so i've been back in the united states of awesome air-conditioning for 6 days. what can i say? it's good to be home.
hindsight narrows the feeling of the time i spent in india. days spent wondering when and if i'd ever get back to my friends, my wonderful girlfriend and my family seem like they flew by. all the trails and frustrations are funny now. all the sights are just snapshots in my head. the hard work is just a memory, the only evidence of which is that i'm much skinnier and my legs much more muscular than when i left.
there are before and after photos coming soon, but for now the basics - my hair is about four inches longer, my calves about twice as vascular and i lost 22 pounds - down to 162 from 184. that last bit is a little disconcerting on my 6'2" frame. a steady diet of burritos and pizza will see the weight come back. hopefully an improved metabolism and a new found love of going REALLY REALLY far on my bicycle will turn it into good weight. but i digress.
what do i remember from india? the heat, the crowds, the lack of personal space, how absolutely sick of dosas i was by the end. do i miss anything though? this is the hard answer, and it's "no." i think it's hard to miss the cattle-car trains, the same chana masala everyday and the constant (often physical) prodding by the locals. i have a longing to jump into another long distance tour and try to make it all again but it's a love of struggle, of fighting and physical exertion. next time i won't get off my bike, that's the lesson.
india is a challenging place. that's the word that kept coming up over the trip. i now believe the maxim: there is an unspoken agreement in the fraternity of world travelers: you aren't one until you've been to india. i can't imagine a country that's harder to endure over several months. it's just not easy to travel there when you're on the streets, in the small towns interacting with regular indians on their own terms. am i being harsh? certainly. but india snapped a tendon in my leg, gave me what is probably a tapeworm, challenged every sense of personal value, cultural understanding and ounce of patience i had. so we're even.
now, what will i take with me from all this? first and foremost, the unbelievable generosity of indians. seriously: without the help and guidance of about a hundred different people scattered all over the country, we would have been sunk. we were poorly prepared, untrained and totally fumbling - and yet time and again, total strangers would step up to keep us fed, watered, bedded, and safe. i will never forget the generosity of the anjali inn, kunal, shilpa, the truck drivers in aurangabad, and a dozen others who kept us going when the heat, the touts, and the pollution seemed ready to crush us utterly. my thanks and my sincere gratitude goes out to all of you.
second: an appreciation for history. i don't think i've ever been surrounded by anything as old as Ajanta in my life. this overwhelming feeling that i can only describe as religious pervades places that ancient and i'll never forget being in awe of the sheer age of some of the places we visited. paired with this is an intense desire to preserve these places. stopping an indian from urinating on the carvings at ajanta (not one but THREE TIMES) really makes me want to set up a fund or something. oh wait - UNESCO beat me to it. maybe i'll take up vigilante world heritage site enforcement? like Smokey the Bear-cum-Punisher?
third: patriotism. i'm not saying i come from the best nation on earth, but texas is my home. every time i step outside the borders of my nation, i am pleased and overcome with how different the world is. it's grand. it's great. we need it. but it ain't home. i'm american / texan and i love it - my country isn't perfect, but that's not what i'm talking about. the smells, the sights, the tastes ... and above all the love of freedom. the respect for other people's freedoms. it's marvelous. sure, we sacrifice a sense of community and a strong family bond that indians have got IN DROVES (and i'm jealous, i'll admit), but i'm beholden to no man or woman when it comes to religion, job choice, marriage choice, political affiliation, vocation ... just amazing. you don't realize how prevalent LIBERTY is until you leave it bosom. it's good to be home, baby. i missed you.
there's more coming - some long articles covering overviews of different parts of the trip. for now, i'm home and i couldn't be happier. india was a wonderful challenge and i'm so very glad i did it. take it as a lesson, if you'll indulge me - go fight yourself. put yourself out there in the world, make yourself do something you don't believe you can do, believe something contrary to what you believe even if it's just for a day, dig deep and figure out who you are.
you'll be pleasantly surprised.