The snow-covered peaks of the highest mountains on Earth shone from the right side window of Air India flight 252. From this elevation it was impossible to tell where Nepal ended and India began. I allowed the awe-inspiring sight of the Himalayas to slowly lure me into a trance. The sudden appearance of a smiling flight attendant snapped me back to reality. "Your customs form, sir." I briefly squinted down at the tiny print on the paper in my hands and returned my gaze to the porthole. Soon the rugged landscape I left behind in Kathmandu would fade into memory and be replaced with something altogether different.
At some point on the road I determined that I couldn't consider myself a true traveler until I'd experienced India. Many who'd been there advised me to stay no longer than six weeks on the first visit. Do otherwise, they said, and you either risk retreating into a protective mental cave, or worse, stretching the limits of your sanity.
But I had procured a four-month tourist visa, and I decided to attempt staying for its whole duration. I told myself that all of my wanderings had prepared me for whatever challenges I might face in India. As I looked out at the newly arid landscape below, however, some lingering doubts remained. Was I truly ready?
I was entering a place that has four times the population of the United States squeezed into just a third of my country's landmass. The home of the world's largest democracy and nearly half of the planet's poor. An intensely spiritual land with unmatched religious and cultural diversity. And a place so overwhelming that it can break even the most seasoned traveler.
The wheels lowered into landing position and I took a deep breath. I was beginning my journey through India in its most mystical place. The holy city of Varanasi awaited.
Excerpt from my Forthcoming Book: Where Camels Dance and Cows Wander: An Indian Odyssey