I have seen nearly-baby boys begging and scraping through piles of garbage looking for food to eat. I’ve seen elaborate and beautiful testaments to love and remembrance. I’ve seen streets so packed with people, cows and trash that I felt like a dancer as I stepped lightly, tactfully and awkwardly to get through. I’ve seen the same nic-naks sold from prices varying from rupees 50 to rupees 800. I have seen slums, palaces, Ghandi’s resting place, cows and caged up chickens. At any moment in time you look around and you see big smiling families, poverty, incredible architecture, religious garb, 80 tuk-tuks trying to get by and everyone is staring right back at your white face, big blue eyes and funny looking lip rings. India sees me just as much as I see India… I think they might even stare more than Chinese people.
The sounds are the same all day: honking horns, barking dogs and men yelling. At the Taj Mahal it was so quiet. In these rare moments of quiet you can hear birds singing the prettiest songs. In restaurants you hear the same up-beat Indian music with screeching female voices. Walking almost anywhere I often here “excuse me, miss!…” followed by their product of choice, whether it be a taxi, an offer to take my picture (despite obviously having my own camera in my hands), to sell me a trinket or simply to ask for money. Insides of the shops I hear elaborate and finely crafted tales about how this item is special to this region and that if we find it for cheaper in another shop – it is because it is fake.
The air tastes like hot sand, making my mouth feel like sandpaper for the majority of the day. No matter how much water I drink, the sand still sticks. We have been very careful of the food. What tastes so incredibly good at one moment could feel so incredibly bad at another moment. The spices are impactful and it is nice to have so many vegetarian options. Often I find a bite of something is okay and then before I know it the spiciness of the dish has built up so much that my nose is running. I’m pretty sure all the weight I lost in China last month is quickly being added back on with each delicious piece of butter naan that I eat.
In short – I just try not to touch much. But I have run my hands along elaborate tapestries, the smooth walls of the Taj and the rough sand of the Red Fort. I am constantly aware when my hand is not in contact with John’s… it bothers me when I can’t feel his hand in mine, especially in crowded spaces. His hand has become the only comfort in many areas of this country.
One minute the air smells fresh… then you smell the strong scent of curry, turn the corner and it’s an overpowering sulphur like smell, walk a little further and the indistinguishable smell of human waste hits you square in the face. Once you run through that, trying hard to hold your breath, you’ll likely just run into a cloud of exhaust fumes and your nose will be filled with the lovely smell of gas. In parks it’s a mixture of flowers, clean air and every now and then, waste. The smell here is unlike anywhere I’ve ever been; sometimes it smells great, other times it is the worst thing I’ve ever smelled in my entire life.
India has tested me…physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually – it won on all accounts. Every single day we get back to the hotel completely exhausted and ready to sleep. A quarter of the time I’m so excited to be there, another quarter I’m so angry that it seems like this entire country is in cahoots against tourists, another quarter of the time I’m so incredibly sad to see the poverty and the other quarter of the time I’m just confused. I don’t know how anything works, and just when I think we’ve got something figured out … we don’t. But I feel at peace, blessed and like this is an experience that will stick with me forever – I just hope the smell leaves the memory soon.