I also want to warn you that India can be a difficult place. We have a friend out here now who has done a good bit of traveling and who has been pretty frustrated the whole time here about how difficult India is and how long it takes to get anything done. She had two weeks and big plans to see and ski lots of North India but is only going to make it to one or two places. The big difference is she didn’t plan anything before coming and thought she’d just organize it once here and ended up wasting days and lots of money in planning. But once she made the plans, she still found the India experience quite challenging and not what she expected.
Even with a plan and tickets in hand, India can still frustrate, intimidate, and exasperate. Trains are late. Flights are cancelled. Buses are crowded. Indians are nosy. People urinate publicly. Grown men spit and loudly belch. Touts rip you off. No one gives you a straight answer. “How much longer?” is always 10 more minutes. Tasty food makes you sick. Povery is rampant. Children beg. Animals are neglected. Traffic snarls. Pollution chokes. The stench overwhelms. Women are confined by a conservative culture. Crowds touch and grab. Men stare. Horns incessantly blare. Filth and trash obscure beauty. Random people photograph you. Whether the factual answer is yes or no, you will likely be told yes.
I think the biggest lesson we have learned through our months here is that India just needs to be accepted as is and she’s not going to change anytime soon for anyone. Despite what you desire or expect or organize, India will simply do as she does. And really, India’s indiosyncracies and sheer foreignness can be part of her charm when taken with a sense of humor and quite a few grains of salt. In so many ways, India is the most wonderful and charming country I’ve visited. So much to see, so much to take in and experience. A rich culture and history blended from indigenous culture, Mughal influence, British rule, and recent globalization. The temples and mosques are amazing, the people generous and friendly, the clothing bright, the cultural traditions fasinating and engaging, the regional differences stark and complex, and every place new and unique. Monkeys abound in urban and rural areas; festival elephants occasionally wander through the street and camels are put to work; sadhus meander, philosophize, and smoke chillums; Hindus, Shias, Sunnis, Sufis, Christians, Jains, Sikhs, Ba’hai, and Jews worhship; tradition and modernity clash, intertwine, and complement. Smells, sounds, and sights mingle and often overwhelm. It really is a place like no other.