Reflecting on my first ever trip to India

Jojo at the Humayun Tomb built in 1565, in honour of the late Mughal Emperor. (Jojo Struys pic)

I found it fascinating that so many people who have visited India, all told me varying degrees of the same thing.

They said it’s a country of harsh extremes and that you will either love it or hate it, but you’ll be sure to take something away with you, whether it’s a lesson in gratitude or simply a different way of seeing the world.

As it turns out, there was a gap in my shooting schedule when I was filming my travel series a few years ago, so I decided to stop by the capital city of Delhi, en route to my yoga teacher training in Rishikesh.

The first thing that struck me when I walked out the doors of the airport was the chill of cold air.

I knew it was winter in India and that the nights could drop to as low as 10 degrees, but it was still a novel sight for me to see locals dressed in winter jackets and women wrapped with thick woolen shawls around them.

I was used to only seeing women in saris, who were usually fanning themselves in Malaysia’s blistering tropical heat!

The next thing, which struck me, because I jumped in alarm at the blare of a horn right beside our hotel taxi, was how the constant beeping and tooting of horns on the street was so normal, that it was almost a cultural backdrop of life here.

It was literally the “sound” of India, which would have been considered a sign of frustration or road rage anywhere else in the world but our driver hardly batted an eyelid at this cacophony of noise around us. I guess he was immune to it, so I slowly settled back into my seat and surrendered to the beeps, all the way back to our hotel.

Once you let go of all the expectations you come with from your country of origin, the scene changes and I was suddenly taking in all these cultural sights and sounds, excited that I was embarking on yet another new adventure in my life.

Jojo at the Lotus Temple or Bahai’s House of Worship, built in the mid-80s. (Jojo Struys pic)

However, I was saddened to see a small child under a highway, covered in dust peeing on to the filthy ground for the whole world to see, as his small brother, who was just a toddler, as dusty as his older brother, was playing by himself with some rocks.

I remember thinking about how much I was looking forward to a hot shower in my hotel after such a long flight but here were these small children with nothing between them, not even a roof over their heads.

Their toys were mounds of dirt and bits of gravel. It made me reflect on how grateful I was to just have access to clean water.

I knew how important it was to be focusing on the smallest of things to remain grateful for what we already have, but when things are conceptual, it is not the same as actually seeing some harsh realities right before your eyes. The mere sight of these children made me count my blessings.

Just minutes later, we had arrived at my hotel and it was such a stark contrast to the sight of those children and all that dust and traffic.

An immaculately dressed doorman opened the doors as soft melodic music drifted across the cool marble of the hotel lobby as I was reminded about these incredible extremes in India.

Jojo at the stunning and serene Gurudwara Bangla Sahib temple in Delhi. (Jojo Struys pic)

I felt so much better after I had that hot shower and was all set to start soaking up some of India’s historical gems.

We decided to head to the Humayun Tomb, built in 1565, in honour of the late Mughal Emperor. I was awed by the magnificent arches and gateways, which led to the emperor’s final resting place.

This architectural work of art was commissioned by the Emperor’s wife, nine years after his death and I assume she must have wanted the people to remember her husband because this elaborate red-sandstone work-of-art has stood the test and ravages of time and has become a Unesco Heritage site today.

I then made a trip to the stunning Gurudwara Bangla Sahib temple which had these majestic golden domes and elegant arches built over a sprawling expanse of pure white marble.

It was a very serene place to visit and of great significance to the Sikh community. I walked barefoot in silent contemplation on its pristine tiles encircling a pool believed to have healing properties.

There was just enough time to finally visit the Lotus Temple or Bahai’s House of Worship, built in the mid-80s, because of its unique premise.

It is a lotus shaped structure, made with Greek marble nestled on immaculately groomed verdant gardens.

I was told it had no statues or signs of any Gods anywhere on the grounds, so I was perplexed. “Is it a Hindu or Buddhist temple?” I asked my guide, and he said it was neither.

It’s a place built to honour the equality of all religions so everyone, from all races and different backgrounds are welcome to spend a moment of solitude or prayer in this silent space.

I thought it was a lovely reminder to everyone despite coming from different walks of life, to remember that we can stand united, with the same heartbeat, made of the same “stuff” as we let go of the need to search for similarities but instead, celebrate our differences with respect.

In light of all the challenges we face in this world, I will continue to send out positivity and peace while making a fervent wish for more acceptance and racial harmony in this world.

Jojo Struys is a TEDx Speaker, Author, TV Host, and Founder of OhanaJo, voted Malaysia’s No 1 Yoga and Sound Healing Space offering daily mindfulness sessions, meditation, yoga and sound.

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