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India – A story of Obsession and Fear

By - February 11, 2011 (Updated: November 21, 2014)

This entry is part 1 of 10 in the series Incredible India.
THIS POST MAY CONTAIN COMPENSATED LINKS. FIND MORE INFO IN MY DISCLAIMER.
Taj Mahal, Agra, India - Forgotten Postcard

Taj Mahal, Agra, India – Forgotten Postcard

I’ve been obsessed with India for as long as I can remember. Whenever I’m asked where I want to travel, my immediate response is always ‘everywhere.’ When pressed to choose my top destination however, India is always number one on my list. Two days ago, I found out my dream of visiting India will come true in March. I have never been more excited – or terrified.

My obsession with India began, as one of my earliest memories, with an ivory replica of the Taj Mahal, in my Grandparents house. I didn’t know what this amazing building was, or where it came from; only that it was the most beautiful and exotic thing I had ever seen.

My Grandfather, on my Dad’s side, passed away when I was very young. I knew he had come to Canada from England as a young man. It wasn’t until I was much older that I learned his parents lived in India when he was a baby. The details are sketchy, because he rarely talked about his past, but knowing I have this, ever so slight, blood tie to India, has made my obsession even stronger.

When I was five years old, I met the first of what would become a long, if unintentional, line of Indian friends. A little girl, my age, lived up the street. She and her sister were born in Canada, but her parents and grandmother had arrived from India not long before they were born.

Throughout my school years, I had several other friends, who were first generation Canadians. Their parents had come to Canada for various reasons and settled in my town. I remember visiting their houses and being intrigued by the smell of spices I couldn’t name. There were always statues or paintings of deities I didn’t recognise and each of the girls had the most beautiful saris and jewellery they wore on special occasions.

While these friends preferred hotdogs, their mothers were thrilled to discover I was eager to try all of their Indian delicacies. I would be plied with samosas and pakoras while my friends at macaroni and cheese.  Indian cuisine is still my favourite, to both eat and cook, and curry makes an appearance on our table at least once a week.

Around the time I hit high school, I began my obsession with Indian literature. I carried this with me into university and still today. My shelves are filled with: Rohinton Mistry (my all time favourite), Vikram Seth, Amitav Ghosh and many others. I devour any travel writing about the subcontinent and buy any magazine with glossy photos of the Taj Mahal on the cover.

In university, I even took a yearlong elective class on India, for part of my International Development Studies degree. The class took the form of a weekly lecture, given by different visiting professors and covered history, economics, religion and culture. It was one of the best classes I ever took.

Most recently, Andrew has been linked to India through his work. His company has an office in Bangalore and several of his colleagues have come to Brussels for stints of several days to several months.  They have all had to put with my barrage of questions about where they are from; what they think are the best places to see; when the best time to visit is; and what I should eat.

The visitors who stayed in Brussels the longest, was couple who remain dear friends and who have graciously offered to host us for part of our Indian adventure.  They have already fielded more than 20 emails filled with questions in the few days since we booked our tickets. I know we will be well taken care of in their hands.

But despite all of this history I have with India, and despite wanting to go there more than anywhere else in the world, my excitement at this upcoming spontaneous trip is tempered with fear.

From all accounts I’ve read and heard from friends, India is overwhelming. You are bombarded with sounds, smells, tastes and emotions. You love it or you hate it.

I’m worried that I’ve built India so high up in my head, I’ll be devastated if it doesn’t live up to my expectations. My obsession has gone on so long I can’t imagine my life without it.

What if it all proves too much for me? What if I can’t handle the crowds or the noise? What if I end up getting sick and spending half of my India trip in bed, or worse? After all, my immune system does have a tendency to hate me and India is known for not always being gentle to Westerners.

Despite my fears, I’m so excited I can barely sleep at night. I’ve ordered guidebooks and been scouring the internet from the moment I knew we were really going.

I have no idea how to choose what sights we should see in the limited time we have. I only know that whatever happens, I’m about to have the trip of a lifetime.

What’s your trip of a lifetime? Do you have any fears about it coming true? Have you been to India? Share your thoughts and recommendations in the comments below.

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Alison Cornford-Matheson
Alison Cornford-Matheson is a Canadian freelance writer and travel photographer and the founder of Cheeseweb.eu. She is the author of The Foodie Guide to Brussels: Local Tips for Restaurants, Shops, Hotels, and Activities. Alison landed in Belgium in 2005 and, over the years, has become passionate about slow and sustainable travel, in Europe and beyond. She loves to discover hidden gems - be they museums, shops, restaurants, castles, gardens or landscapes, and share them through her words and photos. She has visited 45 countries and is currently slow travelling through North America in an RV, with her husband, Andrew, and two well-travelled cats. You can also follow her work on Google+
Alison Cornford-Matheson
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