Having traveled around Asia for close to five years now, I was often asked if I have traveled to India. Unfortunately, I have not for reasons that I was afraid to do so. I have heard news of India being unsafe due to a high crime rate. My friend, who has been there for a workshop in Mumbai, told me that pickpockets were everywhere. She was warned to keep her purse close to her and to be aware of her surroundings. Another friend told us that he lost his backpack on the train while he was asleep. My aunt, who is an Art teacher, was hired to teach in a prestigious private school in New Delhi but she had to turn it down after living there for five weeks. She said that she could not stand the pain of seeing children begging in the streets and having to face poverty every single day. It was just too depressing.
Traveling to India was never an option until I met a guest priest at our parish who my parents invited to lunch in their home. He was strictly vegan and so my mom made some vegetable spring rolls and tofu steak. She also made sure that my brother and I didn’t expect her to cook any kind of meat dish that day.
Lunch was delicious and Fr. Vanesh loved it. He talked about Catholicism in India, his growing up years in Pradesh, and how he decided to become a priest. What I found most interesting in his stories is his wonderful description of the places where he grew up in. It was as if he showed me photographs of the mountains, valleys, rivers, lakes and seas that surrounded his hometown. He feels sad and quite disappointed that most people have a different perception of India and its people. While he is aware of the poverty and crime happening especially in the cities, he said that mass media has tainted their heritage and shows only the negative side of India.
That night, I called my best friend, Sharon and told her about my family’s lunch with Fr. Vanesh. I also asked her if she was open to travel to India next year instead of South Korea which we initially planned to visit. I was surprised that she wasn’t shocked to hear my suggestion. She said that going to India was in her bucket list but she wanted to make sure that I was up for it too. Lately, Sharon has been very interested in Ayurvedic remedies ever since her father passed away from lung cancer. She said that maybe I was meant to meet Fr. Vanesh and so that she can finally visit India.
We finally did and it is truly a fantastic place. We stayed in Arunatal Pradesh for four days and were lucky to stay with Fr. Vanesh’s sister and her family who were kind enough to house us and take us around. We also went trekking and rafting in Himachal and stayed there for a couple of days. Sharon and I didn’t mind not having meat for weeks as we were advised that slightly cooked vegetables are safer to eat than cooked meat in India. And Fr. Vanesh was right. Their heritage is beautiful, rich and very interesting. The people are warm, generous, funny and very entertaining. Sharon and I also strengthened our bond on his trip.