In December 2015, I traveled to India solo.
I'm still not sure why, but the next thing I knew I landed in Delhi with 3 weeks ahead of me.
I spent some time in Delhi with a day trip to Agra, then flew up to the Himalayas to Dharamshala (home of the Dalai Lama), down to Chandigarh (designed by Le Corbusier) and Ambala (home of someone I sat next to on the plane), across to Haridwar and Rishikesh (home of yoga and the Beatles in 1968) and then back to Delhi.
I scribbled these 50 things on the plane back, just before Christmas, and thought I'd share them here. They're just some of the things I experienced... So would love to hear your take on traveling and India.
1) You can get very far by being open and curious. Talking to strangers was the best thing I did on the trip and it landed me a travel buddy, an incredibly loving family in Ambala, a chain of mates in Australia and a home in Delhi.
2) It takes about 5 seconds to figure out if someone has good or bad intentions when they meet you. If it's the latter, walk away. If it's the former, repeat step 1).
3) We live in a culture of falling as opposed to rising in the West. We tend to fall in love, fall into feeling exhausted or stressed, we let anger take hold of us, we fall into attachment we can't get out of. We need to do more rising instead. That means being aware, making decisions based on that, and constant effort. (I recommend Osho's book on Awareness.)
4) People are kind wherever you go. Be kind (pay it forward) and they will present themselves (pay you back). It's the best Catch 22 situation on the planet. By the same token, in a place with a population of 1.2 billion, there will be some people with bad intentions. Be careful and use common sense.
5) It's possible to coexist with a stranger 24/7 for almost two weeks without wanting to kill them. In fact, you start reading their mind in a psychic kind of way. Like when you know that their silence means 'I'm still thinking of those earrings, should have bought them'. It's fantastic. Thank you Shelly for being part of my travel plan, by total accident. If I was a man, I'd probably be planning our wedding by now.
6) When you travel on your own, you'll make at least one friend a day. If you feel like you could do with a few more mates, just get out there, now.
7) You know you've become part of a family when you get a text from your Indian mum informing you that you left two pairs of your pants in the washing machine and she's enquired with the courier about how much it would cost to send back.
8) Friendships while traveling skip through a lot of trying-to-play-it-cool bullshit. (Not to mention that your fleecy wardrobe naturally stops you from looking cool.) You tend to go straight into worthy conversations. The reasons for your trip, depression or your relationship with your parents. Before you know it, both of your fragile little hearts are on the table. And you're ok with that. We need more of this. Vulnerability breeds care.
9) Cows are cool. People feed them with chapatis at the start of the day as they are sacred and resemble gods. I saw one queueing up at a sandwich shop once. I think I'd like to see that happen every day.
10) Stray dogs in India are really handsome looking dogs actually. (Can a dog be 'handsome'? Don't know. I guess it can now.)
11) When you ask a stranger for help and they help you, they stop being a stranger in an instant. When someone's no longer a stranger, they're part of your community forever. Ask for help. More often. And don't refuse to help.
12) Volvo buses in India are really decent for long distances. I think they're better than most Slovakian buses actually. They're safe enough to travel overnight too.
13) Indian food will never be the same now that I've met my Indian mama Sekhri.
14) Most Indian weddings don't serve alcohol. But with the help of some guests, you can find THE SECRET ROOM with gin, vodka and whisky. No need to tell any guest over 50 that you've found it. Everyone knows it's happening, but you just don't drink out in the public.
15) One golden bangle made from 24 carat gold is worth £500. Blimey.
16) Chai is served everywhere - on trains, in the streets, restaurants, in dark alleyways and it always tastes really good. Indian chai is made by boiling the milk, so it's always pretty safe.
17) Indians don't say thank you much. They find ways to be generous, helpful or otherwise show respect and appreciation. When you think about it, 'thank you' doesn't actually mean that much on its own.
18) If you trap a two inch cockroach in a plastic bottle, throw it in the bin overnight, and feel a bit bad that it will die a painful death, it won't. It will still be alive, terrifyingly perky and very happy to see you 3 days later.
19) Every day, you make assumptions about what, who, why and how. Notice it. Ask questions or let go instead. Too often, we arrive at our understanding of others based on a hypothesis from our experience and data points that fit that assumption. Assumptions breed judgement and often, sheer bullshit.
20) If you're traveling with someone, you'll be aware of EVERYTHING that happens with their digestive system. Very quickly. You'll have to live with it and laugh at it.
21) ) Australians put plastic bottles of water around their plants to prevent dogs from peeing on the plants. This fact, by Shelly, seems rather loose as not approved by another Australian Dan.
22) You can't blame Shelly on loose facts though, because her dad told her that for prisoners to earn their keep, they'd pee in buckets and make the glue that goes on the back of envelopes and stamps. Shelly doesn't lick the backs of envelopes. I was, at the time.
23) Kevin from the Backstreet Boys used to work at Disneyland Orlando as a Ninja Turtle before he joined the band. Call me conservative, but I don't think I could give that up.
24) In the Netherlands, St Nicholas gives children presents with the help of black Peets - black Peters. It's people or kids dressed as slaves that black up for the role. The EU has been intervening but it's sort of hilarious. The first Dutch attempt at upgrading the tradition - black up St Nicholas and keep the slaves white. (To be honest, I can't really blame them, because in Slovakia at Easter, men chase women with whips to 'give them beauty' and throw ice cold buckets of water at them for 'health'. It's another blog post.)
25) Haggle haggle haggle. Halve every price suggested to you unless you're locals and work from there depending on how much you want the item.
26) I'd really like a piano at home. I threw an improvised gig at a family home once and it's just the nicest way of getting people to sit together and soak in the moment.
27) Milk cartons with slits on three sides and a rubber band make really good boxes for takeaway cakes. Die, tupperware, die.
28) If you can't get the very tight cotton trousers of your Indian suit on around your ankles, put plastic bags around your feet and try again. They make the trousers slide. You can do this on your hands with bangles too.
29) Up to 90% of India - more than 1 billion people - earns £100 or less per month.
30) Ganga in Rishikesh is actually turquoise blue.
31) There's a lot of people out there with the balls to do what they want to do. Do it too.
32) In many religious towns like Rishikesh or Haridwar, people congregate either at sunrise or sunset to send prayers and general kindness to everyone in the world. Call it Hinduism, Islam, Christianity or Sikhism, surely, this simple action is at the bottom of every faith and it's beautiful. It's a real shame when you see a hunger for power hijack these beliefs.
33) The Golden Temple in Amritsar, the home of Sikhs, feeds one million people of any belief, race or status for free every year. That's almost 300 people a day who visit the temple. They do this because as a visitor, you're a guest, and guests are gifts of God.
34) Paul McCartney wrote 'Mother Nature's Son' in Rishikesh. John Lennon wrote another song with a similar theme here. In the end, 'Mother Nature's Son' was chosen for the White Album. 3 years later, Lennon changed the lyrics but kept the music of his song and released it as 'Jealous Guy'. (Most of the White Album was written in Rishikesh where the Beatles were learning transcendental meditation. Apparently they all hated it towards the end, except Harrison who was loving learning the sitar. Ringo left after a couple of weeks.)
35) When you fancy someone and the conversation is amazing and you've met through the most unlikely coincidence, you don't necessarily need to fall in love with them. It was just a nice thing that happened and it makes an excellent story. (Or it was just Shelly, Eva.) Sometimes, it's the story that makes us fall in love, because we love our stories so much.
36) At a wedding, the bride and groom make seven vows to each other by walking around the fire seven times. The vows are different for man and woman, and they take turns in leading the other person around the fire while saying them. All important confessions are made around the fire in India as it's considered holy.
37) Married Hindu women put a short line or dot of red colour at the top of their forehead, just where it meets the hair. It's a way of saying 'I'm taken'.
38) The Taj Mahal glows in the moonlight because the light can pass through marble.
39) The best time to ride a camel across the desert in India is in Rajastan in December. You can camp in the desert too.
40) Success is the kindness of a community that you develop, nurture or contribute to. It could be around the world, or just where you live or work.
41) No one who's in a more disadvantaged situation than you is asking for your sympathy. Sympathy breeds pity. It's impossible to found a community where there's pity.
42) The person that judges you the most is you. The fact is that the majority of people are too busy judging themselves to have much time to judge you. Let go.
43) There's a separation between you and how you feel. Be aware of that, because that allows you to practice being kinder to others - and yourself.
44) You can't get angry at someone if you're aware that you're angry.
45) Samosas are not fried sandwiches. No Dan, they're not.
46) It's very easy to be a vegetarian in India. Easier than a meat eater and it's bloody tasty. You should eat dhal makhani or a vegetable thali every day in fact.
47) Family is way above any other value in India. It's seems so delightfully easy to be treated as family here; the 'standard relationship' towards someone you care about. People (mainly men) come back from abroad to look after their parents. It's their duty and a sign of respect for the upbringing they received. The parents paid it forward.
48) We're addicted to thinking in the West. When you just experience, when you're aware of being there and then, you don't think of the past or future. It's impossible to judge someone or even rehearse a sentence in your mind if you're aware of the present. And those are the moments you remember.
49) It's perfectly OK to spend an evening in bed playing with Playdoh with the family and friends of someone you met on the plane.
50) And in the words of my dear friend Neil Keating. Yet again: Expectation reduces joy.
India, I'll be back.
For more stories while I was on the trip, find them on Instagram on @evaliparova. Are you planning any travels soon? Where should I go to experience inspiring, kind communities in 2016?
Love and samosas,