Thursday, July 16, 2015

Chennai and My Beating Heart

The other day Bradford reminded me that we have been home from our SE Asian adventure longer than we were there. And that made me sad. We've had so many huge changes in our life since returning home that I've hardly had time to reflect on our travels. But slowly, I will document India.

By far, India was the most memorable and powerful country we visited and it all started in Chennai. 

Since we were coming from Thailand, we entered India via the South, specifically Chennai. I was so nervous and excited to go to India. I had heard so much about it and I thought I would love it, but I also was a bit apprehensive about some of the stories of dirt, filth, and overall poverty. Well, it turns out the "excited" half of me was correct because I pretty much fell in love with India within 24 hours of arriving. 

We actually spent our first night in Chennai at a fancy-schmancy hotel, using some credit card points. Since our flight arrived late at night, we figured it would be a smart way to get our bearings and stay safe before backpacking into the cheap parts of town. It was great, but....

...I'll never forget the feeling when we hit the real India, walking the streets of Chennai to find our $5/night hotel room. I actually felt this sense of home. Something about India just felt familiar to me. Perhaps it was a result of having Indian neighbors as a kid, perhaps it was my love for the Middle East and feeling a bit of that in the culture. Whatever it was, it felt right and happy and good. 

There are so many different emotions in India. Highs and lows. One minute you're eating the most delicious, flavorful meal you've ever had and speaking with the kindest, warmhearted family thinking to yourself "YES! This is what travel is all about!" and the next, you're stepping into a giant pile of cow&*!# and waiting three hours in the hot sun for a bus that you're not sure will ever come. HAHA. Oh, India. 

I'll always love Chennai because it was my first impression of this country that is so amazing. 

I'll never forget the way I felt entering my first Hindu temple in Chennai. I was so interested and excited to see Hindu worship and as I entered this temple barefoot all my years of dreaming about India all exploded into this moment of reality---REAL INDIA. I was here. Now. This moment. The flowers were brighter than I had expected, the music more interesting, the people more human. Everything was exceeding my expectations and then I cried. I was so overwhelmed in the most beautiful way. It was the heartbeat of travel, the burning pulse that opens your soul in the best way possible informing you that there is another way to live, that you can change, that you can choose your life. 

We made a lot of sacrifices while traveling, did just about everything the hard way, saving a penny anywhere we could. I'm sad to admit that I often compared myself to other travelers, wishing I could stay in a nicer hotel, eat a nicer meal, take a nicer bus (or no bus at all and fly). And then you see India. You see all the people who live there. You see the man who happily bathes himself with a bucket of cold water on the side of a busy street, right next to fresh concrete that has just been poured. There is chaos all around, but he is clean and he is happy. And you realize, how can I not be happy? How can I not be happy when I have a full bottle of clean drinking water? How can I not be happy when I have a camera to capture beautiful things around me with? How can I not be happy when I have the ability to hop on a bus or train and go wherever I want? How can I not be happy for the simple fact that I was born in America, which feels like the land of milk and honey compared to India and other places?

Oh, but the beauty that lies within the filth. Even the poorest women wear the brightest saris. They are so bright and so beautiful. There is charity happening all around. There is chaos and cheating too. There is good and there is bad. 

Pictures give such a small fraction of what the country is really like, I'm hesitant to include any at all. A day in India is like a year elsewhere. 

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