With seven countries under our belts, we’re now half way though our year in Asia and I can safely say that India remains unchallenged in the top spot for favourite country. Everyone warns that you’ll either love it or hate it, and to be honest it’s a little bit of both, but our love for Mother India far outshines any of the fleeting negatives.
I could give you a myriad of reasons to illustrate the depth of that love, but here’s six (one for each enchanting week) to whet your appetite:
- The people: In some countries it is easy to simply drift through and observe the people and culture as a bystander, a true tourist in every sense of the word. If this is your idea of travelling then India is not for you. You cannot avoid being immersed here. The people envelope and surround you at every turn (there’s 1.2 billion of them after all). Whether it’s being adopted by a family of fifteen on the train, asked for photos by school children at a temple, or simply walking in the street, the Indian people are endlessly fascinated by westerners and will endlessly approach you. You’ll learn their names, their children’s names, their sister-in-laws cousin’s brother’s shoe size. Embrace it, and embrace them.
- The landscapes: Although in six weeks we were only able to touch the surface of India, we still visited drastically different landscapes. From the hippy cliffs of Varkala to the ‘planet of the apes’ rocks in Hampi, the jade green tea plantations in Munnar to the opaque turquoise of the Ganges in Rishikesh, the Indian landscape continued to surprise and dazzle us.
- The (vegetarian) food: The food in India is good? Really? What an original contribution! But seriously, wow. Now that I’ve explored other Asian countries and had to cover my eyes walking through markets parading chicken carcasses, pig heads, candied bugs and unidentifiable limbs, I appreciate India even more for the vegetarian haven that it is (a bit more of a struggle for vegans). It was a dream leafing through page after page of vegetarian options on a menu, with only a minuscule section devoted to non-veg. Gorge on masala dosa in the South, have Vada Pav in Mumbai, lap up cashew curry in Rajasthan and shovel in samosas anywhere and everywhere.
- The animals: People and animals live in harmony here, and as long as you can make your peace with the constant smell and threat of excrement (watch your feet) it really is nirvana for an animal lover. The first time you see a herd of cows mounting each other in the middle of a motorway, with the traffic nonchalantly skirting round, is truly majestic. But it’s not just the infamous cows. Living side by side with people in the villages, towns and biggest metropolises you’ll see dogs, pigs, chickens, and my new favourite – goats.
- The religion: I studied Hinduism at GCSE and was entranced by the stories, characters, colours and heart of this altogether foreign religion. An atheist since birth, Western religion has always baffled me with its endless list of dos and donts. In comparison Hinduism feels magical, inviting and full of promise. Concepts of Karma and reincarnation are beguiling. Blue gods, monkey gods and elephant gods are mesmerising. You can keep your damnation, your purgatory, your devil. If I ever hang up my atheist rags it’s Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva for me.
- The challenge: OK, I’ll level with you. India. Isn’t. Easy. But in my opinion that’s all part of the charm. When we arrived in Malaysia and Thailand, sure we had a sense of relief at the simplicity of everything. The toilets were clean, the buses were air-conditioned, and when you asked people for help they told you the truth, rather than what they thought you wanted to hear. But in all honestly did we go travelling for the ease, or for the adventure? Yes you’ll get lost, you’ll miss trains, you’ll get frustrated, but after the dust settles you’ll have infinitely better stories to tell.
In six weeks we visited Trivandrum, Varkala, Alleppey, Munnar, Coimbatore, Hampi, Mumbai, Delhi, Bikaner, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Udaipur, Pushkar, Jaipur, Todi Gar, Agra, Varanasi and Rishikesh.