Watch. Listen. Learn. (India 15: Final thoughts)

I guess one way to tell that your trip to India is over is that you stop having to take malaria pills, and for me that happened over a month ago. But in fact my trip did not feel “over” until I finished writing about it. And now that I have done that too, I long to call the whole experience back to the present, but I am also eager to start thinking about my next writing projects, and my next adventures.

This post is a summary of some lingering thoughts I’ve had while reflecting on my three weeks in India, which was also my first major solo trip abroad – thoughts that I didn’t really cover in the previous posts, but ones that are too brief and transitory to merit their own posts.

The Best Part

A few people have asked me what was the “best part” of my trip to India, and I honestly can’t give an answer to that question. Instead of disparate memories of different locations – Delhi, the Taj Mahal, Pushkar, the wildlife reserve in the Arivalli Hills – it all merges together in my head to become one big wonderful thing called “India.” Or, more specifically, “Some of Northwestern India.” It’s a feeling. And a good one. I want to go back.

Where Next?

A few people have also asked me where I’m going next – now that clearly I’ve  been bitten by the travel bug. For a while I was thinking “Spain,” because I’ve been longing to go to Spain (and France, and Germany, and Italy, and Greece) since I was in university, or even before that. I studied French and Spanish In school and keep trying to brush up on those languages in case I get a chance to use them.

But now I’m thinking that if I’m going to be more flexible (mentally as well as physically) in the next thirty years than I will be in the thirty years after that, and since travelling through Europe (and Australia and New Zealand) is likely to be easier on an older person than travelling through other parts of the world, maybe I should go to the more challenging places first. So I think Peru is my answer at the moment. Or Cambodia.

Jet Lag

I didn’t have jet lag on the way to India: when I got to Delhi, I was ready to hit the pavement. That may  have been because I was in a new place and was full of curiosity, excitement, and a bit of fear. Or maybe it was because after travelling for 36 hours, I arrived just in time to go to bed. I just got up the next morning and started going. And kept going. And going.

On the way back, I arrived in Toronto at noon after about the same number of hours of travel time – and in the same direction, by the way: I’d gone to India via Hong Kong but I came back via Brussels. I tried to stay awake until night arrived when I got home but it was impossible. I fell asleep against my will at about 4 p.m. and I was totally messed up for about a week.

I have since read that jet lag may be as much related to digestion as to sleeping patterns. That makes some sense to me because when I’d wake up in the middle of the night during that week after my return, I was ravenous.

The pundits with the food-and-jet-lag theory suggest eating nothing while in transit. That would certainly be a variation on this trip, where I felt as though I were eating constantly while I was getting to India and getting home again. As soon as I’d board a plane I’d get dinner, and then four hours later I’d get breakfast: two planes each way. And on the layovers between flights (seven hours in Hong Kong and four in Brussels), I ate. What else was there to do?

I guess it couldn’t hurt to try to fast while flying. Consuming lots of water also seems to be a good idea.

Of course, if I go to Peru next time, jet lag won’t be a problem: Peru is in the same time zone as Toronto. And I think I can use some of my Spanish there.

How long should a trip to one country be?

Three week feels like about the minimum amount of time it takes to start to get a sense of a new place – longer would be better, but may not be possible if you have a real life underway back home and aren’t able to just become permanently itinerant.

I think you need to stay in a new place for long enough that what looks really strange when you arrive starts to look normal: for me, in India, this included the sight of cattle wandering the roadways, and of women in saris riding side-saddle on the backs of motorcycles with their arms wrapped around the drivers (I saw this everywhere, from the centre of the city to the middle of the desert). I got so used to these things that I barely noticed them by the time we left.

Ongoing effects of my trip to India

I could go on for pages on this subject, but I can also summarize fairly briefly my sense of what has changed in me as a result of my visit to India.

Elephant bathing ghat at Sahakari Spice Farm, Goa

I have always been attracted to the multifaceted “idea” of India but now I feel as though the country is a part of me. Granted, it’s a small part; in three short weeks I was only able to nibble at the edges of that vast empire. But India is with me now in a way it never was before, and as long as my brain is still functional, I will never have to let it go. When someone says the word “Mumbai” to me, it has a personal meaning now. When they say “chai-wallah,” I can see one in my mind’s eye. The word “ghat” has a physical representation in my mind that no photograph can give me – I’ve seen several, including one reserved for a family of elephants, and walked down one in Pushkar in bare feet. I know how to pronounce “Udaipur” properly, and I know what really great fish vindaloo tastes like at an outside table in Baga.

I also find myself far more interested in Indian news than I was before. I have followed with interest an excellent series on caste and women in India in the Globe and Mail. I was intrigued by the story of a man named Anna Hazare who went on a hunger strike to protest corruption in India’s government. I reflected on how similar were the frustration of speakers of the Konkani language in Goa at the increasing influence of English to the dismay expressed by aboriginals and Quebecois in Canada. When I see the word “India” in the news,  I read.

This blog

Yes, did name this blog to echo the title of Eat. Pray. Love. I wanted to stress that I was not going to India to try to find anything inside myself — I was going there to learn about India. And I did.

Here are links to the earlier posts on my India travel blog, in case you missed them:

Then there were the posts about

Onwards

This is only the first, I hope, of many travel blogs. When I’m not travelling (which is, obviously, most of the time), I do write about other things that catch my interest here at I’m All Write, so subscribe if you think you might be interested. And I write about writing-related things at The Militant Writer.

Until the next post, नमस्ते (namaste).

 *  *  *  *  *

15 responses to “Watch. Listen. Learn. (India 15: Final thoughts)

  1. Also, I meant to say that I think that your e-book has a wonderful cover.

    • And thank you for this comment too. I will pass it on to the cover’s designer and artist. I wanted to evoke the cover of the original, but I didn’t have rights to the original art so I asked for something with the same feel, and Jeff came through. 🙂

  2. Hi Mary,
    Many thanks.
    You write so well about India and everything else.
    I think your reflections on your time there is an inspiration to all, whether one has been there once, never or many times.
    You’ll love Peru and Cambodia too.
    Best from Taipei (where the polls open in about three hours for another important presidential and parliamentary election).
    Best,
    David Kilgour

  3. I’ve really enjoyed reading about your adventures, I can’t remember exactly how I found your site but it would of been a Google search with the word ‘India’ in it…. and luckily I ended up here. All the best in future, Tim

    • Mary W. Walters

      I’m delighted that you stopped by, Tim, and that you liked what you found. As a writer, one is always slightly suspicious when one’s friends and relatives praise one’s work. To have an absolute stranger stop by and enjoy what he finds is the goal toward which we all work (at least I do). Three cheers for the internet.

      Thanks again.

  4. As an Indian living in India, it is fascinating to read your account of your India visit. Quite personal. Different from the stereotypical travel stories. And yes, if you can overcome the initial shock of the crowds, heat and smells, there is enough to see and do for ever. Hope you enjoy your future travels, wherever they be to.

    • Mary W. Walters

      Thank you! I am so honoured that a few Indian people are reading my blog and finding something of interest in it!

  5. Hi Mary,
    Great to know you visited India and have written such a well-thought-out blog about it. I am also happy you read my blog and understood how India is a land of contradictions. I hope you visit more often. Once you get over the fear of crowds, heat and diseases, you will find India getting inside your blood cells like an intoxicating drug as you will dig deeper and deeper to explore into the country’s bottomless depth. :))
    Regards,
    Kaberi Chatterjee
    PS: You can read my novel “Neil Must Die”, available on Amazon, to get a real picture of modern India if you want. Free preview is available on Amazon. (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Neil-Must-Die-ebook/dp/B004KSQDY0/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1335189148&sr=1-1)

    • Mary W. Walters

      Thanks, Kaberi. I have a healthy respect for the crowds (and especially for knowing where I was in them, especially after my experience in Delhi https://iamallwrite.wordpress.com/2011/11/06/watch-listen-learn-2/) but they didn’t bother me, and I was fortunate to visit in November, when the heat was not unbearable to a westerner. But the country has indeed got into my blood cells and I very much want to return. Thanks for the link to your book.

  6. Thank you for this wonderful series Mary! I am going on this exact same trip with g-adventures in about six weeks, and reading this just makes me look forward to it even more!

  7. Thank you for all of the tips and lessons from your trip! I’m heading to India later this month with G Adventures and can’t wait.
    I’m curious, how did the female travelers in your group dress? I’m concerned with needing pants/longer skirts for respectful coverage? Or did your group travel in jeans or knee length options? Any insight here would be extremely helpful!

    • Mary W. Walters

      Hi, Lyssa,

      I’m so jealous! I’d go again in a heartbeat!

      It was suggested to us that the important thing was that women have our shoulders covered in certain places — religious sites and some smaller cities — and have something available to cover our heads if necessary. So carrying a light wrap at all times is a good idea, just for insurance. In many places short sleeves and tank tops are fine, and in most places your head doesn’t need to be covered: the tour guide will tell you what is appropriate wherever you are.

      Some of the young women in our group wore very low-slung pants that came almost as low as their butt cracks. Not appropriate anywhere in India, but especially not in places where some residents may not have seen too many western women and/or where there were religious rituals taking place — e.g. Pushkar during the fair. But shorts are fine and shorter (not mini!) skirts are fine. Common sense and respect for the host country are the order of the day. It’s HOT. You can’t cover up everything all the time and no one expects you to!

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