I visited India in the summer of 2016 after graduating from university. Like many other people my age I wanted to get out and explore the world before starting my career. Naturally I looked to the east, a place with such rich history and culture, to start my adventure.
Arriving into India was a massive culture shock, having never been anywhere so busy and crowded. Where poverty and destitution were so around every corner, yet behind that hid a country full of wonder and mystery. I had huge range over experience on my journey and I hope you will join me as I tell them.
0.1 A Himalayan odyssey
Trudging back into the hostel which perched precariously on a ridge in the Himalayan Mountains, exhilarated yet exhausted from a day of hiking and discovering hidden waterfalls. Shaking off the day’s weariness I walk to the reception where I’m welcomed by the smiling face of young man staffing the desk. We greet each other with the same joke – how I must have gotten lost to wind up here. He always could make me feel right at home, even when so far from it.
Clouds loomed overhead, their dark forms swirling threatening an almighty downpour, yet I have escaped the monsoon so far. I stare out the window taking in the mesmerising vista, a curious pull on the edge of my consciousness draws my eyes to the unassuming trail I passed earlier, winding through the jungle wild and unexplored. He notices my enticed gaze and warns against it, he tells me of the leopards which come down like wraiths in the night to prowl the streets. I dismiss the notion claiming it’s nothing more than a myth, conjured to keep children inside. His face becomes stern, he tells me of an incident only a month back, where a leopard had taken a child playing in the streets into the gaping maw of the jungle. The danger only piqued my curiosity and I promised to take care and left, bound for the end of the trail.
It’s dark. Though there were still four hours till sunset, the thick trees blocked what little light had escaped the inky clouds. A prophetic crack of the thunder booms through the sky and the heavens break. Like a dam unleashed rain cascades to the ground, within minutes the already precarious path turns to a small stream.
Demoralised, wet and completely lost I turn to go back, but as I do so I see three children clambering up the rocky trail. As they near I notice how young they are, the oldest not be more than ten. They notice me and start smiling, an infectious smile only a child can possess and I smile back. Wordlessly an understanding passes between us, they would take me to the end of the trail.
The way was perilous, we traversed deep ravines and sheer cliffs, under overhangs where a leopard may have laid in ambush. The children chanted out loud to ward off the elusive beast. Eventually we broke the oppressive cover of the jungle canopy and the children ran through the stalks of golden corn crushing them underfoot.
There at the end of the path lay a blue dishevelled house squatting on the edge of a cliff. Two large bison stood in front of the house, their eyes wide at the sudden intrusion. Nervously, I approach the house, the children peer out of the door whispering and giggling. Beyond I beheld the lush foothills carved by the tranquil Ganges, its waters nourishing this land of untold stories and unsolved mysteries.