When I think back on my time in India, I don’t see it as a chronological story I can easily tell to my friends. I see it as a tapestry of moments, all woven together that created a truly indescribable experience. There are certain moments, both good and bad, that I know will stick with me forever, and I reflect back on my time in India more as a list of these moments, rather than a story I could articulately write down.
Friends ask me excitedly “How was India?! Your Instagrams looked amazing!” and I honestly have no idea what to say. How do I sum up 10 weeks into a cliche statement about how it changed my life? I can’t, unless my friend has five hours to listen to me process my feelings about my two and a half months in India.
India was beautiful
Do I tell my friends about the once in a lifetime beautiful views of the Himalayas I saw backpacking through Spiti Valley, or viewing the Sheesh Mahal (Hall of Mirrors) in Amer Fort? Or do I tell them about the beauty I saw every day— in the smile of the sweet old man I bought chai from every day, or in the carefree happiness of children playing cricket at sunset in Jaipur’s central park?
India was lonely
Do I tell my friends about that time my train was delayed six hours and I was stranded until 3am at the dark Agra train station alone, and how it was genuinely one of the loneliest and most frightening moments of my life? Or do I instead tell them about how a group of women then pulled me aside and let me sit with them all night, braiding my hair and giving me the only food they brought for themselves? No matter which version I tell, nobody will understand how that experience moved me.
India was magical
Do I tell my friends about how in my loneliest moment of my trip, I bought a necklace with the Hindu goddess Kali engraved on it, in the hopes that this powerful warrior woman would protect me on my solo trip— only to meet my actual new best friend, coincidentally named Callie, the very next week? Both Callie and I agree it was destiny– we were supposed to meet each other at that very moment.
Or do I tell them about the guru I met in Rishikesh, who approached me in a crowded marketplace to give me unsolicited life advice, only to disappear into the crowd— and then stumble across me again days later. I never knew how accurate or necessary that advice was until two weeks later, when I felt his words fall into a place in my life that was eerily accurate. It was magic, destiny, fate, whatever you call it— but I know for certain India is the most spiritual and magical place I’ve ever been.
India was eye opening
Do I tell my friends about the cafe I ate lunch at that was run entirely by acid attack survivors, their flesh burnt off their face at the hands of hateful people? Or when I was backpacking in Spiti Valley and met Nadia, a girl my age who opened up to me about how her best friend was murdered by her own family over religious differences? How do I talk about these experiences that I feel like I need to discuss and process, but discuss them in a way that is true to what I believe is the incredible culture of India, without being offensive or ethnocentric?
India was inspiring
Do I tell my friends about Frontier Markets, the incredible NGO I interned for that is changing millions of lives by providing clean energy access to the poorest people in Rajasthan? Movies like An Inconvenient Sequel portrayed India as a country completely unwilling to adapt to solar energy, but I was inspired daily by the companies and people I got to interact with that were committed to protecting the environment and climate for all.
India was complicated
Or maybe I just need to accept that my experience in India is not one that needs to be told to that person I run into on the street, or the whole class when my professors inevitably ask how we spent our summers. Maybe my experience in India is something that is just mine, something that I should accept is maybe reserved for my journals and my closest friends and family members that have hours to listen.