November 29, 2004

India: Land Of The Mystic

The pristine orderliness of Japan often leaves my soul craving for the vibrancy and spontaneity of chaos. Within but a few weeks, I will be back in India. I feel a tangible sense of excitement; not the kind that one has when embarking on a relaxing beach vacation, but rather the anticipation of once again facing the unpredictable. Travel in India is always an experience that touches a myriad of emotions, in a way that challenges an individual like nowhere else.

India has a diverse population of one billion, that consists of both a massive rapidly growing bourgeois, as well as people living in poverty on a scale that is hard to match anywhere else. Out from these contrasting ways of life is a society that simultaneously exists in a multitude of realities. With such extraordinary variance, it is surprising that any kind of semblance of order can be achieved. And yet, India functions as it has always done, through local ingenuity.

Perhaps, the most pervading aspect of the country is the religiosity of life there. The majority of Indians are adherents to Hinduism, but other religions, such as Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism and Islam, have a wide following. For the most part, members of the various faiths have tended to live together peacefully, but occasionally, tensions do flare between the different communities.

India has always been attractive to those fond of spiritual exploration. Of course, everywhere are the symbols and temples of devotion that one would expect to find. Yet, India’s powerful invocation of the mystical, comes not from these, but rather from the contrasts that are to be found, such as extremes in beauty and ugliness, poverty and wealth, vibrancy and starkness. On every street that is walked, we are forced to accommodate stimuli that are both pleasing and disturbing.

It is often said that 50% of travellers hate India, whilst 50% love it. For myself, I very much fall into the latter group. That is not to say that I do not sympathise with the other group’s sense of discomfort, but rather I find the "discomfort" to be part of the wonderful challenge that India presents.

India is a unique gift to us all, and should be experienced at least once. When you return back to your home countries, you will be forever changed, and you will never forget the magic of Mother India.

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