I lost track of the time we spent up in the sky and at airports between the three flights we took—it was perhaps more than 20 hours for sure.
We arrived in India sometime past midnight, and still had to be on the road for another hour and a half to reach Anand, a small city in the state of Gujarat.
The trip to what would be my home for five weeks felt peaceful. The roads were almost empty except for some night travelers , and sleeping cows on the side of the road.
Despite the lack of sleep, I managed to stay awake in order to take it all in.
For the first time ever, I was half the world away from my birthplace and I did not feel nervous—I felt exited and thankful.
The first two weeks:
We didn’t sleep right away. When the morning sun illuminated Anand, my boyfriend and I went for a motorcycle ride.
The streets were busy with people riding motorcycles, scooters and rickshaws; there were cows around the roads and stray dogs.
I was surprised to see a few cars, but what surprised me the most was seeing several people on one motorcycle, like a father taking his two children to school, or a husband riding with his child in the front and wife in the back. There were other cases, but those were the most common.
We passed crop fields and skipped through the traffic. I must admit this made my heart stop a few times.
After our ride, we gave into jet lag and rested for the rest of that day to hopefully recover.
We gave ourselves another day before we hit the road.
The boyfriend's whole family came on our next adventure, so it was eight people in one car.
We sat for hours, singing to songs in Hindi (even I knew a few) and finding a comfortable way to nap when it was needed. I didn’t know where we were going, but at night we stopped at a temple in Dindori to rest.
Everything felt peaceful in the morning. The air felt clean as it brushed against the palm trees, there were birds singing, and as we walked by the temple I could hear the singing of prayers. Then we joined the family for breakfast. I was told not to grab more than I could eat, for leaving food on the plate was considered disrespectful, but the food was so delicious that I was able to leave my plate clean.
That evening we arrived to our destination and spent hours looking for a hotel. After when we settled in, we went on the side of a road up in the mountains, where people were gathered to watch the sunset.
While we waited for the sun to set, I ate some corn from a street vendor, something that I was excited about because we do it in Mexico the same way, but with a few more ingredients.
We took pictures and I went on a horse ride on the side of the road.
The sunset was different here. You could see the sun go down, for the pollution didn’t allow the sunrays to shine in a blinding way.
It was still beautiful.
The next day we spent it in Imagica, a theme park in Khopoli, India. We arrived pretty early, and joined what looked like hundreds of people waiting for the park to open.
It was hot, and the crowd didn’t help.
When we finally entered the first thing we did was go straight to the first rollercoaster.
The wait to go on each attraction wasn’t bad. The lines weren’t long, however, the times each attraction opened was different, so we had to wait a couple of minutes sometimes.
That evening we hit the road back home without stopping to rest. It was about a 13 hour journey back home, so we had to truly find a way to sleep comfortably in the car, as we spent the night in it.
We used the rest of the day to rest because we didn’t want to waste time.
The next day we hit the road to Palitana. On the way there, we passed by a wish tree, covered by what must have been hundreds of dupattas, which are like long colorful scarves. I wasn’t quick enough to take a picture, but it was so beautiful and colorful under daylight.
I will never forget Palitana for one reason: its temples.
I learned later that our main reason for visiting was shopping for chanyia cholis, a traditional three piece dress, for me, but everyone kept talking about a temple up in a mountain. It was 3,500 steps and at the moment it didn’t feel like much, so I said: let’s go.
Not everyone in the family came. It was my boyfriend, his two cousins and I. We drank water and some cane juice before we started out way up to the temple. I felt confident and ready, but not even one thousand steps on the way up I realized I was a fool.
We only brought one bottle of water for four people, and were not wearing the proper shoes for the hike. It was super hot, and I was wearing flip-flops, which I regretted every step of the way.
I was always the one behind, so the guys would take turns climbing with me while the others would go ahead to find the nearest rest area where they could wait for me while sitting in the shade.
When we ran out of water, I had to accept the water offered in the rest areas, and in my mind I didn’t care if I got sick or not, at least I wouldn’t get dehydrated.
The sweat made my clothes sticky, and I slowly gave up on waiting for rest areas and sat on the stairs whenever I saw shade.
About two thousand steps I considered turning back. The guys asked me if I wanted to go back but they had come because of me, so I felt like I had to make it worth it. I prayed for strength to go on as I felt my body ache and my heart drum against my chest.
The rest stops eventually became also a moment for crying: I cried because my feet hurt; I cried because even though I drank water my thirst wouldn’t go away; I cried because it was hot and the wind wasn’t helping at all; I cried because I wanted so bad to go back, but if I did I was going to feel like a failure.
In the end, I would suck it up and get on my feet to climb some more steps.
We saw the city getting smaller and smaller, a peacock by the bushes and people descending skipping stairs or being carried down.
When I finally saw the temple I felt relief, but the stairs wouldn’t end. I felt numb by the time we crossed the gates. There were a couple of monkeys and huge blocks of marble waiting to be part of yet another temple. We said our prayers and went around the temple once.
On our way out we filled the one bottle of water we had one more time, and had a guard accompanying us during the descent. I thought going down the starts would be easier.
It was faster, but not easier, as my legs were sore and my feet blistered.
Back in the street, there were people walking towards the temple and in the distance music played. There was rangoli on the floor, which is a form of art made on the floor with beautiful patterns and vivid colors. It was definitely a boost of inspiration.
Back in the place we stayed the family was waiting to get food and go shopping. After we all got cleaned up, we ate and I gathered the strength to go shopping. We went to a street where there was shop after shop selling traditional Indian dresses in all the colors I could imagine. We were there for a while and I experienced for the first time what bargaining is like in India.
The next morning, before heading back home, we visited yet another temple up in a mountain. My legs were so sore I could barely stretch them, so my first instinct was to ask if we had to climb any more stairs. Thankfully, there was a road to the temple, but when we arrived--there were stairs.
The view from up there was beautiful, but the temple was even more so. There was a main temple at the center, and over a hundreds of smaller temples around. Everything was made of marble, and there were a few people around cleaning the smaller temples and its statues.
When we got on the road back home, I waited to see the wish tree once again to take a picture of it.
The next couple of days we spent shopping for more traditional clothes. It was days of being inside shops and getting the other dresses fitted. I would let others handle the shopping as my speaking English would make the prices go higher.
I fell on the routine and enjoyed delicious home-made food, and learned how to properly make chai, which I feel proud of, as it is a way I could bring India home with me.
Still there were three more weeks to go.
This were the first two weeks out of the five weeks I spent in India.
Please stay tuned for the two other posts that will follow this one and comment your thoughts and your own experiences.