After my first day in India, this is what I’ve learned: there is nothing I can control or predict here. The only thing I can do is step fully into not knowing what’s around the next corner.
I arrived optimistic, feeling a rush of indescribable beauty as my flight landed in New Delhi. This was quickly tempered by the hustle it took to get on my next flight to Jaipur. By the time I got to the right terminal I was hungry, frazzled, jet-lagged, and exhausted, lugging a backpack that I painfully discovered was WAY too heavy for me to move as quickly as India demanded.
Then I saw a peacock standing on the roof of one of the runway buildings as we took off. Which, coupled with a warm smile from the woman sitting next to me, instantly made it all better.
The leg to Jaipur was a last minute addition. I trusted an instinct to land here for a few days (vs. stopping over in Delhi) before heading to an ashram near Pune next week. The wisdom in that decision was echoed by the owner of my hostel, who confirmed that Jaipur is a much kinder introduction to India for first-timers. I could feel that difference as he drove us through the tree-lined city streets. Even amidst all the honking and traffic (mind you, it’s still a city of over three million people) the atmosphere felt so much calmer than my brief transfer in Delhi.
I’m staying at an earth-friendly, mindful hostel in the old city, in an ancient home marked by a cheerful yellow door. Nadim, the owner, shared that his family has lived in the building for generations. The hostel reception is on the first floor, the family home is on the second, and the rooms are on the third floor and fourth, adjacent to the roof terrace. The view from the top is stunning, and the sounds of the household (women cooking, children playing) makes it feel even more welcoming. I was given a full, warm breakfast upon arriving, cooked by Nadim’s sister – chapati, eggs, and chai. I didn’t mention that I don’t usually eat eggs or gluten, devouring it gratefully instead.
After breakfast, I unpacked, slept, and cried. Sobbed, actually. It felt like a release of stress and exhaustion, and all the pent up tension that pushed me into taking this leap. Plus, a newfound, bittersweet homesickness. I’m pretty sure every person on their first big journey has that moment of “what the hell am I doing here?!?” This was mine.
I reached out to a well-traveled friend for support, and his voice on the other end of the phone was deeply comforting. He simply reaffirmed what I already knew, how important it is to keep pushing boundaries and crossing borders. Even if our first instinct upon arriving is to run right back home.
After another long nap and a shower, Nadim and I went out for dinner and I enjoyed a rich cup of darjeeling and a dish of brown rice and vegetables in cilantro sauce. Simple, but cooked to absolute perfection with perfectly balanced spices and flavors.
He talked about his ideas for growing into the hostel business, and I shared the reasons why I left my job and came to India. We found common ground with our sadness, fears, and hopes for both our countries dealing with complex and disheartening political environments. Neither of us had any real answers, but were glad that we could speak so openly about it with each other.
When we got home, he graciously offered to let me borrow a smaller backpack so I could re-pack and travel lighter. I’m storing some of the remnants of my original bag here, and some of it he’ll donate to families nearby.
I ended the night on the roof terrace under an almost full moon. An unexpected fireworks display erupted above, lighting the sky red as loud music, chanting, and drumming poured into the evening from a nearby residence. And, of course, the incessant honking in the crazy city streets below. I laughed out loud at the contrast of chaos and beauty, and noticed the strange, sweet stillness beneath the noise. A cool breeze, insects chirping, and a lizard running along the terrace wall.
Something in the magic of that moment allowed me to take my first real breath of the trip. My heart softened, and in an instant I felt more grounded, relaxed, and just a little more open to the adventure. Not the one I thought I’d have, but the moment-to-moment path unfolding before me.
Where I’m Staying
Chalo Eco Hostel, Jaipur
Roughly $7/night + tax for a private room (no A/C, but a wonderfully strong fan) and shared bathroom. Budget accommodations, but clean and comfortable. Breakfast included, inexpensive airport pickup on request. Highly recommend.