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Why travel? Here’s my why
Travel was always both frightening and exhilarating for me, and these days, it’s especially fraught. My Facebook travel sites seem full of posts about women my age jumping back into travel lately, but still I hesitated to take the leap. Why did I hold back? Travel is my greatest inspiration and joy.
The reason? Fear, of course. I really wanted to return to India, but worried I could get Covid, Delhi Belly or a list of other illnesses. My recent knee replacement was a concern as I thought I might lack stamina. I had nightmares that flying could be a debacle, as it so often is these days. And what if I didn’t get along with the women in the group?
On the other hand, maybe the trip I dreamed about for years would give my life a much-needed jolt. It was time; after two years of hiding from Covid 19 at home, I needed to get away. There are so many reasons to travel to India and I thought perhaps my bucket list trip would inspire me, at age 74, to find a different life path. And maybe I’d make some new friends.
I decided to push my list of excuses aside and jump in.
Finding the right fit
Rather than travel solo as I did in my younger days, I chose to go on a small all-women group tour. I was happy to leave the driving and planning to them. I already knew the leader of the group—Ann Marie McCarthy of Cracking India Tours. Ann Marie runs the “Over 60 Women Travel and Meetup Group” on Facebook and is familiar with how women want to travel. I knew Ann Marie and I shared our love for India. She memorably wrote on her site:
“I believe that all travel is transformational if you are willing to be open to the experiences. In India, you will be rewarded not only with a journey outward, but with a journey inward.”
And so, I signed up for the trip to Rajasthan, India. We had several Zoom meetings with a group of women, most in their 60s, who hailed from places across the U.S. and Canada. What I found was a common love of travel. While most had not gone to India, they traveled to places all over the world, from Dubai to Tibet, from Italy to Turkey, and beyond. Lewanda Hardy, my friend from Pawleys Island, South Carolina, joined me on the trip.
Jumping into the experience
When we arrived in India several months later, the chaos, cacophony, smells, sights, colors, and music that is India immediately enveloped us. That jolt did not appeal to everyone. In fact, one woman dropped out of the group a few days into the trip. The rest of us first dipped our toes in, then submerged the rest of our bodies. I could see perceptions slowly changing, bonds forging with fellow travelers and Indians, and growing enthusiasm for the wonders we saw. Lesa Gleb (of Seaview, Washington) —whose eyes and heart were opened on the trip—was our scribe. She and Lewanda and several others engaged with everyone they could, from waiters to children in the marketplaces to dancers and musicians. Their example inspired many of us to experience India on a person-to-person level.
My favorites experiences from our tour in India
I always love visiting Lodhi Gardens in Delhi—a quiet and beautiful 90-acre oasis filled with 15th century temples and tombs of Sikander Lodi, Mohammed Shah and others. We shared the gardens with wandering lovers, groups of friends and families, and locals and tourists of all ages from all over the world.
Gurudwara Bangla Sahib
Later we visited Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, a giant Sikh temple, which served up to 100,000 free meals during Covid. The community kitchen is called the langar. We toured the kitchens and walked through the gurudwara, a giant and beautiful group of buildings that included a prayer hall, lake, school, hospital, and library.
Ranked number 1 of the “Top 15 Cities in Asia” in Travel + Leisure Magazine in 2021, Udaipur is a city with gorgeous lakes, grand palaces and ancient forts. This city also boasts heartbreakingly beautiful views from the shores of Lake Pichola, where we passed the amazing Taj Palace Hotel on our boats. In 1983, the James Bond film Octopussy was filmed at the Taj and environs.
The 13th century palace Juna Mahal, listed on the 2014 World Monuments Watch, is the former royal residence. It is located near the town of Dungarpur at the base of the Aravalli hills in Rajasthan. Perhaps because the building is in a state of disrepair, there is a palpable feeling that ghosts inhabit the mirrored and art-filled rooms. Climbing the steep steps up to the seventh floor is a challenge, but the view makes it worthwhile. The Kama Sutra paintings on the top floor are intriguing as well.
The small town of Poshina is home to Adivasi (a tribal group) shrines known for their votive terracotta horses. Some of us purchased a horse and went through a short ritual offering personal prayers to the local goddess. We rang bells, split a coconut, and made our wishes for health and peace for loved ones and the world.
On the famous Silk Road, we stopped at the Jaisalmer Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage site. This site is one of the six famous hill forts of Rajasthan and one of India’s only “living” forts. Built in 1156 of yellow sandstone (the reason Jaisalmer is called the Golden City), the city has a population of more than 4,000 people, mostly descendants of the Mughals and Rajputs who historically lived there. Within the fort, the streets are alive with motorcycles, hotels and inns, shops, and temples.
Not Always Easy
Traveling was not always easy. Many of us developed stomach problems and some combination of flu, colds, and/or respiratory issues. But medical care was quick and inexpensive, and we all healed and soldiered on. Of course, there were also the challenges of dealing with beggars, crowds, traffic, noise, air pollution, and cows strolling on the highways. That is part of India and an important piece of the overall experience.
Healing the heart
If one is open to the experience, India is so much more than the cacophony. As my fellow traveler Lesa Gleb wrote,
“This is why many of us travel: to learn about the world outside our door, outside our community. I feel changed by my new understanding because it has caused me to have empathy for Indian people both past and present. My heart was healed a bit by the lovely people we met and the lovely people we traveled with. I will return.”
My friend Lewanda also felt changed by the experience:
“Village children, hotel owners, strangers, locals on the street, tuk tuk (motorcycle rickshaw) riders looking in my bus window, all shared a brief moment of what seems like genuine acknowledgement. I felt seen and appreciated, and I hope they felt the same from me.
I don’t know exactly what my perception of India was, but I was surprised to discover Indian people everywhere used the word ‘Namaste’ to greet me. In my western yoga practice, I learned that Namaste means, ‘I have a spark of the divine in me and I see that same divine spark in you.’ It may be just a common gesture, but their bowed heads, hands pressed together in front of their hearts, and eye contact touched me every time.”
The Best of Travel: Opening Oneself
After traveling with this group to India, I realized the most important purpose of travel may simply be to engage with others and to expand one’s mind in order to see how other people live. The wonderful like-minded women who shared this journey with me are now dear friends. We keep in touch, share travel memories and pictures, and plan to meet again. There are many reasons to travel to India, but experiencing great natural beauty, culture, art and music, and wonderful historic hotels are “extras”.
Perhaps Lewanda said it best:
“I try to live in the present moment, but distractions get in my way. When traveling, being present seems easier. My senses are more curious and wide open to embrace fresh experiences. I like surprises and not knowing what’s around the corner.”
About the author
Barbara Winard began her solo travels in college, and during her 20s and 30s solo traveled to Europe, Asia, and North and South America. After returning from a 6-month trip to Asia, she wandered off the street and was hired by the Asia Society in New York City to produce films and print materials for adults and children about Asian culture. She also worked as a film programmer and traveled to film festivals around the world. Barbara got her start in film with New York City’s public television station, WNET/13 and was a freelance documentary writer and producer for ten years. A Jersey girl, Barbara and her husband moved from Jersey City to New Castle, Delaware, last year. She has been writing for Road Scholar, TravelAwaits.com and several other online magazines; her blog is thebabybloomer.blog.
Image sources: Barbara Winard (other than “Ladies in Rajasthan”, which is credited to Cindy Cole)