About ten years ago, the author Christopher Kremer, who, at a book festival I helped organise in Christchurch, New Zealand, signed his book (Inhaling the Mahatma) by saying ‘To Heather, with best wishes on your yatra!’ Christopher, September 06′.
That was just before my first trip to India, and now with my fourth starting soon, I wondered what is it that attracts me to the country – after all, I have family members who find India too intense, too difficult. Why do people love it or loathe it? Why am I different? And why do people always ask : is it safe to travel alone?’
Yatra means journey and, as a travel writer, for me a journey is not just the places I go – it is also the trip my emotions take – and India takes you on many journeys of the emotions – the highs and the lows.
I loved it, I hated it, I laughed at it, I laughed with it, and I cried about it – confused and sad but ultimately optimistic about this huge country, an intensely vivid country – the colours, the sounds, the smells, the tastes, the sights (and sites) – which assaults all your senses for good and for bad: and that’s just in the first hour of course.
It continues the whole time you are there. When you are travelling on your own, such as I usually do, you get 100% of the pain, and of course, a hundred percent of the pleasure. What you don’t get, is bored.
Of course, there is also pollution, and rubbish, nearly everywhere, as well as people desperate to sell you something. Poverty and richness live side-by-side and it’s devastating to see and hear the beggars.
While I usually don’t give to beggars, I travel sustainably and support small businesses and responsible tourism – instead of waiting for money to ‘trickle down’, wherever possible I spend with small traders – and certainly not with international companies.
On my first trip I travelled from Haridwar, Uttarakhand, in the north then south to Ernakulam in Kerala and of course, Maheshwar on the banks of wonderful Narmada River. My other Indian yatra have been in Gujarat, home of Gandhi, and which has few tourists – I recommend you go there. Search on any of these names in my blog and find stories and photos about each of those places.
Let me make a list of just some of the reasons I’m returning on yet another yatra:
- the people, the food, and the feast of colours, sights and sounds
- 2000 years of sacred buildings; Buddhist, Hindu, Islāmic, to name just a few
- Interesting festivals throughout the year
- There are nine or ten religions in India, and about 33 million gods – I’m bound to stumble over at least one!
- And maybe, just maybe, when they know I’ve been an extra in the Bollywood movie The Italian Job they may make me a star – or, knowing what happened, they may not!