In an article titled, “Why We Travel” by Pico Iyer, he refers to travel as, “a heightened sense of awareness in which we are mindful, receptive, undimmed by familiarity, and ready to be transformed”. I’m fond of this quote and believe it to be true, but I often struggle with the task of staying receptive and present while traveling. How can I prevent myself from getting lost in the whirlwind of unfamiliar experiences and embrace every opportunity, instead of becoming numb to them?
I am extremely lucky in the sense that I have been exposed to some of the most amazing sights and I have interact with eye-opening communities that are nothing like my own. I have ridden an elephant, camped in a jungle under the stars, danced around a campfire with members of a religious community, held a newborn goat in my arms, and much more. I also recently went to a Nepali wedding. Unfortunately, I felt that I was dressed the part, but not really involved in the festivities. Just a foreign observer trying to be polite. I got lost in the glistening, colorful saris worn by the female guests, the curious stares from children and adults alike, and the countless fried dishes that were pushed into my lap and encouraged to try.
It was not until after the celebration when I was walking home with my sister, sharing a thin, soft shawl wrapped around our shoulders, that I realized how surreal the whole experience really was. True kindness from strangers is a novelty that I don’t experience often in the states, but that night it was all around me.
My friend Inga also attended the wedding with her homestay family. Her grandma, dressed in a golden and red sari with a tikka on her forehead, kept smiling and handing us handfuls of spicy fried potatoes, crispy paneer rolls, vegetable soup, and glasses of Fanta. She wanted to make sure we were well fed in the long line of guests waiting for refreshments. My dad continuously came up to me and all he would ask was, “thik chha?” and shake his head from side to side, asking me if everything was okay. My two sisters ran up to me in their floor length gowns and high heels and grasped me in a hug after I watched their Bollywood dance performance. Families who I had never met offered me a seat at dinner, and a shopkeeper who runs a shawl and fabric shop near Durbar Square recognized me enough to stop and ask me how my night was going.
At the beginning of my travels my main goal was to push myself out of my comfort zone, and now that it has grown significantly, I have to find the excitement and craziness in every moment and fully embrace it, even if that is simply bargaining with a fruit seller on the side of the road or going to a friend’s homestay house and chatting while having tea. I think it has become easy for me to take these experiences for granted, but I want to always challenge myself to fully process what I have seen and not let the smaller, meaningful moments pass me by.