I have always dreamed about India. The lush green landscapes, rice fields, traditional architecture, the colors, elephants and spice markets … A photographer’s dream.                 

So a little over two months ago, I booked some airline tickets and found myself in Hyderabad, Kerala, Rajasthan, Agra, and New Delhi. Now that I am back in Canada, I am glad to say I have never travelled so hard in my life or  had more extraordinary experiences than the ones I had in India.

India was unlike anywhere I had been before. It was hazy, it was tough, and it was challenging.

It was worth every bit of chaos.                                                     

Baby goats and the cutest koka (grandma in Telugu) with her grandchild. Koka’s hut is made of palm fronds (and buffalo poop). With a wide, gap-toothed smile and a squeeze of your cheeks, Koka tells you how happy she is to see you. The village killed a goat to make goat curry while I visited, a great honor considering goats are one of their most prized possessions.

                                           

The India I experienced was incredibly hot, dusty, smelly, and filled with the sounds of a thousand things happening at once. The sensory overload was overwhelming. Most days it felt like my brain was trying to digest everything that had happened in the past few hours. There were many moments in which I felt like hiding under the bed covers and holding on to the remaining bits of my comfort zone. I am glad to say that the curiosity to explore, learn, and experience won over, and if there is one thing I took away from India, it was learning to face the day with the same  fierce determination that everyone there seems to have.

I spent the first two weeks working at Children Arise, a child relief organization founded by a friend I met while travelling in China a few years ago. I spent 10 days on campus teaching English, photographing the children, and learning about an entirely different way of life. It was there that I realized the impact I had by being present, listening to stories from the locals, helping with daily chores, and sitting down to share a meal with someone. Not having the Western comforts such as bathrooms, technology, privacy, and the freedom to roam around made me realize the ease and convenience I was so used to back home.

 

Morning devotions.
Hanging out with the girls among the eucalyptus trees.

Every morning I woke up to ten year old Akash ringing the school bell — you should hear the way he giggles and blushes when you praise him! Lunch is eaten on the floor with older children serving and younger kids helping out with dishes after. Power outages occur almost every day and showers are cut short due to water shortages. Watching the children handle these hiccups with more grace than I could muster was a wonderful thing. I have never seen children with so much need carry so much happiness within their daily lives.                                                                                                        

Pavel washing his uniform in a pail and Vrraden in his How To Train Your Dragon t shirt.
Making pancakes for the kids.

 

This is Haney, one of the sweetest boys on campus. Haney’s family lives in tents and migrates every season due to monsoon rains that flood their home. Prior to being accepted at the Children’s Home, Haney spent time begging with his family and was so shy he could barely make eye contact.

 

This is Siddu. He and his sister have wonderful parents who have no money to send them to school but raised them to be the most helpful kids and best students on campus. When I ask him what he wants to be when grows up it is either a doctor, writer, or policeman (it changes every time). When I ask why he replies, “So I can help people.”

The week that I returned home, I constantly asked myself, “What am I going to do with this experience?                                                   

Before India, I often asked myself how I could contribute to the world as a creative person. I wondered how I could have more impact than publishing a well-photographed project or Instagram post. Before this trip, I always felt there was a pressure as a creative to constantly re-invent myself or create content people approved of. I felt like I was burning out with my creative work, between running a business and staying authentic to what I wanted my work to represent. But my time in India allowed me to hit the reset button. I am back now doing those same things, but I feel more content and confident in the way I write and share my thoughts with people. I realized that I could contribute by doing the same things but with good intention from the moment I wake up to the way I post on social media and to the way I interact with people.

I left looking for answers but realized I didn’t need to know them after all. We don’t have the answers and we never will. India has taught me to embrace the mystery, to be content, and to love people with a compassion that I discovered within myself. India was beautiful, not only in the scenery and adventure, but in the experiences and in the goodness of people — the volunteers, the children, and local people I met there. I hope that I will never forget the gratitude from the villagers when you pray for them, the hospitality from the locals, and the beauty of sunsets in the Indian sky.                                                   

Travel to India. Experience an entirely different culture. Try the best Indian food of your life. Find your soul or hop on a train. Say yes. Ten thousand times yes.

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Sophia Hsin
Born in Taiwan and currently based in Vancouver, Sophia is a photographer that specializes in travel and lifestyle. She traveled to India to work with Children Arise, a child relief organization. Prior to photography, Sophia worked in the medical & educational field and spent many years living abroad. A lot of her inspiration comes from the people she meets and cultures she gets to experience. Photography to her is a way of helping others share their voice through imagery and tell stories that leave a positive impact. When Sophia is not behind her camera she can be found at the hanging at the beach with her pet hedgehog and making never ending travel plans.

4 COMMENTS

  1. What a lovely story. I’m planing to travel South America for a few month but now, i’m thinking to travel Asia to see India.
    What a hard decision. 🙂

    Thank you for sharing this amazing story and beautiful pictures.

  2. What a lovely story. Allowing for the hardship to teach you the indulgence of our western lives. I find connecting to people and cultures such a humbling essence of travel! You helped me be more confident about going to India solo (as a woman). I was putting it off after so many negative news on treatment of women and wonder what your experience on that end was. What season + for how long did you go?

    • Thank you! Glad you enjoyed the read!
      I went from mid October to early November, it was right after the monsoon season and just starting to get chilly. Depending on where you are going, the south is always hot but the north/ deserts can get quite hot. Especially in the evenings!

      I did a lot of research on travel blogs. India IS NOT the most friendly place for solo women travellers. Big touristy cities are fine but rural areas can be quite dangerous. I was lucky to have friends/ travellers with me for the entire trip aside from two days where I was in Munnar, Kerala. I do have a friend that travelled solo and met friends through couch surfing and Airbnb. The locals do treat women (esp Caucasian women and noticeable foreigners) with a funny attitude which you will experience wherever you go.

      Other than that, I have met the kindest people that made the harder parts of the trip more bearable and beautiful! Hope that helps xx

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