticket there soon!
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    • Gotta Keep Movin'

      Hi Tamara, thanks for you lovely words! Well, like I say – it’s not for everyone, but I think it would be a good idea to try it. You never try, you never know! If you do your research and really think about your preferences, that’ll pay off in your experiences.


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