India is a place I have longed to go to since I was but a wee child. I have always found the colours, cultures and stories so appealing. So when Pete found Sadhana Forest along with some cheap ass tickets to Mumbai, it was decided. I was so excited to immerse myself in this very different, very stimulating country. Well, a very small part of it. We soon found out just how large India is and that one month would never be enough time to really explore such a big and diverse country. And so we concentrated on keeping our exploring to three main areas; Mumbai, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.
There is so much I could say about India and my experiences there and it’s tough to narrow it down to the important bits that really stuck out, but I’ll give it my best shot. From the moment we caught our first tuk tuk to the very last day spent in Mumbai, our senses were 100% overwhelmed most of the time. Walking the streets, we would pass a dirty ally with the most rotten smells of garbage and then turn a corner and get smashed in the face with the most delicious scents of spicy curry. The colours in India were just incredible. Vibrant sari’s, intense orange, red and yellow spices and bright yellow tuk tuks driving by. And then there were the noises. The traffic was truly fascinating as it felt really chaotic and dangerous, but there seemed to be some order in the chaos that most people understood. Hooting is a big trend and one that makes driving conversations a challenge. Dogs barking, people shouting, trying to sell their goods and just the general city sounds added to the over-stimulation of it all. There were days I loved this colourful madness and then days I hated it and wanted to stay locked up in our room.
We started out staying at an amazing Airbnb out of the main city area of Mumbai where our hosts, an awesome woman named Ranjana and her daughter Krushnaa made us authentic cuisine (vegan I might add), gave us advice on where to sight see and told us wonderfully interesting stories about themselves. We are still friendly with them today and are hoping to do a post on Krushnaa Patil, as she is the youngest Indian woman to climb Mount Everest and is part of an international team doing some amazing things. We ate loads of great food, visited the Kanheri Caves, an ancient group of Buddhist caves and rock-cut monuments in the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, and wondered the busy streets. From Mumbai we traveled south east by train to Tamil Nadu where we got to experience some of southern India, where the food is quite different, but really good.
Traveling by train in India was quite an experience. Our first overnight train left from Mumbai and if it wasn’t for the fantastic skills of our Uber driver, we would have never made it on time. Traffic was a bitch! However, we arrived at the station within minutes of missing our train, ran from one side of the station to the other, frantically asking people where the right platform was. We got onto our train, two highly stressed travelers and within a couple of seconds the train started moving. STRESSFUL! Other than the awkward start to our trip, the train ride was great. It was pretty comfortable and our seats could be adjusted to beds so we could sleep properly. Every so often the train would stop and vendors would jump aboard and try sell you a hot cup of masala chai. Looking back at our long bus rides in South America, although pretty luxurious, I would still far rather do a long trip by train than by bus.
We met some more inspiring, alternative people volunteering at Sadhana Forest and explored the unique town of Auroville. I loved roaming the little streets on a scooter, finding places to do yoga and eating at the many vegan places available. We learnt a lot about alternative ways of living and how to have far less of a negative impact on the environment and the world in general.
After our two weeks of volunteering at Sadhana Forest, we took a bus back up north to Karnataka where we were very excited to visit the ancient village of Hampi. Hampi is recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where there are many old temples showing beautiful and unique architecture. After finally getting used to simple living where we were showering with only a bucket of water, using compost toilets and working hard on the various amazing projects at Sadhana, we really enjoyed our first hot shower and hotel bed. We had unknowingly booked into quite a fancy (for our standards) hotel and the contrast from what we had just experienced at Sadhana was huge. We felt terrible using a flushing toilet and having hot showers, knowing how much water we were wasting. It was a nice change though and made us feel very much relaxed in a country we were still getting used to.
Hampi, for me, felt like being in an Indiana Jones movie or on the set of Jurassic Park. The temples were incredible and I felt like I could roam around them for hours, as long as I could find a good masala dosa to gobble down every so often. It was also amazing to see the two species of monkey there. We then made our way back to Mumbai to depart India.
My experience of India so far is that it is a place that constantly challenges you and your comfort zone, but a place where, for the most part, people are friendly and warm and willing to talk to you. The poverty is hard to come to terms with and the stray animals on the streets was definitely a massive challenge for our vegan hearts, but there are people and places making a difference if you seek them out. I found that being a woman in India was difficult, not everywhere, but certainly in most places. I constantly had to check my dress code, and became more reserved around men, hearing that I should not draw too much attention to myself. I met some super inspiring Indian women who are doing things to fight the challenges that most of them face and I felt encouraged to know that things can change for the better.
Words and most photo’s by Cara. Other photo’s by Pete.