Please upgrade your browser for the best Refinery29 experience. Read more.

Saved! Access Favorites in your account profile. Removed from my favorites

A Soul-Stirring Place That Leaves You Wanting More

  1. Begin
    opener
    Photo: Courtesy of Kate Titus.

    SHARE IT

    comments
    See All Slides
    On May 24, 2014, my fiancé, Andy, and I got married in New York City. A week later, we hopped on a plane with two carry-on suitcases and two one-way tickets to Paris. We had just pressed pause on our careers, sublet our apartment, and moved all of our things into storage. The only plan was to have no plans at all — and we ended up traveling for 394 days through 25 countries, stopping in nearly 100 destinations. Over the next few weeks, come along on this crazy journey to learn more about how we did it — packing, plotting, budgeting — and see some of the tens of thousands of photos we took along the way.

    Our trip to Morocco marked the beginning of a whole new chapter in our journey. We were starting to explore countries and cultures truly foreign to us and we felt all of our senses heighten. What is this new smell? What is this new taste? What is this new sound? Everything in Europe had been quite familiar and easy, but after Morocco, we were in a constant spin cycle of change, confusion, excitement, admiration, discomfort, awe, and wonder.

    No country put us through the roller coaster of these emotions more than India. People always ask us if we have a favorite destination, and we always say it’s an impossible question to answer because each location and culture is so wildly different and special in its own way... But then we seem to always follow it up by saying, well, India. After being home for nearly five months now, I can confidently say that it was the one place that really got under our skin. Both Andy and I were so curious about this country we knew so little about, that we gave ourselves an entire month to explore it before heading to Nepal for 10 days. It was the longest we stayed in any one country on our journey.

    India is a land that has lived a thousand lives, has spectacular art and history, some of the most unique and flavorful cuisine in the world, a beautiful devotion to religion, and a strong sense of community. It proved to be as colorful, vibrant, and alive as I imagined, but I wasn’t prepared for just how chaotic and seemingly lawless parts of it could be. It is a country of contradictions and contrasts.

    What also made India stand out was the mutual fascination and shared curiosity that we hadn’t really experienced yet on the trip. While I was fascinated by their customs, religion and dress, people in India wanted to know what we did for a living, how we met and dated, and how young we were when we got married. It was humbling to tell them we were traveling across the world, when many people we met couldn’t afford to even leave their state. The modest hotel rooms we could afford felt like mansions compared to the corrugated-steel sided shanties we passed on the road. Carrying our fancy electronics and gear seemed utterly materialistic when so many people just wanted clean water. And yet, every person we met was incredibly hospitable, humorous, and generous. They were proud of their beautiful country, its illustrious past, and its current wave of economic and technological growth. This openness, discovery, and dialogue is what travel is all about, and is what made this trip stand out above the rest for us.

    India put a lens up to my lifestyle and the extreme advantages so many of us take for granted. It changed me, my perception of the world, and my place in it. There’s no more powerful experience to have than that.





    Begin Slideshow
  2. Photo: Courtesy of Kate Titus.

    SHARE IT

    comments
    See All Slides
    0 of 60
    }

    Our first stop in India was the city of Mumbai. We would spend two quick days here before flying to the southern state of Kerala. We were amazed by the efficiency of the people. We saw the famous Dhobi Ghat, which is the largest open air laundromat in the world. All of the clothing is washed by hand, beaten against stones, and hung to dry. It made you wonder if you had ever worked a hard day in your life.

    In addition to this, we saw men pushing huge wheelbarrows full of lunch pails through the streets of the city. Our guide explained that these men, called dabbawalas, are part of a lunch delivery service. They take hot, home-cooked lunches from the homes to the offices of hundreds of thousands of people every day. Many of them come from small villages and lack reading skills, so the lunches are labeled with a numeric code that gets them from A to B. They are so famous for their accuracy, I’ve heard that they make one mistake in every six million deliveries. Take that, Seamless!

  3. Photo: Courtesy of Kate Titus.

    SHARE IT

    comments
    See All Slides
    1 of 60
    }

    The word thali literally means plate in Hindi, and that’s exactly what this dish is — a large platter filled with small portions of various dishes in a range of flavors. I’d like to say that Andy and I weren’t complete Indian food novices when we arrived in Mumbai, but I remember slightly panicking when this platter was set down in front of us. I wasn’t really sure how to approach this. What goes with what? I didn’t want to be the clueless person doing the equivalent of putting sugar on top of my French fries. I prodded the waiter for tips, but he just plopped more (and more) food onto my plate. You often received endless portions with this platter. In the end, I did embarrass myself by accidentally dipping the garlic naan into my pudding.

    It’s common in India for people to eat with their hands (always one and typically the right) and we did try that many times, but let me tell you, it is a fine art to break apart naan bread and scoop up curry with just the fingertips of one hand. We were always excused for our lack of dining skills and happily offered some silverware.

  4. Photo: Courtesy of Kate Titus.

    SHARE IT

    comments
    See All Slides
    2 of 60
    }

    With its endless festivals, India can feel like it’s in a constant state of celebration. Our very first night in Mumbai was also the first night of the Hindu festival Navratri. Navratri lasts nine days and 10 nights, and is dedicated to the worship of the Hindu deity Durga. That night we blindly wandered out of our hotel and stumbled down some barely lit roads until we came upon a little neighborhood bursting with lights, music, and people dancing in the streets. We hadn’t been there more than five minutes when a little girl came out of the crowd and begged us to join her dance circle. There were about 20 young people dancing together on the street with music blaring like a real life musical. We were so shocked by her openness and desire to share this experience with total strangers. It was an all-inclusive celebration of life.

  5. Photo: Courtesy of Kate Titus.

    SHARE IT

    comments
    See All Slides
    3 of 60
    }

    After our short stay in Mumbai, we flew down to Kerala which is known as “God’s Own Country” for its abundance of natural beauty. There’s also a mix of religions, such as Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity, co-existing there. Kerala is a land of lush greenery, brilliant beaches, exotic animals and spices. And in contrast to bustling Mumbai, it felt serene and laid-back.

    We began a road trip through the state from the coastal city of Kochi. We rented a car and hired a driver through a tour agency a friend of ours had worked with on his own visit. That might sound like a very luxurious way to travel, but in India it was more than reasonable for the amount of miles we were covering, and for the lack of reliable public transportation. We spent two days exploring the historical town of Fort Kochi, which has been drawing explorers for over 600 years. Because of this, Kochi is an interesting mashup of Portuguese houses, Chinese fishing traditions, and relics from the British occupation. Here, the ubiquitous tuk-tuk sits under a massive tree near the coastline.

  6. Photo: Courtesy of Kate Titus.

    SHARE IT

    comments
    See All Slides
    4 of 60
    }

    While in Kochi, we caught a traditional Kathakali performance. Kathakali is one of the oldest forms of theater in the world — originating in the area that is now known as Kerala over 1,500 years ago. It’s based on Hindu mythology and combines music, dance, drama, costume, and elaborate makeup. The performers do not speak, but use purposeful body movements and exaggerated facial expressions to convey the story. This performance began with the two artists sitting on the stage applying their makeup — which was an artform in itself. Then, one performer went through a facial expression exercise which boggled our minds. He displayed how he could shift his eyes up and down at a rapid pace. That might sound simple, but try darting your eyes up and down about 10 times without feeling like you’re going to faint. Finally, we got to experience a shortened version of this elaborate performance, which can sometimes last for days.