Arriving safely at my hostel at 3 o’clock in the morning using only a public bus from the airport and relying on asking strangers felt like an indication that India was going to be okay. Everyone thought I was crazy to go there --- for 3 weeks, by myself. I was told to bring with me probiotic vials for the diarrhoea, vaporizing ointment for the smell, and a bike lock for the life of my backpack. But was it really going to be that bad in India?
First day in, I stepped out of my hostel to explore New Delhi. But even just a few meters away from the door, I was already exhausted. The noise from all the honking is unbelievable and unbearable. There are cars, rickshaws, autos, cows, and people coming from all directions and it was just simply chaotic. But this chaos seemed to work like magic. It all works as if they rehearsed every single move, that’s why even if they are just inches apart, they never bump into each other. I had not seen any accident, not even a minor one.
My first destination was Varanasi, regarded to be the holiest place in India and the oldest living city in the world. In short, it is known as the most intense part of the country. But Varanasi has always been the object of my dreams and fantasies. And probably the main reason why I went to India. My first glance at the holy Ganges River literally gave me shivers.
There’s hot chai on every corner, people praying upon a tree where symbols of Lord Shiva are enshrined, men and women bathing in the river, chanting inside temples, and the burning ghats. These are special places by the river dedicated to burning the dead, who are believed to go directly to heaven if their ashes are thrown out to flow to the Ganges. I could not pass a chance to witness this and a young boy offered to take me there as a “friendly” gesture. I trust people easily and despite all the warnings not to do so (at least not right away), I still did. We arrived at the burning ghat and after a few exchanges of negotiations, I knew there was something off. I was right. He took me to the narrow alleyways of the ghats, suddenly became aggressive and asked me for money for the help he gave. Out of fear, I just began to cry. At that moment, just on the third of a sixteen-day solo trip, India broke my spirit.
With some introspection, I figured I should be grateful the incident happened at the start of my trip. I started moving on with a guarded disposition but still with curious eyes and an open mind. The more you explore Varanasi, the more inspiring it becomes. The narrow paths inside the ghats are still confusing but you begin to appreciate the local vendors who will point you to the right direction. The Indian signature of non-stop honking harmonizes with the chanting, prayers, and ceremonies heard all throughout the city. The chaos and intensity of Varanasi the media has planted in your mind are not necessarily untrue but they cast a spell that draws you in, inviting you to stay longer than intended.
I moved towards Agra to see the wonder of the world, the symbol of undying love, and the epitome of grandeur and beauty. It’s unbelievable how others can say the Taj Mahal is overrated. Sure there’s nothing much to do. But staring at it as the sun hits its immaculate white marble is like a signal that yes, there is so much light that has yet to be seen. That India is not just about the cow poops, the filthy streets, and the rude people.
From Agra, I moved down to the Rajasthan region particularly in the Pink City, Jaipur. Every inch and every corner was eye-candy. And with all the forts, palaces, mosques you have already seen and are seeing, there should already be a saturation point. But in Jaipur, everything just kept getting better and better. To the point that I decided to ditch my bus ride to nearby city Pushkar and just stay and soak in all of Jaipur's beauty.
As I was nearing the end of my trip, I thought about how to perfectly describe India. And after a genuine encounter with a young local boy at one of my last stops, I finally figured it out. To borrow Katy Perry's words, it is "like a hard candy with a surprise center." India is overwhelming at the start, and that's an understatement. It's difficult, chaotic, and not for the faint-hearted. It tires you without you doing anything. The people come off as rude, aggressive, and strong. But that's just on the outside. And that's the thing --- you have to give it a second chance, you have to keep going. Because when you give up at first bite, then you lose the chance to experience the charm, generosity, and warmth of the place and people. You lose the chance of being called "Filipino! Filipino!" as you pass by a shop and be invited for chai every morning. You lose the chance of knowing a young boy who was just trying to protect you from falling from a stepwell and that's why he shouted at you. You lose the chance of seeing an annoying auto driver transform into a lovely person who would treat you like a friend and look after your things at no cost. This can happen anywhere of course, but we've always had a preconceived notion of India and we only know of its filth, poverty, and smell. But at its core is like a candy gel that melts in your mouth, a country and people full of surprise that will melt your heart.
Grayson Yañez is an Integrated Marketing Communications graduate and brand strategy consultant from the Philippines but mostly likes to be known as (Gray)son of the beach. He is also a content developer, cat lover, and marine conservation advocate. He shares his images, experiences, and realizations through Graysonofthebeach and @graysonofthebeach