By Gloria D. Gamat
So much has been said and written about India ̶ the good, the bad and the ugly. I still believe though that nobody can truly describe this country, or any place for that matter, until one has actually been there and experienced this South Asian jewel firsthand.
Admittedly, when it comes to visiting India, the available information can seem a bit discouraging. There are more “bad” and “unsafe” stories (online and offline) than good ones, especially for solo female travelers.
But India’s mystique has fascinated me since childhood. Four decades later, I found myself having Indian colleagues and friends, and I jumped at the opportunity to visit the country that haunted my dreams.
Incredible. Amazing. The experience was all that and more. If it’s any indication, the nine-day trip I originally planned got extended to 22 days!
I don’t have enough words to describe this incredibly beautiful country but one thing is for sure: I will NEVER, EVER, look at anything Indian the same way again.
That is my karma…and here’s why:
1) Every state and city is unique. I’ve been to a total of five cities: New Delhi, Agra, Mohali, Chandigarh and Ahmedabad, in three states ̶ from Uttar Pradesh and Punjab in the North, to Gandhi’s state of Gujarat down south. Somewhere between Agra and Ahmedabad, like the Philippines, the country clearly displays a great divide between rich and poor, of development and underdevelopment, and everything else that all of that entails. But I’ve also seen a country so hugely rich in culture and tradition (which differs between cities, between states), its people holding on to the old ways in sanctity while clamoring to embrace what the outside world got in store for them.
2) The country is developing in every sense. As modernity and technology find their way deeper into India, the people, albeit baby steps, find themselves picking up the best things that both worlds got to offer ̶ with hope that one day, they can fully enjoy having that cake and eat it too, but without losing their core while at it. Coming from a small remote village myself, I find those thoughts quite familiar and even endearing to some extent.
3) The majestic Taj Mahal is just the icing on the cake. To say that there’s more to a country than meets the eye is an understatement when you are in India. The predictability equation I was trying to formulate in my head evaporated under the heat of the sun, somewhere between pink sunsets and the lack of traffic rules. After this India experience, each time I would get close to losing my patience over anything, instead of erupting like a volcano in temper, I will just think of my Indian friends who would shake their heads sideways and just say “Oh, he/she/that is like that only” in that soft zen monotone I will always remember with fondness.
4) The food will change your taste buds forever (in a great way!).The food is just incredibly awesome, every bite an explosion of wonderful surprises. I never thought vegetarian food could be more filling than meat and carbs. My taste buds have definitely embraced Indian cuisine. There would always be room now for anything paneer, parantha and chapati in my rice-noodle laden stomach. But I fell in love with chili paneer and paneer butter masala ̶ which I found both perfect partners for steamed plain rice too!
5) Indians treat their guests as god. Move over Filipino hospitality. When you get welcomed to an Indian family’s home, you will know what I mean. Their mantra of “guest above all” is just overwhelmingly indescribable. From being showered with rose petals on the doorstep, to getting served food on your plate while everyone gathered around you (and you don’t realize you are the only one eating!), service deluxe is an understatement…need I say more?
It has been two months since I got back from India but the memories are as vivid as they can be in my head. The journey to see Taj Mahal, and all I’ve seen of India that came with it provided memories that would last many lifetimes. I’ve never been so pampered anywhere else, and I’ve gained friends for life ̶ my Indian side of the family, really. Truly I have been India-fied and I won’t let anyone burst that bubble.
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