Before I go into details of my experience in India, I’d like to note, India is by far ahead in its technological gird for years to come. It is a country of vast wealth alongside horrifying hunger and destruction. It boasts some of the most expensive cars and properties and hails some of the world’s richest people. It’s a nation of substantial force and a world economic player. It is one of world’s largest traders with everything from rice, textile, automotive, to mining. The culture of India is present in everything visible and proudly exhibited throughout all regions. It is important to note that India’s culture should not be completely merged with its political and economic forefront although very intimately joined in a way of life. While politics and economies will change it is evident this ancient culture is powerful enough and apart of a conscious existence to stay.
I had the pleasure of experiencing life on one of the world’s most culturally challenging yet igniting places on the planet – India. It was never top of my bucket list, nor had I really ever wanted to visit it simply because of my already formed media perception of the narrow and restricted culture. But once I was there and my feet were firmly on the soils of mother India, I wanted to go right back onto the Lufthansa Air that brought me here. Nevertheless, I knew if I hadn’t satisfied my inner curiosity of discovery through my own eyes, I would always wonder what India would be to me. So for the next few months, twelve, to be exact this would be the home of my husband and I, and funny enough of those twelve months, I ended up spending nine with my wobbling belly taking my unborn son everywhere I could go.
My heart was heavy at every roadside congestion as passers-by stood heavily with deformities, young women no older than fifteen or so with small children clung to their bellies holding bunches of flowers and a little baby in another while rallying the car windows hoping to make a days sale. Animal and bodily stench reeking in the open air of clustered city ways. To take you on this journey with me I must take you on this journey with me.
I landed without much expectation and with the only notion that I would definitely suffer some sort of a ‘culture shock.’ For me, this resulted in a few life lessons that changed my perception in the end. I travelled through India’s capital New Delhi and had my first ‘tuk-tuk’ ride and cross my heart it will be the last.
The tiny auto spiralled into congested traffic as if to collide, then without a moment’s notice dashed into a little opening hustling along. Millions of people within every direction. Men with well-oiled hairs and tight pants glued to their cellular phones, beautiful women in all of their garment colours and the married women proudly displaying the traditional red sindoor middle of their foreheads. Cattle in open traffic and donkey carts rounding up what seems as much as fifty people – men, women, and children galloping by with wide open smiles leaving you speechless. If you’ve ever watched the movie Eat Pray Love under the scene where Julia Roberts takes her first grasp on India amidst the crowds and nightmare traffic – believe me the writers were not exaggerating.
Then across from the city slums, across the street to be exact, was a majesty of rich decor, towering buildings, city chic hotels and well-tailored men at security checkpoints politely screening anyone to enter the long driveways arriving at their building of reference. I was unexpectedly taken to a ‘toga’ party in the middle of the night and was blown away. The presence of ‘India’ as I had formed in my mind was nowhere to be seen. Women and Men stood comfortably in a fusion of music and chic lifestyle embracing a world beyond borders.
My first lesson was lived, never judge a book by first impressions – for having an open mind is more than just thinking it, it’s becoming it. I became instantly drawn and in a way wanted to know more about the people with whom had let me into their world. Well spoken men and women of every coast irrespective of political background. They had in them an inner pride that would exude into everything and annunciated in every word.
My next stop was onto Mumbai where I would spend a mere three days roaming this intriguingly well-preserved historical city – filled with modern and at the same time well-preserved British architecture. I was blown away. I checked into the Four Seasons Hotel Mumbai, an elite world-class luxury hotel that lobbied some of India’s finest fashionable and well-respected business tycoons. As I checked into my hotel room I immediately drew the curtains with the hopes of having a fantastic city view and it was fantastic and reminded me this was India after-all.
My final stop was in the south of India – Chennai, formerly Madras. My husband was working there at the time and I had finally packed it in from my work within the Maldivian islands of the Indian Ocean.
As a comfort clinging traveller I would say two weeks tops would do it to maintain a very fond relationship with India, less than six months will leave you angry but beyond ten months and you would have been able to come to terms and understand the beauty and incredible characteristics of this culture bounded land.
Exploring Chennai was a surreal moment for me. It brought me closer to the world I had hoped to see and not just the fusion of the daily culture but the untouched majesty of its ecological makeup. Tamil Nadu, exploring the deep and more enchanting regions of Masinagudi, Ooty and the former French settlement of Pondicherry which also became our home and the place our newborn baby would have his first three months.
My love of India is primarily linked to its raw and more uninhabited nature; one that is very much endangered. Masinagudi share as one of the five ranges that is home to the Mudumalai National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary also declared a Tiger reserve and is Northwestern of the Nilgiri Hills (Blue Mountains). Its beauty is uncanny and while the spotting a Bengal tiger, Indian Leopard or other endangered animal is not always the case there are over 266 species of birds in the sanctuary, monkeys and graciously breathtaking peacocks of which the white peacock was the first I had ever seen and quite a novel experience indeed.
Apart from this, enjoying weekend trips to Ooty another very tranquil town within the Nilgiri Hills (Blue Mountains), was all in a days trip for me; this particular destination is popular in filming many Bollywood movies for its beauty and unspoiled nature. It is generally colder than most parts of India and at first, reminded me of a far away European countryside. The resorts are enchanting with stony architecture, fields, and fields of spectacular colour variations, charming resort suites with old-fashioned wood-burning fireplaces. I continued my visits throughout towns similar in nature I realized India truly is Incredible, and amazingly beautiful in all of its untouched natural vastness.
When it came to our regular days, if there is ever such a thing as regular when living in India, we enjoyed our months in the quaint little French town of Pondicherry. It isn’t exactly baguettes and croissants, still pretty rough around the edges, wandering and judgmental, but on a little lane called Saint Therese home to the Mother Theresa Abby, we held our first home together.
I particularly enjoyed my morning and/or mid-afternoon walks simply to buy fresh flowers followed by spice markets where saffron, cardamon, and turmerics filled the air. Pondicherry is on its own a beautiful little town that lobbies lovely gardens, ocean view restaurants, art galleries and culturally engaging events.
Getting around India can be a nightmare and I certainly was not going to relive my first ‘tuk-tuk’ experience, so we were particularly happy to have gotten a personal driver. It isn’t too difficult and a lot more affordable than living in the Americas, for I do know I couldn’t endure India’s transport service if I were to keep my baby for a full term delivery.
Often times Chennai would be my wanderlust with the most exquisite chill-out hot spots, dining experiences, fashion houses and artists. I came alive here and love the Modern Indian attire that went beyond the traditional saris and salwars.
So it is with a deep breath, I say to my readers, this is India, everything all at once. It’s an ‘in-your-face’ kind of place and whether you like it or can’t handle the mid-July heat wave this is how it is.
When I landed in India, I landed with my perception as a Westerner and more than that a general human nature, that I am somehow more fortunate in my way of life. I realized something leaving, no one there thinks of themselves any less fortunate than I think of myself. Yes, there are travesties and political corruption, rights of woman and children that are heartbreaking and can use attention but the monasteries this culture of India was built on is of the strongest I have ever seen a culture to be. And one that remains as untouched after all these hundred years. It is taken with pride and in all seriousness to everyone that lives there.
So as I leave, I must respect that and hopefully have gained a little inner peace for understanding that. I will not lie, I was genuinely happy to have returned to Montreal with my husband and our three-month-old baby boy, but there will always be a place in my heart for India because it was the only place in the world that really made me stop in my tracks to look beyond my imaginations, stripped me naked of my perceptions and opened my eyes to a world truly beyond borders.
I may not agree with everything in India but it is a wonderful place that can only be accepted if willing to give all of yourself to it. Enjoy the food, the music, the drama, the weddings, the people. Get dressed up in something different and attend a Sunday morning Mandir (Hindu Temple) and you might be surprised how wonderful it really is.
If you have the opportunity to visit India, I would say, do it. Absolutely do it. It’s one of those rare opportunities where you can really have an out of body experience if you allow yourself to just be one with everything around you. It’ll be something you will have to share for the rest of your years. Namaste.