'I was stunned by the richness of the land, by its lush beauty...by its ability to overload the senses...It was as if all my life I had been seeing the world in black and white and when brought face-to-face with India, experienced everything re-rendered in brilliant technicolour'
(Keith Bellows, Vice President of the National Geographic Society)
Wow, wow, wow! What a country! Number thirty on the visited list, and I have never been so stunned by a country in my life as I have been by India. What a fabulous land, filled with wonders that stimulate every sense available on my body. Still tingling with the magic that is Bhārat Gaṇarājya, it is a country that will amaze and shock on every turn. I absolutely love this land, it has stolen my heart and completely captivated me. Nothing in my life prepared me for how this country would make me swoon. I Love India.
Now, before I begin this month's blogging about India, let me just make clear that I am not seeing India through the Rose Tinted Spectacles of a vacation. India is one messed up country. Just take a look at the facts and figures that exist and they will tell you that it is a country that is rife with corruption (and considering that Congress, a marginally less repulsive party in the quagmire of Indian politics has been elected – good luck), illiteracy that in some states have struggled since Colonial times as well as huge rates of female infanticide. Its society is statistically in huge amounts of trouble and has problems far beyond what many people living in Europe or North America can even conceive.
Also, from my own observations, I can confirm that India is a filthy country, poverty is rife and it is crowded to the hilt. The weather is intolerable, being a country that is dependent on three months of continually torrential rain in order to quench its thirst. Chaos is everywhere, the result of the second largest population on Earth being squeezed into a country that is only the 7th largest in terms of area. It is a country plagued by the ghosts of the past, most recently its independence from Britain and the horrific crime of partition. India is a country that still depends on connections rather than merit, where knowing someone will propel you into the limelight, and where your class and even the colour of your skin can be the difference between a life of success or a life of travesty. But despite all of its faults, of which there are many more, let me say once again, just to make sure that no one has missed out on my feelings towards this land:
I Love India.
Assam, which was my first stop in India, is an absolutely amazing state, everywhere is green, lush and fertile from being the valley floor of the mighty Brahmaputra river. Where else can you see rhinos wallowing in paddy fields (outside the national parks)? Where else does history and culture combine to give exotic palaces, riverine islands and tea estates in a compact area? Assam is a place that I simply did not see enough of and I will be returning to this magnificent land to see and experience more. If there is one part of the world that has captured my heart, it is Assam. Alongside the magnificent landscape, are some of the most beautiful people you will ever meet. Warm and welcoming who are proud of their ancestry and of the land they live in. The kindness of the Assamese will stick in the memory long after the visuals of the land fade from my thoughts. And don't get me started on the food with plenty of tea! Everywhere there is tea!!!
Tiny Tripura, nestled in the corner of India, almost cut-off from its motherland. India in miniature, there are tiny temples, tiny water palaces and tiny hills along with lots of forests. Hard to reach but rewarding to see for the curious traveller. This is real frontier traveling, one of the many places in the country that has been barely touched by tourists from India let a lone the rest of the world. Tripura was the second of the states that I visited on my tour of India's North East and was simply delightful. Out of all the places I went to in North East India, the food of Tripura was simply spectacular. The Bengali influenced cuisine providing me with ample amounts of fish, rice and vegetables along with some of the best street stalls that I have visited in all my travels.
My final stop on my travels in India was Meghalaya. A state that before I went, I did not hold in much regard. In fact, I was initially going to bypass it. Thank goodness for the heat of Tripura, forcing me to make a detour up into the hills of Shillong, Meghalaya's capital. And simply, Meghalaya was the Jack-in-the-Box. But in such a good way, I was surprised beyond words by this state. From the stunning landscape and the wild weather, to the people who follow a matriarchy. Yep, the people of Shillong and the surrounding areas are ruled by their women. Evderything from local businesses to marriage proposals are controlled by the women, not the men, a surprising change from the rest of India (and in fact from the UK). And what wonderful people as well, proud of their own culture and of their country, but extremely hip and very westernised. Never on my travels in India did I expect to hear Bob Dylan or Tupac but they were well and truly alive on the streets of this Khasi city. And they don't put milk in their tea - you have got to love the Khasi's! Plus along with great music and fantastic dress sense, they make a mean fried fish! At times I felt I was more in Seychelles, so familiar, yet different was this part of India. I saw such a tiny part of this very inaccessible state, but I will surely be making a beeline for the rest of it at a future date.
And so here begins, my travels in this wonderful country. I hope you join me this month as I take you round India's magical North East. Later on in June, I will be sharing some hints about traveling, what I like and dislike about the journeys along the road as well as a few anecdotes from the recesses of my mind...