India: The Dream I Didn’t Know I Had

Have you ever dreamed about a place you didn’t even know you wanted to visit?

When Hayley mentioned the idea of going to Asia for Holy Week, I figured it was a pipe dream, given prices and our limited travel time. But what happens when it’s almost as cheap to jet to India as it is to fly round-trip to Berlin? On a whim, we chose to book Lufthansa flights from Madrid to Mumbai and figured we’d let the rest of the chips fall. No one could talk us out of 450€ roundtrip.

Many friends of mine have gone to India and can’t seem to shut up about how it lives up to its touristic nickname, “Incredible India,” but it was never a place I yearned to see. That’s a special place on my mental bucket list reserved for Argentina, South Africa, New Zealand and Seattle. But I bought a Lonely Planet off of Amazon UK and soon realized that India must have been buried deep in my conscious as a place I’m dying to see.


There’s been hold-ups with visas and how to get to and from Madrid with limited options, the immense task of whittling down dozens of worthy destinations to fit our short, nine-day itinerary, plus the the push-pull of two seasoned travelers with different ideas of what to see and how.

At the moment you’re reading this, I could be laying eyes on the Taj Mahal. Or pinching my nose in a marketplace in Delhi. Or picking out a sari for myself in Jaipur’s garment district. I have a feeling that my journey to India will be diving into the deepest dreams I’ve always had for my life – of travel, of discovery, of self-realization, of having that freshman feeling over and over again.

I think that’s what India will be to me – seeing life unfold before me, the contrasts that so seem to characterize the country. Mariellen Wallace of the excellent India page, Breathe Dream Go, refers to a traveler’s first trip to India as “Beginner’s Mind.” Experiencing India as if you were seeing the world for the first time and reminding my senses to wake up and associate new sights, sounds and tastes.

I’m reading Shantaram, a Novel, a book I can’t put down that explains life in the underbelly of Mumbai. Not three pages in, he summarizes the majesty and the poverty of the world’s second most populous country through its myriad of smells:

“I immediately recognize it. I know now that it’s the sweet, sweating smell of hope, which is the opposite of hate; it’s the sour, stifled smell of greed, which is the opposite of love. It’s the small of gods, demons, empires and civilizations in resurrection and decay. It’s the blue skin-smell of the sea, no matter where you are on Island City, and he blood-metal smell of machines. It smells of stir and sleep and waste of sixty million animals, more than half of them humans and raw. It smells of heartbreak, and the struggle to live, and of crucial failures and loves that produce our courage. It smells of ten thousand restaurants, five thousand temples, shrines, churches and mosques, and of a hundred bazaars devoted exclusively to perfumes, spices, incense and freshly cut flowers…But whenever I return, it’s my first sense of the city – that smell, above all things.”

I expect India to be nothing short of overwhelming, exhilarating, eye-opening and heart-breaking. I expect to battle my stomach and the urges to talk to strangers. I expect to feel defeated and uplifted in the span of a day.

And at the same time, I don’t have too many expectations. I just want to experience India with an open mind and heart.

If you’re interested in our itinerary:

We arrived to Mumbai early morning on the 12th and took the first flight out to Delhi.

Today, we’ll take the famed Shatabdi Express to Agra, where we should be now. We’ve heard Agra isn’t too exciting, so we’ll be there to see the Red Fort and the Taj and sunset and sunrise before jumping on an early train.

Jaipur is next on the list, and I’m psyched to shop and see the Amber Fort, which is supposed to be mind-blowing. 

We have a flight from Jaipur to Mumbai, where we’ll experience the city’s chaos and imperialism in Colbata.

You can follow me on twitter and instagram, where I’ll be uploading photos as wi-fi allows. If you’re interested in an India trip yourself, I’d recommend the monster Lonely Planet, with up-to-date information, fail-proof advice and loads of pretty pictures.

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About Cat Gaa

As a beef-loving Chicago girl living amongst pigs, bullfighters, and a whole lotta canis, Cat Gaa writes about expat life in Seville, Spain. When not cavorting with adorable Spanish grandpas or struggling with Spanish prepositions, she works in higher education at an American university in Madrid and freelances with other publications, like Rough Guides and The Spain Scoop.


  1. India is never a place that has been at the top of my list, but after reading this and seeing the photos of your trip so far, it’s surprisingly has peaked my interest more than ever before. I’m looking forward to seeing all your photos and reading all about your trip, Cat!
    Mike of Mapless Mike recently posted..Deciding to Teach Abroad NowMy Profile

    • Thanks, Mike! I’m going to take a few days to gather my thoughts before writing about it – the whole thing is mind-blowing, and I’m still in shock that I’ve seen the Taj!

  2. Ii think you know that this post is my favorite you’ve ever written. I think you finally got what I’ve been trying to express to you in all our discussions… It’s been my dream since I was 10 years old and after it came true, I got hooked. Which is why within my first month back from my first trip, I booked my flight to go back before the year ended and cooked Indian food and made chai nonstop. It’s why I defended the country in spire of all the negativity surrounding it in the news and blogs. India stands on her own. It engulfs you and enchants you. I can’t wait to hear your stories when you come back and plan our next trip there together in the future.

    • I can’t wait to tell you all about it! Finally over the Delhi Belly and, much as I am happy to be back, I can’t wait to return to India!

  3. I always encourage any and everyone who fancies themselves any sort of ‘traveler’ to take a trip to India. Whether they hate or adore it, I doubt anyone would regret going.
    Buck recently posted..My ABCs of TravelMy Profile

    • I loved it and am so glad I went. For all of the bad press and even the warnings of other Indians once there, it’s enchanting. I can’t wait to go back.

  4. I’m sure it’s a feast for the senses but I can’t say it’s been on my list, though I’m certain that it’s likely easier to travel in India with a lot of train travel infrastructure and tourism than in Africa (as I have). I have a good friend who is from there and hope one day, he’ll let me join him and experience India through his eyes…
    Enjoy your time.
    Lauren @Roamingtheworld recently posted..When converting to self-hosting doesn’t go to planMy Profile

    • I can’t even imagine what traveling in Africa might be like! We used everything but bike rickshaws in India – tuk tuks, trains, sleeper trains, taxis, planes. I had so many friends who had been there and told me it was incredible, but until the opportunity arose, I didn’t really want to go. I’m so glad I did, and it’s a place I can’t wait to visit again.

  5. I’ve been following your Instagram this week and am really looking forward to hearing your thoughts and experiences from this (sub)continent. One of these days I’d like to spend a month in India simply taking it all in; the country sounds so radically different from anywhere else on the planet and yet still endlessly diverse.
    Trevor Huxham recently posted..Confession: Why I’m Renewing for Another Year in GaliciaMy Profile

    • Even a month seems too short. The longer we were there, the more my interest was piqued. I think it was the first country I’d ever traveled in that I wanted to know so much more about it – the history, religion and politics. We were there during the elections, which was interesting in its own right! India is just as you say – endlessly diverse.

  6. Ana Brittian says:

    Just now reading this, but, India does live up to its reputation because of the vast contrasts that you observe walking down the street. Plus the food is epically delicious! Despite the bad press, my mum (who spent two or three years living in Mumbai), insists its her favorite country in the world.

    Also, when you want to go to Argentina, hit me up! 😉 Got you covered!

    • India was just that – it was really intense (and getting on the plane was a bit of a relief, to be honest). It was a quick tour, but left us craving a lot more. Our next trip will be to finish Mumbai and go south to Kerala.

  7. I’ve had India on the brain lately. I never thought it would be a place I would want to go but then I’ve read some blogs and now am obsessing over the place. I hope the trip is amazing!
    Rebekah recently posted..10 random things about life in ChinaMy Profile

    • Cat Gaa says:

      The trip was incredible, despite the noise, the heat, getting sick, getting scammed and having a few scary moments in a tuk yuk! If you’re thinking of going, you really should. I love what Buck said above, that it’s a place every traveler should go once, no matter how he or she travels.

  8. Sounds intriguing!!

  9. Last year I back packed around India for 32 days by train with a friend from my village in rural Andalucia. The trip is part of my blog at – observations and photos.


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