Reflections on My Trip to India

We’ve been back stateside for just over two days and I’m still shaking off my trip to India. There’s the epically long flight to recover from, and the 13-hour time difference, plus the bout of traveler’s tummy that has me down three pounds and counting. But bigger than those things is the dust storm kicked up by India itself, which I’ve been told is normal, and which will apparently take a while to settle as I sort through my memories and experiences of a country so different from anything I have ever known.

Though I want to be able to give a full debrief right here and now, I’ll be sharing the trip as a slow trickle over time rather than a single rush of reportage. For starters, I was traveling as part of a marketing team, and many of the situations we found ourselves in are proprietary until the campaign we’re working on goes live. Believe me, I’d love to divulge all the juicy details of the sights we witnessed and tidbits we learned, because some pretty once-in-a-lifetime occurrences went down! However we’ll all have to be patient for the official photos and video to be released. I promise the delay will be worth it.

Another reason I’ve not got a ton to report? My camera roll came home remarkably empty considering how long I was abroad in a foreign country! I took barely any photos while I was there—indeed I shoot more on a given weekend shopping in LA than I did the entire two weeks in India. I was in writing mode, you see, and that’s a very different mindset than picture mode. I filled an entire 200-page notebook with images comprised of words, noting down not only the facts and flow of our travels but also crafting figurative language to capture the sensory overload of crowded streets and sweeping desert skies. There are stories waiting to emerge from that notebook, but for now they’re still taking shape in my mind and in my heart.

There’s even more to it than that, though. The main reason I didn’t spend much time peering through the lens of my camera is that India demands your full attention. The pace of her action, the fullness of her every moment: she’s like an explosion that will dazzle you with her flash and burn you with her fire. (Drivers rarely text behind the wheel in India—the mayhem of the roadways requires total concentration from anyone who values his life.) Even on our longest treks I spent barely any time on my phone, so captivating was the scenery through the car window. From the untamed elements ruling the landscape to the animal antics punctuating the streets, from the flower bedecked wedding tents dotting the cities to the funeral processions stalling traffic, life in India plays out in full technicolor glory.

Perhaps ultimately, I left my camera in my bag because I knew that no photo could convey the powerful and polarizing feelings that India evokes. How can a blurry landscape channel the rush of careening across the desert at 100 mph, wind whipping my hair into my eyes and Bollywood music blasting from the stereo? How can a snapshot capture the magic of witnessing a bleating newborn goat, its ears still wet from the the womb, wobble to its feet for the first time? Or the heartache of seeing a donkey, broken at the knees, dragging itself through the dust? Or even the guilt that arises when the fuzzy injured donkey on the farm induces more tears than a dirty beggar child in the gutter? India is a mixed bag of emotions, not all of them pretty.

And so. That’s what I’ve got for you guys for now. I rarely allow myself to surrender control, to suspend judgement. I almost never simply sit and take life in on its own terms. While I was in India, though, I struggled and strove to do exactly that. The journey was painful at times, revitalizing at others. In the end, it’s left me in no rush to crystallize or distill my memories. Instead, it’s leading me to trust my instincts, the same ones that told me to leave my camera in my bag, when they say: The epiphanies will come in their own good time.

Photos: Anne Sage