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A practiced hand paints a thanka. Photo by Cara Starnbach, North India Program.

Monsoon Season in Delhi

Sometimes, travel can be overwhelming. The constant hustle and bustle, the weight of a heavy pack, blisters on your feet, and a powerful need to shower can bring out the pessimist in even the most experienced globetrotter. In India, a country pushed to its capacity in population, drowning in monsoons, and often literally covered in cow shit, travel is practically always overwhelming.

Our journey from Dharamsala to Delhi consisted of a three hour car ride down winding, nausea-inducing roads, followed by a cramped overnight train in freezing air conditioning which pulled into the Delhi train station at 4:00 AM this morning. After sleeping in hostel beds for most of the morning, our group rallied to go into the city for lunch, only to find ourselves face to face with the reputable and biblical rainstorms of monsoon season.

Indian tuk tuks somehow defy the laws of physics, and we managed to fit four students and an instructor in the tiny yellow bug. Spilling over the edges, we took off, practically floating, down flooded and swampy streets, already soaked through our rain coats, our wet pants clinging to our legs. It was a wet, soppy adventure for a while, until our poor vehicle stuttered to a halt in the middle of a flooded alleyway. Despite pushing, urging, and begging the engine to start, it had clearly given up on us. It felt as if the city was trying to test us, to give us every heartache and frustration it had to offer, just to see if we could come out the other end. Obligingly, however, we gathered our sopping backpacks and set out to find another method of transportation.

I rolled up my pants, and summoned the courage to go wading into the crowded intersection, as pieces of trash floated by on the river that had previously served as a road. I did the best I could to hop gently from one relatively dry spot to another, to avoid getting my feet wet. I then saw, however, that the locals weren’t bothered by this sudden weather catastrophe. Barefoot and good-humored, they wandered through the street without raincoats, not particularly caring where they put their feet. Soaked through to the bone, children were splashing, chai vendors were still brewing chai, and mothers, wrapped in colorful saris, waded indescriminately through muddy, dirty water. The rain brought out the best in people, and you could see eyes shining with smiles, taxi drivers being kinder to pedestrians making their way across flooded roads, and colors glowing brighter in the mist of a cleaner, albeit wetter, city. There was nothing better to do than embrace the rain, since it was going to keep raining no matter what, and enjoy the chance to play in the puddles.

Travel is exhausting, and travel is difficult, but travel is always going to be worth it. Sometimes, I find myself thinking that I must hate India almost as much as I love it; hate it for the smell, the crowds, and the rain, but my love for this country is so powerful. Both hate and love come in such large capacities in India, and we need to make room in our hearts for both. The fact of the matter is that when it rains, it rains hard, but it’s going to keep raining no matter what you or I try to do about it. We can either hop from dry spot to dry spot, grumbling and trying without success to keep dry, or we can shrug it off, laugh a little, and let ourselves get completely and totally wet.