While we come across pictures of India in abundance, nothing comes remotely close to the reality of it. It is simultaneously the most beautiful and heart-breaking place I have ever been to. The array of all the different colours is breathtaking: the temples, the dress, the different fruits being sold at pop-up stalls; it offers a whole new aesthetic dimension to the eye.
Indians, both in the city and in more isolated and rural villages, live in harmony with animals. Sacred cows, who arguably rule India as no one dares to touch them, crowd the streets you meander down – try and dodge the motorbike with the two monkeys riding on the back, if you can. Spot the pet goats, peacocks and stray camels on your travels, as well as the elephants that have come to be known as the icon printed on all of the knick-knacks you will pick up for your friends and family back home.
The most impactful and inspiring thing that I came across on my travels was the solidarity between people. As religion is so central to people’s lives – and since there are so many different beliefs present in India – people are extremely respectful of one another and lead lives in which morals are at the core of their actions. After spending two weeks living with a Sikh Indian family, I do not think I will ever meet other people who are so pure and kind hearted.
This attitude applies to action too. Sikh temples, known as Gurdwaras, also function as hospitals and food halls funded by donations and run by volunteers. When Sikhs go to pay their respects they will instinctively volunteer in the kitchen, by cooking or washing up, or will step up to the task of helping in the hospital. My friends and I were also aided by complete strangers when we found ourselves in tricky situations. Ultimately, although being in India may feel like being on another planet, you will never feel alone.
Travelling in India is as daunting as it is exciting. Travelling the length of the country by train is an adventure in itself: 15 hour journeys in an open plan carriage, sleeping on the top of a three tier bunk bed is an essential experience.
I felt the closest I have ever come to death each time I exposed myself to another of India’s unique modes of transport: the tuk-tuk. Each tuk-tuk ride is an adventure. Take my experience of getting into a party tuk-tuk, complete with a massive speaker and flashing multicoloured lights, which instead of taking us to supposedly the best samosa restaurant in Agra, took us to what was probably his uncle’s-cousin’s-step-brother’s restaurant.
Price wise, India is the backpacker’s dream. The hostels are not only incredibly well priced, but also amazingly organised, clean and fun. Indian food is a flavoursome explosion like no other, although one should expect to eat rice for every single meal of the day.
India is a problem-ridden country: it is institutionally corrupt when it comes to issues relating to charities and NGOs, and there are extreme social problems involving gender equality and sexism. It would be deceptive to say that India is suitable for the faint-hearted.
It is easy to become desensitised to extreme poverty when you only come across it on a screen but when you are surrounded by all types of people who truly have nothing, it is much harder to turn a blind eye and walk away. However, travelling in this country does open your eyes to the different realities of people who live on the same planet. I truly believe that we have a lot to learn from the kindness that Indians display by sharing when they have nothing, and from the truly charitable, moral and selfless lives that many of them lead.