I have been learning about India for years, mostly through various world religion classes I took in my school years, from Mr. Freedholm’s class my junior year of high school or the world religions course I took at Skidmore.
It’s always been one of those places that has called to me to experience. Though raised Catholic, Buddhism and Hinduism always resonated with me, the concept of reincarnation especially. While not so much now, many times when I was younger I felt echoes of previous lives, or what could be previous lives – or it could’ve been my fascination with Victorian England coming through a bit too strongly. I’ve also felt like an old soul more often than not.
My senior year of college I had the opportunity to take a travel seminar to India, meaning I took a course during the fall semester on Hindu religion and religious architecture with about 10 other students with a professor of religion I’d never had a class with before and a professor of art history I’d had class with before and wasn’t overly fond of at first blush. He grew on me, as they do.
They were a bit of a balance of opposites, the two professors; both lanky and greying but one cheerful and chill, the other serious and dour. We studied for 3 months, and traveled for 3 weeks across the country, mostly in the south.
The Taj Mahal was not in our itinerary, and for that I am grateful.
Our exposure to Delhi was limited to the airport. We saw parts of the country most travelers didn’t touch, wandering around both dead and live temples, determining the bodhisattvas and approaching the gharba-griha, and exploring the mandapa, all while trying not to giggle at the mithuna couples (yes – it is what you’re thinking).
We were based in Mysore, and took day trips from there. We also spent the better part of a week based in Hampi, which is on the coast, and a story for another day.
India is the only place where I’ve traveled that I’ve taken malaria pills. One of the professors took the once-a-week pills rather than the daily ones I took – he said they gave him hyper-realistic dreams. I almost wish I did take the once weekly pills because India was a colourful, surreal enough experience that having freaky dreams would have made the experience that much more surreal.
I went into the experience having no expectations. Or at least, trying my very hardest not to.
Jetlag hit me hard here, for which I am oddly grateful, as it allowed me to see as many sunrises as sunsets.
We regularly frequented the Green Hotel while we were in Mysore. I became very well acquainted both with Indian food (palak paneer and lamb korma are still 2 of my favourite dishes), fresh lime soda (sweet, not salt – I didn’t get that familiar) and Indian sweets:
Hearing Jack Johnson ‘Pancakes’ in Hampi. Chai wallahs on the train. Bombay sweets and salwar kameez. Walking the rocks in Hampi and sitting at a random ruin, listening to the silence. Those are all tales for another afternoon.
Should you go to India, beyond the Golden Triangle?
Yes. A thousand times yes.