Dawn’s warm sunbeams peered through cloud cover at intervals, illuminating patches of emerald rice patties throughout the low-lying mountains of Southern India’s ghats; the faintest of breezes glided coolly across my skin, wrapping me tenderly in the silken embrace of a land that I had longed to walk upon for nearly ten years. Mother India had called me, and my every (sloshing!) footstep was an exultant answer. A formidable, rain-laden storm had rolled into the countryside the evening before, lashing the tarps that covered our hilltop lodging place’s windows and exits with such fury that their already-crumbling edges had frayed into limp, pitiful tassels. At the storm’s appearance, locals had explained to our group that if it did not lift by morning, it would be impossible to carry out our plans to spend the next day traveling to a handful of the hundreds of nearby tribal villages. Their cautionary words immediately caused my heart to sink. I wanted nothing more than to be able to experience the Indian countryside; finally meet the tribal peoples whom I had previously only known through photographs.
I was then sixteen, but at just seven years old, Mother India had begun to draw me to herself. A voracious reader, I devoured every tale of India that I could get my hands on, from history books to missionary accounts, staring spell-bound as countless eras came alive. All the while, Mother India crooned to me the songs of her people- songs as old as time- and beckoned with a culture as vibrant as the colors it wore.
I had waited and saved for a chance to go to her for what seemed like an eternity, accepting every proffered job possible and staying up into the night to complete school work. At last, I was able to visit her, and took on two ten-hour flights halfway across the world, plus a roller coaster of a taxi ride into the mountains, (it was supposed to be a four hour drive, and our driver made it in two), during which I promptly learned to stop looking out the window at the blurry trees and villages, lest my craving eyes decide to take in more than my dizzied stomach could handle. As I pondered all of these things during the storm, my heart rose with hope and every worry dropped away. I hadn’t come to India because it was easy to get to. No, I had been determined to come despite the challenges.
My heart flooded with joy when the night melted away and took the heavy clouds with it, allowing our group to traverse the slippery, flooded paths strewn among the rice patties in order to visit the inhabitants of a village about two miles away. As we walked, I breathed deeply of the sweet, misty mountain air and reflected upon my journey to that point. No, I wasn’t to the village yet, but I could see the edge of it, tucked into the mountainside, looming in the distance. I pondered the question that many had asked me before I left home- after going once, would I be satisfied, would my burning longing die into faintly glowing embers? And it was there, in Mother India’s green mountains, with her people just up ahead, that I found the answer I had been hoping for: there were other places for me to visit, and I had other destinations to yearn for, but my love for India would never leave. My journey wasn’t over, but Mother India had enfolded me in her embrace, and she would never let me go.
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