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.
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.
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.
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.