Right about this time four years ago I was heading to India where I would study for a month with a group of students from my college. The night before we left I was sick, sleep deprived, and hadn't even begun packing. Needless to say, I was not even remotely prepared for the madness that the next month would bring.
We traveled extensively throughout the Northern parts of India. We started in New Delhi and from there ventured to Dharamsala, Varanasi, Bodhgaya, Jaipur, Amritsar, Khajuraho, and Agra. We spent Christmas Day at the Bodhi Tree and rang in the New Year with Aloo Gobi and Bollywood hits.
We studied the five major religions of India: Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism. We visited temples and spoke with Monks, Imams, and Priests. We visited countless temples and holy sites.
We watched people fervently practicing faiths which I had previously never heard of. I was forced to examine my own faith, my lack of devotion, and my beliefs about those who didn't believe in Jesus. I questioned how some of these religions could be so similar to my own yet also so different.
When people ask me what India was like I find it hard to give an answer. I was there for a month yet was never in one spot for more than two nights. There was so much to see, so much to take in, so much to learn, so much to process.
India was beautiful. It was colorful and vibrant and full of life and laughter and music and chaos and incredible smells.
India was also heartbreaking. It was full of poverty and corruption and sickness and impositions on freedom.
India was confusing for me. There were times when I just couldn't understand why certain things happened and why people believed certain things. Below is a picture of an open-air crematorium where bodies are burned 24 hours a day. The ashes are then dumped in the Ganges river where faithful Hindus bathe daily. The fumes settle over the city in a thick black smoke and our entire group became ill during our time there. The question that hung over all of us was "why?!" To our Western brains the practice seemed barbaric, not to mention unsanitary. But does that make it wrong?
I like to think of myself as open-minded and culturally sensitive. But India showed me just how limited my views were. It challenged the belief that I needed to know why certain things happen in order to respect them. There was a point where I had to stop analyzing, stop questioning, and simply watch. Absorb. Learn.
I'd like to go back to India someday. I'd like to stay in one place for an extended period of time and really get to know what everyday life is like there. I'd like to go with a humble and open heart that is ready to learn, even if it cannot understand.