“There’s no place like Om!”
Most people who go to India have one of two reactions; they either love it and can’t wait to return, or they hate it and would eat their own eyeballs rather than set foot on Indian soil a second time. I’m firmly in the ‘Love’ camp and I’m always interested to read accounts of how other people respond to a country that means so much to me. I don’t particularly mind whether they love it or hate it so long as they write well. I bought ‘Adventures of Bindi Girl – Diving Deep into the Heart of India’ by Erin Reese to read on my Kindle. I periodically do a random search on kindle books about India which often leads me to buy pretty weird stuff and this was the fruit of one such search. I paid absolutely nothing for it – it must have been a special offer – but if you’re tempted, it will currently set you back a rather less awesome price of £6.48. For ‘free’ it’s great value – for £6.48, I would feel a bit miffed.
Every traveller who loves the country has their own reasons and they’re often different from mine. Reese is the classic ‘spiritual’ traveller – the ‘dippy hippy’ who immerses herself in spirituality, takes classes in meditation and spends time in ashrams contemplating her navel. Such an approach is often referred to as ‘looking for yourself’. Personally it’s never appealed to me as I’ve never knowingly ‘lost’ myself but I am interested in understanding how other people react to one of the world’s most fascinating and complex cultures.
“Hitting the age of thirty, I found myself ensconced in a grabby-greedy-gotta-have-it-all cosmopolitan lifestyle in San Francisco”
The book tells the story of two extended trips which Reese took to India, separated by a period of four years. Reese had a very successful career as a California recruitment consultant with a fabulous flat, loads of money and a dream lifestyle but was looking for a new way of life. She sold up, rehomed her cat and flew to India. I can’t help but admire the energy it takes to travel solo in India on a budget and for periods of several months and especially to make your first trip to this overwhelming country on your own. However, whilst I can admire her stamina, I can’t entirely relate to her motivations as I find a lot of her spiritual (pardon my language) ‘clap trap’ hard to handle. Reese’s India is very different from the country I love – even when her visits include many places where I’ve also spent time her experience rarely matches up with mine. Her routes are very much ON the beaten track and largely illogical. It’s a good thing that no map is provided or readers would soon realise that she’s basically bouncing about all over the place, zipping back and forth and up and down the country without much of a plan. Love it or hate it I'm a planner, my routes have to make some kind of sense. Her beaten track is the hippy trail of ashrams interspersed with long periods of beach life and a very occasional bit of slightly more conventional tourism. Hers is the India of two-dollar a night accommodation, of not washing very often and of relying rather too much on the recommendations of the Lonely Planet, online forums or suggestions on notice boards in cheap hostels.