Last October, Jack and I traveled to India.
It was after much anticipation and a bout of obsession on my part. We largely booked our trip after India had been nesting in my imagination and manifested itself in the form of my postgraduate dissertation: Food and Travel Writing in India.
The seven months between booking and our trip were mostly spent fantasising over the adventure of the place, the culture, the people, the food. By the time we eventually arrived, greeted by the alien dry heat of Delhi, we were itching to indulge adventure fantasy we'd imagined.
And oh my, India did not disappoint. It delivered ten-fold on the food, serving up the best paneer of my life, flaky, almost buttery bread charred and puffed to perfection in a tandoor oven, moodily dark chai tea slightly overbrewed and heavy with spice, and a new family favourite: gulab jumun, deep-fried milky dough soaked in a sticky, sweet syrup and popped so easily whole into one's mouth. We obsessed over the food, fawned over it and delighted in the authenticity of hot-to-the touch pakoras and tooth-achingly sweet jalebis purchased on the road side, to the bizarre familiarity of a Maharaja Mac at McDonalds. We sank our teeth into everything, with greed and abandon.
The culture was so very varied and (unsurprisingly) so foreign to us and utterly fascinating. From temples bedecked with sculptures, to the dress, a riot of colour and texture studded with sequins and woven with multi-coloured thread. And the nature - that was something else entirely. I'm yet to experience anything that makes my heart flutter quite so lightly as seeing a tiger in the wild.
But our experience of the country also held our romantic fantasies to account. We witnessed the poverty as we did the museums: as passers by. And even though that makes my skin crawl with discomfort, that is how I felt we saw, and were seen by India - as passers by, as tourists who would only ever be able to experience India as an other. It's a hard feeling to articulate and digest.
India shocked us and kept shocking us. It made us feel uncomfortable, sweaty and exhilarated. It made us feel lucky. We felt lucky to be there.
Every element was other to us, was challenging and I think it's this very reason we fell in love with the place, hard. We left a piece of our hearts behind. The little film below is a reminder to return and pick up the love affair where we left off.