How do I possibly write about a place like India without sounding like a cliché? After promising myself for years that I’d go, it almost feels like I have no right to spill more ink about a place this complex when I only spent about 14 days there. This short two-week trip was but a toe-dip, a teaser, a mere tickle if you will. India’s size alone demands at least a month of travel to do it justice, but the diversity of cultures, landscapes, experiences and attitudes that can be found on the peninsula often attract ambitious travelers for several months at a time. I’ll be back.
For now though, caught in between the Peace Corps and what some are trying to convince me is adulthood, I had to limit my journey to Mumbai, New Delhi, Mathura, Agra and Varanasi. I could write pages on each of these places, but I’d be hard pressed to say anything that people far more eloquent that I have not already said. As the volume of unshaven, dreamy-eyed foreigners clad in flowy, elephant-print pants can attest to, India is not the road less traveled. In fact, I was very pleased to find that Indians do quite a bit of tourism within their own country as well, and most sites I visited (with the exception of the Taj Mahal) was more populated with Indian tourists than foreign ones.
Despite the fact that India is no stranger to tourism, I was surprised to find that Indians are not at all jaded when it comes to seeing Western folk. More than once my boyfriend and I were asked by locals if they could have a photo with us, and when we obliged we found ourselves immortalized in a smiling stranger’s smartphone looking like anonymous celebrities. Curiosity was everywhere. One man approached me to ask where I was from, and upon learning I was from the US he treated me to a lecture about the American author of a self-help book that he was shocked to learn I had never heard of.
More than once I found that the combination of my dark skin and curly hair confused Indians, who see very few children of the African diaspora. One woman, utterly amazed by my appearance, exclaimed “Wow! How did you get your hair? Are you born with that?” I grinned at her and exclaimed proudly that I was, indeed, born like this. We then proceeded to go back and forth for a few minutes while I tried to explain to her that I was American and not South African, but by the end of the conversation I believe she had decided that I was simply wrong. Black people, we need to get out more.
By far my favorite experience was spending a few days in the city of Varanasi. Jeff and I stayed in a hotel overlooking the Ganges and witnessed what seemed to be a whole other level of spiritual existence. From the burning ghats to the pilgrims bathing to the omnipresence of lazy, interrupting cows, Varanasi operates on a plane that I have never experienced before. I found myself completely terrified of the Ganges not just because it is home to thousands of years of corpses, but also because I felt that I had no right to touch it with my ignorant foreigners hands. As we walked around Varanasi, cautious and wide-eyed, no one stopped for us and no one slowed down. We felt like ghosts watching the world go by. This was a welcome respite after sticking out in Burkina like a crooked toe. But instead of trying to describe the experience, I’ll let it speak for itself in photographs.
click to enlarge