The first thing I noticed was the honking. So much honking. There’s the “heads up, I’m coming through” honk, the “you have five seconds to move” honk and, my favorite, the “hey random animal, outta my way” honk. Every drive is a noisy ride.
Then, the smell seeps in. It’s part fuel, part exotic spices and part shit. I don’t know any better way to say it. The smell, not in every place but in many, is shitty.
But India likes to surprise, so after discovering the odor and din, I would come across a view like this:
Unreal, right? That photo was taken inside the Taj Mahal. And then there’s this shot of Udaipur from Sunset Point:
I only saw a small part of Rajasthan, let alone India. Still, it was exhausting: rich foods, followed by an uncharacteristic loss of appetite; gorgeous greenery along the road, men peeing next to it; serene walks through ancient temples, uncomfortable eye contact with mangy camels.
Uncomfortable—yes, that’s the word. At tourist sites, Indians would snap photos of us like we were the attraction they were there to see. I wanted to yell, “I’m not famous, I’m just white!” Men on motorbikes pulled over to hit on us several times. At dinner before Holi, we heard cannons and saw giant bonfires. A power outage soon followed. The line between celebration and chaos seemed awfully blurry to our American eyes.
There was another uncomfortable feeling, too. At Agra Fort, we learned the shah always had men playing drums and women throwing flower petals as he entered his palace. At my friend’s wedding, men played drums and women threw flower petals as we entered the, yes, palace where it was held. When we stayed at an apartment in Delhi, a maid served us—meals, cleaning, information, whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted it. This royal treatment was of noticeable contrast to the discord outside.
Each breathtaking view was balanced out with a child beggar tapping on the window of our car. Likewise, all the unusual smells were countered with lively music (that will be stuck in my head for a long, long time), awe-inspiring architecture, kind locals and the best wedding I’ve ever been to. India is a gem, in that it has more sides than you can possibly see with a single look.