It seems like on the subject of India, the world is divided into two halves. The ones that can’t wait to get there, and the ones that absolutely, positively never want to go near the place.
“Keep your expectations low”, our tour leader kept saying on our latest adventure to India. I’m not sure if it was a ruse to ensure we were never disappointed, but it worked for me. I remained pleasantly surprised for most of the trip. From the transport and roads, to the hotels we stayed in, to the experiences we had, everything was either as I expected, or better. At least, when compared to what the trip had promised.
Sure, if you look too hard, there’s plenty wrong. The floors are coated with a filtering of dust and grime, the air con is flaky, the wifi non-existent. The endless honking is infuriating, the constant hassling on the streets is too much at times, and enduring hours of bumpy roads can be extremely trying.
But if you really do want to go to India, and you want to rough it a bit and get the full experience of real India, just make sure you go with realistic expectations. And then expect it won’t be all smooth sailing. Expect that at some point you will get Delhi belly. Expect that the fan belt will break on the vehicle you’re travelling in and delay your arrival time. Expect not to be in contact with home days at a time. Expect you’ll get tired and irritated and fed up. And when you do, try and breathe out. Try and look to the horizon and catch the spark, and draw it back in. Because that’s what it’s all about – the adventure – the beauty – the experience.
Now, if you don’t want to go to India… if it doesn’t sound like it’s for you… then that is totally ok. India is hard. My overnight train experience (with lingering Delhi belly and a very heavy period) is not something I want to relive. But it’s not something I want to take back either.
Was I exhausted? Totally. Did I feel like I was caked with dirt that would never wash off? Always. Can I believe that people live there among amongst over a billion other people, constantly breathing in fetid, smoggy air? Not at all.
But for me, it was worth it. For almost three weeks I felt completely isolated – completely on holiday. I barely thought about what was waiting for me back in Austria. I was so immersed in India, so far away from the normal that it was almost impossible to imagine real life.
If you don’t want to go to India, don’t go. Try somewhere else first if you need to. Build up gradually if you get the urge. Or just cross it off your list altogether and go elsewhere.
Because while life should be about going out of your comfort zone and experiencing new things, it should be done in your own time, at your own speed, and to your own particular taste. India is out of my comfort zone, but for me it’s a good discomfort, it’s a memorable discomfort. But I’m not you. And I’m more than happy to let you travel vicariously through me, as I do when others travel to places I know I’ll never go.