Arches at the entrance to the Taj Mahal, Agra, India

India Final Thoughts

May 18, 2015 - ourglobaltrek

After more than five weeks, it’s abundantly clear that India cannot be adequately described or summarized in a succinct way. Not a singular adjective, not a slew of paragraphs, not even a whole book. India is simply… well, India. There is no other place like it, there will never be any place quite the same. India is beyond imagination, a different world that takes an entire lifetime to understand and appreciate. We gave ourselves 37 days for the Indian experience.

His Final Thoughts

Carlos wearing a turban, Jaipur, India
Carlos wearing a turban, Jaipur, India

India was by far the most challenging country we’ve travelled in so far. Everything took more time and was harder than we thought it would be. Absolutely nothing was easy. Something as simple as checking out at the grocery store was a nightmare in and of itself, with long waits and arguments with locals. Half of the places we tried to go to didn’t have an address, were wrongly placed on GoogleMaps, no longer existed, or we just plain couldn’t find them. Tours got cancelled, menu prices increased, cabs took you to the wrong place and ran away without giving change, police laughed when you tried to complain about said cab drivers… everything happened without warning and seemingly at the worst possible times.

It’s possible to travel India and avoid all of these pitfalls. Like anywhere else, with enough money, India can be extremely luxurious. We tried that a little bit a few times with slightly nicer hotels and the standards were definitely higher. However, 5-star hotels and private transportation is not India. To travel India in such a manner would be to blind oneself to the poverty, inefficiencies and dirtiness that many locals face on a daily basis. To see and experience the real India, one has to endure the cold hard truth and learn how to deal with it the best one can.

When it comes to infrastructure, even though we didn’t face power cuts like in Nepal, terrible roads like in Laos or bad trains like in Vietnam, India had, hands down, the dirtiest and most chaotic streets. The local culture was to simply dispose of whatever on the streets, inclusive of human waste. Vehicles on the streets bent the laws of physics to make room and overtake another. There was always so much happening around us that it didn’t take long to be overwhelmed. Every day was its own struggle.

India has an extensive railroad network which we used a lot, spending over a quarter of our nights in India on night trains, going from one city to another. Again, it wasn’t easy. Getting tickets was an arduous quest, as trains were fully booked weeks if not months in advance. Even with second or first class beds, one can only take so many overnight trains before sleep deprivation sets in. Nonetheless, it was the most convenient method of transportation for us and we learned to appreciate it.

If all the other things I mentioned about India seem negative, what made it worthwhile were some of the one-of-a-kind experiences we had. There’s nothing like the mystical Taj Mahal up close, seeing life and death on the sacred Ganges or feeling like a Maharaja while walking through the maze of the Amer Palace. Some of the most unique days of our entire trip took place in India and we are very thankful for it. I will never forget how we crossed the Thar Desert on the back of a camel and gazed at the most beautiful sky I’ve ever seen. Nor will I forget how we tried to get recruited for a Bollywood movie. Those experiences will always be a reminder of why it was worth traveling in India.

I’m certain that I will go back to India someday. There are still many parts of the country I’d like to see – the mountains of Kashmir, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and definitely more of southern India besides Kochi, to name a few. India is simply too big and too diverse to be completely explored in 37 days. Next time, I will be prepared and bring with me everything I learned in an attempt to help me get through it in a more seamless way.

Her Final Thoughts

Julie at the Taj Mahal, Agra, India
Julie at the Taj Mahal, Agra, India

India has been the ultimate test and challenge. I love traveling and experiencing new cultures, and I don’t mind roughing it for the sake of authenticity. But India was getting too far out of my comfort zone. We were pushed to our limits from the minute we arrived; I admit I have never missed home as much anywhere else. But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I now wholeheartedly believe that no world travel/Asia backpacking trip is complete without a visit to India.

37 days in India was eye-opening in every way. One of the main points of traveling (and one of the best parts, I think) is the opportunity to be somewhere so different from everything you’ve ever known. In that sense, we couldn’t have picked a better place than India. So naturally, reactions were bound to be very extreme. Sometimes we were really uncomfortable and stressed. Conversely, other times we were stunned and wowed beyond our dreams.

The entire experience was educational in ways I am only beginning to realize. It taught us patience. Inefficiencies need time and a calm mannerism to be dealt with most effectively. It taught us to try to see the best in every situation no matter what. When everything was falling apart, we tried to handle it with humor, even if it’s laughing not to cry. It also taught us to fight for ourselves. If we were not being treated fairly, we had every right to politely but firmly insist… No one will advocate for us but ourselves.

In India, it was about the small victories. Getting an auto rickshaw driver to agree on a price on the first try? Woohoo! Reaching a destination by ourselves without getting lost at all? High five. Convincing the tout/seller/beggar we were not interested in a few seconds instead of after five minutes of following us and practically yelling at them to go away? It’s our lucky day. There has been no better reminder to appreciate the small things in life.

I will remember our time here as some of the highest highs and lowest lows. It was exhausting, exhilarating, and always tumultuous. I’m proud of how many places we visited in a fairly ambitious schedule for India standards. Even after more than ten different cities throughout the country, we were only beginning to discover India’s deep history and diversity. From the bustling New Delhi, to the provocative Khajuraho, to charming Rajasthan, every place was distinct. Even the food mirrored the long-standing traditions and variety of Indian culture. All in all, I can confidently say that I will never have 37 days like I did that time I went to India.