When you go to India you must visit every place your average travel guide endorses and jam as much of it as possible into the tiny window that is your trip to this fabled land. It is a country of almost mythical proportions, but unlike Captain Ahab’s whale, you can actually catch it. Just the very thought of visiting gives you chills and you know that once you’ve been you will be able to live off the social cache it gives you forever.
When the two, four, or even six weeks of your trip are over, there is no disputing the fact that you will have been to India. You’ll have all that beautifully filtered social media to prove it, but ask yourself one very simple question: Do you think you will have really experienced India at the end of it all? Really?
India is an overwhelming massive mess of madness and mayhem. Running across, up, down, and back over again it whilst being surgically attached to your so well thought out Lonely Planet assisted itinerary will send you home with your head spinning. But you will not have truly savoured all that is amazingly good and outrageously horrible about this seriously messed up place. You will at best have lived a vacation vicariously. Or to put it more crudely, you might as well have just fucking Googled it all.
Let’s take a small selection of some major Indian deities as a means of simply illustrating how different this place is to any other that you’ve been to before. Does Kali look like a welcoming hostess to you? You don’t see Jesus chillaxing with his apostles whilst bejewelled with a highly venomous cobra round his neck as was Lord Shiva’s want. Did you know Ganesha, the elephant headed one, is that way because Shiva chopped off his original, normal head in a fit of jealous rage? Hanuman is an all powerful war monkey for fuck’s sake.
When you come to India you are diving head first into the rabbit hole and you will not appreciate the significance of this if you spend your whole time here literally on the run.
Slow it down, please. Think for a second about the magnitude of this place and the capacity for vast wonder that it possesses and dial right down on the things that you think you have to do and the places that you must visit simply for having traveled here in the first place.
All of this may seem a bit condescending. I mean this magazine is for the tuned in, worldly traveler, right? This may be the case and I mean no disrespect, but if I stepped on any train or sleeper bus here tonight I know for fact that I would meet a group of tuned-in, well-intentioned young travelers doing exactly the things I’ve just cautioned against. Even if they are eschewing the Golden Triangle route of the retired over-60s, they are still doing it all way too fast and without properly engaging with the majesty of their surroundings and the possibilities that it wants to offer them.
On my first trip here I was the very person I’m asking you not to be. I returned to Barcelona from India after a whistle-stop tour of Delhi, Agra, Varanasi, Kolkata, Chennai, Mamalapuram, Pondicherry, Varkala, Arambol, Mumbai, and back to Delhi, with a new girlfriend from Valencia and close to zero clue of the place i’d just spent the last six weeks of my life.
If you can trust me on this, make your first port of call Pushkar. Find a comfortable room in one of its many excellent budget guesthouses, maybe even grab a properly made pizza if it makes you feel a bit closer to home, and slowly start to experience India in a bite-sized, authentic piece where amongst other like-minded travelers you can unhurriedly decide where you want to go next. Then when you do move it will be from a personally informed position rather than that which the one-size-fits-all-travel-guide suggested.
It’s no coincidence that this beautiful little place, full of money obsessed Brahmin*, that ex-ists on the edge of a tranquil holy lake in the middle of the Rajasthani desert is the jumping off point and winding down location for many of the long-timers who head south in the winter or up to the mountains in the summer. And while some of them might seem a little scary at first, they will almost always be willing to help you along your way if you ask them.
All of the things you’ve heard about India are true, but only if you allow them to be. You can find yourself here, have the time of your life, and meet the most inspiring, eclectic, worldly collection of people you could ever imagine. India can and will change your life for the better, but only if you don’t force it. Pushkar is the perfect place for you to slow it down from the get go and experience this for yourself.