The best experiences, in my opinion, happen off the beaten path.
It was morning I arrived in Mangalore, a fine, albeit standard Indian city. I walked about for a couple of hours, eating and checking out various guesthouses (no, I didn’t eat the guesthouses). After a while, I had an idea. Why not move on to a smaller city? Usually I would stay a few nights in each place, but as of late I’d been getting sick of big cities.
I chose a city at random: Kasaragod. It was in the state of Kerala, and took an hour by train. I disembarked and…meh. Once more, it was a fine city, but not one I felt like staying in. So I had my second brilliant idea of the day. I was going to hike to a nearby town. I hit the road, with absolutely no idea where I was going. With just a backpack and nerves of steel, I trekked for the good part of an afternoon.
Midday, I found myself in a residential neighborhood. It was fascinating, as I had not yet seen the suburbs of India. The big cities have many slums and apartments, and numbered houses are something of a rarity. So here I was, the only person on a long and winding street; it was an extremely calming, peaceful experience. The sheer number of citizens in India can be enough to drive you mad. You are constantly surrounded by people, so good luck ever finding some alone time. There’s a good reason I mentioned that I’m sick of big cities; it’s because Indian crowds are stimulating in all the worst ways.
So here I was in a moderately remote area, possibly the first white person to ever be there. A few residents were tending to their lawns, and gave me incredulous stares. As I passed by, I noticed something interesting about the houses. Some of them were absolutely beautiful: huge and polished, with a couple of cars in the driveway. However, their neighbors would often be small, disheveled, dusty-looking shacks. I have a separate article planned about the class divide in India; let’s just say for now that it’s very “in your face.”
Right as I was getting ready to throw in the towel and head back, a kindly man and woman invited me to rest by their house. I took them up on the offer, and chilled outside their humble abode (it was one of the “shackier” houses). The woman brought me a cup of water, which I pretended to drink (foreigners aren’t supposed to consume tap water). Neither of them spoke English, but we managed to communicate with a few broken words. The man, whose name I don’t remember, was an electrician. He told me of a nearby Hindu temple, and offered me a ride.
After Thailand, I’d considered myself all “templed” out. So this was the first time I had been to a temple in India. It was interesting, with many beautiful paintings of Hindu gods. We stayed for about five minutes, and then he dropped me off on the side of the road. I bade farewell to my new friend, and continued my trek.
In the end, I met another cool dude who was working at a roadside restaurant. He gave me a ride to the train station, and I ended up going…back to Mangalore. That’s right; I spent the entire day trying to escape the city, only to arrive there again at night.
Moral of the story? Hit the road, bud. Guess how much fun I would have had if I’d stayed at a hotel in Mangalore? I’d be willing to bet, zero. When in doubt, move on. You never know who you will meet and what you will see.
My name is Yonah Paley. I quit my job in the United States to travel. I also write movies and do photography. As I backpack across the world, I share stories, philosophy, and travel tips.