Looking back, India is not a hard place to travel to. But, at the same time, it is not the easiest one either. Depending on your traveling attitude and worldview, it can shock you in a good way or the other way around. India is potent in equally giving both impressions. Nevertheless, I like India the way it is, with all its ups and downs.
Definitely, I enjoyed the places I’ve seen, and I can say that it was indeed a successful nearly month-long
birthday trip. Not only had I saw all the sites and monuments I listed out to see from the beginning, I also saw other places — and appreciated the journey more! — with the help of the people I met and bumped into along the way. Some of them I have known for years (take for example my good friend Dr. Rahul Rochani, whose friendship I have gained when he was taking up his MA in Manila); some I have known through Instagram, and have been drawn to each other by the sheer shared passion for photography, traveling and culture; and there were some who I just ran into in the places I went to, putting more colours to what should have just been some solo wanderings.
I love the sites I visited in India, as well as its food (those who know me too well can vouch that Indian cuisine is my favourite. So, yes, it was a true gastronomic pilgrimage for me, too!). But, more important to highlight in this post is that I love its people, and the hospitality and goodness they have shown me from my first day in Chennai to the last hour I had in Kolkata.
This post is for the people who have made my India trip memorable and more meaningful. I appreciate the wonderful friendship we all have forged!
Khaja was my de facto welcoming committee in India. Without him – and his kind friend Venkat – I would not have seen Chennai, the monuments of Mahabalipuram, the former French-occupied Pondicherry, the Big Temple at Thanjavur (which is one of the sites I liked the most, btw), and the other interesting towns in between, as conveniently as the one I had. Thank you for driving a total of 800kms (maybe more?) just so we can cover all the spots I wanted to see in Tamil Nadu. both of you made my first few days in India very smooth, setting the good momentum for the rest of my trip. I certainly miss eating on banana leaves and drinking filter coffee now.
Manoj had to travel 2 hours just to meet me up in Mumbai, and I would also have gladly accepted his invitation to spend the night at his family’s house if not for my tight schedule in Maharashtra. Not only did he accompany me in exploring Elephanta Caves (and the hour-long boat ride) and the Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus (formerly Victoria Terminus), but he also made my stay in Mumbai more relevant by showing me the other historic facets of the city. When I asked, out of curiosity, where Churchgate was, you quickly responded with “Let’s get a cab and go there first” – you knew well how to piece together what was on my mind.
In Mumbai, I met another friend who lives in West Bandra. Parul warmly opened his family’s house for me to stay in for a night. He was kind enough to take me around the neighborhood, showing me local landmarks and walking through the Esplanade. While going around, I came to realize that he is a local ‘celebrity’ in his own right – people there seem to know him well! Thanks much for the generosity you have shown me. I wish I had brought my camera with me when we visited those historic sites in the vicinity.
Akhil and I were still messaging each other at 3am, when we were to meet in Neral at 7am! Initially, ticking off the Matheran mountain railway and hill station was a definite impossibility. I eventually had to cancel (ditch, really) my original bus schedule to Aurangabad to make time for it – thanks to his insistence that I add this to my trip. True enough, I had no regrets. I would not have appreciated riding on the toy train and enjoyed the natural views offered by the Western Ghats as I did if not for Akhil’s company – not only did I have a good photographer taking great photos of me, I also had the pleasure of knowing someone who reminded me so much of myself 5 years ago. I wish that you follow and chase your dreams and passion. “The journey is the destination” sums up Matheran.
Inside the train to Aurangabad, I met Ganesh, a photographer, and got hooked into talking with him about cameras. Upon arriving in the city, he offered something I never would have thought: to take me to Ellora Caves — my destination — using his bike. Thanks to him, not only did I see the famous rock cut-out caves much easier than what it would have taken me if I did it on my own (the cave clusters are of huge distances apart!), I also got to enjoy the views of the Deccan plateau in a ‘Che Guevara Motorcycle Diaries’ style.
I ran into Animesh and Vipasha on the way to the rock shelters of Bhimbetka. The three of us rode on a bike, found out the history of the 20,000-year old paintings together, and shared travel stories with each other with so much gusto. Being in the company of this couple seemingly made the harsh heat in Bhopal more tolerable. Your friendship was indeed a birthday gift.
The reunion of the year! Rahul and I have 5 years of amazing (love/hate) friendship between us. We haven’t seen each other since 2012. I appreciated so much that he made time – despite the difficulties of doing it – in joining me to Sanchi. There would not have been any better person to be with in seeing one place I have long wanted to see than him! It was my pleasure to have finally met his family and to have been welcomed like I was an extended member of it. I would be happy to do the crazy evening tour around the city again. Your family in the Philippines misses you a lot already.
After being ripped off in Agra, I met Amar, a visiting student from another city who’s just using his spare time to check Agra Fort and the Taj Mahal prior to his train ride back home. When we parted ways after seeing the fort, he gave me a collection of Agra photographs souvenir as remembrance. Thank you, Amar, for clicking the only photos I have of myself inside Agra Fort.
These guys were a surprise: I knew that they are nice, but I did not expect that they are THAT nice! Sanjiv, Pramod and Jogendra are so much younger than me, but they acted way above their ages. Thank you so much for the warm embrace in Rajasthan, and all your kind gestures in making me experience the real Jaipur – from the stories you have earnestly shared until we fell asleep, to the Rajput sites we have visited, to the food we sampled, and to the gifts you have given me (yes, Sanjiv, they are the most colourful in my collection now :p). I might not have met the ‘Prince of Jaipur’ (name of a former Indian restaurant in Manila), but I have met Jogie, a Bana of Alwar. Indeed, I got a more than royal company with the three of you!
I have high respect to Neeraj’s family. Despite being Instagram friends for quite some time already then, I was still technically a stranger; and yet, without thinking twice, he and his wife Deepali offered me a place in their home in Gurgaon the moment I told him I’m heading to Delhi next. Neeraj – thank you for sacrificing a complete night’s rest just to pick me up at the bus stop before sunrise, for showing me how easy it was to explore the city using the metro, and for the beers to cap a great day with. Deepali – I enjoyed my conversations with you, in the same way that I truly cherished the Punjabi dinner you had prepared at home.
Saundhar had to travel 6 hours just so he can meet me and be with me for some two hours. That, I appreciated very much. I am happy that we have finally met in person, and have transcended beyond just being social networking friends. Without you I would not have known of this historic ancient step well (baoli) in Delhi, which was the first step well I saw in India.
When I saw her, I instantly knew she’s Southeast Asian. Only to find out that she’s also a Filipino! Helene and Ville (from Finland) put more sense to my visit in Sarnath. Being young travelers that the three of us are, we easily connected with each other – in so many levels. Although we no longer saw each other in Gaya the following day as originally planned (communication was hard as I didn’t have a working phone with me), I am certain that we will run into each other again sometime, somewhere. The world is small.
Despite having been warned several times not to trust anyone in Bihar, Manish made me feel safe and secure the moment we — together with Naga, a senior resident monk at the Mahabodhi temple — started talking inside the shared auto. Thank you for bringing me closer to the teachings and philosophy of Buddha, as well as sharing me your artworks. My newly-formed friendship with you that day brought about two more new friends: Joe and Jenny. BTW, the young Bodhi sapling is now in the Philippines.
In here, I would also like to thank Ajay Reddy, Glen Dias, and Parul Sharma. Despite not having the chance to meet, they have helped me as well in organizing and planning out the trip since the day I decided to go to India.
To all of you, once again, thank you very much!