I stood dumbfounded on the side of the road, too stupefied for the grip of anger to take over. Garbage lazily floated by, held adrift by a late afternoon wind. A large hog in my peripheral appeared to be rifling through its dinner comprised of rotting produce and litter. A group of locals talked at me in incomprehensible Hindi, staring curiously. Thankfully, their intuition held them back from asking for a selfie. I’d have punched someone out if they did.
A compromised credit card had inhibited me from making online purchases, forcing me to buy a bus ticket at a local storefront. This decision had led me to being stranded on the side of the road after being told my ticket was no good and promptly escorted off the bus. I had been in the city of Jaipur, in the northern state of Rajasthan, India, where I’d been travelling for the last few weeks. I needed to get to New Delhi so I could fly home to Canada. India had worn me out. I was ready to go.
After having travelled India for two months, I’d arrogantly thought I was now well versed in the scams the travel blogs warn you against - don’t buy milk for the begging mothers draping infants in your face to tear on your heart strings; don’t drink the water; don’t eat street food; and certainly don’t buy a fake bus ticket from a local travel agency.
Despite being a well seasoned traveller - having been all over the world from the remote island of Sulawesi in northern Indonesia to the vineyards of Chateau Rayas in Chateauneuf du Pape - nothing could have prepared me for a country like India, what could only be described as going back in time 50 years.
No matter how hard I tried to settle into the chaos, inevitably another experience would shake me to my core, forcing me to raise my guard once again. I’d heard from so many friends what a “life changing” experience India was. This was a resounding thought with each passing day, and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why anyone would describe it in such a way.
One word that kept relentlessly coming to mind was contradiction. Despite a love for bureaucracy - redundant processes in obtaining documents or tickets obsessively checked by officials (once even after getting off a flight) - the disorder perpetually reigned.
The sensory overload was real and never ending. I imagined a virtual dial controlling all senses - auditory, olfactory, visual - turned to max volume. Where putrid and nausea inducing odours proliferated, an ancient temple would sit quietly and regally amidst the pandemonium.
The scams were frustrating and anger inducing too. Initially, the curiosity appeared charming. Inevitably, it was a ploy to sell you something.
And then the sadness would hit, induced by heartbreaking scenes of poverty. Children barely a year old, sitting filthy and shoeless in a gutter, working under the tutelage of their elder siblings. The school of hard knocks training their next street hustler.
Over the course of those two months, I knew at some point all of these contradictory feelings and thoughts would come full circle, making clear what I didn’t expect to find upon embarking on the trip.
The fake bus ticket was meaningless compared to the hardship most Indians face on a daily basis. A quick search to find an Uber escorted me to a boutique hotel. There, I sipped beer on a beautiful rooftop barely an hour after I’d been stranded on the side of the road.
It’s a funny thing, inherently knowing in situations of discomfort, that those will be your defining moments. With the welcomed returned to Western luxury, came an unexpected longing for the exoticism of India, memories of situations I thought I’d despised, that I would later fantasize of.
I’d expected to have my eyes opened when visiting India - I didn’t expect it to change who I was.