The Dust of India

Taj Mahal, Agra, IndiaWhat is it about travel in India?

An ode to the world’s most magical destination

IF India gets under your skin, you’re done for. Indians may have a hard time believing this, but many a foreigner from a wealthy nation, like Canada, goes to India, falls in love with the place and never wants to leave.

That’s what happened to me. At the end of my first trip to India – six deeply immersed months, living in Delhi with my new Indian boyfriend, traveling from Kanyakumari to Dharamsala and studying yoga in several ashrams – I didn’t want to leave so badly, I felt sick. I was so nauseous that when my boyfriend, Ajay, was driving me to the airport, I thought I was going to have to ask him to pull over.

I don’t remember the long plane rides back to Toronto. I cried the whole way. And when I got my first whiff of Toronto air, which smelt like a parking garage, I missed the intoxicating mixture of scents in Delhi so much, I started crying again.

“Once you have felt the Indian dust you will never be free of it.” Rumer Godden

What is it about India? Much of it is crowded, polluted, poverty stricken; it gets so hot you worry your brain will melt; you can never get the right advice, directions or change; you have to watch every thing you put in your mouth, even making sure it’s closed tight in the shower; the train is late, the car breaks down, the driver doesn’t listen; your white clothes come back from the laundry grey; you see the same shawl for half the price, half an hour later; the thin, naked child turning somersaults at the corner breaks your heart; and the sight of an old woman carrying a basket of bricks on her head in the heat of the day fills you with stifled anguish.

And yet … When you wake up in the morning and India’s yellow sunshine is streaming through the window and you can hear the vegetable seller calling his wares in Hindi. When you sit in meditation by Ganga at sunrise and feel the vibration up your spine, fine-tuned by eons of Rishis sitting in the same spot. When you dive into the streets and bazaars and let uncensored life swirl around you in every colour, shade and gradation known to man. When you allow the humanity of an open hand to touch your heart. When you experience the famous “hospitality of the east,” captured by the phrase Atithi Devo Bhava (Guest is God). In other words, when you allow India in, she may never leave.

Women in saris at the Kumbh Mela 2010, Haridwar, India

At the Kumbh Mela 2010, Haridwar, India

And you may not want to leave, either. But leave I did, on a hot night in June 2005, after six months of traveling in India and blogging about my trip for family and friends. That of course is the trip that changed my life. I’ve been back to India five times since then, and my casual blog has turned into a full-time profession as a travel writer, blogger and editor.

And not a day goes by when I do not feel the dust of India within me, calling me back.

[NOTE: The Dust of India originally appeared on]

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What about you? Have you been changed by travel in India? Or by travel elsewhere? Have you ever “fallen in love” with a place?

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41 Responses to The Dust of India

  1. Shreepal Singh Shekhawat July 4, 2012 at 2:23 am #

    People like u, make me realize how lucky I am!!! 🙂

  2. mk July 4, 2012 at 3:03 pm #

    “As regards spirituality, the Americans are far inferior to us, but their society is far superior to ours. We will teach them our spirituality and assimilate what is best in their society.
    With love and best wishes,”



    Excerpt from a letter written in 28th December, 1893!

  3. Sue Ann July 5, 2012 at 12:09 am #

    I lived in Hyderabad for 6 months with my family and have been to India 3 times. I love that you can never be bored in India, the people are incredibly warm and generous, and you can travel for an hour on the bus and suddenly everyone’s speaking a different language, wearing different clothes and eating different (usually yummy) food.

    • ila August 19, 2013 at 4:25 am #

      i am an indian. and love to read about indian.

  4. Mariellen July 5, 2012 at 6:56 am #

    Thanks Shreepal, that’s a nice thing to realize!

    MK, I have seen that quote before. It’s very powerful and thought-provoking. Thanks so much for sharing it here. I feel this way too, about Canada. We are in many ways “the great society.” But we are sorely lacking in the realms of the spiritual, ecological and sacred. I just wish more people in the west realized how out of balance we are.

    Sue Ann, I agree completely with your statements — India is always exciting and the people are fantastic! I’m sure they are the most hospitable people in the world.

    • SIDD May 5, 2013 at 8:24 pm #

      The grass is always greener on the other side. Honestly speaking its unfortunate to be born in india. i regret leaving the US and coming back here. but alas u cant change the past

  5. Radha C July 5, 2012 at 9:33 am #

    Seriously! I am amazed reading your review on Indian people. It made me feel proud and energized to please foreign tourists.

  6. Austin Boat Rentals July 6, 2012 at 7:02 am #

    India is a very beautiful place to visit and peoples coming from various parts of world often fall in love with its culture.
    Austin Boat Rentals recently posted..Safety Tips for Touristson Lake AustinMy Profile

  7. Daniel McBane July 9, 2012 at 6:19 am #

    Well said and written, although personally, I actually got the opposite feeling from India. Rather than draw me in and and try to seduce me, I got the feeling she was pushing me away no matter how hard I tried to get to know her better.

    That being said, I enjoyed my time in India and would definitely return for another visit, but I could never live there. Small two-to-three month doses is all I can handle at a time.
    Daniel McBane recently posted..Dodging Monkeys, Snakes and Tattoos in Marrakech, MoroccoMy Profile

  8. Mariellen July 9, 2012 at 10:48 am #

    Thanks Radha! There si something very special about India, and some of us see it, and some of us don’t. There’s not much you can do about it either way 🙂

  9. Mariellen July 9, 2012 at 10:52 am #

    Yes, Daniel, that can happen to. I totally understand. India is strong medicine.

    There is a saying, “India chooses you,” which seems to be true. I have never seen it more beautifully expressed than in this article:

    Glad to hear you want to go back!

  10. Daniel McBane July 10, 2012 at 5:20 am #

    Thanks for that link–you’re right, it’s very well written and expresses the chaos of Mumbai perfectly.
    Daniel McBane recently posted..Dodging Monkeys, Snakes and Tattoos in Marrakech, MoroccoMy Profile

  11. linda July 18, 2012 at 8:28 am #

    “Indians may have a hard time believing this”

    my husband and I had dinner with an Indian couple, the man being a business acquaintance of my husband. Both were from Kerala, the man had lived in Chennai, and they could not believe I had been to India 6 times. They could not believe my feelings about India. The husband looked at his wife and said, “she has been more places in India than we have!”

    It’s my experience that here in the US, Indians who come here to live (and basically never want to go back to India) do not understand why a westerner loves India. An Indian in India, does.
    linda recently posted..UPDATE: who wants to go to India?My Profile

  12. Shameshwar Patil July 21, 2012 at 8:56 am #

    Really i read carefully your post your writing is nice, your work smartly…

  13. PNR Status Enquiry July 23, 2012 at 3:09 am #

    There are so many places to visit in india. One of the best place is Taj Mahal. It is an symbol of love. Thirumalai Naciker Place is also a famous place in south india. Keeping enjoying. Thanks for this wonderful post.
    PNR Status Enquiry recently posted..Methods to Check PNR Status Enquiry for Indian TrainsMy Profile

  14. Anuj August 15, 2012 at 7:28 am #

    Read this for a very different take on the whole place…

  15. Mariellen Ward August 15, 2012 at 10:21 am #

    Thanks for posting that link Anju, I have read that piece and I think it’s beautifully written.
    Mariellen Ward recently posted..India’s tryst with destinyMy Profile

  16. veronica bell September 18, 2012 at 3:34 am #

    INDIA is spiritual country and has very rich, dynamic cultural. INDIA offer wide range of places like historical places, fabulous hill stations, tranquil deserts, relaxing beaches , exhilarating mountains, Pilgrimages and may more. Once you visit INDIA, you will often fall in love with its culture.
    veronica bell recently posted..Tourist Places in BiharMy Profile

  17. Mary October 4, 2012 at 7:05 am #


    India has dynamic culture and it is different from other country. I am not agree with you. I traveled in India and visited more historical places. Kashmir is one of my favorite place. It’s really like a heaven.
    Mary recently posted..Visiting God’s Own Country, KeralaMy Profile

  18. Puru January 6, 2013 at 1:15 am #

    I have spent the last month feeling ashamed of being born in India .. you give me hope. I need to see more of my country, especially the part which doesn’t make headlines 🙂
    Puru recently posted..Hampi Diaries – A Guided Tour of the Sacred CenterMy Profile

  19. Mariellen Ward January 6, 2013 at 8:44 am #

    Puru, I think that’s the most amazing thing anyone has ever said to me. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
    Mariellen Ward recently posted..There’s no place like homeMy Profile

  20. Ben March 31, 2013 at 2:47 am #

    India… I was only there for two weeks, partly because I was so overwhelmed. Perhaps seventy percent of those two weeks I spent pissed off at how insanely infuriating the place is (tourist trail of Varanasi, Agra, Delhi). But… I miss it like I have never missed anything before – the infuriating nature of India continues!!! Haha. The Italy of Asia, where the heart is king like in no other country on Earth. I’ll be back someday. I admit I’ll regret my decision a number of times, but when I’m not being toyed around by her she’ll show me beauty like I ain’t ever seen it before. I recall a moment of rapture spent outside Varanasi train station, 10pm and the place was ALIVE! I could almost see, almost touch the spirit that I felt. Thousands of people going to and fro, train schedules called out over the loudspeakers in that most beautiful English accent (Indian), the smell of traffic fumes, incense…. and that was enough to make the trip worth it.

    • Mariellen Ward March 31, 2013 at 1:12 pm #

      Ben, I love your comment! This would make a blog post — so well-written, so heartfelt. I wish you would consider writing a guest blog for me about this experience. I so understand: India is not comfortable; it’s not easy; and it can get under your skin like no where else.
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..Dazzled by Indian classical music maestrosMy Profile

    • Puru August 29, 2013 at 12:26 pm #

      So beautiful ! You are more Indian than I ever was, you know this country better than me.
      Puru recently posted..Colorful Rajasthan: An Evening at TharMy Profile

  21. Aline Dobbie June 26, 2013 at 9:49 am #

    This was so interesting to read. I was born and grew up in India…it was my home despite all my British ancestors and it was heartbreaking to leave 50 years ago when my parents finally retired. When I returned in 1997 and then again twice in 1998 it was the impetus to write my first book India: The Peacock’s Call; people liked it and asked for more so I returned and wrote India: The Tiger’s Roar; then the Asian tsunami happened and the Indian Government urgently asked me to write a third book and after two more trips India: The Elephant’s Blessing was published and then the first was republished. In 2010 I was commissioned to write Quicklook at India. I return annually for six weeks. Not everyone in the West has Mariellen’s generosity of spirit and ‘can do’ attitude and some had no idea of India’s great gifts to the world through millennia. Yes, Mother India is chaotic, diverse, challenging but timeless, beautiful and soul enriching….I always say if one is having a bad time…believe me they happen….then open the mind and curiously it will be followed by something good and heart touching. A great mass of people striving, clutching, yearning for their living and aspirations, soothing their disappointments, encouraging their dreams….it just touches one’s heart…sunrise with the pujari’s call, sunset, the screech of parakeets, the buffaloes returning in the low light – the mahout on an elephant talking into a cell phone, the snap of a twig, the alarm call…the tiger is there. Be still, be quiet and let the beauty of India enter your heart. Beloved Bharat Land of my birth.

    • Mariellen Ward June 27, 2013 at 10:25 pm #

      I have been very lucky, I have had almost nothing but wonderful comments since I started blogging 7 years ago … and this is one of the very best. Thanks so much for sharing your story and for your kind and generous words. Now I must read your books Aline!
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..Why content is king and story is queenMy Profile

      • Rajiv January 21, 2014 at 2:13 pm #

        Hi Mariellen,
        Thank you for this wonderful post like your previous writings , I would request you to please watch this , this video is explaining the different dimension of India and I am sure you will like it

        Thank you again 🙂

  22. Flora @ Flora the Explorer July 8, 2013 at 11:15 am #

    Absolutely beautiful. This completely sums up my similar love affair with India, Mariellen – and makes me thirsty for more!
    Flora @ Flora the Explorer recently posted..Snorkelling with Sharks at San CristóbalMy Profile

  23. yogender September 2, 2013 at 4:07 am #

    Very well said and written Mariellen. loved the article.

  24. Annamari November 28, 2013 at 11:28 am #

    So true. I feel somehow like at home in India although it is so different to my home Finland.

  25. jardness November 29, 2013 at 12:39 am #

    this is why I go back to India.. almost every year 🙂
    jardness recently posted..What’s Inside The Crazy House of Dalat?My Profile

  26. Anurag January 26, 2014 at 9:31 am #

    Very well written. Explains so nicely, that India so so invaluable. The same feeling is shared by most Indians too, just that few may not have thought so positively, pleasantly about it.
    Your article will make them also to think about and appreciate India.
    Anurag recently posted..To Read or To Watch?: Fantastic Mr. FoxMy Profile

  27. Raman April 30, 2014 at 4:27 pm #

    Dear Mariellen,

    I appriciate your blogs but i would like to say that India is beautiful because u and your feeling are beautiul and this blog shows your positive thinking. I personaly think its our attitude who make our point of view against any thing. Some people only see poverty, illitracy and other social problem and set their point of view and some people like u see it positivly so it all up to you.

    I would like to bring this to notice all the tourist that India is different from all the world. Because in U.S, Canada, Australia and other developed coutires you can see beautiful landscapes but not so much differnet culture. So while visiting other countires u can make your view only by seeing but India do not belive in Showing. It would only attract you when u will feel it by heart without any expectation. just feel it and u will fell u have lost in this magical country. I am dam sure u will not find everything Struggle, dessert, lakes, jungles, mountains, beach, religion and rituals at one place. Moreover, there are 30 states in India and every state has its Uniqness in terms of food, water, Language , atmosfare and Dressing sense. So being a largest democaracy of the world with it diversity it was never easy to maintain where every one has it,s different view so there are many problems but still they are peaceful. I also would like to say with proud tha India was never poor and not will be in has everything the young talant, spirituality, oldest culture and welth as well but usually people of west considered rich mean “Having more Mony” while life in india is based on enjoy what u have and do hard work to achive more but never complain and never giveup……………There is crop let which can not be in India but there are only things which can only be find in india…..How can u forget Indian Food and spice, thousand’s of sweets and festivals………Thanks and Namste to all…

    “everything is beautiful and good but if u will judge a fish by its abilities to climb on tree it will take whole life to believe that u are not stupid”

  28. Gagan February 23, 2015 at 8:35 am #

    Two words from me “Simply Awesome”..

  29. kamoshi December 7, 2015 at 4:28 pm #

    Strange that Indians long for the ‘West’, while so many foreigners long to be in India.

    Mm, I wonder if those of us who are drawn to India find solace in that which is not modern? Modernity has failed to bring – a deep sense of serenity, connection to a far reaching history, an abiding purpose. The world is a lot less enchanted….


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