Wanderful Words No. 27: The Secret Destinations of a Trip to India

by Ekua on May 9, 2011 in India,solo travel,wanderful words

“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.”
– Martin Buber

A four day wedding and a little journey across northern India, that’s all. That’s what I thought before I left.

I knew challenges might accompany me on that journey, but those were largely my thoughts as I embarked on that trip. You might say that they were the underthoughts of the year.

But what does it mean to say that an upcoming trip might be challenging, anyway? You can expect challenges and know they’re coming. You can read blog entries and advice and prepare for the challenges. But you’ll never know exactly what challenges will materialize and how you’ll feel when they materialize until you arrive.

For the most part, I put myself in a position to experience India on a basic level. Because of this, and even more so because I was a solo female traveler, there was no filtering anything. India laid it all out for me — filthy accommodations, excessive staring, frustrating gender dynamics, and close-minded ideas about skin color. Once I arrived, the idea of a comfort zone became this elusive thing; something that couldn’t necessarily be reestablished by holing up in a hotel room.

Of course there were the highlights like the trip’s impetus — the vibrant and elaborate four day wedding I attended in Kolkata. After attending that wedding, it’s pretty clear that as far as traditions, decoration, and attire go, an Indian wedding can only be topped by an Indian wedding. I’m now a believer in multiple day weddings. After one day you’re just getting started, but after a few, it feels like a complete well-rounded event.

And there were the beautiful sites like the Amber Fort in Jaipur, the Taj Mahal, and the Jama Masjid that left me in awe of creativity and craftsmanship. There were a few surprises like the Jantar Mantar and the Victoria Memorial. There were the everyday views of cities captured in the early morning or from cars or rickshaws.

A wedding and sightseeing were the things I went to do and see. But of course, my trip had other destinations waiting for me. Most of these unexpected sights were internal.

I’m a strong traveler. I go solo. I go budget. I go almost anywhere. But India had a way of stripping me of this sturdy identity and leaving me feeling incredibly vulnerable. “So you think you’re tough?” it asked me with its daily frustrations and the way it disoriented me by hyper-engaging all of my senses simultaneously.

I was in India for a short time and it wasn’t long enough to reach a point of reconciliation. But it did come eventually.

“I am not an adventurer by choice but by fate.”
– Vincent van Gogh

It was after traveling to India that I knew with absolute certainty that cultural exploration is for me. It just feels right. If you’ve ready my About the Author section, you might argue that I’ve known that for awhile. But no place I’ve previously visited has tested me quite like India. And still my wanderlust is untainted, maybe even enhanced. It goes back to the sleepy, “even when I hate this, I love this,” rumination on my flight to India. It also goes back to other travelers’ sentiments that, “If you can travel in India, you can travel anywhere.” I feel even more ready for the world after visiting India.

Destinations can be like people whose friendship is questionable. They might stab you repeatedly in the front and in the back. But over time, you appreciate their presence in your life.

They’ve driven you crazy and tricked you; they’ve challenged you and poked and prodded your seemingly fragile core. But in the end, because of them, you can gleefully, powerfully, and irrevocably say, “Yes, I do have mountains of inner strength.”

If the countries I’ve visited were people, India would undoubtedly be my foe. And yet I am still damn glad to have met her.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

NS May 10, 2011 at 9:45 am

Quite true. U cant help but love India with all its drawbacks. But yes, life is a kind of a struggle for us each day.

PS: I am an Indian and live in India 🙂

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Ekua May 10, 2011 at 6:24 pm

Well, I wouldn’t use the word “love” to describe my feelings for India! But when I got home, I felt a kind of elation and fierceness that I had never felt before. Somewhere I saw India described as “chaotic and cathartic”. Respectively, that sums up my during and after experiences perfectly.

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Denise May 25, 2011 at 1:41 pm

You put so eloquently into words what I too felt from India. Both west coast American girls with a similar travel back round, I was there too at the same time and felt the very same things. Thanks for blogging this amazing trip!

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Ekua May 25, 2011 at 6:46 pm

Thanks, Denise – I’m glad that you understood where I was coming from with this!

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Sushant Singhal February 15, 2016 at 12:11 am

Hi Ekua,

It is just a matter of coincidence that I landed on this blog of yours having been redirected from your Photo Essay of Amber Fort. I am really perturbed that a lady visiting my country just for a week returned with hostile feelings for us. The irony is, I can’t even blame you for harbouring such feelings for India because, after all, whatever you feel about this country is the unhappy result of your experiences.

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Ekua February 15, 2016 at 9:46 pm

I was there for 2 weeks… not like that is a long time, but it was enough to experience what it means to travel in India as a young black solo female traveler. What perturbs me is that for years, people have been angry about these posts and many seem unwilling to even try to understand what it may be like to travel in India as a young black solo female traveler, even as they read about how the negative ways people treated me affected me.

It was not at all easy to travel in India and it was rarely fun for me. Regarding the idea that the amount of time I spent there was too short: I’m not sure why I’d want to subject myself to more poor treatment, even if I’d had more money and time to travel at that time. This particular post that you are commenting on speaks to the duality of my time in India and highlights both the things I liked and did not like. If you read through my blog (not just the India posts), you will see that I am not a blogger that acts like they love everywhere they visit. I will even write honestly about the places that I love visiting and the places in which I live, because I know that there is duality to every single place in the world. My blog is unapologetically grounded in honesty. I accept ALL of what it means to travel and share all of this because I believe in traveling with my eyes open and writing with integrity.

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