I believe travel isn’t just about the places of go, but the people you meet. Whether it’s other travelers who share the same context or aspiration, or locals who make a city more than the sum of its architecture, it’s the people I have met so far that can make a place (even an airport!) bubble with color or recline in gray.
Over the past six weeks in India, I have made and reconnected with some potential lifelong friends. These people have made each place come alive in ways that even the best tour guide may struggle to do, and have opened my eyes to ways of living and thinking that I forget about in the grids of New York City.
“The beauty of our country is happiness. No matter if you are rich or poor, everyone smiles. So that is half your healing anyway.” The incredible Sandeep, who turned our first 24 hours in Bombay into a fashion and flavor whirlwind, inspired me to spend more time out in the wilds of Rajasthan instead of in the solitude of silent meditation. While I’m sure I would have had a powerful experience in Igatpuri, he reminded me that people and places are often our greatest teachers, and that the energy we share with others is what keeps the soul stirring. And because of that, I have made some new life-long friends.
As a solo traveler, I’ve been a walking target for Kashmiri carpet hawkers and new friends alike. I’ve been lucky enough to be eyed as a solo adventurer by others, and often invited to dinner and drinks. In the spirit of this blog, I have said yes each time despite the pit in my stomach. Hearing new stories, hearing your own stories in a new way, and learning about new beliefs and missions has inspired just as much as imagining how cultures, cities and castes have been built over centuries. Reveling in flavors, favorite faux-pas and future ambitions has turned a dish into dinner, and a tea-cup into tea-time.
So, when I think about the places I’ve been, the excitement of exploring far away sites is mixed with the anticipation of following new Facebook friends in my newsfeed. The yoga retreat at Ashiyana in Goa was visually and spiritually stunning, but Mukesh smearing us with color on Holi, Ben giving us gut-busting new challenges to act out in the dining area, and Margherita sharing her yoga practice and practical wisdom were a few moments that turned a destination into an experience. A visit to a temple on the fort overlooking Jodhpur on the third day of New Year could have just been a picturesque view had it not been for the five sari-ed ladies who shuttled me into the temple and acted out the appropriate actions to receive a blessing. Two nights at an exotic camel camp could have just fed my Lawrence of Arabia fantasies, but long chats with Paula, by the end of which we were asking each other the same questions at the same time, and dinners and DJ sessions with Reggie made me feel like I’d stumbled into a new home in the sand dunes. Exploring Jaipur with Vikram and talking about culture and travel over tea and block-prints inspired me to get to know people and places in new ways, to go beyond the stats of a situation and into the soul of things. Even sitting in the Jodhpur airport today and striking up a conversation with a mother and daughter about life abroad and local artisans made the waiting time almost too short.
I’m grateful for all the incredible people I’m meeting and reconnecting with along the way (via this blog too!), and for the conversations, long or short, gesticulated or verbalized, texted or spoken. And I’m grateful for technology’s ability to turn a passing person into a parallel trailblazer, and to engineer serendipity. On which note, I’m venturing to Chandigarh to meet up with my friend Neet from the Aspen Institute, who’s going to share with me some of his favorite parts of India. This adventure all started via the seed of a status update… a great karmic reminder that the more you put out there (on Facebook and all), the more comes your way.
Thank you for the great challenge, Alyssa DiGirolamo, to make a new life-long friend… I’m going to continue to say yes to it, smile and strike up random conversations, and I hope you all do too!