That's the best I can come up with in a word, yet that adjective barely scrapes the surface in describing the subcontinent.
India is a country of stark contrasts: amazing and frustrating; straightforward and complicated; rancid and fragrant; ornate and poverty-stricken; tame but barbaric; sacred and ungodly; free and suppressed; modern and outdated; civilized yet discourteous; breathtakingly scenic and despicable; delicious yet bacteria-ridden; homogenous and diverse; sneaky but sincere; principled and corrupt; full of creeps & thieves as well as genuine Indians who rearrange their entire day to make you feel at home.
Then there are the adjectives lacking contrasts which can't be ignored: unhygienic, chaotic, spiritual and nothing short of colorful.
Dirty is a massive understatement. It's impossible to wear contact lenses comfortably, the Earth is both the waste bin and toilet, the watering holes are repulsive (luckily a year in Thailand helped me perfect the squat) and it takes multiple washes and wipes to produce a face pad that isn't stained with dirt at the end of each day.
Though such less positive aspects of traveling India exist, let it be known: I have contracted the India bug.
Those who have the India bug will agree that despite the challenges, there is something about India that is so inexplicably wonderful and infectious.
Each and every minute here is a sensory overload; there's so much to see, smell, hear, taste, touch and think about. I understand how writers come to India for months or years and soul-searching hippies lose themselves in ashrams. India is full of inspiration.
I can't tell you where I'll be next week, month or year, but I do have an intuition that this trip only marks the beginning of my relationship with this fascinating country.
Coming to India on a one-way ticket may have been one of my wiser decisions; having the freedom to go and do as I please is the best way I've ever lived. I feel especially grateful for this and all my other freedoms as a Western female, especially next to the less-than-free Indian women who surround me.
|Outside an ashram 10 km from Mysore|
A brief run-down of my first month in India:
Bangalore: Welcome to India
I was eased into the intensity in one of the more contemporary and slightly cleaner cities with two passionate guesthouse owners Shakir and Shauib who took me on a complimentary tour of the city, made sure I was well fed and educated about Indian cuisine and helped me sort out my onward travel plans.
Goa: Eat, Read, Sleep & Repeat
A week in South Goa (Palolem Beach) and a week in North Goa (Anjuna) lounging on the beach, catching up with my vacationing American pal and flipping through Indian novels like it was my job. Although I enjoyed the chill out time with Joann, I was happy to make a fast exit away from the tourist zoo and into the real India.
|Joann has come to visit me two times this year in Asia!|
|Palolem Beach, Goa|
Don't Worry, Be Hampi
Within the first hour of my bus from Goa to Hampi, I met Avia from Israel who was also traveling alone. From our initial introduction, we went on to spend 264 uninterrupted hours together sharing rooms, experiences and laughs. We stayed five days in Hampi, a perfectly chilled out getaway complete with the most picturesque landscape and ancient ruins.
|Hampi, Karnataka, India|
Hampi is extremely tourist-friendly, and was an easy place to get caught up in doing a whole lot of nothing with other travelers. I was surprised at the amount of Israelis and Hebrew writing in Hampi – at least 70-80% of the tourists we met were also from Israel. My parents would be happy to know that I even attended a Chabad Shabbat dinner with my new friends. Avia ran into several people she went to school with, and as bizarre as I found that to be, none of them were surprised since everyone travels after they complete their army service in Israel.
|Hindu festival in Hampi|
|Avia & I in Hampi|
Adventures in Mysore
Two packed days in Mysore with more unforgettable stories than I'll bore you with. Of note was befriending Indians who took us on such an adventure to places we'd never have seen otherwise.
|Chamindeshwari Temple, Mysore|
|Todu Tribe cuties|
We also accepted a dinner invitation as special guests at a cancer rally and observed the interesting way that Indian men dance. The 3-hour miniature train ride out of Ooty was a memory to cherish - and a steal at 20 rupees (35 US cents).
|Trekking in the Nilgiri Hills|
|The toy-like train built in the 1800s by the British|
After 11 days with Avia, we've parted ways for a bit. She's starting north while I'm taking a train to Kochi to explore the deep south of Kerala before I head north as well.
Cheers to more Indian adventures to come!