Travel Diary: India, A Whole New World
As I walked around the Charminar, Hyderabad's most famous landmark with my husband and his coworkers, I noticed two young girls following me. As I continued to walk through the massive landmark, I was met with lingering stares by the locals. Their skin was practically the same color as mine, yet they knew I wasn't from there. All the while, the two girls were still nearby, giggling and following at a safe distance. When we came to a pause to admire an aerial view, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around and there were the two young girls, smiling from ear to ear. One held out a phone and in broken English said, "Selfie?" All I could do was laugh. I leaned down, smiled and they snapped the photo and scurried away. From there, a line formed and it really hit me that this was probably the first time most of these people had ever seen a black woman in person. What did I do? I flipped my braids and gave them some black girl magic.
India is a country with mixed reviews. I've met some people that absolutely loved the beauty and culture, while others have told me that the extreme poverty saddened them and it's a place they would never visit again.
I completely understand both points of view.
The media has done quite a doozy of painting a negative picture of this country, but sadly, a lot of it is true. The population of 1.3 BILLION people alone was overwhelming for me. The streets, jam packed with cars and mopeds were always too crowded and the smog was stifling. I saw children walking to school with no shoes on. There were families living on the side of the roads in makeshift homes made of sheet metal, branches and tarp. And the children begging on the streets was absolutely heartbreaking.
However, I experienced another side of the second most populated country in the world. There is extreme poverty and extreme wealth, but there is also a growing middle class. Hyderabad is a burgeoning technology hub and tech titans like Microsoft and Google have set roots in the city. There are everyday workers with regular jobs, cars and comfortable homes. My local guide Jai, is a successful architect that is heavily involved in her community, travels often and is even in charge of a bike club for women. She is educated and intelligent but unfortunately, stories about the people in the region like her often get overlooked in place of the stereotypical stories about the poor and abused.
My experience in Hyderabad was one that gave me a taste of everything the city had to offer. I dined in a fancy palace (Taj Falaknuma Palace) and enjoyed and extravagant afternoon tea that by far trumps my all of my tea experiences in London. I shopped at beautiful boutiques and received the traditional blessing for my custom-made sari. I ate at local restaurants. I walked the streets taking photographs while trying all types of street food. I even attended my very first "Big Fat Indian Wedding" as my guide called it. I can't ignore the poverty, corruption and political issues, but I also can't ignore the fact that there is an abundance of culture, a long rich history with interesting customs and beautiful opportunities to connect with amazing people.
Overall, my week-long visit to Hyderabad was life changing. Seeing a culture completely different from mine gave me a different perspective on money, values and family. Being able to experience the city with a local also gave me a deeper appreciation of their culture and heritage that I may have missed if i tried to explore on my own. When people ask me how I liked India, I tell them I enjoyed it very much because I learned so much.
I think everyone should visit a place that doesn't look like home at some point in their lives. Getting out of your comfort zone not only teaches you a lot about other people, but more importantly, it gives you the opportunity to discover new things about yourself.