I can’t recall that moment I had where it clicked that I absolutely needed to go to India, but when I get my mind set on something, I’m often someone to make it happen. So this past December, I boarded my flight to Delhi, still a bit unaware that my dream was actually happening. Even though I had consciously saved my money for months leading up to this trip, it hadn’t really hit me.
Leading up to India, I had anxiety, I wanted to go there so badly because I knew it would push me so far out of my comfort zone, but at the same time, I was scared. I found myself mentally talking to myself to try and emotionally and physically prepare for what I was about to experience, but with a place like India, it’s almost impossible to prepare.
When I landed in Delhi, it hit me—I was finally in India! As I excitedly looked out the window of the tunnel that brought us into the airport, I couldn’t help but notice the grey cloud that hung over everything. This shouldn’t have been surprising to us, considering 15 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world are in India, and Delhi takes the number one spot, but I don’t think I really realized the effects it would really have on me until days into my trip when I had developed a brutal cough.
Our first stop was our hostel located in Old Delhi—an area which we later found out (despite everyone’s recommendations of the hostel), is really not the safest place to stay in India, and it didn’t take us long to realize why. As we stepped out of our hostel onto the dusty streets lined with people walking in every direction, and traffic going whichever way they pleased, the first person to approach us was a man to warn us to watch our things in this area. “Welcome to India,” I thought. Up until the following day when we headed to New Delhi to meet our tour group, we really thought this is what all of Delhi was like and the contrast of the seeing both parts of the city blew us away.
As we continued our travels onto Jaipur, Agra, peaceful Orchha, and Varanasi, I was constantly struck by the things around me. On our bus rides that lasted upwards of eight hours, I couldn’t fall asleep because what was passing us by out the window was so interesting to me. Even though I’ve traveled a lot, I don’t think anything ever compares or prepared me for India. The cities we visited would be lined with garbage, which pigs, cows, and other animals would all munch on in the middle of the most chaotic streets I’ve ever seen. The kids would be playing out on the side of the road, inches from cars, in their bare feet—and we are too concerned to even let our kids be in a separate room from us in Canada. The way that these people lived struck me, but what struck me the most, was how they made it work.
India is famously known for being a very religious and family-oriented culture, and everywhere you turn, you see it. I’d see families of eight stacked into a three-seater tuk tuk, families living out of their shop which was the size of an average Western bathroom, and bathing and relieving themselves on the side of a busy highway—a way of life that makes you wonder what things in your own life are really that important.
At home we stress so much about having the perfect job, getting a decent salary, so we can pay for things we want (not need), and live in places that give us enough room to fit all of those things. We say family and friends are the most important to us, but define important.
Most Indian men and women are in arranged marriages by their families, when a girl gets married, she moves in with her husbands family, and that’s how it goes. They are born, grow, live, and die with their families at their side, and when us Westerners look at this, we’re taken aback and wonder how people can live like this, when in reality, many would look at our lifestyles and wonder how we live the way we do.
For example, when we were in Orchha, we fell in love with this little restaurant, which we ate at for almost every meal. The restaurant, which was located beside another restaurant owned by the same family (another example of how close family is), is actually recommended in Lonely Planet. As travellers, we’ve all seen and noticed that most things recommended in Lonely Planet end up jacking their prices once they earn their claim to fame, but this restaurant was incredibly inexpensive. When I asked our guide why they didn’t charge more, because even if they only charged a little more, the price would still be reasonable, he told me it was because the family felt that they had all they needed with the money they were making now.
Lets just let that sink in.
When a family that has next to nothing but each other says they don’t need any more money to live what in our opinion, is a better life, that really makes me question my priorities.
On our trip, our tour group joked about people who said they “found themselves” when they were traveling. I’m not going to say I found myself in India, but it definitely changed me. India challenged me in so many ways, and showed me how a country can survive on so little. I’m not saying they don’t struggle, they’re human too, and they most definitely do, and you see it everywhere you go, but I think the Indians can really teach other cultures and countries a lot about what’s really important in life.