We spent nearly two months in India which was just enough to get a glimpse of the country and its people. India was huge and diverse. It was interesting to travel from south to north to see how both the landscape and people were changing as our journey progressed. The only thing that remained the same was the radiant colours of the clothes and the spices.
I loved the hippie beach that we stayed on in Gokarna and the bienniale, an amazing art festival, that we visited in Kochi. I cherished the freedom of being able to just hop on a train to Kanyakumari, the southernmost point of mainland India where three seas united! I was in awe travelling around the tea plantations in Munnar and I felt spiritually enlightened visiting the Meenakshi temple in Madurai. I found the strong french influence in Pondicherry fascinating where the locals still greeted each other with Bonjour! I was inspired by Auroville, India’s famed Utopian community. I was both scared and humbled in Chennai where an amazing act of human kindness made all the difference.
I really appreciated Amritsar and the Golden temple. Sikhism turned out to be an interesting religion. The people cared about each other in a profound way and they also cared for us, strangers visiting their temple. We got shelter and food in return for some communal service that we happily accepted. It was in fact an honour to get the opportunity to help out after all that had been provided for us.
I learnt that Varanasi was a place to be experienced in quiet contemplation. It was located on the banks of the Ganges where the ritual of death and rebirth were a part of living. This seemed like a contradiction at first but it wasn’t because in India life was believed to go in a cycle. Life didn’t have a start and end point which was the common belief in the west. The insight I gained here was refreshing in that it let me see death as something natural that should be celebrated not grieved, hidden and forgotten about. The intense experience wondering around a maze of hissing and steaming funeral pyres on the sacred ghat with the odd red-hot ember sizzling past me it was inevitable that my concept of death had to be redefined.
I had one of my most auspicious days at the Kumbh Mela which was the event that topped off our visit to India by fluke but it couldn’t have turned out any better. More about this mass Hindu pilgrimage and the quest for salvation in my book.