For every destination, you obtain a list of both things you love and hate about it. I met people who dread, even with the thought of, going to India because they’ve seen in Slumdog Millionaire how crowded, polluted, dangerous and dirty the country is. Might be true, depending on your subjective standards. First of all, the young Jamal in the movie grew up in the 1980′s Mumbai. Mumbai, or perhaps India in general, has improved a lot since then considering that it is one of the fastest growing economies in the world today. Second, the movie is about poverty so you will expect to see lots of it. Like many developing countries, the development gap in India is too wide that poverty and luxury sit comfortably with each other.
Sure, I shared the same fear before I went there. But my interest in different cultures, my thirst for new adventures and the stories of how beautiful the country is overshadow this trivial fear. There’s so many things to love about India and what a pity for those who were not able to experience it firsthand just because they were too afraid to go out of their comfort zones. After all, as an American intellectual once said:
“When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.” - Clifton Fadiman
So despite all those discouragements and other negative impressions reaped by other travelers, India, for me, is still beyond incredible. So here they are, my top 10 reasons why I love India.
1. Family Ties
When I was in Malaysia, an Indian family (husband and wife, their son and their parents) was sharing a meal in a restaurant we dined in. My supervisor told me that in New York, he noticed hoards of Indian families traveling together. In Bangkok, an Indian family operates a restaurant; the father was the chief cook, the mother was the cashier and the children took orders from the customers. In and out of their houses, the ties of an Indian family are knitted tightly together that they share virtually everything with each other: travel experiences, food, joys and sorrows. I observed that in an Indian family, the problem of one, even how minute it is like finding your other pair of shoe, becomes a problem for everyone and may cause a commotion that is understandably surprising for any outsider. I am now married to an Indian. And for someone who grew up in a very nuclear family, sometimes the close ties are suffocating. I can go on for weeks without talking to my parents and that is normal for us. But now, I have to find a way to communicate with my in-laws at least once a week. My husband talks to his family almost everyday via internet. I’m still getting used to it but the value of family, the importance of marriage and the support from your relatives made India very dear to me and why I now consider it home. In the first place, even before my wedding, it already made me feel home and welcomes me, with open arms, like I am a part of the family.
2. Colors without Limitations
There is no wrong color combination in India. In the Philippines, yellow+red is McDonalds or Jollibee, red+green is Christmas, red+brown is a tree. Indians are not afraid of colors, they are neither dull nor safe, from their beautiful sarees and bangles to their house decorations. There is even a Festival of Colors for Lord Khrisna called Holi observed every spring.
3. Food for the Soul
Everytime I go to India, I leave with an additional 2 pounds. If you’re a foreigner, you would either love it or hate it. I know some people who cannot stand Indian food even for a day but for me, the aroma of spices, the rich coffee and ginger tea, the freshly rolled rotis, create a tempting festival of tastes. I can live on Indian food my whole life if I don’t mind my weight.
4. Hindi is a Passionate Language
Most major languages in Asia are high-pitched. Like Filipino, Hindi is low-pitched, with less intonations. Not surprising because Filipino, together with Bahasa, is a branch of Sanskrit. My father mistakenly perceives Indians in a normal conversation as having a fight. It is true for a foreign ear but the reason is that Hindi is a passionate language that’s why they use a lot of stresses and hand and head gestures when talking. I love listening to it; yes, it may sound a bit fast (Indians, as I observed, are fast-talkers be it in Hindi or English) but it also sounds romantic and sincere. And the writing is just beautiful! I wish I could learn it someday.
5. Every Scene is Photographic
My friend and I agreed that India is a “photogenic” country. In flicker and other photo platforms in the internet, you will notice a lot of subjects coming from India–the streets, the people, the food, the temples and monuments. Exotic is an understatement. India’s manmade structures are more than that. They are everywhere; magical, charming, as if they are talking and telling you their own history. Everywhere you point your camera in India is worth-taking a photo and every photo has a story worth-telling.
6. Respect for Animals
India is often criticized because it allows cows to roam its streets and pigeons to fly its skies freely. These animals leave dung around places which many foreigners find unacceptable, in sight and smell. Indians’ tolerance toward animals is rooted from their major religion, Hinduism, which treats all living things equal. This is also the reason why most Indians are vegetarians. People and animals live in harmony.
7. Bollywood, I Love!
I don’t like the Bollywood films per se but I like how Indians patronize their own films which manifests in the flourish of Bollywood films in and out of the country. Unlike the usual colonial mentality of many developing countries seen in their fanaticism for anything Hollywood, Indians would prefer to watch and create their own, only with more dancing, singing and over-acting.
8. Trains, Here, There and Everywhere
Railways stretch from the center of the city to far-flung provinces of India. It is a common and reliable mode of transportation and, most importantly, affordable. Most foreigners cringe at the idea of squeezing inside a jam-packed train, without doors or airconditioning but full of sweaty arms, bags on top of each other, cries and squeals. Those trains with passengers sitting on top, hanging outside the train entrances, and crossing the tracks are all real. I’ve seen them in Mumbai, especially during rush hour. It is an amazing show of brevity. But like anywhere else, you can have all the comfort and convenience you want for a price. Train cars and sleeper trains are categorized into different classes depending on how much you pay. If you can shed off a significant amount of money, I am sure that crossing states in India is a wonderful experience as beautiful sceneries treat you during your journey.
I also need to add the auto rickshaws under this category. They are metered tuk-tuks, a common mode of transportation in South to Southeast Asia, and they don’t have specific routes unlike in the Philippines. So, you could just hop in, mention your destination and pay the equivalent amount of the meter. In Mumbai, there is no need for haggling and they are really cheap!
9. The Street is its Theater
The streets are venues of theatrical plays of sights, sounds, tastes and scents. They mirror the vibrant culture of India and they welcome anyone who is willing to participate in. I love strolling around the streets of Mumbai. True, it might be dangerous but anywhere has danger if you openly invite it. As long as you are cautious, you will have no problem. As long as you are not the high-maintenance type, I assure you that a visit to a local market, a casual walk along the streets at dusk, or the morning stroll towards the nearest temple is a unique experience to behold.
10. It Feels Like Home
Finally, and most importantly, India feels like home to me. It is no different from the Philippines, I ride along their humor, I understand their politics, I can tolerate the poverty while I rebuke the filthy rich, I feel their gods and I immerse in festivities despite hardships. I experienced how hospitality in India compares with, or even exceeds, that of ours. They treat guests like royalty and talk to them like lifelong friends. And I am confident that it is a value not unique to my in-laws but to most Indians as well. India will not make you forget; it will embed itself in your memories, your heart and your soul. If you travel to India with eyes and hearts open, with less of judgment and more of appreciation, with arms wide and mind free, I believe that, like me, you will keep coming back for more.
Have you been to India? What do you like most about it?