Ever since that bittersweet morning of leaving Gwangju and officially becoming nomads with just 7kg of luggage on my back, I haven’t had the time to update this blog. The lack of time and a computer has something to do with it, but admittedly, the time sans sitting in front of a screen has been welcome.
India. Boy, did we have memorable moments and interactions. A day didn’t go by that I’m not utterly surprised by what I just witnessed. And I mean that in a good way. Every moment was interesting because everything was so new. India is such a different place than anywhere I’ve been, but there were places that reminded me of other countries like the Philippines. Still, everything had a special charm to it.
Our time in India was just a month. It would easily take a few lifetimes to fully explore the land, but you could argue the same about nearly any country. India, though. I always knew it to be massive and diverse, but not to the extent that I’ve seen so far.
Initially, I was overzealous in planning and wanted to see it all – the Himalayas in the north, Great Thar Desert to the west, Holy Ganges in the east, the calming backwaters in the south, and the iconic Taj Mahal in Agra. But reality hit in that we couldn’t fully experience it all in just a month just like I wouldn’t advise someone to visit both the east and west coasts in the US in such little time.
We ultimately decided to stay in Southern India, starting in Kochi and ending in Mumbai. Traveling through four states, we met some truly impressive and hospitable people through CouchSurfing, rode through the quaint Keralan backwaters, beach hopped in Goa via motorbike, explored the ancient ruins in Hampi, were mesmerized by the carvings at Ellora Caves, stuffed my face with all kinds of glorious foods, heard a handful of languages (not that I could tell the difference), stepped in cow dung multiple times, slept in bumpy overnight buses and trains, dropped my jaw over and over from magnificent scenery and sunsets, showered from cold bucket, got my photo taken with intrigued locals, and the list goes on.
People often claim that India is a dangerous place to travel, but I would absolutely disagree when it comes to South India. I haven’t been in the north (yet), but even if it is a more dangerous place to travel, the stereotype should not seep down to the south as well. If anyone is hesitant about traveling in India because of these rumors, head south first to warm yourself up to the environment. I would be lying if I said it was the easiest place to travel, but it is certainly doable. Be firm, flexible, patient, and open to new experiences. Also, I would advise to be cautious with what you put in your mouth. Most travelers get sick and have diarrhea at some point, but I stayed free from that by only using sealed bottled water (or filtered water at CouchSurfing host’s) obviously for drinking but also brushing my teeth, abstaining from eating ice and ice cream, eating only vegetarian (insanely easy to do in India), and eating at busy restaurants. Perhaps I was a bit strict, but I don’t feel like I missed out on anything. I did have delicious street food of questionable hygiene but I turned out just fine.
India felt like an authentic experience. Besides Goa and Hampi, we did not see foreign tourists. I know we weren’t off the beaten path, but it still felt authentic to me, especially as I’m writing this in Thailand, where every other person is a foreigner. That’s not a bad thing — I am a foreigner and I am a tourist after all — but the locals are immune to foreigners and do not seem as interested to engage with us other than to sell something. With every other shop selling Chang Beer shirts and tour packages, Thailand is catered for foreign tourists. Once you leave the main destinations, though, it gets quieter and more interesting.
In India, we completely stood out and people were so friendly and curious. Now, a good chunk of those people approaching us were trying to sell us something, but a decent amount of people genuinely wanted to talk. While trying to catch a glimpse of the sunset on a cloudy day in Gokarna, we met Ahirnish, a young software engineer. We ended up meeting his friends and having some dinner and drinks together. I learned more about his perspective on arranged marriage -a concept difficult for me to understand but widely accepted and practiced in India.
When we appeared to be lost in Mumbai, an old man stopped to chat with us. He seemed like an active, happy fellow who befriends everyone in town. Water and walking are the keys to staying healthy like him.
Saurabh and his fellow med student friends totally changed my perception of young educated Indians and I learned more about healthcare in India as well as informed them about the healthcare system in America. Staying at his place reminded me what it was like in college. Even though our cultures are different, young people want to have fun everywhere.
I truly cherish those experiences of just meeting locals as I can understand the local culture better through, well, a local.
I plan to further update more details like travel advice and stories, so stay tuned! We’re two weeks into Thailand right now and I have lots of stories about our organic farmstay! Thanks for reading.