Instagramming India

Last time I was in India, I failed to update my blog on a regular basis with updates and pictures about our adventures. I promised this time that I would be better about updating and, well, you know how those … Continue reading

India, Here I Come!

The countdown is on. I leave for India in 15 days. Actually, the countdown has been on for quite a while, I just haven’t gotten around to sitting down and writing this post. I meant to do it a month … Continue reading

Missing India, Part Two

So as I said in Missing India, I have been pining for India lately. These posts are more concentrated on pictures than words, as India is a country hard to describe in words. Even when a close description is achieved, it never reaches the desired magnitude.  Even with pictures, only a minimal snapshot of this beautiful place is allotted, but hopefully you will continue to understand through these pictures why I fell in love with this place.

Missing India, Part Two: Ladakh
(Leh, Nubra Valley, Pangong Lake)

Ladakh is a fascinating place. As contested territory, this area of India is also claimed by Pakistan as well. When you look at the Ladakh region on a map, you will often see the area marked by dotted lines instead of solid. Plus, the area takes on a lot of similarities to its surrounding Tibetan, Nepalese, and Chinese landscape. Flying in from Delhi to Leh provides two totally different perspectives and surroundings. In Leh, you’ll find many more tourists, peaceful landscapes, a large Tibetan population, and a quiet lifestyle. Ladakh provides a good break from the busyness of most parts of India, as you are submerged into the Buddhist religion, majestic mountain scenes, and fresh, fresh air.

And it should go without saying, but all these pictures are the property of me or Rahul. Please let them remain here and nowhere else. : ) 

Young monks; Thikse Monastery.

Enjoying the view; Pangong Lake. 

Approach of the camels; Nubra Valley. 

Please remove shoes; Hemis Monastery. 

Large devotion; near Diskit Monastery. 

Young monks spinning prayer wheels; Thikse Monastery. 

Sun reaches down; Nubra Valley. 

Patch of green; near Leh.

Peaceful morning; Nubra Valley. 

Close up; Thikse Monastery. 

Sun shining down on us; Disket Monastery. 

On the move; Thikse Monastery.

Sun rise; Pangong Lake. 

All smiles; Hemis Monastery. 

Built out of the mountainside; Hemis Monastery. 

Prayer flags; Thikse Monastery. 

All hearts for Leh-Ladakh; Shanti Stupa. 

Shades of blue; Pangong Lake.

Running from explosion; Khardung La Pass. (This construction held us up for about an hour. These are some of the guys in our group running away from the falling mountain pieces.) 

All the colors of the wind; a monastery in Nubra Valley.

Please don’t litter; Khardung La Pass.

To end with food/drink: MINT TEA! So delicious. The first thing you are offered upon arriving to help you acclimate to the altitude change. 


Missing India

I miss India. This is partially because I miss Rahul a lot. But I do also miss the country I was able to visit for the first time because of him, and the country that I desperately want to go back to. Because, you see, I don’t feel that India is a country you can visit once and never again. It’s a country you visit once, for a year, or two, and even then, you never see all of it.

So, even though I can’t physically visit the country I yearn for most at this moment, I can, in a way, through some of my favorite pictures.

Missing India, Part One: Jaipur

Jaipur was my first stop on the India trip, and also where Rahul lives. It is the capital of Rajasthan, known as the “Pink City.” It’s a charming, “small” city of 3.1 million people and served as the perfect way to introduce me to the 2nd largest country in the world.

Elephant Crossing; Amber Fort.

“Crazzy” City; near Tiger Fort.

Hand holding; City Palace.

Window view; Tiger Fort. 

Crossing; Lake Palace.

Sunny day; Tiger Fort. 

A fort with a view; Tiger Fort.

Seeking shade 1; Amber Fort. 

Seeking shade 2; Jantar Mantar.

Seeking Shade 3; Amber Fort. 

Seeking Shade 4; Amber Fort. 

Waiting for the bus; Jaipur.

Model Shoot; Amber Fort. 

Tag-a-long; Amber Fort. This little guy followed us for a while. And he poses too. 

Following the straight and arrow; near City Palace.

Tour Guide Pose; Tiger Fort. 

Elephants; Amber Fort. 

Off the beaten path; near Tiger Fort. 

Kabaddi; Amber Fort. Notice how their shoes form the field line. 

Dudes hanging out; near Tiger Fort. 

Door Frame Shot; Amber Fort. 

Doors; Tiger Fort. 

The Brothers Karamazov + Gandhi + Pumpkin Cookies

First of all, a huge thank you to all those who have read “Visit the Taj.” I am completely overwhelmed and gratified! I have loved reading all your comments and thoughts concerning the post and the Taj Mahal/India in general. As others have noted in their comments, India is a wonderful country to visit and definitely one to add to that “Places to Visit Before I Die” list I’m sure we all have. I visited the Taj Mahal in the last week of my trip, after traveling to Jaipur, Delhi, and Ladakh (Himalayas), and I have other posts concerning some of these travels if anyone is interested in scrolling down to find those as well.

While reading everyone’s comments, I started thinking about other things from my trip to India that I want to write about. Writing about India is nearly impossible. There is no way I will ever be able to do the country justice through my words, but I continue to try regardless.

I didn’t want to write something just for the sake of writing, so I instead continued reading The Brothers Karamazov for my 20th Century English Literature class. I’ve had some fun with this book so far. At the lunch table yesterday, I asked the guys in my house who could pronounce the title (I can’t), which produced some interesting results. I also found out two of them can actually speak Russian—score! This book has produced a few gems, including “Don’t be afraid of bare-footed wenches,” “For that you’ll go straight to hell and be roasted there like mutton,” “I spent the rest of the money on such an orgy that the new major was obliged to reprimand me,” “She’s a deceitful, shameless hussy,” and many, many more. I don’t think I’ve ever read the words “buffoon,” “fool,” and “orgy” so much in my life.

That being said, a character in the book, Father Zossima, is respected by many in the book as an Elder at the local Monestary where the book’s protagonist is residing. Most of the characters revere him, seeking him out for advice and prayers. One chapter titled “Peasant Women Who Have Faith” describes how women seek out Father Zossima for guidance and help in their spiritual life. Reading about this character, I was reminded of someone else who was equally sought out for guidance and spiritual help—Mahatma Gandhi.

I’ve known who Gandhi is my whole life, but it wasn’t until right before I left for India that I really started researching him. I had no idea about his work in South Africa, another country I’ve visited and loved (https://wordifications.wordpress.com/2011/06/04/it-is-dangerous-you-will-be-killed/). I feel like Gandhi is one of those people that gets quoted an unnecessary amount in the wrong context, or quoted poorly or for the wrong reasons, reducing his words to just that—words, and not messages that touched the lives of millions of people.

Raj Ghat *photo cred for most of these goes to Rahul. He’s wonderful.

Rahul and I visited Raj Ghat, his memorial place, and Gandhi Smriti, located in the Birla House, both in Delhi. Gandhi Smriti documents Gandhi’s life works and how he spent the last few days of his life, as this is where he was shot dead by a Hindu zealot when walking to a prayer meeting. The last words he spoke were Hey Ram, loosely translated to “Oh God,” which is inscribed on Raj Ghat in the picture above.

Gandhi Smriti

Gandhi’s last residence

Gandhi Smriti was especially spectacular, and not just because his worldly possessions are on display here. It was definitely a heart-stopping moment to look at his famed walking stick, glasses, and his residence for the last days of his life with my own eyes. But Gandhi was more than this. While we were there, walking through the museum and then following his last steps to a monument located where he was actually shot, I began to marvel at who Gandhi was.

Let me explain—I definitely have my passions in life. I love writing, reading, my family and friends, Rahul, good conversation, coffee, laughter, rainy days. But I honestly can’t think of something I’m so passionate about that I would completely turn my life over to devote all my time to it, as Gandhi did. I think people fail to realize Gandhi actually had a career before becoming the Gandhi we all know today. I’m definitely one of those people. He was progressing through life as many of us would—attending school, establishing a career, developing a family. Except he had something different in him; the desire, passion, and willpower to actively work toward the things he saw vital to human life and against the things he saw that tore humanity down as a whole. As he himself said, “All men are brothers,” and his daily life was a testament to this fact. Many others who have goodwill in their heart and intentions still fail to let this shine through everyday as he did.

Gandhi’s last steps

In addition to Gandhi Smriti being a beautiful place, it also proved to be a wonderful place to think about those things we often don’t want to think about. For me, it was how much does my faith really mean to me, would I ever accomplish things in life on the same level Gandhi did, what risks would I be willing to take for the good of mankind. I don’t have answers for any of these, and I honestly don’t think I will for a long time. But this site and Raj Ghat are excellent places to start progressing toward not only acknowledging this questions, but addressing them as well.

//

On a totally unrelated note, it’s that time of year again!

Y.U.M.

Nestled in the Mountainside

It’s been a while since I last wrote, mostly due to the job I have at the University of Maryland. I’m a House Director for a fraternity, so have been assisting with their move-in for the past week, as well as training for the job itself. It’s going to be interesting to live with 30 guys, but I’m excited to get to know them all! : )

This past Friday, I went to a Happy Hour for the Public Policy graduate school with a few of my friends/co-workers who are in their Masters Program. By no means do I understand public policy, but I love a good happy hour. There, I met someone who, after hearing I traveled to India this summer, told me how much he had not liked India when he had lived there for a month as a student. He lived in Udaipur, which is in the same state as Jaipur, where Rahul lives. As you can probably tell by now (if you’ve been reading), I loved Jaipur. Even more than that, I LOVED India.  When Rahul and I talked about this guy’s reaction to India, we discussed how India is a great country to visit, but not a country you can go in with expectations similar to those you have when traveling to European countries. Things are going to be different, but if you allow yourself to appreciate the differences, you might just fall in love, like I did.

Pangong Lake

Nubra Valley

One of the differences that is easy to love is Ladakh and the Himalayas. We stayed in the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir for a week; most of the time in a guesthouse in Leh with spectacular views of the Himalayan range, but also overnight stays to Nubra Valley and Pangong Lake. Things you should know about Ladakh:

  • The Himalayas are always visible and always surrounding you. Want a reminder of how small you are in the universe? The Himalayas are an instant reminder of the greatness of our universe.
  • The summer months in Ladakh are the tourist months. I probably saw more foreigners in Ladakh than I did in Jaipur, Agra, and Delhi combined.
  • Everything seems more relaxed in Ladakh. No one is trying to scam you, or follow you creepily with an auto, or anything like that. Everyone seems just relaxed.
  • The locals have a bit of a different coloring, probably due to the fact that many of them are Tibetan refugees. Also, the proximity to the sun adds a ruddiness to their cheeks.
  • A day of acclimation to the altitude has to be allowed. Warming: You WILL feel your heart beating ridiculously fast the first day. It’s normal. Just don’t go out for a jog in the first six hours you’re there.
  • Instead of Hinduism being the most prominent religion, it’s Buddhism. Everywhere we went, there was not a lack of gompas, prayer wheels, prayer rocks, prayer flags, whether or not a monastery was near by.

View from our Leh Guesthouse

Speaking of Buddhism, this was a part of the Himalayas that I found fascinating. I grew up around plenty of churches, but the Buddhist faith touched me in a way Christianity has not. The diligence Buddhist believers put into building these monasteries and other religious structures astounded me. We bought a book about Ladakh, which stated that

At Thikse Monastery

monasteries are to be built on the side of a mountain facing a body of water.All five monasteries we visited fulfilled this requirement, which just blew me away. It’s scary enough climbing the steps while visiting the monastery, but to imagine those who built the monastery sculpting in a mountainside puts things in perspective. The views surrounding most monasteries, especially Diskit, are breathtaking, reminding you of your presence in the world. Also, many of the monasteries feature a larger than life Buddha, which were usually my favorite part. The dedication Buddhists demonstrate to pray and show their devotion was another remarkable thing to me. No matter how many times a follower had taken off his or shoes or bowed his/her head while walking through the monastery, he/she consistently did so at the next available space.

Buddha outside Disket Monastery

I also took interest in the Eight Lucky Symbols of Buddhism; the Lotus, Endless Knot, Golden Fish, Victory Banner, Wheel of Dharma, Treasure Vase, Parasol, and Conch Shell. This was an interest I developed before I even went to India, but it was heightened by actually being around representations of these symbols. Prayer wheels and flags provide a sense of solace and peace when used. Prayers wheel bring luck and good fortune to those who turn them clockwise; I gifted one to my parents.

Disket Monastery

Even though I grew up in the Presbyterian church and am by definition a Christian, I believe it’s extremely important to have an understanding and appreciation of other religions and faiths to better understand one’s own. India was a great place for this understanding and appreciation to expand, and I found that to be one of the most beautiful facets of the country itself.

Visit the Taj

I believe it would be fair to say everyone has a different impression of the Taj Mahal upon actually visiting because she presents herself in a different way to each different visitor. In pictures, I’ve always seen the calm, peaceful, deserted Taj Mahal with clear skies and untouched water. When I visited, I saw her on a relatively cloudy day with so many people I swore everyone was duplicating themselves multiples times once passing through the gates. Upon first glimpse, I was almost thinking “That’s not the Taj Mahal.” Rahul and I stopped to take pictures once entering, which every other tourist did as well. So if we took too long trying to get a shot wrong, or just stood in the same spot for too long, we would get shoved, slowly edged out of our spot, crowded, and number of things that would drive even the most weathered travelers mad.

The Taj

But after moving away from the crowd clumps (appropriate term for where the highest amount of tourists would congregate, like ant hill mounds) and after taking a few moments to really let it sink in that I was staring at the Taj Mahal, it hit me: I was standing in front of probably the greatest testament of one person’s love for another that the world has ever seen.

Just a quick history lesson on the Taj Mahal; it was built by the Mughul ruler Shahjahan in the 1600s after his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, passed away giving birth to her 14th child at the age of 38 (she was getting busy to have had 13 children by 38). He wanted her burial place to be as beautiful as their love for each other, and so he had the Taj Mahal constructed. It took 20 years to build, and Shahjahan was overthrown and imprisoned by his son after its completion, spending the rest of his life in Agra Fort, only able to see his wife’s burial place at a distance.

Shahjahan also desired to be buried next to his wife, who is placed in the exact center of the Taj Mahal. The Taj Mahal is the greatest example of Mughul architecture, and the Mughuls were really big on symmetry and geographical shapes. The Taj Mahal is actually the exact same from all four sides, making it look like a little box with a building in the middle of it from a distance. Mumtaz’s tomb is in the exact middle of the Taj Mahal with Shahjahan’s tomb placed sloppily beside it, the only thing not symmetrically perfect in the whole grounds.

View of Taj Mahal from Agra Fort–looks like a little box!

Mumtaz placed perfectly in the center, Shanjahan on the side

While the purpose for the Taj Mahal’s construction is amazing, so is the amount of people who come to visit it every year. We took an early morning train from Delhi to Agra. We arrived in Agra around 8 AM and were immediately followed for around five minutes by a cab driver vying for our business. We took an auto instead, dozens of them lined up near the train station waiting for business—surely more often than not tourists wanting to be taken to the Taj Mahal. We got there early enough that we didn’t have to wait in line at the South Entrance (by far the most beautiful entrance), which was packed with people trying to enter when we left. One of the things tour guide books warn against is fake tour guides—people who will promise a tour of the Taj Mahal, ask for payment, and then take off. We saw this happen to a few tourists when we were leaving but, the tourists caught on to the scheme before the fake tour guide could play the vanishing game.

All these people have to go somewhere, thus sprinkling themselves on the grounds of the Taj Mahal, pushing their way through the inside mausoleum, taking turns snapping pictures in the popular spots, congregating in large groups from spot to spot to spot. We had a joke going on while we were there about the “bros” at the Taj Mahal, as there was an alarming amount of teenage Indian boys wondering in clumps, as if scoping out the area for ladies.

Just to give you a small idea of how many people were there

Once getting past the crowds, I was able to appreciate more the wonder of the monument, and the hundreds of other people there became not an annoyance but another component of the majesticness of the Taj Mahal. The white marble looms over the surrounding gardens and fluid crowds. The first sighting almost doesn’t even make sense, the sight of the structure confirming its almost mythical existence. The Taj Majal was something we learned about every year in school and so to be standing in front of it was unreal. And it did feel unreal, for a moment, until I acknowledged the fact that this crowded, hot, sunny Taj Mahal I visited was the same Taj Mahal I had seen in dozens of pictures, and the same Taj Mahal now hanging in a picture in my own house.

An interesting article about the Taj Mahal in the Smithsonian Magazine:

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/How-to-Save-the-Taj-Mahal.html#

You’re gonna sweat

To kind of go along with the last post, India comes with its own cultural differences. After the 20th time of me going “Did you see that?” Rahul told me he enjoyed my outsider perspective to a country he has been living in for two years. Things Rahul had become accustomed to stood out to me, such as the seeming absence of car seats, women wearing colorful saris sweeping the medians on busy streets, shops tucked away in the Old City packed full of tires of varying sizes; the list goes on and on. As I said in the last post, I feel that India is a country transformed into a novelty all too often; the truth is, however, that India is a country just like any other, with its own customs, oddities, and gems. That being said, I compiled a list of a few things that stuck out to me:

  1. The traffic—cars and scooters interweave in a scary fashion. When someone wants to cross an intersection that is not marked by a light, that car or scooter inserts itself in the traffic until vehicles stop long enough for the others to join them.
  2. There are people everywhere! Almost anywhere we went, minus Ladakh, there are people cluttered on the sides of the road, crossing the street, calling for autos. To add to that, there’s a surprising amount of children.
  3. The head nod, a leftover from the British rule when citizens would use the head bobble as a way to respond to a question without providing a clear yes or no. The head bobble still confused me at the end of my trip—I had a hard time deciphering when it was being used to actually signal yes.
  4. To go along with number 3, I learned this one from Rahul—that most people prefer a clear answer instead of a “I don’t care” type of attitude, which I use often. I option for this kind of answer to questions like “Where do you want to eat tonight” because I usually really don’t care—I’ll be fine with anything. But, instead, I had to learn to say exactly what I want.
  5. You’re going to sweat. It’s a hot country. On days it rains, the streets flood because of poor drainage. And when it’s sunny, many people wear long elbow length gloves to protect their skin from the sun. Where America contains a high population of people who yearn for the sun’s rays, India contains just the opposite.
  6. Your business is a hot commodity. When I say that, I mean a Tour Guide is not going to leave you be until you say yes to his services or come up with a better excuse.  Auto drivers desperately want your business. We had an auto driver in Delhi who drove us all afternoon to three or four places because he wanted our business. In Agra, we were followed by a cab driver, even while we were clearly aimlessly walking in circles, because he wanted us to use his taxi service.
  7. Hecklers will find you. At any major attraction, there are hoards of people trying to sell gifts. There’s a big difference between people trying to sell you goods and those begging for money—many children begging would tug at my pants leg until we responded or walked away. At the bus stop in Jaipur, a woman told two younger children to knock off while all three were asking us for money. In Agra, two young girls got into a fight over the amount of money given to each of them by us. By far the grossest offer we had was a man who wanted to clean one ear for us.

    Outside of India Gate

  8. One thing that stuck out to me the most was the amount of people with jobs in India. Jobs that would quickly be eliminated in America due to the economy are thriving in India. Rahul said this was to create jobs for the Indian people, and it seems to be working. At the airport, I had to show around four people my ticket stub before loading the plan. When Rahul bough a hard drive, five people helped us get it off the shelf. When we went to the Taj Museum in Agra, one man took our money for tickets and another tore the ticket—even though the two men were sitting directly across from each other.
  9. The presence of religion. Almost everyone seems to be attached to a clear faith and very prevalent of their beliefs. Our driver in Leh when we visited Hemis, Thikse, and Shey Monestaries would bow in front of the Buddha when walking around with us. The religious images many drivers had placed on the inside of their auto, or Prayer Wheels drivers in Ladakh had on their dash, could be compared to religious stickers on cars in America.
  10. Indian boys travel in packs—and they want pictures with white girls! I was asked several times to take pictures by Indian men, but luckily Rahul deflected each request. The girls we did see that got sucked into their pictures had to sit through 5 or 6 different guys taking his own picture with the girl(s). But, I do have to say that the asking was way better than those who would just take your picture, no question.
  11. The country seems to move at a slower pace, which I had to get used to. I am kind of a control freak at certain times experience impatience when something is not moving as fast as I want. So, coming from a country where everything is if not fast-paced, expected to be fast-paced, it was a good chance to slow myself down and realize that I can’t always be in control, or that I need to be okay at moving at a pace slower than normal.
  12. Animals everywhere! The cow is a sacred animal in India, so cows are pretty much allowed to roam free. As Rahul said to a few other tourists we met in Ladakh, “if there’s a cow chilling in the middle of the road, there’s a cow chilling in the middle of the road.” There’s also a high presence of dogs, pigs (considered unclean), donkeys and, in some places, peacocks. In Nubra Valley, marmots outnumber the human population by 1,000 to 1! We also saw wild horses on the way to Pangong Lake, in addition to the elephants and camels we saw several places. But, of all the listed animals, the elephant and camel were probably put to use the most, for entertainment purposes.

Cows chilling in the middle of the road.

I could add several other things to this list, but I’ll stop here for now. I was fascinated by everything I saw in India. Even if it was something that could be construed as a negative, I enjoyed it—because it was something different than my norm.

A mix of contrasts

One of my favorite things about India was the mix of contrasts, rather it be old and new, wealthy and poor, clean and dirty. It wasn’t like Cape Town, South Africa, where there was a very stark difference between the shiny, nice waterfront area of the city and the townships that sprawled for what seemed like miles on end only about 10 minutes away. Instead, it wasn’t uncommon to see men pulling goods on an overloaded rickshaw right beside dozens of cars all pushing to reach the same place, older women dressed in beautiful saris carrying young children in jeans, or trash littering a beautiful location.

Nubra Valley

I initially noticed this while in Jaipur, the first stop on my trip. Jaipur is an easy city to fall in love with, which I did quickly. The city is sprinkled with beautiful attractions and treats all visitors well. Jaipur moves fast, yet slow at the same time. A small example can be found in the traffic—where every car and scooter is doing all it can to reach its destination as quickly as possible, some pedestrians weave through traffic in a pace close to moseying. The Old City, the reason Jaipur is known as “The Pink City” due to its terra cotta façade, pops up unannounced and, if I wasn’t paying attention, we could be through one gate and out another before I even knew it. In the Old City, the buildings around such attractions as the Hawa Mahal (Wind Palace) and City Palace have been turned into gift shops, fabric sellers, and if one walks through this area without being called after by store owners, he or she is lucky.

On my first night in Jaipur, a lavish wedding procession marched through the dusty streets as if it was a perfectly normal custom—which it probably is. One mall we visited to eat lunch was surrounded by makeshift tents with children playing games in the center. Speaking of children playing games, we watched a group of school children play a version of tag, Kabbadi, with the impressive Amber Fort looming in the background.

Kabbadi

And speaking of Amber Fort, I was fascinated by the area surrounding the forts—newer homes were built literally right beside crumbling structures, all nestled into a hillside together with the shadows of the forts looming over them. Temples and mosques jump out wherever they can find space, sometimes as small as a room and other times as large and beautiful as Birla Mandir. Jaipur didn’t seem like Rome, where city had been built upon city had been built upon city. Delhi was a little more like this, where in Jaipur, it seemed to be that instead of building upon old structures or replacing them, new structures occupied any empty spaces left.

In short, there is a stark difference in contrasting elements, but instead of being separated, they’re all mixed together in one confusing, wonderful, messy, beautiful blur. I believe India is a country that is often stereotyped or turned into a novelty; when one sees a woman wearing a sari in America, it’s treated as a mystical element, a far-off, make-believe concept. In India, it’s everyday custom. India is also a country that is hard to describe; when one sees a woman washing fruit in a space over a drain on the side of the road, it’s hard to describe without a stereotype landing over the person and the country as well.  I’m sure some who read this will still take that past sentence as me attempting to stereotype the country. But once someone goes to India, witnessing something completely different than anything he or she has ever witnessed before, puzzle pieces start to fall in place and one will begin to notice how the country just flows together, like the massive rivers that cut through the country’s land mass. India is unapologetically India. In my opinion, the country makes no effort to pretend it’s something it’s not—it just is, and people can interpret this however they need be.

Expectations (sing to the tune of Carly Simon’s “Anticipation”)

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.

The first picture I took in India; inside the Delhi airport.

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.

A few guys in our group running from the Khardung La Pass blast.

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.

Scooter family.

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.