Traveling is something I’ve been fortunate enough to do from a young age. Thanks to my parents and their desire to see the world, our family has visited a different place almost every year. However, this was when I was in elementary school; there was not a lot of responsibilities and no part time jobs to get time off of so it was easy to pick up and go when my parents had time off.
As my brother and I got older, things got busier. We started playing sports in high school and became more attached to friends. The traveling slowed and we spent lots of time working on the family farm and put a lot of money and time into building our family home. But one place all of us knew we had to visit was where we come from; India
My mother and father were both born there but left when they were very young, my mom moving to London when she was a year old and my father moving to Canada with his parents when he was three. My mother had never been back, my dad hadn’t been back in more than 20 years and my brother and I had never visited so we were definitely due for a trip. It took a while to decide when considering we were full time university students and had a lot going on but we decided winter 2017/2018 was the time, otherwise we would keep putting it off. In all honesty I didn’t mind putting it off because I was beyond scared of going.
India is a third world country, that’s nothing new. Almost 30% of India’s population is below the poverty line so you can imagine what the country is like and how much of a shock it was going from somewhere like Vancouver -very multicultural with progressive government systems, modern technology and overall cleanliness and civilization. Whereas in India it’s very common for cows, water buffalo’s and monkeys to be in the streets of big cities and the entire country is under a constant cloud of pollution.
Stepping out of the airport I remember being riddled with fear, taxi drivers staring at us, knowing we were foreigners sent a chill down my spine. Then walking a few steps to our tour bus seeing stray dogs; dusty and malnourished, almost brought me to tears. And I had only been in the country for a total of 60 minutes.
Our trip was three weeks. My mom being the avid planner she was, layed out exactly what we were doing and what days we would do them. The first week would consist of lots of traveling. We were taking a guided tour through New Delhi -the capital of India, Agra -where the Taj Mahal is located and Jaipur in Rajasthan. All very populated and popular locations with lots to see.
We spent hours walking through the Taj Mahal, one of the wonders of the world and learning the history of it. A few things I found very surprising were that foreigners visiting had to pay a very high price for admittance compared to locals and the difference between inside the gates and outside.
Right outside the walls was a bustling, polluted city, with an abundance of homeless people and I just found it shocking that the Indian government puts so much effort into maintaining the Taj Mahal and the grounds surrounding it and then not even 2 minutes outside there is so much corruption and the government does nothing about the mass amounts of garbage on the streets. Regardless, I tried to enjoy how beautiful the Taj is and how much history the country has.
Next we visited Jaipur -the capital of the state Rajasthan. It is home to one of the royal families in India and they still reside there today. It is a very popular tourist destination and I found is considerably cleaner than other places we visited. This probably being due to the fact that the royals were residents.
We visited a few palaces, rode elephants and did some shopping so it was definitely one of my favorite parts of the entire trip. Also probably because the sky was actually visible! The pollution wasn’t as bad there so the sun shone down on us and that’s something I didn’t know I could miss that much. Never once in my life did I think I wouldn’t be able to look up and see the sun on a clear day. But the clear days in India were accompanied by a thick layer of haze shielding the warm sun and that blue sky I love so much.
That first week of the trip consisted of seeing some incredible yet terrifying things. And it wouldn’t have been as amazing as it was without out tour guide; Chakradhari Singh Rathore. We called him Mr. Singh and he became like family for that week. We swapped stories about our homes and the four of us developed a strong bond with him and now if I ever go back I know I would have a good reason and a place to stay, which always helps!
After that week and saying goodbye to Chakradhari, we trekked from New Delhi to Punjab which took about 7 hours in the bus. Remember the roads in India are insane, so for someone who isn’t a resident should not be driving or ever drive for that matter, so we had drivers and got shuttles.
Christmas day we spent in the capital of Punjab; Chandigarh. Punjab is where we’re from so I think I speak for the four of us when I say we all sort of felt at home there oddly enough. We were surrounded by people whose ancestors all grew up on those lands with ours and they still resided there.
From there we went to the holiest temple that exists in the Sikh religion; Harmandir Sahib, also known as the Golden Temple. It was a very surreal experience for me, seeing where my religion was born and taking in all of the history that lies there. It was a place my grandfather told me about as a young girl and that I read about in books and now I was here, to experience God’s essence for myself.
Unfortunately, I felt judged and displaced, in a place that was supposed to radiate acceptance and love. I quickly noticed the stares from other visitors and the guards patrolling with judging eyes. I concluded it was because I wasn’t the typical Sikh girl -having my hair cut short was a big no no and we were foreigners and it’s considered normal for locals to stare at those visiting from out of the country. Despite my disappointment, it was very fascinating seeing the place I learned so much about when I was younger. It really was just as magical as it looked in pictures, if not more so and just the sheer quantity of people was incredible. The four of us sat silently for quite some time taking it all in and that day I knew, regardless of being far from home, feeling judged, unsafe and not well that God was always with me.
Despite God being with me, I still got very ill. The next three days we visited the villages where my parents were born and the land they have there. It was very peaceful in the villages compared to the bigger cities, farm land taking up most of the space with groups of houses scattered throughout. It was really neat seeing our land being farmed and tasting the sugar cane growing there. But like I said I was very ill for most of this time, constant stomach aches, fatigue and it ended with a visit to the local hospital for some meds. Getting sick wasn’t surprising, it was a third world country and despite being careful of what I ate and drank it still got me. If I’m being honest I had a stomach ache the entire three weeks we were there so I accepted defeat and just dealt with it.
That next and final week was wedding week and we spent it in a city called Bathinda. Like I said earlier, we had always wanted to visit India and this wedding gave us the perfect opportunity. We checked in to what would be our final hotel we would stay at and got ready for a hectic week ahead with lots of wedding functions to attend and lots of dancing to be done! Weddings in India consist of many different ceremonies so it was a busy time, spending most of it between being with the bride and her family at their home in city and hanging out in our hotel and the mall near it. The reception the night before leaving was the perfect way to end the trip, being with family and friends and talking about the exciting past few weeks we had.
And of course because it wouldn’t be a trip with me and my family if something didn’t go wrong… our bus that was taking us back to the airport in Delhi had to turn around on the highway and drive into oncoming traffic. Here’s why: There are tolls on all of the main highways in India and some random bus driver and one of the clerks at the toll we were going to cross got into an argument. This bus driver decided to rebel and gathered up all of his bus driver friends and they all blocked the toll with their buses. This caused a giant traffic jam and I’m not lying when I say everyone was turning around and driving against traffic on this highway like it was completely normal. We ended up taking a side route through some very sketchy villages but thankfully ended up at the airport on time.
I’ve never been that happy to sit in an airplane for 14 hours. That flight back, I was beyond excited to be going home but for the first time I reflected on the trip in a positive light. Maybe it was because I knew I would be landing in Canada, but I really sat and thought about how people don’t get to leave India and must live in that environment of pollution and corruption. I am glad I went and saw what the country is. While many places are beautiful and full of history, lots of the country is infected with corruption and still relies on backwards policies.
My trip was incredible, terrifying, saddening, exciting and overall taught me a lot about myself. Over this past year I have been so much more appreciative of what I have and where I live. I am able to educate myself, I have access to clean water straight from my tap, I have a fair and just government, and I don’t have to live in fear. Comparing where I am and where I could’ve been was a humbling and necessary experience.