So I went to India and it stole my heart. The people, my surroundings, Holi Fest, not so much the food (the exception being the cookies we ate that were made by a man on the street), the beach and rooftop sunsets. I couldn’t have asked for a better first go at international travel.
Traveling to Chicago to fly out of O’Hare, I rode in a taxi from one of my friends apartments to the airport with a driver that just so happened to be an Indian man. I literally thought to myself, “how perfect this is to start a journey to India with a taxi ride with Dillip, the driver.” His eyes literally lit up when I told him where I was going, almost like he was having flashbacks of memories of the time he lived there. They lit up even more when I told him I was flying Air India and he then informed me that “if I want a drink, they’ll give me a drink, no problem.”
Dillip dropped me off and I checked in. The only anxiety that came was the thought of making sure I got to the right gate and on time. I did, and then I sat. For a really long time. Until finally we were able to board the HUGE plane. Did I mention I got a direct flight from Chicago to Delhi? 16 hours of flight time. I watched three movies, almost read an entire book and wrote in my journal all the reasons I dislike long plane rides. I then slept and tried to prepare myself for the dramatic time difference.
I arrived in Delhi about 30 minutes early so I sat and waited for Katie and Zach, my travel buddies for the next ten days aka the A team, which we were later called. While waiting on a bench just outside the airport lobby, I met a woman around the same age as me. She kept me company while I waited by giving me a brief history of India. She was incredible. When I saw red hair through the crowd that was unmistakably Katie’s, I said my goodbyes to the lady as she wished me farewell and safe travels. Katie, Zach and I hopped into a small van and India began. No like literally, the adventure began because that is exactly what it is when you travel by car, rick shaw, bike, motorcycle or scooter on any road in India. One big scary adventure. The rules of the road are slim to none and amazing. Horns scream through the air, but you never see any road rage. Three lane highway, they’ll fit eight across. One motorcycle, five passengers including a woman riding side saddle holding a baby, no problem. It was unbelievable. More unbelievable was the road leading up to our hotel. People were everywhere. Sitting, standing, riding and selling things. Lots of things. Accompanied by circuits of alleyways, one which included the entrance to our home away from home for the next five days. It had running hot showers and wifi so we were stoked.
The reason we came to Delhi was to photograph Holi Festival. What we didn’t realize was that aside from Holi fest being messy because of the colorful powder being thrown on people it is also very wet. When we started to come up with a game plan for the day, we quickly realized you can’t plan for Holi. What we did discover quickly, was that in order to photograph some really great stuff we would have to travel through the wet dirty alleys. Which meant risking getting five gallon buckets of water thrown on us from the tops of buildings, sprayed with aerosol cans filled with colorful foam 2 inches from our faces and being ambushed by kids with water balloons and really great aim. It. Was. Awesome. When it all was said and done we fully experienced Holi and had the pink stained hair and skin to prove it.
The next morning following Holi, Katie and I woke up at 6 am. We headed to the Taj Mahal. Road a carriage pulled by a camel up to the entrance, and declined the offer to ride the camel instead of sit in the carriage. We also declined to buy a keychain from another young boy that followed us up to the entrance. We did, however, buy a ticket to go inside the Taj. I can now literally say I stood in the Taj Mahal and sat on the back steps that overlooked the water. While many of the locals wanted their photos taken with us (apparently that’s a common thing) we took the typical photo of each of us leaning on the Taj and holding it up, in which we have no regrets about no matter how cheesy and how ridiculous we looked doing it. We left with photos, memories and a keychain. The kid was persistent.
After our time in Delhi we hopped on a plane to Chennai. It was the complete opposite of Delhi in that where we stayed was a short walk away from the beach and the horns from the road were drowned out by wide open spaces and fresh air. It was beautiful and the hottest.
Our goal throughout our time there was to work alongside Hands On Houses (www.handsonhouses.com). An organization that builds homes for mostly widows and disabled men and women. Our job as the A team was to interview and capture the stories of these men and women who have received houses. I loved every part of this. The people were incredible along with their stories. I can’t thank Karla and Andy, as well as Margie and Don enough for letting me tag along for this experience and to learn about India directly from the people who live there and experience it daily. I also can’t thank Suneera, our translator, enough for the many words she taught me and being so kind even when I pronounced them completely wrong or forgot them day in and day out.
My memories from Chennai, the sunset from the roof, helping men pull a ginormous fishing net in on the beach, talking with the widows and families who have received the homes, working with the team and even eating at the burger joint on my last night will always have a special place in my heart. Along with India as a whole.
At first, I was unsure if I was just tired from jet lag or if India had made me a more humble person. I knew it would help shape a part of me and I was completely open to take in the experience as a whole. I missed India, though and I was bored at home. I was gone for two weeks and missed home, but I missed the relaxed day-to-day living that accompanied being in India. I went back to my day job and soon fell back into my day-to-day routine. I relived my experience through editing my photographs and telling my stories to anyone that would listen. The truth is India stole a small piece of my heart. The experience both humbled me and taught me so much about who I want to be and how to be better. It taught me patience and simplicity (except in an Indian airport, there’s nothing simple about the way those work) and how to be happy. It taught me more than I could ever write down in a blog post. I got to India, experienced it and survived to tell about it.