I try to arrive in a new country in a rather neutral state of mind. I don’t research much about it beforehand. I certainly do not read any guide book about it. I don’t want to hold any prejudice against its inhabitants, I want to see for myself. It worked well until Turkey. I knew pretty much nothing about the places I was going to. Then, before getting to Iran I did hear a few times from other travellers that the people there are incredibly hospitable. But that was it… and that was not too bad.
With India it’s different. India excites dreams, passions and fantasies. Whether I wanted it or not, I was to hear a lot about the place before even getting there. I heard many times classic lines like “You’ll either hate or love India”. Long before even setting for this trip, I heard “You haven’t seen anything until you have seen India” and “Nothing compares to India”. I didn’t like this last line to much. How was it possible? I thought it was unfair to the other countries, which were surely filled with lovely people and adventures as well. I heard about the supposed intensity of smells and colours and life itself. I heard people talking about being “ready” for India or not. Slowly, collected here and there, those lines start building expectations in your head and heart and you have to try your best to regularly, consciously and carefully shake them off in order to take everything in the way it comes to you, nothing more and nothing less. See for yourself, know for yourself, and feel for yourself. It is not easy, the mind working in the tricky ways it does, but it is really worth trying.
I thought I was surely not ready for India. And that’s exactly why I should dive in, right? So in Yerevan, on an impulse, I changed my plans from the Northern Route following the Silk Road (Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and China) to an Iran-India jump and filed up my application for an Indian visa. I made my plans so that I would arrive there at the same time as good friends of mine, I planned spending the first month with them, and I saw it as a safety net.
I do like to see “signs” everywhere I go and whenever I want to. Those signs show me that the path I have chosen is the right one for me, for now. I only take positive signs into account, not bad omens.
When I reached the very South of Iran, I met an Italian girl, Fulvia, who had freshly disembarked from India over Dubai. Quite understandably because she had just left India, she couldn’t stop talking about the place. The picture she made of her stay was so vivid that I got a little scared. “Oh no don’t worry” she said, “India will be amazing. I am only making it sound worse for you now so that once you’re there you will find it completely bearable. Someone did the same for me!” Within two days, Fulvia changed from “I felt like it wasn’t the right time for me to be there, so I left” to “Oh my, why did I leave, I need to go back as soon as I can!”
With Fulvia we drove up to Shiraz. There we met an Indian guy who was on his way back home, overland, after spending almost a decade in Germany (of all places! ). He had a wicked sense of humour and a soothing tone. I expressed a few concerns. He said “You sound quite ready to me. India will have something good for you. Don’t worry”. I stopped worrying and started to get excited instead.
On the plane to India I was sitting next to a woman whose words made me sure again that there would indeed be something good for me in India – I just had to arrive neutral as usual, and take everything in the way it came to me.
So, after a few months here, what to do make of everything you heard before arriving in India? Everything is true, and yet nothing is. One sure thing is that India is a big, big place (it’s a subcontinent, isn’t it?), so diverse that you can find here everything and its opposite. And often enough both will be right next to each other, making the contrast striking. But to me, India is also the place where you have to start surrendering. In India, you no longer will be able to figure out everything any more . It is where you learn to just accept instead of understand. And if you’re lucky, at some point later, some things might start making sense.
Welcome to India!
(and if you are expecting to find cows in India, don’t worry, your expectations will be met )