I had my sights set on visiting India for many years. A lot of my family and friends had been and whilst the reports were mixed and it seemed to be a country that polarised people, there was no doubt it sounded uniquely interesting and decidedly different from my home country, Australia.
WORDS & PHOTOGRAPHY BY: Katie McKnoulty.
Instagram only heightened my India fever, the close-up portraits of mystic holy men, the dramatic mountain landscapes, the women in saris and all the colour in general, it all drew me more and more to this country, a most foreign land.
As a digital nomad who travels most of the year freelancing and collecting stories and pictures for my travel blog, The Travelling Light, I’ve travelled a lot. The ethos and mission of the site is to find and collect unique, more hidden, authentic, soul-filled places around the world and tell the stories of these places and the people who create them. Up until this point, I’d kept my travels pretty safe and familiar, Europe, U.S.A., South-East Asia, so in my mind, India was the next frontier, a new world where I could find hidden gems. It seemed to be the most exotic country on earth to me and honestly, this ended up exciting me and terrifying me in equal measures. I was pretty nervous in the days and weeks leading up to my departure.
I travelled in India for two months with my yellow Smith the Roll Pack, 15L on my shoulders, a suitcase I rolled in hand and one of my best traveller friends by my side, together we formed our own two-person girl squad to tackle this foreign place.
We began with two and a half weeks in the North, snaking our way through New Delhi to Varanasi, the most popular pilgrimage city in India, set on the sacred River Ganges, to Agra to see the awe-inspiring Taj Mahal along with every other tourist in the country, over to Rajasthan to the pink city Jaipur and to our favourite place, off-the-tourist-radar small town Bundi, then down to Maheshwar, another town on the banks of holy waters, the Narmada River. We then set up for two weeks, working from our laptops in the cliff top beachside traveller town of Varkala in Kerala to get some work done and relax at the beach after all we’d seen and taken in from our trip in the North.
What we’d experienced in those first few weeks was a place as foreign to us as expected. This is not a culture that’s been steamrolled by Westernisation like so many places in the world today, thankfully. India retains its traditional dress, incredible food, daily religious practices, strong focus on family life and values, all of which was so different to what we knew, all of which taught us so much about life, away from our familiar culture. Apart from all this, the noise, the number of people, the chaos, the disorganisation, the beautiful mess of India delighted us one day and frustrated us the next. It’s the kind of country that could light you up with its intrigue, history, visual delights, and bizarre goings-on but then make you want to go home too with all its frustrations, delays and corruption.
My last month in India saw us explore Kerala’s backwaters and spend a few days in the big city of Kochin. I then spent the last two weeks solo, holed up in a meditation and Ayurveda retreat at the foothills of the Western Gaat Mountains in Tamil Nadu. India had thoroughly worn me out by this point, I came here to recuperate and feel the spiritual side of the country that so many come to experience.
India is still a most foreign land to me, after two months there I feel as though all I learned was how much I still have to see in this country, how much there is to still explore there. If anything, India is a reminder, an example of how much we have to see and learn from travelling the world we live in.