April 1, 2013

India, Revisited

When we first left India, I was in a hurry to write our wrap-up post and I've been kicking myself for not getting it done sooner. But, in hindsight, I think it was good to wait awhile to write it. The truth is that, for a month after we left Incredible India, I couldn't quite wrap my head around it. It all felt so surreal and we both struggled to decide how we felt about the vast and confusing country. 

Did we love it? Did we hate it? We had really no idea. We knew that, when we left in late January, after over 3.5 months in India, we were more than ready to leave and we were so relieved to be in Bangkok.  In the weeks that followed, each of our opinions changed daily. When we would talk about India to other travelers, our talking volume would increase, we would become animated and would speak passionately about our time there. The problem was that most of the things we told people in the 2 months after we left were the bad things - how overwhelming, difficult, sad, infuriating, intimidating it can be at times. And, while it's true that it's mostly the difficult things that first come to mind when I think about our time there, the prevailing emotion we both have about India, above all else, is love and gratitude for having experienced it. Why? It's hard to say. Later, I'll give you a list of the things that we loved about India, but that list won't' really explain it. And, as I'll mention in the list, only another long-term India backpacker could share this complicated feeling. 

Before we went to India, we had heard that you either love it or hate it. I would take it one step further and suggest that, of those of us who love India, we also hate it. Months ago, when I wrote this post about India being a roller coaster, I was in the midst of the chaos of India. Some days, I congratulated myself simply for leaving the guest house and not having a break down in the middle of the street. Other days, I confidently passed through crowds of beggars and aggressive touts, dodging cows and barking dogs and piles of poop and trash without thinking twice about it. On those days, I felt strong and capable, and like I could handle anything. So far in my life (30 years this week), I've only had one other experience that has built up my strength in that way. Over 10 years ago, when my dad died (read a mushy post here), I was 19 and broken. My cousin's wife, who had also had a parent die within the previous 2 years, had given me the most comforting advice and perspective and I've never forgotten it. She said, "When you realize you're okay…not when you're 'over it' because you never will be…but when you realize that you've survived this and that you'll be alright, you are going to feel SO STRONG. And you are going to feel like you can take on anything." And, while I didn't believe her at the time and though it took quite some time for her words to be true, she was 100% right. I am, by no means, comparing travel in India with the loss of a parent or loved one, but I do believe that the two had a similar effect on me. In India, I was completely out of my element. Despite weeks and months in the country, I still had no idea what to expect each day and it was scary at times. At first, I was just overwhelmed and I was fearful each time I crossed the street, ate a meal, talked to a vendor or boarded a train. I still enjoyed my time there in the beginning, but the learning/comfort curve seemed to stretch on forever and I just wasn't sure I would ever feel comfortable. And then, suddenly I did. Except I didn't. It was never really comfortable, but I was comfortable with that. In other words, I realized I was going to be okay. I wasn't "over it"...I would never stop being overwhelmed by this strange and amazing place, but I was appreciating what it brought to my life. In some way, I think I found my way to comfort and acceptance of the situation. And only then was I able to see the truly wonderful things about India. 

So, with that, please check out this video of some of our favorite India memories. (Note: the video will not appear in your email newsfeed. You'll need to click through to the blog to view the video in the post. Or you can click here to watch it on YouTube.)

You can also check out all of our photos and videos by visiting our Flickr page and our YouTube channel.

Coming up soon is a round-up of our best and worst moments and memories of India that we'll call, "The Good, The Bad, The 'Are You Effing Kidding Me?!?!'" Stay tuned!

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