Return to India: impressions then and now

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Without wanting to sound too cliched (or like I’m channeling Sarah MacDonald in Holy Cow – which does happen to be one of my favourite books, and is still #1 on the bestseller stand at Delhi’s airport bookstores!) I didn’t really love India the first time I visited. The touts, the beggars, the crowds, the constant haggling and the non-stop staring all ate away at me until I had to hightail it back to my beloved Koh Chang for blissed out beach time (after turning into a crazed, bitter, jaded and slightly screamy version of me, complete with raging fever, churning insides and rider of hellish bus journeys while so ill I was bordering on hallucinatory). But that was a decade ago and some things have changed.

I’m so pleased to report that this time around I’m feeling a whole lot more love for India! The chaos and the sensory assault of all things India don’t seem as intense as they did before. It’s somehow not as intimidating. I don’t feel like I’m being stared at or harassed as much as I was previously. I see past the decay, the mess, the crowds – I see colour and life and beauty.

I’m loving genuine smiles, cute kids, stunning saris, intoxicating colours, wafts of incense, mutual smartphone photo-fests, where it’s hard to tell who is more curious about who, faded, crumbling buildings full of charm and potential, religious icons – everywhere, stalls laden with colourful garlands brightening dusty streets, schoolgirls in immaculate white uniforms weaving their way through chaos on their bicycles, sugarcane stands, chai wallahs, religious and historical monuments on a grand, mindblowing scale. Mosques and churches and Hindu temples and minarets and the call to prayer and Hindu chants and blessings and offerings. Sandalwood oil massaged into my hair and charcoal mixed with ghee pressed into my forehead by a Hindu priest. I’m seeing India with my eyes, head and heart wide open.

2 Responses

  1. Rachael September 26, 2013 / 1:02 pm

    Great post. Would you go there with two kids 5 and under? We’re planning a third-world country trip in 18 months on our way to Europe. Deciding between Vietnam or India, and you’ve done both. My little ones will be 3 and 5 then…

    • Liz September 26, 2013 / 7:52 pm

      Hi Rachael! Wow, Europe via Asia with the kids sounds amazing, lucky you! Hmmm lots to weigh up. Vietnam is a definite ‘yes’ from me with kids – family-friendly culture, great food, easy to get around and great combination of beaches, cultural sites and urban buzz. As for India, we didn’t actually bring the kids with us on this trip(!) but I’m sure it would be fine, especially if you had some organised car transfers etc. when you arrive in different places to make things less of a hassle. And there are some great hotels in India too. My only hesitation would be the getting sick factor, as inevitably most people get a bit of an upset stomach (or sometimes worse). This is the main reason I want to wait a little while til we take our kids there. Vietnam isn’t quite as overwhelming either in terms of crowds, confronting conditions etc. Though India is so big and diverse, your travel experience there would also depend on what part of the country you go, and whether you’re doing something in a busier or more low-key destination. Hope some of that helps!

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