India and Her Magic

India, where do I even start with you? I first want to tell you that I truly love you, even though you often overwhelm and frustrate me. I love your madness, your vibrant colors and disgusting smells, your blatant contradictions, your bleached purity, your holy cows that stubbornly block the middle of the road and refuse to budge even when I honk the horn on my motor scooter, your dizzying number of 32 millions Gods you worship, your road-side masala chai tea stalls where you sell scolding hot chai in flimsy plastic cups that burn my fingers, your religious mayhem, your “holy river” that is full of human bones and rubbish, your spiritual seekers and your often lost and sometimes found souls.

I love resting on well-worn filthy cushions in crumbling bamboo cafes sipping mango juice while I silently observe dread-locked travelers sitting in the lotus position, each on their own somewhat unique spiritual journey, trying hopelessly to find middle ground with one another as they pass a joint around. I love watching these seekers run in circles chasing something that nobody can actually put their finger on, because they haven’t yet realized that it doesn’t inherently exist. At the same time, I must admit I sometimes hate watching this because after a while it’s like watching re-runs of an old TV show that you’ve seen one too many times. At almost any budget guesthouse you stay at all over India, you will see this same scene again and again: Hippies sitting on cushions, stoned off their asses, absentmindedly engaging in conversations that range from philosophy to spirituality, to where to find the best hashish in town.

Aside from this, I have found there is a subtle force at play an India, a force that makes you subconsciously pull away from your travel companions to some degree and turn inward. There is no such thing as a safety net while traveling India, and even if there were, you wouldn’t want it to catch you. You want to fall. You want the battle wounds and you want the scars. You want to explore this strange and mystical land, to teeter on the edge of danger and safety, of sanity and absolute madness.

People often come here and leave forever changed. I believe that when one travels India, they don’t find themselves, but rather confront themselves. They confront the deepest part of their inner selves, and what they they find is a vast emptiness that is begging to be explored. This emptiness resides in all of us, but isn’t usually realized and appreciated the way it is when traveling through chaotic and mystical India. This emptiness I speak of may sound negative but it’s not; it’s the vastness of our soul that we rarely take the time to explore. The emptiness, or clarity, has always been there, but not until you are in a ravaged and contradictory place such as India does it finally get the chance for light to be shed upon it, and what you find is inner calmness and serenity.

What is it about India? I’ve heard somewhere that India is a place that is better left to be experienced rather than understood, and I couldn’t agree more. This place has grabbed me in a choke hold, as I knew it probably would and I can’t explain to you exactly why. It leaves one in a hopeless struggle between feeling satisfied and relentlessly yearning for more.

However, after nearly two months in India, I can honestly say that I am leaving this place feeling very content, with amazing memories, a few battle wounds, surreal stories, an open heart and a big smile on my face. I had been given so many warnings before coming to India, but what I have found is that sure you have your seedy paan-spitting wide-eyed creepers and scammers lurking in dusty corners, but mostly it is full of warm, friendly people who more than often go out of their way to help me out.

All the beautiful people I have met, the obnoxiously long train journeys, the rickshaw rides with half-drunk drivers asking me the same two questions (“What’s your country, Madam?” “Are you married, Madam?”), masala chai tea breaks every two hours, cultural explosions on every corner in the form of sadhus and babas, burning ghats, and endless rituals and puja ceremonies… All of these experiences have been ingrained in my heart and have made me realize more than I know how to put into words right now. But I can say this: India has provided me with plenty of challenges and experiences that have tested me in a multitude of ways and has made me feel stronger. And for this, I am grateful. India has worked her magic on me, and I leave here with nothing but love, compassion, and gratitude for my time here in this beautiful mixed-up country.

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