The image I had in my mind of what India would look was not far from reality. I didn’t underestimate the chaos of it all, but I did overestimate my tolerance to it.
After a week of being driven to places I did not ask to go, being coerced into paying for nothing, and being otherwise harassed, I had become exhausted with the thought of going outside. The horns, the crowds, and the fecal matter everywhere became too much to bear. I came down with food poisoning my first day in Varanasi, that has still not subsided a week later.
Varanasi is one of the oldest cities in the world, and is considered the holiest place in India by Hindus. They believe dying here allows one to obtain moksha, which ends the cycle of birth and death. People from all over India come here to die. Their bodies are burned in stacks of wood on the shore, and their ashes sent into the holy Ganges River.
Varanasi was one of the cities I was most excited to go. In other places, it is a lot more difficult to find information on death culture and traditions, but in Varanasi it’s right there in front of you.
I thought I would feel deeply touched, or spiritually enlightened, but I didn’t. In fact, I didn’t really feel anything. I took a sunset boat ride to watch the evening aarti ceremony. There was beautiful music, fire, and dancing but all I could think was “stop ringing those bells, I have a headache!”.
My illness undoubtedly affected my experience, but there was something else missing. I didn’t feel what other people feel coming to India. Here was this incredibly beautiful, rich culture and I couldn’t enjoy it. It made me feel really guilty.
Whether it’s my stomach sickness or homesickness, I think I am starting to hit the three month slump. While freeing at first, not having any obligations has become somewhat of a burden. I feel like my sole purpose is to entertain myself, and for a person who likes to work this can get old.
When you travel for extended periods of time, you see many amazing things. At a certain point, you don’t feel the excitement you did when you first set off. At least I don’t. I could be looking at the most fantastic place in the world and think “Eh, that’s nice. What’s next?”
Maybe it doesn’t really matter how a place makes me feel in the moment. Maybe the point isn’t to feel at all, but to learn, experience, and grow. I’m sick, scared and alone, but I’m still here. Part of travel is knowing things don’t always go your way, and learning to adapt.
I am hopeful that I will be able to use what I’ve learned here later in my life. One day maybe I’ll be able to communicate with a patient from India better because of this experience. Maybe I’ll think twice before complaining about the little things, or maybe I’ll have the courage to carry on when I want to give up.
Only time will tell exactly how this trip will affect me, but if the past is any indication of the future, I will appreciate it more later. I struggled in Ethiopia at times, but now I see that trip as one of the best experiences of my life. Until I get to that point, I’ll have to be content knowing how incredible India is, even if I can’t feel it right now.