"In the West, you save up all your money in order to spend it on an experience. You are searching for something," our Indian travel agent winks at me. Her sparkly nose ring catches the light and her bangles jingle as she hands us our train tickets. "Us Indians, we think you're a little bit crazy; we would never travel like you. We'd rather spend our money on gold jewelry, land, or a new house." This explains her inability to tell us more about popular sights at our next destination in India.
In the West, we do believe in the almighty experience. And for me, like many, the ultimate coveted experience has always been to travel.
There is something in our culture about this desire to travel that I take for granted. It's not just the fact that we can fly away to a different continent for a holiday, which is itself already a privilege far beyond anything most Indians could ever dream of, but it's also the very existence of this concept. To venture off the beaten path in search of new and distant lands takes a certain amount of bravery and spirit, a willingness to leave home. The mere idea to do this would not even occur to many people I've met here. From our Indian travel agent's perspective, we are seekers, dreamers, people looking to delve into the heart of unfamiliar places and cultures. We love to step into the unknown, big, bold and loud, and to learn about how other people live.
The funny thing is, I don't think she is entirely correct. I don't think this desire to search and explore only applies to Westerners. It may be true, Indians prioritize other things before travel (mostly out of necessity), but when I walk through these remote rural villages, visit temples, or pretty much just go out onto the street anywhere in India, people stare. They constantly ask to shake hands or take a photo together. They are just as curious to see me as I am to see them.
We can access this theater at home of course, if we're looking close enough, but following unfamiliar threads towards life in a foreign land is somehow more alluring.
Here's a glimpse of part of the thread I've followed to India. It leads to a quiet lonely Christmas morning in the south. At sunrise, we set out in search of elephants. But the bus is too full. Rather than sit and wait for the next one, we decide to walk the six kilometers through tropical rural Kerala.
This is what we saw and who we met along the way.
At last, we arrive at the elephant sanctuary! Time to visit the super charismatic mega-fauna (watch the short video):