When I first arrived in India, it was almost exactly what I expected—chaotic, people everywhere, insane traffic even in the early house of the morning traveling from Delhi to Jaipur, a few hours southwest of the country’s capital. At first, I almost had to remind myself of where I actually was, since being with Rahul was like any other time being with him, regardless of our location. Plus, I had been anxiously awaiting this trip for close to a year, so actually landing in India, meeting him at the gate among the clusters of people pushing to see their loved ones emerge from the airport’s innards, and setting off in the night for his house was surreal—almost too good to be true. After a normal-ish sleep pattern set in the next day and I began to slowly realize where I actually was—and after I truly acknowledged where I was, I also acknowledged that India was a place where the word “expectation” is not known. And, truthfully, I had arrive with none—I had done my reading on the country and the places I was to visit and knew what other people expected me to see, but as far as setting any other major expectations outside of “see Rahul” and “see India,” I had not done so. This was a land vastly different from any other I had ever visited. The only other person besides Rahul and his family that I had known to visit India was my Dad’s cousin Steven, and he did not depict the country as a place people would want to automatically jump on a plane to go and visit. But, personally, I had wanted to visit India for years, and so I departed with an eager mind willing to learn—as cheesy as that sounds.
When I said India is not a country where the word “expectation” is known, I truly mean it. I am someone who lives by schedules and carefully planned days,. Naturally, these plans don’t always follow through. Things get in the way. Someone interferes your day with their own plans. When returning from Nubra Valley, our jeep driver was already a little mad at us because we had taken so long touring Diskit Monestary that we left later than he had hoped to return to Leh. So naturally after stopping for a quick lunch at one of the check points, we were hit with a 30 minute delay by dynamite blasts on the Khardung La Pass. During our day trip to Agra, we decided to visit Agra Fort after spending much of the day at the Taj Mahal. When we returned to our pre-paid taxi to drive back to the train station, we were already cutting it close on time for our departure train. We exhausted five extra minutes in the cab, stalled, as we tried to tell the cab driver over and over that he could not take us any more places due to our train time. Well, Rahul talked as I sat anxiously in my seat, sure that we were going to miss our train back to Delhi. We made it to the train station with about 15 minutes to spare, only to have our train arrival delayed. Still, this didn’t change the fact that I became anxious over the close call, even as Rahul remained calm and reminded me to just cool down.
I think it was during our overnight stay to Pangong Lake that I realized these minor changes in schedule are not to be construed as bad things. When one of the guys in our jeep stated he didn’t want to depart from Pangong back to Leh until noon the next day, I felt that tug of frustration at the corner of my mind. But after spending hours with Rahul on the edge of the most beautiful lake I have ever seen, I realized that I cannot control everything. More often than not, someone else will be controlling the sitatuion, and I can either grind my teeth in frustration or I can sit back and enjoy the ride, even if it departs at a different time than I expected.
Even though I went in with no expectations, I was still surprised by so many things. The popularity in woodfired pizzas. The amount of autos and rickshaws willing to take you anywhere you desire and also willing to sometimes follow you just to get your business. How much I had to haggle and also how terrible I am at it. How women would ride saddle-style on the back of a scooter, sometimes even slinging a baby between her and the driver. How many religious structures I would visit—I returned with visits to a Hindu temple, several Buddhist monasteries, and a mosque underneath my belt. And, in the same wavelength, how prevalent faith is there—almost every auto we used had images of Gods taped to the insides by the auto drivers.
Many, many more things make this list, but one thing that did not surprise me was how much I truly fell in love with India. For the week following my return home (I’ve only been back for a week and a half, so not much time has passed at all), I had this achy feeling in my gut, like when you feel you forgot something before a long vacation. I did not have the same feeling on my return home from South Africa or Italy, even though I loved both of those countries dearly. But this trip was different—I spent the longest amount of time here, I got to travel with my boyfriend/best friend, and I learned something new everyday. It’s not hard to in a country that wakes up a little differently every morning. And even though the achy feeling was a surprise—unexpected, I guess you could say—I knew what it was.
A desire to go visit again. And again. And again.