I recently watched The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and found it a movie full of insight, humour and hope. I vividly recalled my own arrival at Delhi Airport several years ago for a visit to Northern India, and the noise, the brilliant jewel-like saris, the garlands of marigolds placed around our necks. The images flooded in on me: colour, chaos, begging children, families camping and cooking in the middle of the central reservation in major roads in Delhi. I relived the shock of seeing leprous beggars, the pity I felt on meeting girls who appeared to be only about 10 years old, carrying tiny babies on their backs, holding out their hands for free offerings of food or money; the disease and poverty, and also the spirituality, the beauty and the profound joy of India.
In ‘the Land of the Gods’ – the Garhwal Himalayas – I journeyed in a minibus up a perilous mountain road, our final destination being Badrinath, place of Hindu pilgrimage, just before the Tibetan border. The road was lined with signs saying things like “Yours Hurry is Another’s Worry”. We reached the mountain village of Joshimath late in the afternoon. As I inhaled the fragrance of a syringa bush there, I realised a local resident stood beside me. He remarked: “the might of God is all around” in a very casual way, reflecting what I was thinking and feeling at the time. And I thought: This wouldn’t happen in England. And if it did it would have a very different cultural context!
Our journey ultimately led to Badrinath. We arrived as dusk fell and there before us was the peak of Neel Kanth, luminous in the full moon. It was a sight I would never forget. Since then I’ve seen a number of images on Google of Neel Kanth, and yet none comes near capturing the impact this mystical mountain had on me that night as I arrived in Badrinath.
There too, on the mountain path above Badrinath, I met a Sadhu – India holy man who lived in a cave. See my recent post for a photo of this holy man, whose tranquil expression made a lasting impression on me.
So to sum up my reflections on India: there may be squalor, social injustice, and dysfunctional public services, but this is a country of extremes, and I felt a visit here should also have a profound spiritual impact, as it did for the characters in “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”, transforming the lives of each one of them, bringing all of them clarity and moments of radical decision.
This is a personal reflection on India, and I know there will be many visitors who feel differently about it. Have you visited India? And what are your thoughts on this country of extremes?
5 thoughts on “Places of Inspiration Part 1: Exotic Marigolds, Mystical Mountains and Memories of India”
Yes, you have increased my interest in visiting India now. Mine would have to be a journey of spiritual discovery too…
Thank you. It was a very special trip… one of those holidays which are packed with extraordinary moments you could never have predicted – moments which you only recognise later were moments of epiphany.
Well I would read it! I will watch the Marigold film too. Thank you for your insight.
I have never been, but have always marvelled at it’s beauty and spirit. I want to go even more now I have read your blog. Magnificent!
I’m glad what I’ve written has made you want to visit India! I have so many other memories of my Indian holiday too – beautiful, funny, shocking, disturbing, life-transforming; somehow, for an English tourist, India seems to encapsulate everything you could probably wish for (or not!) from ‘cultural shock’. This is also illustrated in the book and the movie Slumdog Millionaire. My trip to India was a Yoga trip, by the way, and concentrated on visits to ashrams, personal meetings with swamis etc. I did write a detailed journal at the time, and even tried to include sequences from it in one of my previous novels, but it didn’t seem to work. Who knows, those experiences may well form part of a future book instead!