My stomach is filled with a weight, a slight nausea. Is it excitement or is it fear? I do not know the two have become so mingled I cannot identify a logical explanation. I cannot begin to set expectations. To imagine the world I am to set my feet upon. I have of course, heard the stories. I spent my childhood dreaming up a far away land known as ‘India’. Visiting my Aunt in Bradford I would delight at the rich hues spread out across sari stores, tentatively slide my small fingers underneath the plastic film on bindi packets, breath in incense and live out one Christmas entirely dressed in Indian clothing. My interest went as far as the decorations in my room to a slightly later practice of yoga. My heart grew large with the delight of a foreign land. My mind was full of fascination to a place that felt like anything and everything was possible.
As an adult I had some trepidation before embarking on this trip. Along with imagining all scenarios, both the good and the bad. Travelling solo I have the freedom to go and do what I desire to, exactly what I ‘feel like’. At the same time I am solely reliant upon myself. I must overcome every obstacle, challenge and adventure, solo. Every time I step into the unknown it feels as though I am taking a jump in the dark. I hope to find my footing and balance the challenges that will come my way. If travelling solo feels like a leap of faith then my trip to India for me was a skydive.
My first morning in India I am immediately thrown into the waves as my bank cards assumes I am committing fraud by using them and I am without wifi signal, a lost taxi driver that doesn’t speak English and using what is left of my energy after a flight in which I slept all of one hour. Talking these challenges makes me draw in breath, reassure myself that I can get through this and instead of panicking either laugh or look at the beauty of the moment. It is not always easy. I have to remind myself that I can do this. And I do. Instead of seeing the negative, the chaos, the litter and the grim that fills the streets of Mumbai, I am amazed by the beauty I see in every passing moment. The air is slightly dusty, warm and dry. The sound of horns blurts out like a chorus of bird songs and colours fill my vision all the way to the peripherals. A city alive with stories of the many.
Food items I have grown familiar in the west now are in the minority against dishes that I can’t pronounce without revealing my inexperience. Everything I order, I devour as i take pleasure in a cuisine where it is considered normal to use your fingers to lick the plate clean.
Making friends quickly and growing close within a few hours is an activity I have learnt to go head first into. When travelling on the road as part of your occupation you learn not to loose time and to either go into experiences with an open heart or to save yourself the pain of saying goodbye, with a closed one. WIthout a doubt everytime I choose the former. Even with the absence of a new friend, the moments, the connectivity are worth the loss.
In Mumbai, I fall in love with the colours, the dry dusty air that either tingles in my nose with the intensity of heat and smog or tempts me into a nearby restaurant as spices are expelled from every street food vendor and restaurateur. I am told that I am staying in perhaps the ugliest part of the city, but this is my first taste of a world I had only previously dreamed of and it feels as though every moment is heaving with the buzz of possibility, the adrenaline of fear and the empowering emotion of, ‘I am actually here, I am in India’.
To get anywhere in this city takes time so when I do leave with people from the hostel we bundle into Uber cars, tuk tuks or try to hold ourselves up right when tightly squeezed into the confinements of a carriage, some passengers holding on while hanging outside where you would expect to find doors. One night in particular I squeeze into the back seat of a car with 6 male friends I made from the hostel. I tell myself to trust my intuition that they are good guys and yet I feel my heart beat faster and my apprehension in my chest. I ask them to look after me as though they are my older brothers and the night they spend rearranging me on the dance floor to shield from close encounters and checking in on me to see if I am having a good time. I am amazed at how at ease I feel and how although a world away from any semblance of home, the tunes bring a sense of nostalgia, the dance moves that the crowd pull around me are no different from what I have seen before. I am reminded that no matter where I am in the world we all share so much of our culture, and that we are bound by similarities more strongly than expected.