After reading and wondering about India my whole life, I'm finally going. I will be there for about 6 weeks. My main destination is Varanasi and the many small villages between there and Delhi. Though I've tried to learn a bit of the impenetrable Hindi language I am lucky that most Indians speak English. So, even if I get completely lost perhaps I will be able to get back on course with some help.
Friends (especially my Indian friends) always ask: Why India? There are so many other great places on the planet to go. From what I've learned so far, India is just about as different from America or Europe as you can get. If there is a spiritual axis that the world spins on, its center is India. In some places, little has changed since the days of the Mahabharata 6,000 years ago. No doubt sometimes it will be tiring, annoying, miserable, disgusting, and heart wrenching but it will be different. Different is what I'm always looking for.
Here is a summary of Varanasi from Wikipedia:
According to legend, the city was founded by the Hindu deity, Lord Shiva, around 5,000 years ago, thus making it one of the most important pilgrimage destinations in the country. It is one of the seven sacred cities of Hindus. Many Hindu scriptures, including the Rig Veda, Skanda Purana, Ramayana, and the Mahabharata, mention the city. Varanasi is generally believed to be about 3,000 years old.
Why the fascination with the Hindu religion? Of all of the world's mythologies, Hinduism is by far the most expansive, creative, and strangely accurate in describing the universe. Hinduism is less about humans and more about the universe - it's not a personalized religion like Islam or Christianity. There is something sublime about a religion that understands that humanity is not the culmination of creation but only a small part of something much more amazing. It's what amazed Carl Sagan about Hindu cosmology and it's what amazes me, as well.
Why learn Hindi? Sanskrit? As Joseph Campbell said, "Sanskrit is the world's great spiritual language." Sanskrit shares a common ancestor with Latin. Linguists are still stumped on what that common, parent language was but the syntax of Latin and Sanskrit are so striking that it has become a race among linguists to uncover the this "mother" language. Hindi is distant offspring of Sanskrit. They both use an almost identical Devanagari alphabet. India is broken up in two linguistic regions: Devanagari and Dravidian. If you are really interested there are thousands of excellent papers out there exploring these connections. As an interesting side-note, there is a tradition that has Jesus spending his formative years in India - the so call "missing years". Interestingly, linguists believe there is a strong connection between Brahmi (the origin of Devanagari) and Aramaic (the language that Jesus spoke). That sounds like a pretty exciting reason to me.
I will post pictures and journal during the trip. I will be leaving Dec 29. And for those that don't believe I'll dunk myself in the Ganges, I'll take pictures. Wish me luck.