When I first told my friends and colleagues that I was coming to India, I was surprised to have a number of them say “oh that’s not on my bucket list or one of the places I would want to go, why on earth would you go there?” I was asked if I was actually excited to be going. My answer was of course yes.
I knew that India would be so much more than what we have seen or been told through photos, news, books and movies, however I didn’t expect to fall in love with this place so quickly. India is rich in so many ways. I don’t know if it’s just me, but there is such a sense of calm that can be felt amongst the colourful chaos that envelops this most diverse country. It’s crazy to think that more than 90% of tourism in India is domestic tourists, as there is so much that our Western society can learn from India. There’s a saying here that everything you think or say about India is true, but so is the opposite.
Everywhere you look in India there are juxtapositions. An example of this that really stood out to me was when we drove from Delhi to Agra where we visited the beautiful Taj Mahal. It’s perhaps the most breathtaking sight I have seen, a perfect example of beauty on the outside. The history behind the construction is a sad love story, with Mughal emperor Shah Jahan having it built in memory of his favourite wife who died giving birth to their 14th child. 20,000 people worked on the construction of the Taj for 22 years from 1632 to create the masterpiece that so many have visited today.
Not more than 10 minutes from the magnificent Taj sits the Sheroes cafe in Agra. This is a story that brings up a lot of emotions. Sheroes hangout space is an initiative which was started in New Delhi in 2013, and is run by acid attack survivors. During our visit to Sheroes we learnt about these many women who were victims of acid attacks. They may be badly scarred on the outside, but they are so beautiful and courageous. We heard their stories and experiences, and saw just how much this opportunity to earn a living and learn new skills through Sheroes has given them their lives back. They shared with us what it was like to finally be happy again and to have a feeling of pride and purpose after years of pain and suffering.
Everyday we learn more about India and see more examples of juxtapositions. However, no matter the context or situation, community seems to be at the centre of everything. The majority of people here appear to be happy, and it is a constant reminder to be grateful for everything we have, and how it is possible to be happy even with very little. All that is needed is an open mind and a willingness to see the beauty that is all around us.