I recently had the pleasure of going to India, and found it to be a very interesting and welcoming destination. There are so many dimensions to the country that it’s hard to imagine how it is possible for it to operate as one entity.  Somehow it does, and it’s growing and moving into the 21st century at an amazing rate. India is not a destination for everyone, but for those who are open to it they will find a country full of contrasts and contradiction, history, religion and spirituality, people, food, and they will find a country in transition. Because of the massive population, the number of people who are considered some of the poorest in the world is staggering. Yet even as millions of Indians live on $1.00 a day, on the Forbes “richest Indians” list released recently, the net worth of the 100 richest Indians was $300 billion. Such is the nature of India – a country of extremes.

We followed what is considered the typical tourist circuit for the first-time visitor; Delhi, Jodhpur, Udaipur, Jaipur, Agra, and then on to Varanasi. This is not a comprehensive view of India by any stretch of the imagination; the sheer enormity of the country means that the Indians themselves feel like they are traveling to another country when they travel to other areas.

In each area we visited the most magnificent hotels, and packed in as much sightseeing as we could in our time there. We heard explanations of caste systems, maharajas, and religious faiths; saw beautiful temples, palaces, forts, and museums; experienced tuk-tuk rides, walks through the packed markets, an elephant ride; glorious colours, smells and sounds (horn blowing is the communication of the road); and food, food, food. We witnessed ceremonies and cremations along the Ganges River; craftsmen creating their wares; and “traffic” like I have never encountered before. Let me define the word “traffic”, it means….cars, trucks, people, dogs, cows, tuk-tuks, bicycles, camels, goats, pigs, buffalo and the odd elephant….(I’m sure I must have forgotten something). Sometimes it felt like everything and everyone was going in every direction, all traveling in the same lane.
Having said that, we always got to our destination safely, and so it seemed did everyone around us (for the most part), which was unbelievable when there seemed to be no regard to any traffic laws, and yet everyone and everything weaved their way through the tightest spaces expertly. Organized chaos at its best, and my utmost respect went out to our bus driver; he was the master of the road, and there was never a need for fear with him at the wheel.Speaking of respect, our guide was absolutely wonderful:  funny, informative, educated, compassionate, imaginative etc., etc. The trip was made so very special because of his commitment to his art, along with each of the local guides we met along the way. Our guide in Varanasi was a particularly animated character, and as a result he was a great teacher, and very entertaining at the same time. Varanasi is not for everyone, but for me it was a wonderful addition to our trip, and I would strongly recommend anyone to include a visit to this unique city.With generations of marahajas, moghuls, spiritual leaders– not to mention millions of the gods and temples–  it was hard to keep the layers of the country straight, but I found India to be fascinating and intriguing, and hope to continue to learn much more about it in the future. It was a fabulous trip and one I am very grateful to have made.

Article and photos by Jean Campbell