I have traveled (approximately) 22,000 miles in under 60 days. I have been on planes, cars, boats, and an elephant named Sundari. I have debated the differences (if any) between a vacation, a journey, and a pilgrimage.
I have visited 3 mountain ranges, 2 of India's major rivers, 1 really huge lake, and the Indian Ocean.
I have seen painted trucks and unadorned Uzis. I have passed heavy carts pulled by cows, horses, and human beings. I have left offerings at remote roadside shrines and ancient temples. I have knelt in the womb of the Goddess.
I have struggled to find an internet connection so I could check my email. I have seen sacred images chiseled from stone, carved from the living roots of trees, and made from rebar.
I have been in 5 states and 9 cities. I have fallen in love with Kolkata (Calcutta). I have had coconut oil and fresh jasmine flowers in my hair. I have wondered why I don’t live here.
I have been disgusted by humanity, and myself. I have wanted to punch people (but didn't). I have been happy that I don’t live here.
I have been so cold I didn’t want to get out of bed, and so warm I wanted to hide in an air-conditioned room. I have felt sand, dirt, teak and marble under my bare feet. I have been immanent, and transcendent.
I have watched Indian soap operas. I have stepped over open sewers, onto deserted beaches, and across glittering marble lobbies. I have listened to temple bells, Bollywood songs, prayer call, wall-to-wall traffic, late-night roosters, the sound of the ocean, and Kanye.
I have been thirsty. I have enjoyed fresh lime soda (sweet), coconut water, South Indian coffee, and chai. I have had wonderful meals, and awful ones. I have eaten off china plates and banana leaves.
I have been jostled by ocean waves, crowds, and decrepit taxis. I have been called Madam, Memsahib, didi (older sister), and Durga-devi. I have hugged an old friend. I have touched silk that pooled in my hand like cream.
I have been bitten by mosquitoes and skinned my knee. I have haggled over the price of fresh nutmeg and silver anklets. I have earned the undying loyalty of hotel doormen by tipping them $2 and looking them in the eye. I have smelled human excrement, rotting garbage, and pure sandalwood oil.
I have mourned for the India that I knew so well, and discovered the India I could never have imagined.