Words | Dana Jensen
Photos | Dana Jensen

A country saturated in curiosity and excitement, India consists of constantly unraveling surprises. Its unpredictable nature is what makes it almost an addiction, a taste of its intensity not nearly enough for anyone with the slightest sense of adventure. That’s just the reason why I found myself booking a flight back after having left for only a month.

I never really wanted to go to India. If anyone had asked me the question, “What is the least likely but still possible place you would go,” I still wouldn’t have picked India. But as fate would have it, my road there was paved before I had a chance to read the signs.

I was invited to a wedding in Ahmedabad by way of a friend of a friend. Twice removed, I arrived at this stranger’s pivotal life event with endless gratitude and a willingness to relinquish all control of my upcoming schedule. As it was, that ready-for-anything attitude was the crucial element needed to set the tone for the following weeks.

After days filled with trying on traditional sari’s, shopping for wedding gowns, eating the most delicious vegetarian food I ever tasted, getting henna’ed and secretly taking sips of the rum we were hiding in our water bottle, it was time for the grand nuptials. If you’ve heard tall tales and painted impossible images in your mind of Indian weddings, it’s all correct.

Everything in the 3-5 day event is louder, brighter and bolder than any wedding I’d ever experienced.

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Once my mind was sufficiently blown, it was time to leave the binds of family obligations and kick back on the beach in Goa. Known for its party scene, Goa is also the perfect place to lose track of time and relax. Naturally, we found both ends of the spectrum: Anjuna providing the perfect beach dance party needed to let any leftover wedding stress go and Palolem supplying the quiet needed to nurse the impending hangovers.

Slowly, the wedding party began to depart and the beginning of our own travels commenced.

We started by going further south to Gokarna, an area known as the quieter, less-touristy Goa. The backpacker in us had stars in our eyes as we climbed down to the coast and arrived at Om Beach. Completely blocked from any bustle from a city or town, it was our perfectly hidden oasis. Upon exploration, we found that a few small hikes brought us to even more secluded beaches, all of which provided very convenient places to hang a hammock and stay for the night.

From there we found Hampi, which, if I hadn’t found enough speechless moments already, this tiny hippy town surrounded by ancient ruins topped all of them. A day on a rented motorbike (that cost all of $2.50/day) took us around roads lined by lime green rice patches and palm trees, set in front of a backdrop of precarious “mountains,” (which are really just giant piles of boulders).

I constantly looked around and wondered how any of what I was looking at could possibly have come to be. A 30-minute hike up 570 steps to Hanuman Temple supplied a sublime view of the entire area. Hampi is no place to spend a night; get stuck.

Upon my return, I headed for Rajasthan, a northern province known for its palaces and forts of kingdoms long ago. Pushkar is a captivating town, home to a now oddly familiar mix of religious pilgrimage and tourist scenes. This is where we stayed for Holli festival, signifying the victory of good over evil, the start of spring after winter and more generally, the sharing of love among all. Without boundaries, color was thrown on anyone daring enough to walk the streets in an act of sheer expression. It was simultaneously electrifying, terrifying and liberating, and something that was absolutely worth being a part of.

Our last stop and one of the most notable, Udaipur, evoked a similar serenity that we experienced when we began our trip. Set around 2 lakes connected by a canal, the city invited us with open arms. We spent our days hopping between the myriad of rooftop cafés and delighted ourselves with indulgences.

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NOTE: Indians love to negotiate. There are no simple answers, and the very basic responses of yes or no have no effect. Almost everything is cheaper than the first price you get so play the game with your end-goal in mind and remember that walking away ensures your victory.

A trip around India truly feels like a trip backward in time.

Time is different there, passing slower and feeling more full. In India, crossing the street feels enough of an accomplishment that once you get to the other side, stopping for a fresh orange or sugar cane juice is a deserved reward.

This place will undoubtedly leave its mark on you. Whether it be a hook that reels you back or a bloated stomach that clings on for a few days afterward. India is Mary Poppins’ suitcase, an endless source of surprises and gifts. It defies all expectations, makes up for disappointments with magnificence and asks nothing in return.

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