*Yes, I know that India is so much older but I had to pick a date so I went with independence.
By now you know that India has played its very own role in my personal life for very personal reasons. I know it's not India's fault but I couldn't help being really upset with the whole of India when I got a letter from my ex telling me it was all over and done with just when I had arrived in Agra to see the Taj Mahal. To be able to see this beautiful monument of eternal love which and just know that he would never build something for me like that was truly heartbreaking. And no, of course, I don't expect any guy to build me a marble tomb but you know, take the middle seat on a long distance flight or at least not break my heart the moment I arrive at the Taj Mahal - that would be nice. Little things...
And I knew that wasn't India's fault but I couldn't help but feel really resentful towards each and every cow I saw, ever dish of paneer that was put in front of me, and each person who smiled at me. "Whose heart have you broken lately?", I seemed to think, looking suspiciously at everyone. I didn't want to, I wanted to love India because it had such a special place in my heart long before I ever set foot in the country.
My friend Mariellen said:
India doesn't give us what we want, but she gives us exactly what we need.
But surprise surprise it turned out quite right. It was like India saw my longing, my unanswered questions, my desire to move on, to let go, and also to see the country for what it truly was instead of just a reflection of my own emotions.
Our trip on the Maharajas Express also covered the three stops of the Golden Triangle, India - Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra. We started in Jaipur, a city I remembered best for an unhelpful policeman after my phone got stolen, my mother offering to buy me a return ticket home, and spending too much money on a beautiful Indian tunic because retail therapy was needed.
Our tour guide immediately took charge, stopped the bus and shepherded us into the thick of the parade. It took only a couple of minutes before I was adopted by some Indian women to dance with them, twirled, laughed, and felt alive. Once again it struck me as wonderful to see a religion as so open and welcoming. After all, they were celebrating Krishna and we were obviously nosey foreigners, firangi.
Shortly after we found ourselves in front of the Hawa Mahal, propped up in the middle of the road, taking pictures and just laughing so much at all the newness, the colors, the joy. This was the moment when I realized maybe this is what I needed: colors, joy, laughter and not worrying about the next steps, the next journey, the next chapter.
Carpe diem and all that jazz was happening right there in the middle of a crowded road in Jaipur.
The days continued in this fashion. Closing my eyes now and thinking of India, I see myself bathed in golden light, surrounded by colors, friends and big smiles, a myriad of marigolds and roses, the smell of dust and freshly fried something, and me in the middle - not colorful enough, too broad shouldered and big-nosed to fit in yet somehow fully accepted. Call me a naive romantic but those are my feelings when I think back on our days in India.
Part of any Golden Triangle tour is a visit to the Taj Mahal. Was I nervous, excited, indifferent? I don't even know.
I think most of all I felt grateful that I knew the worst was already over, that regardless of how I felt now it was so much better than what I felt like five months ago. And that I was surrounded by friends. Not just people to take my pictures, to share a gossip with to make a long bus ride pass faster, to make a job trip more bearable but real friends.
I think it was that feeling that made me leave my little wooden elephant, the token of love and I guess appreciation for my writing he had made for me and given me a long time ago. I left it unceremoniously in a dry flowerbed.
My friend Brent caught me, looking at me questioningly. I explained.
He turned around and did what I hadn't wanted to do for it seemed too pathetic already - he took a picture of my little elephant in the dust. Then he gave me the biggest hug, no more questions asked.
On the way back my friend Nikki bought a pack of little elephant keychains. I got the blue one, a fitting replacement I like to think. Then we drank champagne overlooking the Taj Mahal, had our truly good fortunes read, and celebrated the fact that at least during this week we all the best damn job in the world. Mind you, that might have been due to the fact that we had bottomless Moët and a fortuneteller promising all of us husbands, a car, and a really long life. I, however, like to blame India, a country that seems to break hearts as well as it mends them, one marigold at a time.
Disclaimer: I was guest of Incredible India and the Maharajas Express.
We took the Indian Panorama tour which covers the Golden Triangle leaving from Delhi. In Jaipur, you will visit the Amber Fort, stop at the Jal Mahal, and have lunch at the City Palace. A parade can unfortunately not be guaranteed! The original program includes elephant interactions which we all opted out of and were happy to see that they changed it accordingly.
In Agra, you will see the Taj Mahal in the morning followed by admiring the view over a champagne breakfast.