How India Has Grown on Me

I didn’t understand why the majority of travelers I’d met in India were there for the second, third, fourth or even fifth time. I was wondering what caused their minds to sensationalize the art of drifting around the sprawling subcontinent. It’s that good that you decided to come back again . . .  and again. What’s so fantastic about India? I’m practically living in a sauna.

In North India in June and July the heat can cause fatigue. I’d never been to a place that seemed as crowded and chaotic as Delhi did.

Standing crammed in a bus from from Haridwar to Rishikesh was overwhelming.

I’d never heard beeping horns like I did on a narrow Rishikesh road. There were flying jeeps, an abundance of people and no sidewalks.  The heat was stifling.

Chandigarth’s streets were overly organized, gaving the city a generic appearance.

In Shimla and McLeod Ganj, cool, heavy rains frequented the days.

Amritsar and especially Attari were sweaty mob scenes.

After power walking in Agra, a river of sweat flowed down my brow.

I felt overwhelmed by a couple of vermin like touts in Varanasi where the temperature felt to be as high as 49º C or 121º F. This is where I finally decided that I’d splurge on having the use of an air-conditioner. Then the power supply was lost for three days. I was forced to sleep with warm fan air powered by a generator. Excess air-conditioning had overloaded an already overused power supply. I remember walking in the midday heat and feeling more exhausted than I’d ever remembered.

Kolkata was huge and the daily rains were commencing.

After exactly six weeks in India, I flew to Chiang Mai, because the hottest it felt there was a meager 35º C or 95º F. This was a huge comfort compared to India’s scorching summer temps.

Two and a half months later, after spending time in Thailand and Cambodia, I decided to give India another try. My gut feeling told me that I couldn’t give up on this fascinating land.  I thought:   On the subcontinent the fledgling Indian traveler is constantly presented with the element of surprise.

Bombay surprised me with its easy to find train ticket window that was exclusively for tourists. I was surprised that even though the traffic didn’t seem to move, it actually does and you always get to where you’re going. It was hot and crowded but for some reason it felt good to be back in Hindustan.

Goa, like every Indian state, has its uniqueness. The food provides a Portuguese and Indian fusion . There are world-class beaches, hiking trails, and spice farms to visit.  In a restaurant/bar in the capital, Panaji, I was pleasantly surprised to come across 50 Rupee (US $1) single malt scotch from India.  These liquid elixirs taste smoky and have a similar after-nasal effect as an aged single malt from Scotland does.

From Goa’s capital I bordered a night bus that had only beds. I’d never seen a bed bus. I was able to keep my computer online and charged.

When I arrived in the early morning in Maharashtra’s Pune, formerly Poona, I was surprised to find perfectly cool weather. The bus conductor came to my bed, peeked in and told me that I had to get off the bus. I was bewildered as we weren’t yet at the station.  As rickshaw drivers vied for my business I happened to see two non-Indian people walking by. I asked for a recommendation. The next thing I knew I was in the back seat of a hired car with a Russian man and his daughter. They had their chauffeur drive us around until I was able to find an adequate hotel. The Russians went out of their way for a perfect stranger. I thought: Are Russians known for their altruism? In my eyes they are now.

From Pune I took an air-conditioned overnight Volvo bus to Ahmedabad. As promised, the shocks provided for a not-too-bumpy ride. But the reclining seat directly in front took away any leg room that may have existed, causing a feeling of claustrophobia. The newest and nicest bus I’d taken turned out to be the most miserable. I thought: Life is a paradox.

In Ahmedabad, the capital of Gujarat state, people were warm. In restaurants, waiters were kind and patient while trying to help me order. People stopped me in the street just to say hi. Others genuinely waved. Ahmedabad is a city of around six million people. I didn’t see any other tourists or travelers there.

In Ahmedabad I boarded a midday bus for Udaipur. On this day bus there were both beds and normal seats. I opted for the seats as they were considerably cheaper and after all, it was a day bus. I thought: Why do I need a bed? In hindsight, the scenic views were best from an upper bed. They were taken by families and working class Indians. On this bus a wise-looking, gray-bearded Indian man offered to put me up at his farm outside of Jaipur. Here was the hospitality of India shining on me again.

We stopped at a little shopping spot where mostly food was offered. There a fellow passenger insisted on buying me a cup of chai. While drinking this sweet and milky tea, I noticed people piling onto the top of another bus. I thought: This is India’s answer to low-budget transport.

After checking into my hotel room in Udaipur I looked over Lake Pachola.  From my terrace on the ninth floor I saw canals, the City Palace and other old architecture. I felt like I’d transplanted myself into a fairytale. November in Rajasthan brings forth cool evenings. I thought: What a difference from the scorching summer. India is perfect this time of year.

At Udaipur’s bus terminal I wanted to get a bus to Bundi, but was informed that I’d first need to travel to a city called Chitor. There, a rickshaw man explained that I had almost a two-hour layover, and that if we hurried, I could eat, then he could bring me up to the historical fort.  On a whim, I took him up on his offer.

There were many people because of the Diwali vacation period. I came across lots of women dressed in colorful saris. I climbed  the Victory tower and got claustrophobic because of the amount of people. In the tower I was a virtual celebrity. Boys followed me and laughed when I attempted to speak in my 10-word Hindi vocabulary.

While crammed up against others in a dark spot heading down, I’d yell ahead:

Cha-lo!” or Let’s go!

Surely I had a funny accent. Eventually I made it out and back to my driver before getting to the railway station in the nick of time.

My train cabin sleeper sported an open window. I was able to sit and gaze clearly at the Rajasthani landscape.

Bundi presented itself as a charming little city. Upon my evening arrival I was held up due to a procession loaded with people playing instruments, others sweeping dirt away and loads of women in their colorful saris. It was a beautiful sight. While receiving an abundance of waves and smiles I thought:  I’ve never seen so many kind and genuine faces in one place.

From Bundi I rode on a traditional bus where I purchased hawker’s nuts for a Mom and her child after they made space for me.

In Jaipur I took a rickshaw to another fairy-tale fort. On the way we drove past a palace on the water.  It was magical just to see it from the road. In Jaipur I came across cachori again.  This cachori was even better than at the amazing mom and pop shop Palivar in Udaipur.

I returned back to Delhi in mid November to culminate my trip. Compared to the beginning of my India days, I felt like a seasoned traveler of the land. I had become used to what once seemed like crazy driving. I wasn’t fazed by incessant horn honking anymore. The culture shock was minimal. The weather felt like a super-pleasant late spring.  It didn’t feel chaotic. I hardly even noticed any touts.

I thought: Do I carry myself as if I know this place? Or is it not    overwhelming because the climate is perfect now? My intuition told me that it was a combination of the two.

I thought back on the people I’d met at the beginning of my trip five and a half months earlier:  Now I think I understand why so many travelers keep  returning to India. I don’t want this to end now. I feel like there is so much to explore in this land that’s full of constant surprise.  I’ve only just scratched the surface.  India has definitely grown on me.

6 Responses to How India Has Grown on Me

  1. Versa Kay says:

    I remembered to have read a book about Altrism by one Pitrim Sorokin a few decades ago. Not that that makes all Russians altruistic. Basically all men are born altruistc. But it is their upbringing and social environment that spoils them

    • earthdrifter says:

      VERSA KAY: I wholeheartedly agree that altruism has nothing to do with nationality. Yes. Environment plays a huge role in altruism. The less fortunate or those who have experienced the most hardship tend to be more apt to empathize and help a person in need.
      As for the Russian altruists, that was just an unexpected pleasant surprise. They live in Pune and were probably able to empathize with a lost foreigner just arriving as maybe it was tough for them when they first arrived. They seemed to enjoy practicing their English too. :-)

  2. I believe that I had subscribed to your blog so why didn’t I get any updates in my inbox. I just came to check if you have posted anything new! Okay, I will click the subscribe by email button again. :-)

    • earthdrifter says:

      GANESH: That’s happened to me with at least one other wordpress.com blog too so it’s gotta be a wordpress glitch. I’m currently in the process of moving to my own host and messing with different themes while I’m at it. When I export/import my entire blog/site(XML file) I lose my subscriptions, so that’s another challenge that I haven’t figured out yet. Thanks for checking back and signing up again.

  3. Al says:

    Love that Rishkesh bridge pic, looks like something out of National Geographic.
    Sounds like you may find your way back to India eventually, just like those other travelers you run into.

    • earthdrifter says:

      AL: Thanks. My favorite’s the bridge to enter the spice plantation in Goa. As for heading back to India, very hard to say now but yes, I’d absolutley love to. I hope that I’ll be able to make the opportunity present itself eventualy.

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