India is a slap across the face after a year in Southeast Asia. Raw, uninhibited, pulsing, in your face. Teeming with people, rickshaws, animals, sights and smells. The sheer crush of humanity. There is no place like it. There are no words to even capture it. It’s illusive, timeless, lawless, colorful, ancient, holy, filthy, repulsive, alive. Just when you think you’ve seen everything that can shock you, India will give you another dose. Walking the bathing ghats of the Holy Hindu city of Varanasi, you will see villagers pilgrimaging to the Ganges, bodies being cremated, fake babas smoking hash, tourists wandering wide-eyed. Look to the left and in the river lies a dead body – translucent and bloated, floating face down. Look to the left and you see a group of holy men smoking chillum – one without a discernible face, flesh drooping to chest, featureless. All around children run naked, stained black from filth begging for rupees, flying kites, heckling tourists, playing cricket. India is everything. Heaven and hell all together in one contradictory package you will never fully unwrap. A land rich in culture and diversity, full of beauty and ugliness, richness and poverty. A land of suffering beyond comprehension and a belief in gods and goddesses so fundamentally deep you will never uproot it. A country of intellects, religious leaders, philosophers. Varanasi – sometimes a timeless city, other times a city of straight hustle – full of junkies, guru seekers, students, musicians, artists, touts. Everyone wants something. Myself included.
I came to India to escape. To find answers. To be in a culture that always pushes me to the boundary of my comfort zone – sometimes to the edge and just when I think I will fall off something incredible happens, pulling me back to my center of gravity. I came to unwind; to capture images; to enjoy; to forget; to just be. To take it in and let it unfold. I came to stop thinking; to stop worrying; to let 2012 show me what’s next. What I found was joy in Bollywood dance classes, spiritual discussions, gut-busting laughter, celebrations in the street, and the incredible, uncompromising spirit that is India. I found a best friend and a Hindu brother who couldn’t be more similar to me – two of the few people I trust in the world with my life. I found the stench of a river of piss and the sweet taste of cardamom. I found a brothel area and a sea of beggars hands palm up. I found dozens of street kids locked in the hustle of child labor. I found three Hindu boys beautiful beyond comprehension – eyes and skin like they are carved of dark chocolate. I found curious eyes and devious smiles. I found Bollywood cinema and Kathak dance. I found fast motorbikes and insane traffic. I found Tibetan Buddhists and daily pujas; the scent of dhoop; and the sweet taste of milk tea. I found daily walks along the bathing ghats and lamentations under an orange moon. I found dance parties in the street – sound-systems rigged caddywhompusly to rickshaws, energy alive, fists to the sky. I found a sea of smiling children uninhibited and joyful. I found discussions about life, after life, purpose, destiny, marriage, freedom, Hinduism, Islam, the East, the West, and the role of women. I found the sheer magnificence that is the Himalayans. I found whiskey and hookah, tandoori and cow shit. I found many moments of absolute joy. Oh, Incredible India! It never fails to disgust and delight. There is no question.