I honestly believe that some of the most difficult questions I have been asked in my twenty years of living and breathing on this wonderful planet earth would be “What was your favourite memory from your travels in India” or similarly, “What was your favourite place?” and “Who was the most inspiring person you met?” I struggle to come up with only one answer to these questions, purely due to the fact that India is the most vibrant, exotic and overall CRAZY place I have ever been, and I’ve formed so many incredible memories of this country. However, I shall do my very best to attempt to reflect on my absolute favourite memory of India right here and right now!
India, in my opinion, is quite easily the most extraordinary country that one could have the pleasure of visiting. This country is raw, down to earth and extremely (can I say extremely two more times?), extremely, extremely chaotic, which made me love India even more.
Despite the craziness and the hustle and bustle that comes with India, everything just runs so smoothly! Cars zoom past one another from lane to lane, yet not one scratch can be seen on any vehicle. You gaze out from your auto-rickshaw and witness elephants, cows, monkeys, pigs and hundreds and thousands of dogs roaming the streets. Mothers holding babies, daughters walking to school, fathers on their bicycles and everyone in between smiles and waves frantically at you as you stroll down the street – India takes the prize with flying colours for the most welcoming country, in my eyes. Sensational spicy aromas of butter chicken simmering in a huge pan on the sidewalk wafts through the streets (and this was an absolute dream come true scenario for me). All these little things made me love and appreciate India even more. It’s a simple fact that anyone who steps foot in India will fall in love with the place! I was astonished by the wisdom of India’s people, their integrity and their focus on the importance of family and community. In retrospect, I don’t think there have been many times where I have felt more welcome in someone’s home than when I was in India, for “Guest is God!!” they all proclaim.
I travelled India for a period of two weeks during my trip to Asia in February with my friend Liv. As cliché as it may sound, India really did open my eyes to the world, making me realise how privileged we are here in Australia. Additionally, it made me realise that all my worries about travelling to this country were absurd. People in Australia instilled thoughts in my head, suggesting that India was an unsafe place to travel, but in actual fact for the vast majority of the time I could not have felt safer.
A day after we arrived in Delhi, Liv and I flew to Bagdogra Airport in West Bengal, which is in North-Eastern India. It was here that we would commence our trip through West Bengal and into Sikkim, kindly recommended by the one and only Alex from here at ATMA.
So I’ve been sitting on this for a days now, and I can now safely say that this portion of the trip was a definite favourite. West Bengal and Sikkim were some of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. The Himalayan backdrop and the towering Mt. Kanchenjunga, which accompanied us on our journey through West Bengal and Sikkim was the cherry on top! Our first stop on this expedition was Darjeeling, a town famous for its tea plantations. It’s safe to say that I consumed my fair share of tea here, and struggled to fit four extra large packets of Darjeeling’s tea leaves into my already full-to-the-brim suitcase – but I did it, perhaps one of my greatest achievements. Darjeeling was absolutely freezing, but I think the inside of our hotel room at night was about thirty degrees colder than it was outside – yet the eight layers of wool that I covered my body with was just sufficient enough to keep me warm! However the view we woke up to in the morning was worth the cold – rolling tea plantations for miles on end, and a misty haze hovering above it.
After three days in Darjeeling, we drove up winding mountain roads to Pelling, entering Sikkim! This was definitely the most exciting part of the trip for me as I distinctly remember waking up one morning after five days of constant fog, to a squeal from Liv – “YOU CAN SEE THE MOUNTAINS!!!!!!” I struggle to recall a time where I have jumped out of bed faster, and I immediately saw through the window Mt. Kanchenjunga, the third highest peak in the world, right outside our window. For the remainder of our time in West Bengal and Sikkim, Mt. Kanchenjunga followed us wherever we drove, and I honestly felt like the ultimate fan-girl every time I gazed up to it. We only stayed one night in Pelling, and next visited Gangtok. In Gangtok we guiltily (actually not so guiltily – no regrets) treated ourselves to a pizza, pasta and two serves of garlic bread upon arrival. We absolutely loved the Indian cuisine but couldn’t pass up on the opportunity that was, you know, garlic bread. Liv and I both really loved Gangtok. We visited numerous monasteries, purchased even more scarves, and consumed more vegetable curry pastries than humanly possible.
I loved Ganghook because it was such a peaceful place, in fact, that whole of West Bengal and Sikkim was. Picture hundreds and thousands of colourful Buddhist prayer flags attached from one tree to the next, from one building to the next, decorating paths up mountains and the streets of the town. This portion of our journey was polar-opposite to the hustle and bustle that the rest of India brought with it. West Bengal and Sikkim literally was a breath of extremely fresh and welcomed air. It felt amazing to get out into the mountains – I would absolutely recommend West Bengal and Sikkim to anyone! After our adventure here, we were ready to take on Agra and Jaipur and everything it had to offer, but that’s another story.
I came across this quote in Jaipur:
The land of dreams and romance, of wealth and poverty, of splendor and rags, of palaces and hovels, of famine and pestilence, of tigers and elephants, the cobra and the jungle, the country of a hundred nations and a hundred tongues, of a thousand religions and two million gods, cradle of the human race, birthplace of human speech, mother of history, grandmother of legend, great grandmother of tradition. – Mark Twain
I think it captures India perfectly.