Upon our arrival at 3am, our first foot steps in Old Delhi were only because the mini van we were squeezed into popped it's tire and we were forced to walk its anciently narrow streets. Dodging sleeping bodies, dog fights and human excrement. I stood in awe as I noticed power lines roped together and dangling dangerously close to the ground as they were grouped together like vines in a jungle. That first impression soon became 'the normal' for me and little did I know I would soon have a completely different concept of the term. I realised why I came here in the first place; to open my eyes no matter how dark it may be.
My brave and beautiful girlfriend, Casey and I, travelled south to Agra to see the Taj mahal and beyond into the mighty state, Rajasthan, and its many historic cities. Ranthambore, Jaipur, Pushkar, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Udaipur, and the desert village of Khuhri where between the rolling sand dunes of the Thar Desert, we met the two twins, Amelia and Martha. The two ambitious girls from London charmed us with grace as they open heartedly welcomed the influence of the world, and of course, Rajasthan. A state of India which effortlessly puts on a colourful display of reds, yellows and blues. Romantically grabbing your attention, it will demand your heart to learn how to love this country although it will never give you an easy time understanding it.
Being an Australian within India at the time made our journey difficult. We had no idea that in our home country there was racial tension between our two countries. As Australians, we were considered “racists from a racist country”. There were travel warnings for Indians not to come to Australia. There was negative press in every newspaper and magazine that I read. Even in the street, I couldn’t believe the kind of treatment we got. Shopkeepers, Hotel staff and taxi drivers all seemed so hard to connect with. The discrimination we felt was never intimidating however we both knew that we had to change something to simply be accepted. We began telling people we were from New Zealand and the difference we noticed was undoubtedly the most eye opening thing I saw in India.
Before arriving in India, we were living and working in London and for our final month, we planned to use the remaining money here in India which was left from our deposit from the apartment in Shoreditch, however our landlord refused to give back our money. After countless phone calls and emails, The stress was over powering my thoughts with rage as eight hundred pounds of our savings was stolen. Running out of money and time, it was not until we were in Udaipur just before Casey’s 21st birthday when the stress got to much. Casey broke down in front of me and cried, “I just want to go home.” Her homesick tears rolled down her face and dripped into my heart. Filling it with ache as I wept for her inside but held the knot in my throat to be brave enough for the both of us. The next day on her birthday, we were woken up by a knock on the door. It was the twins and they left a little gift on the doorstep. It was this simple act that made her day truly great and I’m forever thankful.
It was also in this area where I learnt that India is like nowhere I’ve ever been before. It’s a jagged country and so is the time you spend there. Never will you endure so many emotions forced upon you at once. A joyful walk down the road complete with laughter, but smiles and friendship can change as the guilt washes over you and sadness flows into your thoughts. Then suddenly, out of nowhere you are confronted by group of dogs, creeping toward you just like the grim reaper would back you into a corner. Your left with nothing but hope as you look for a stick or a stone as your only form of defence against a force driven by hunger much stronger then anything I’ve seen in all my life. Hard emotions go hand in hand with farmland stricken by drought such as a place like the Thar Desert, and yet, a certain element of contentment is very noticeable amongst the villages and communities. Leaving me with nothing but pride, relief and optimism for the future of the people we meet.
We headed south along the ever changing landscape, through mountains and beside rivers that divide the countries regions. Under the cover of darkness and inside our screeching train carriage, we became friends with a family from Mumbai and were invited to stay at their home as we had no where else to go. We were surprised and overwhelmed with their acceptance of two scruffy travellers and jumped at the opportunity. When we became comfortable in their home, they urged us to change out of our rugged desert clothes that we had just spent the last 24 hours in and to dress in our best “western” attire. We headed to the very western “mall” and it almost made me feel as if I had a role to play as they introduced us to the impressively modern city of Mumbai which they call home. Light hearted conversation in broken English consisted of questions about our home land, what we do for fun, movies, money and what is most important for all Indians: politics, religion and cricket.
To escape the melting heat of Mumbai, we headed for Goa. The nations state famous for its beaches and party lifestyle. From Anjuna beach we headed north to Arambol where I fell sick for days. Twisting gut pains and a shaking fever stole my attention from the picture perfect beach and delicious sea food. The coconut trees covering our bamboo hut were watching over me almost like my own caring mother as I tried to shake away the bug. With a little medical help from the twins, I was fighting fit and back on another night bus headed for the ancient village, Hampi. A village beautifully situated amongst towering hills of brown boulders and contrasting healthy green rice patties below. A sight that will forever leave a fresh, clean impression on my memories.
After spending some time there, Casey, Martha, Amelia and myself decided to use our time wisely and see what south India had to offer. We boarded local buses, trains, rickshaws and boats. We walked and waded through streams and river beds and when we had finally made it to our destination, our routine was to split into two groups and search for the cheapest room that simply included a fan and mosquito net.
Late one afternoon, after giving into the wondrous selection of street food in Mysore. I became sick, very sick. The sickness pulled me back into that strange realm between sane and insanity that I had not long ago forgotten about. Voices spoke within my mind, my vision began to swing. Stomach cramps took a hold of me. Twisting and churning, I rushed and slipped in the mould that covered all surfaces of the bathroom and landed face down and helpless, uncontrollably vomiting and, well, you get it. I spent the next couple of days reliving the same pain I felt only weeks ago in Goa. Little did I know, but with in those last few weeks, I lost 10 kg’s. I was so weak that I couldn’t find the strength to lift a cup of sweet chai to deliver my much needed energy kick. But I guess its just a part of the experience, and I always found it funny to meet other westerners and instantly start talking about our newly acquired toilet habits as if we were old friends. Other travellers were always interesting to meet and I enjoyed learning the reasons why he or she were travelling. Sport, leisure, lifestyle, a spiritual enlightenment perhaps. What ever the reason and what ever the case, we all met on the road; the road that we knew so well but didn’t know us at all in return. Our own paths running parallel to each other for that one moment in time, giving us something to relate to with each other. A talking point; a comfort zone; a helping hand and some needed advice were never far away in India. Tourism was big business here and I was surprised to see the road so warm, yet so exploited.
The trip was almost coming to an end and the thought of heading home after 11 months overseas had me shaking with nerves. I had no idea what to expect, I wondered and feared of becoming too familiar with the one location I call home and yet I was excited to see my loved ones and spend time with friends. To simply sit in the grass with the warm sun soothing my skin or the sand between my toes just before my first surf at my local beach was all I needed to think about to fuel the excitement. Good healthy fruit, beautiful fresh salads and hearty meat was all I craved after I had lost so much weight to an illness I’m still confused about today.
We checked out of our hotel in New Delhi and drove out of the city that was bursting with life, The afternoon sun was blazing hot reds, yellows and casting long black shadows creating pockets of salvation from the dry heat. Time creeps by as Casey and I sit in the moving vehicle without a word, too belittled by the country which at times we both hated and loved so dearly. An untouchable Indian man approached my window begging for change, I paused and handed him a Beedie cigarette. A simple head wobble in appreciation and he is on his way to inhale the tobacco in the same way as I was trying to inhale my last breath of India. The sweet smell of incense mixed with teas, spices and rice cooking in the distance but it wasn’t just the smells I’ll miss. Visually, India is the most stimulating place I’ve ever seen in my life. A women’s sari catches my eye and also the wind as she drives on by my window at a fast pace, a man cooking chai by the road is doing it with so much charm I cant help but watch and engulf myself within the flame. I questioned, “Why am I leaving?” there was so much more to learn and see of India. But my time here has come to an end and now all I have to do is unpack the car and walk towards the departure check-in desk and soon I will be home.