During my time in India I'd come to realise that there was one single thread that bound everyone I met together. None landed there by chance, it was always deliberate and there was always a bigger purpose. People were on more than just a physical journey.
India is country full of – and a place for – seekers. Each person in search of enlightenment and using India, the soul of ancient culture and philosophy, as the backdrop to better understand the world and their place within it.
My own reason for visiting India weren't dissimilar. Whilst I intended to recce the River Ganges as part of plans for Plastic Patrol, I was on a soul-searching journey of my own.
In the months before leaving for India I had started to burn out. I'd made a series of poorly judged decisions that triggered my anxiety and I struggled to recognise myself. I needed to find a way to put my keyed-up energy to good use and regain my balance.
Travelling is, and always has been, the greatest love of my life. Intentionally removing myself from routine and familiarity has a way of clarifying priorities. It challenges my understanding of the world, and injects me with new ideas, connections and experiences. I don't think there's anywhere in the world that can disorientate or challenge you like India.
The pace - especially the major cities - is relentless. Initially I found myself drawn to the noise, the colour and the speed of life which matched the chaos of my own back home. It took some time to for me to understand that the comfort I found in the craziness was burning me out more.
As I started to settle the buzz of the cities became overwhelming and I made my way to the north of India, where the foothills of the Himalayas meet the River Ganges. The peace and solitude of the mountains and water gave me the space to breath for the first time.
I spent time exploring and it was on long hikes in the mountains that I started to become more fascinated by the people I met and the stories of what brought them to India, and also into my path.
Every experience shared bought new perspective, understanding and clarification in areas of my own life that needed addressing. I believe everyone I encountered has served a greater purpose in my self-development. Whilst the impact of some has been mild, others have been more profound.
As for India itself, I learnt very quickly that this country provokes a fight or flight response – you either embrace it or you run from it. Just arriving into the madness is the first test in your strength of character. You sink, or you swim.
India is remarkably like an intense relationship – exciting, passionate and powerful - but the constant ‘push and pull’ it provokes is ultimately unsustainable. Sometimes I was cast so deep under the spell of its charm I felt I could stay forever, and other times I felt completely disillusioned by things I saw that I struggled to find even the remotest affection for it.
Whether that was a cow brazenly walking into restaurants searching for food, homeless children pooing in the middle of live railway lines, rickshaw drivers dodging high speed traffic as it fled towards oncoming cars on the wrong side of a motorway, or youngsters using exposed sewage pipes as water fountains to keep entertained.
No matter the day there was always something utterly incomprehensible happening right in front of my eyes. And whilst some sights were funny, others were heart breaking, distressing and downright disgusting.
But if you open your arms to India and squeeze tight the utter chaos that surrounds you, you’ll be rewarded with experiences so enriching you can’t help but feel touched by it. It's a good metaphor for life - open yourself to the world and embrace everything with love - you’ll reap the rewards.
India taught me more about myself in a month that I thought possible. It gave me the freedom to explore my physical surroundings and the confidence to look deeper into myself. Words can barely explain the profound impact the people I met and the experiences we shared will go on to shape my future. I’m endlessly grateful to have been part of this remarkable culture and the kindness of its people, even for a short time.
I leave India with treasured memories, special friendships and a new found understanding of myself. How lucky I am to have experienced such a place that saying goodbye is so difficult.
Thank you India – you beautiful mess - for opening my eyes, my heart and my soul.
This is farewell, but not goodbye.