India: Diving Into the Heart of a Culture

Traveling can often be a mixture of exhilarating and overwhelming sensations. The farther from home you go, the more out of your element you will be. But that is the beauty of traveling! We long to visit exotic places that are nothing like our own home. We want to see and experience something radically different, something awe-inspiring, that will make us say “Wow!”.

This need for diversity and a different perspective on beauty drove us to visit the sub-continent of India. We desired a travel experience that would both challenge us and open our eyes to the vibrancy of a culture that lay in such contrast to our own. We were not disappointed!

We flew into Delhi for a whirlwind day tour of the city, complete with snake charmers, gorgeous marble mosques, richly decorated mausoleums to distant emperors, and a terrifying bicycle rickshaw ride through the narrow, bustling streets of Old Delhi.

We ate our first authentic thali, a meal featuring a large tray decorated with either rice or naan and an assortment of spicy curries, creamy dill sauces, and sweet concoctions all on one plate! The thali was the first of many examples of India’s extremes: insane spice to unbearable sweetness, tremendous wealth to rampant poverty, and wondrous natural beauty to extreme pollution, to name a few.

The drive between Delhi and Jaipur, the capital city of Rajasthan, a desert state in the north-western part of the country, illustrated the extent of the diversity within India’s borders. The millions of motorcycles and rickshaws that zoomed over Delhi’s streets were replaced by camels pulling carts laden with farming supplies over dirt roads that connected rural communities. Industrious city jobs faded into the slower pace of families making a living by subsistence farming. Western clothing styles of the city became less common. Locals instead chose to adorn themselves with more traditional kurtas and vibrantly colored saris.

Jaipur is a tourist hot-spot in northern India, and rightly so. On our first day in Jaipur, we rode an elephant to the top of the formidable Amber Fort, visited a handicrafts market that supported local artists, and learned to tell time and determine horoscopes using phenomenally accurate sundials and astronomical instruments constructed in the 18th century.

Amber Fort - Jaipur, India

The overwhelming bustle of New Delhi and the desert majesty of Jaipur made our first 48 hours in India fly by in an intense cultural blur.

However, the reality of daily life in a large, overcrowded Indian city didn’t strike home for us until we ventured into an open-air marketplace late in the evening in Jaipur’s old city. The market was formed by two rows of shops on either side of a narrow alley, barely wide enough to fit one car or three motorcycles side-by-side.

The store owners competed with street vendors who either set up out on the sidewalk or meandered through the crowd carrying their wares in their arms. The atmosphere was vibrant, lively, fragrant, and loud. People were everywhere!

To say we were overwhelmed is an understatement! The sensory overload was almost paralyzing as we stumbled along the street.

Street Market - India

Fortunately, a kindly shopkeeper saw our bewilderment, took pity on us, and asked if we would like to step into his shop. We accepted, grateful to have direction, and found ourselves staring at a white wall 15ft long by 6ft tall bedecked with every color and style of arm bangles imaginable. Reds, golds, pinks, purples, blues, silvers all jumped out at us, competing for our gaze.

We took a few deep breaths, relieved by the soothing atmosphere inside the shop. We gladly bartered for a set of beautiful white bangles, thanked the shop owner profusely, and stepped back into the street, no longer affronted by the chaos but ready to embrace the flurry of activity.

We entered nearly every shop on the block, learning about the proprietors’ trade, bartering with a shrewd business sense, and gently fending off salesmen eager for our rupees.

We had begun the evening wary of our surroundings, but ended it by forging real connections and laughing with the locals.

The takeaway for us is that sometimes you have to plunge right in to an uncomfortable situation to truly see and experience the beauty and vibrancy of a foreign culture.

-Annie, Your Friend at Orange Backpack Travel

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