Michelle Baran is on the Bengal Ganga, cruising the Ganges River in India. Her fourth and final dispatch follows. Click to read Michelle's first, second and third dispatches.
AGRA, India — I don’t remember the last time I have shrieked, gasped, winced or shielded my eyes as much as I have in India. I also don’t remember the last time I smiled and laughed as much, so much it hurt.
India is a thrill. It’s an emotional roller coaster. It’s terrifying and amazing. You board a rickshaw in the evening in Varanasi and suddenly you’re weaving through the ancient holy city’s winding streets among throngs of honking bicycles, motorcycles and cars, horse carts and cows, narrowly avoiding collisions by millimeters not inches. Your heart rate soars. Your fists clench. You grit your teeth. You feel like you’re in a movie. But there’s no camera crew.
And then you come upon one of the most amazing sights you have ever laid your eyes upon. Five priests are performing a religious ceremony on the banks of the Ganges, as thousands of pilgrims are gathered around, sitting anywhere they can find a few inches of room including in the dozens of boats lining the shore to witness the nightly worship. Now you feel like this movie is actually a dream. It is the rush-reward pattern that seems to define the India tourism experience, and it’s intoxicating.
And then there is the ultimate rush-reward — the journey to Taj Mahal. Ours started with a train ride from Delhi, complete with bumper-to-bumper traffic en route to the Delhi rail station, which threatened to make us miss the train. Heart rates were kicking into gear.
When we finally got there, the station was a scene unto itself. Countless people were sleeping on the floor, forcing us to weave between a twisted obstacle course of bodies as we rushed to catch the train.
We continued onto Jaipur and then Agra, ultimately switching to a coach, where the Indian road adventure continued, inducing more shrieks and gasps as we appeared to narrowly miss everything from women and children to cows and camels.
Of course, each time we cleared them, we all smiled and giggled at the wild ride that is India.
When it came time to visit the renowned Taj Mahal complex, the gasps were not those of fear, but of sheer awe, the unbelievable structure making every little bit of concern or alarm leading up to that moment completely worth it.
When I was getting ready to come to India, the word most used to describe the destination by those who had been before me was “challenging.” I wouldn’t necessarily disagree, but I would add that what makes India so “challenging” also makes it so sensational.
Someone on the trip was describing the feeling she had when bungee jumping as an intense, paralyzing fear followed by the most amazing adrenaline rush when you realize you haven’t crashed to your death. I feel the same about India.Follow Michelle Baran on Twitter @mbtravelweekly.