Life without reference points; that is what India is.
The comparison between my favorite children's classic, Alice in Wonderland and India is undeniable. Alice fell down the rabbit hole where her perspective was immediately altered. Stepping off the plane at the New Delhi airport did not feel much different.
In India, like Wonderland, colors are more vivid, sounds are amplified, and smells are intoxicating. The term sensory overload only touches upon your experience.
To truly grasp what India offers you must, like Alice, be curious and fearless. You need to leave your metropolitan vanities behind and be ready for an adventure of a lifetime. To savor its richness you must abandon your need for order, cleanliness and sanity. It is only then that you may begin to make sense of the madness.
New Delhi has a youthful energy. Walking the streets you are reminded of a society that was once slow to embrace technology. Each street has a hanging maze of electrical wires that resemble a ball of yarn after a cat has had his way with it. But a glance down any sketchy alleyway and you find trendy shops, and big-deal cocktail dens that put Brooklyn hipster mixologists to shame. The convergence of the old and new is off-putting, and fascinating.
Then there is the traffic. Traffic lights, blinkers, and double white lines only seem to be suggestions. The traffic is nothing more than a free-for-all, yet driving in the mayhem for two weeks, I did not witness a single accident.
Just as Alice had experienced people, places, and things she never saw before, she endured because she remained open to the adventure, and became curiouser and curiouser.
Traveling out of Delhi, into the mystical mountains of the Himalaya's presented yet another Wonderland. The first obstacle that you confront is the altitude, soaring to 10,000+ feet. Even the seasoned traveler's pace grinds to a halt. Fatigue, shortness of breath, and sleepiness consume you. The only prescription, rest. When your strength returns, it is then time to navigate the steep and craggy streets.
The Himalayas are the last stronghold of the Tibetan culture. Buddhism is pervasive. It is no mystery why this rugged region was chosen by the Dali Lama as the hillside home of the Tibetan government in exile. Beyond the isolation and the terrain, the altitude forces you to slow down to a snail's pace. Walking at such an extreme altitude is no longer about getting from point A to B. Walking becomes an unhurried, intentional meditation.
This slower pace reveals a cast of characters similar to the ones Alice found in her Wonderland. I encountered monks draped in crimson robes, nuns with freshly shaven heads, grinning Indian shopkeepers, dazed travelers lost in their phantasmagorical trip, Sikh's balancing orange turbans on their heads, and me, a curious blonde, trying to make sense of it all.
It was then Alice's Wonderland and my India, merged. Both were enchanted quests where the characters were eccentric, the conventionality of life gave way to the bizarre, and the usual and predictable took a back seat to the improbable.
Alice returned home from her adventure a changed person, as did I, and curiously we shared the same lessons.
Life doesn't always make sense.
To fully embrace the time we are given, you must remain curious, retain a sense of humor, and do not take yourself, or life too seriously.
Don't cling to the past, welcome change, and look forward to the best version of yourself, which is continually unfolding.
India is a wild and unpredictable land, where the extremes of life are embraced. For me, living without reference points, for my two week adventure was exhilarating and intoxicating.
If Alice taught us anything it is, one need not jump on a plane to an exotic location to find a wild adventure, one needs only to remain curious and fearless, for that is where you will find your wonderland.
Live in color,
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