I have come to think that by living on the road for the last 5 years, I have become an experienced traveller and nothing can surprise me. I grow comfortable with this lifestyle and I got lazy in exploring and in thriving for something new every day. And then – I came to India.
This country managed to get me frustrated, happy, curious, angry, surprised, suspicious, thankful, to open myself to strangers, to trust people, to distrust people and to (almost) make me cry. All of that in one 10 days. It was a fine time, very much needed to wake me up.
I met locals who helped me get street food and explained what is vegetarian and which Chai is the best. I talked to backpackers who are on their ‘around-the-world-trip’ and are finding their passions in yoga and meditation. I explored monuments and sights with strangers that I will never see again. And I shared stories with people who I’d wanted to spend more hours talking but, as it often happens, our lives take other directions. All of this reminded me to value every minute and to not to expect moments to last forever.
It also amazed me how this chaotic country has a huge bureaucracy systems in place that everyone follows (except me – it frustrated me until I started to understand it a little). For example, reserving a train is a nightmare – as a foreigner, I was not able to book a place since it requires an Indian mobile number. Which is, by the way, necessary when you want to connect to a ‘free’ WIFI available at public places. And getting a SIM card is not an easy process either – arm yourself with patience and a copy of your passport, passport-sized photo and a local contact. If you are lucky you’ll get your SIM card activated within 24 hours. I haven’t managed to get mine during my week-long stay. I did not need it – in the end, it was nice to be disconnected (although I have lost some Uber’s thanks to losing a WIFI signal).
Trains in India get sold out on a regular basis and even when I paid for a journey, I had not been secured a seat. I had to check if my seat was confirmed an hour before travelling. I had to find my name on huge sheets of paper on the platform. I didn’t ask what would happen if my name wasn’t there – could I board the train? I will never know. All this chaos and uncertainty of India made me wonder if I am ready for exploring this country. I did not want to get myself caught in little things that annoyed me.
During this trip, I found that I am not as open and flexible towards changes and unfamiliar situations. I was not so patient with the local culture of heavy negotiating despite thinking I am a respectful traveller and I have no problems adapting. India is a harsh country and I’ve learnt that here, only the strongest survive (or those who skip the lines). Towards the end, I chose the easier way – to go with the flow rather than to fight it. I started to turn down offers of taxi drivers with a polite smile and got an even politer reply from them with a typical I-have-no-idea-what-it-means headshake; started to return curious looks of locals, again with a smile; and – started to fight firm for my place in the line or, in some cases, skipping the line, because it is fun.
Hearing about how cautious I should be as a single woman travelling in India, I was on my watch all the time, eyeing everyone, judging their intentions just to find out that I am wasting my time. I finally lost my cautiousness in the streets of Old Delhi when I was looking for some spices in dodgy little streets, surrounded by bags of chilli peppers and sneezing happily from all the spices in the air. I am not saying India is safe – it depends on where and when you go. Life’s a big coincidence and my experience could’ve been different. But I still think there are more people in the world who would help me than who would harm me.
I left India with a smile that I am keeping on my face since. I lost my fear from unknowns of this country with such a diverse culture and I am already planning to come back. I woke the curiosity for hearing stories of people around me and learning from them. This trip was too short to be a life-changing experience, but it did give me a kick to not to let precious everyday moments slip by. I read a quote in Angela Duckworth’s book Grit: ‘If you are bored with writing, that means you’re bored with life’. And I think the same is true of travelling and, really, every interest we have.