Like most travelers who’ve been around the world and back again, I left my heart in India.
I sit in Mexico as I write this, a year later and still stubbornly refusing to go home and be normal. And no matter what I do, my mind wanders back to India every chance it gets.
So I dig my toes into the powder white sand of the Mayan Riveria and indulge in the waves of memories shamelessly washing over me.
I think of the afternoons spent riding on the back of a motorcycle in central Karnataka, my fingers full of silver rings slung around the waist of a fellow wanderer, my jeweled skirt flapping in the juicy afternoon breeze, villages of colorful boxes stacked into a green swampy landscape peeling by on either side of the horizon.
I remember squealing on the inside, thinking, without a doubt this was the happiest I’ve ever been and maybe ever will be.
Freedom, sweat, and spice oozing out of every pore.
Stopping in a tiny town, half a kilometer from running out fuel, and skipping from door to door until I come back with three new local friends, two cups of chai, and a water bottle of yellow gasoline to dump into the tank of our ancient Honda. Stealing a kiss from my beautiful blue-eyed companion and riding the bike back through emerald rice fields. Falling asleep on the roof of a hostel, the stars peeking through wisps of mosquito net.
Fast forward to a hundred other moments of my first four months in India. Lazing in the Goan sunsets, hopping on my scooter with wet hair and skirting the south Indian coastline from one sandy cove of paradise to another. Sneaking barefoot into late night temple ceremonies, the cascades of “om” carrying me further and further from the life I used to want.
The days of balancing a cup of chai in one hand and a fresh coconut in the other, speaking purposefully and tentatively with a lovely new traveler friend, navigating our blonde selves though an afternoon marketplace with the greatest amount of subtlety we were capable of.
(Six months later, I would fly to Stockholm to see this same traveler friend, and she would fly halfway around the world to join me on a grand adventure in California. Friends for life, I am certain, thanks to Mother India.)
The night I met a Welsh rugby team driving a tuk-tuk across northern India and hopped in for a nighttime cruise through Agra’s narrowest back alleys, where everyone’s beloved pastime seamed to be corralling a small flock of livestock while simultaneously shopping for tomatoes, bangle bracelets, mustard seeds, and saris, their furry beasts apathetically blocking traffic.
And the absolute hilarity of wide-eyed Indian children popping their heads into the front seat of our stalled tuk-tuk and seeing four blonde heads grinning back at them, the children all collapsing into frowning laughter the way only Indians are capable of balancing two polarized expressions on one face.
Because of India, traveling stopped becoming a temporary interlude in my life plan and became a life plan in its own right. It ceased to be an outlet for another agenda and became something pure and heartfelt.
It became an exercise of utterly reckless abandon that somehow flushed my veins, cleaned out every pore, and pumped fresh oxygen into lungs that gasped for air in other parts of the world.
I found, like nowhere else on Earth, India exerts a palpable love for everyone moving through her atmosphere. All you have to do is surrender and let yourself be carried away.