The last time I was standing in the country of India was back in January of 2008. I was a 14-year-old teenager at the time, and I have very fond memories of that trip. Most of my mother’s family resides in India and I remember that their hospitality provided me with the warmest of welcomes. However, being in India at that younger age was a bit overwhelming, as if the sights and sounds around me were amplified by ten compared to the quieter life I live in Canada. I had trouble adjusting to the differences in lifestyles and I felt something was missing from the overall experience. I often found myself missing Canada because I didn’t truly feel at “home” in India.

Now fast forward 15 years to the future… Having grown up into a 29-year-old adult since that last trip, I took the opportunity to finally revisit India in February of 2023. At this age, I had a yearning desire for an experience that was the opposite of quiet. I’m thrilled to report that’s exactly what I got, and I’ve never felt more at home in another place than I did in the city of Amritsar, Punjab, where I stayed with my mother’s sister (my massi) and her husband (my massar). It ultimately became a trip that’ll remain a permanent highlight within my memory. A trip full of adventures, cultures, traditions, history, learning, exploring, excitement, and most of all, genuine fun.

For all the people born into Indian families living in Canada, America, U.K., Australia, and other places abroad, I can wholeheartedly confirm that visiting India as a child or teenager is nowhere near the same experience as visiting India when you’re an adult. With age comes wisdom, and you naturally develop a much deeper understanding and appreciation for your family roots and the unique society that they belong to. It really humbles you and makes you wonder about how far you’ve come compared to where our ancestors once used to live and work. It also helps that India has cemented itself as one of the top economies in the world and whatever items that were once unavailable in the past are now available in abundance.

Back in 2008, there wasn’t a single shopping mall within Amritsar but now there are multiple malls containing all the latest brands, restaurants, fast-food chains, arcade games, bowling alleys, and movie theatres. As a whole, India has vastly improved its infrastructure with new highways, roads, and bridges that make commuting and travelling far easier than ever before. More rural and isolated places now have reliable electricity, water, and internet for all their daily needs. Their schools can rival any school abroad, where kids go to learn quality education with focus and discipline. Their options for telecommunication are incredibly cheap, with cell phone plans costing as low as a couple of hundred rupees a month (less than 5 Canadian dollars) for a few gigabytes of data that renews each day. Their housing options, including newer gated communities, are plentiful and include some of the most stylish facilities and amenities. Their traffic isn’t as chaotic as it appears because it somehow flows like water and still moves faster than a typical traffic jam in Toronto. Coincidentally, I also happened to be present in India during its first time as a host nation for the G20 (Group of 20) summit, which further benefitted all the cities that were selected to hold events for various world leaders and representatives. Everything in Amritsar received a fresh new coat of paint on it, along with incredible lighting fixtures and impressive murals decorating the walls that represent India’s reputation on the global stage. I could go on writing about the impactful development that has taken place in India but to sum it up, I didn’t find myself missing Canada even once throughout my five-week stay, which was a stark contrast to how I once felt during my last trip.

To state the obvious, no country is perfect or ever will be. India has challenges of its own that are no different than the problems in other developed nations. Their pollution levels still need to be reduced, their political landscape can be divisive, their media could be paid for, and certain groups of people may have more advantages, but how is that any different from where I currently live in Canada? There are still so many opportunities in India, just as there are here, to make something of yourself and excel in any way that you wish to do so. By far, the most popular topic of discussion during my stay in India was the staggering number of students who are deciding to leave the country to go study in colleges abroad, specifically in Canada. Easily, the most intense and concentrated advertising that I saw during my time there was related to completing an IELTS (International English Language Testing System) test and essentially getting out of India as soon as possible. Whenever I saw these advertisements, I would always think why? What’s so bad about here? This may sound a little hypocritical coming from me, but I was born and raised in Canada without a choice. The younger generation in India however, including those who’ve most recently turned 18 years old, do have a choice yet they appear desperate to leave the country because they feel like they’re missing out on something.

Thousands upon thousands of Indian students are now flocking to Canada like a mass exodus and many of them falsely believe that this big move will solve all their worries forever. There are some students who’ve never even travelled from their small village to an actual city that are now hopping on flights to go to Canada, leaving their families and homeland 11,000 kilometres behind without considering any other alternatives first. In fact, many students aren’t spending any time on researching the very colleges and programs they’re applying to, which has led to an increase of shady educational institutions across Canada that are scamming and defrauding students after they’ve already paid thousands of dollars in tuition fees to be there. Some students also lack the preparation for figuring out where they’ll be staying once they arrive in Canada and they’re reluctant to create a budget or plan about how they’ll be able to afford everything, which all adds up to a recipe for disaster. It’s as if some of these students simply wing it and say, “we’ll figure it out once we get there.” This mindset may have worked for immigrants in the past but in today’s day and age, especially with inflation and the record-high cost of living in the provinces of Ontario and British Columbia, it’s no longer a wise decision that’s worth banking your entire future on.

Many international students that have abandoned their original comforts and lifestyles to come to Canada from India are now struggling, with depression and suicide rates spiking at an alarming rate, particularly after the pandemic. The question is who is to blame here? The anxious students who want more opportunities, the crooked colleges and workplaces that take advantage of them, their pushy parents and relatives who place more stress on their shoulders, the out of touch Canadian government that don’t look deeper into these issues, or the countless college recruiting businesses that are just as guilty and have made it their mission statement to sell fake dreams and promises to those who are most vulnerable? If you ask me, that one move from India to Canada is a lot more difficult, risky, and complicated than it seems.

My personal message to all the young students out in India is that if your situation truly seems unfavourable to you from where you currently live, why not take a chance in one of the hundreds of populous cities across India and see if things improve there? Or at the very least, complete an undergraduate degree in India first and then later decide to pursue a postgraduate degree abroad when you’re older, more confident, and experienced. A great example is how my aunt’s (massi’s) two daughters decided to leave the city of Amritsar to go establish themselves in the cities of Delhi and Bangalore instead. When opportunities didn’t come to them, they ventured out to go find the opportunities themselves and eventually, they were successful. I recognize that it’s not my place to tell anyone what to do or what not to do, but what I’m simply suggesting is think long and hard before making important life-changing decisions for yourselves and for your families. Remember that anything in this world that’s worthwhile takes time and patience, as good things will come to those who wait.

With all that out of the way, it’s been a month since I’ve returned home but it still feels like my heart hasn’t properly adjusted back yet. Getting my coffee handed to me from a drive through window at Tim Horton’s isn’t the same as drinking tea on top of an open balcony while overlooking a magnificent sunrise and sunset. I miss the sights and sounds, as loud as they can be, because I felt that there was always some new experience to take part in. No matter where you go in India, you’re surrounded by a real sense of identity and the locals are proud of their heritage. From enjoying delicious street food in Amritsar, to seeing some of the endless historical sites in Delhi, to a simple stroll through the markets in Palampur with my Himachali cap on, it seemed as if everything was full of energy, life, and colours. I’m physically back in the hustle and work culture of North America with a grey filter slapped over top of it, but my mind is still attached to the minimalism and satisfaction that the people of India enjoyed over there. They seemed to be much happier and relaxed with what little they have whereas people here are more troubled and stressed out even though they may have plenty already.

In the end when it’s all been said and done, my only regret is that I didn’t revisit India sooner. I made too many excuses within those 15 years, from being too busy with my university studies or work, to not wanting to go there in the hot summer months. I waited too long and I feel like I missed out on a lot of key events within my family tree. In that span of time, some of my relatives were born and some of my relatives passed away, along with all the milestones that came and went for all the relatives that aged. Regardless, I’m still grateful for the chance to finally reconnect with my family while being able to experience all the amazing changes and improvements that have taken place in India. The best way to describe this entire trip is that it felt like I jumped into a time machine and turned the dial from 2008 to 2023. India is a beautiful country with so much to explore within it, and I’m certain that my next trip will happen much sooner. I highly recommend visiting India for at least a few weeks, specifically to all the people of Indian background who were born abroad and have never been there. Trust my words and go experience your ancestral land where our roots run deep, I promise you that it’ll be worth your time and money.

A picture is worth a thousand words, so I’ve created an entire compilation to showcase the highlights from places I was lucky enough to visit around India. I’ve added captions and website links as a starting point if you would like to find out more context and information on your own time. If you would like to personally get in touch with me about anything I’ve written or shown, you can e-mail me at Enjoy!

Amritsar, Punjab

Inside of Sri Guru Ram Das Ji International Airport, conveniently located only 5 minutes away from my aunt and uncle’s home in Amritsar
An intricately designed replica of the Golden Temple on display within the airport lobby, a small preview of sights to come
One of my loyal companions throughout this trip, Julie
Panoramic view from my aunt and uncle’s balcony on the 2nd floor
Views from the balcony on the 3rd floor

Jallianwala Bagh

Entering the Jallianwala Bagh, a place of great importance and tragedy within Indian history
Human beings come and go but nature will continue to witness in silence
Bullet hole marks are outlined with white squares, remnants of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre that took place here on April 13, 1919
120 bodies were recovered from the bottom of the Martyrs’ Well, where innocent people willingly jumped to escape the horror of the chaos unfolding before them
This memorial is for all the lives that were lost in the senseless slaughter
Views from Heritage Street, one of the oldest streets in Amritsar, stretching between the Town Hall and the Golden Temple

Golden Temple (Harmandir Sahib)

Entering the Golden Temple complex, the holiest site for followers of the Sikh faith
The Golden Temple is a gurdwara that was completed in 1604 by Guru Arjan Dev, the fifth of the ten Sikh Gurus
Panoramic view of the breathtaking complex
The original Adi Granth sits in the centre of the Golden Temple, which is built on a lower level than the surrounding land’s level to teach the lesson of humbleness and egalitarianism
The man in the boat ensures that the sacred pool surrounding the Golden Temple, called the sarovar, is kept clean and pure
162 kilograms of gold were initially applied to the temple in 1830 but in the 1990s, it was further renovated with 500 kilograms of pure 24-karat gold
People from all faiths are welcome in gurdwaras and they have the option to eat in the langar, which is a community kitchen run by volunteers that serves meals to anyone for free, regardless of religion, caste, gender, economic status, or ethnicity
The Akal Takht was severely damaged in June of 1984 during Operation Blue Star but was rebuilt into what it is today
Waiting in line to go inside of the Golden Temple and pray can take anywhere from one to two hours
View from the top floor of the Golden Temple
The cost of maintaining the Golden Temple is managed entirely through donations from devotees around the world
The appearance is just as glorious in the night as it is during the day

Partition Museum

The Mohan Singh Gate leads to Amritsar’s Town Hall and Partition Museum
The British Raj (Rule) over India lasted from 1858 to 1947, subjecting many locals to humiliation such as this
Many Indians at the time wanted to be completely free and independent from British rule, leading them to express their frustrations through the Quit India Movement
After almost 90 years of British rule, India was finally given its independence on August 15, 1947
The nations of India and Pakistan were officially born but what soon followed was one of the largest and deadliest forced migrations in human history, especially for women
Greeting a friend outside of Amritsar’s Town Hall, located right next to the Partition Museum

The Village of Butala: My Father’s Childhood Home

This home in Butala, near the town of Baba Bakala, was where my father was once raised by his parents and two older sisters before he left for Canada
No one lives here anymore and it’s now a relic from the past
Standing inside of the empty home and trying to visualize how life must’ve been like to have have grown up here
Views from the balcony of my father’s childhood home
My father and one of his uncles reminiscing about simpler times
Trying to emulate Shah Rukh Khan in a famous scene from one of the most popular Bollywood films of all time, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge

Gobindgarh Fort

An Indian army tank displayed outside of the entrance to the Gobindgarh fort
The main gateway to enter the historic fort, which was built in 1760
Panoramic view from inside the fort
Sounding the alarm for potential invaders
Two warriors guard the inner courtyard
A replica of the colossal and famous Zamzama cannon
Views from the inner courtyard
Entertainers putting on a show by performing bhangra, a traditional folk dance originating in the state of Punjab

Punjab State War Heroes’ Memorial and Museum

One of the largest constructed swords in the world on display at the main entrance to the Punjab State War Heroes’ Memorial and Museum
Poppies in memory of all the soldiers who’ve given their lives to defend India, from antiquity to the present day
An exhibit showcasing a collection of weapons from different eras throughout India’s history
An exhibit for the Battle of Hydaspes, which was fought between Macedonia’s Alexander the Great and an Indian King named Porus back in May of 326 BC
An exhibit for Bandi Chhor Divas, the Day of Liberation, which is a significant event in Sikh history and explains why they also celebrate the festival of Diwali alongside Hindus
Powerful imagery that portrays losses on both sides in war, empire against empire, religion against religion
A few of the leaders of the twelve Sikh Misls, which were twelve sovereign states of the Sikh Confederacy
Maharaja Ranjt Singh, also known as the Lion of Punjab, was the first King of the Sikh Empire in 1799
An exhibit depicting important leaders and administrators sitting within Ranjit Singh’s court
Along with the Koh-i-Noor diamond, Ranjit’s Singh’s youngest son, Duleep Singh, was forcefully taken away to Britain where he lived for the rest of his days, thus officially ending the Sikh Empire in 1849

Sarai Amanat Khan

A scenic 45-minute drive from Amritsar, Sarai Amanat Khan is a historic caravanserai (roadside inn) that was once a prosperous pit stop for travelers on the Agra-to-Lahore trade route
Amanat Khan, the inn’s namesake, is believed to be the same individual who etched the calligraphy on the Taj Mahal in Agra
The remains of fading calligraphy that were once a vibrant shade of blue
The historic ruins of Sarai Amanat Khan now only hint at its magnificent past
A horse stable that’s been converted into a home still has its original, but restored, wooden window shutters from a few hundred years ago
Interior view from behind the wooden window shutters on the second floor
A splendid sunset that highlights the surrounding historical area
Watching the sun go down from an open balcony is truly a sight to behold

My Aunt’s Workplace: Dav Public School

The inner grounds of Dav Public School are kept maintained and clean
A perfect blend of classrooms and natural greenery
Inside of the school’s auditorium, where parents have filled it up to watch their children perform in the much-anticipated annual function
This year’s theme for the annual function was related to climate change, deforestation, and environmental activism, which students patiently rehearsed for months

My Uncle’s Childhood Village: Kot Mehtab

An impressive public school that my uncle’s family once built for all the young students living in the rural village of Kot Mehtab
A classroom for keen learners to improve on their English writing, speaking, reading
A classroom with informative images on the walls teaching general life skills, poetry, and the days of the week
A history classroom that displays prominent figures from India’s rich past, including Bhagat Singh and Udham Singh
A computer lab that allows students to practice their online researching and typing skills, which are a necessity for the world of the 21st century
Many of the classrooms are equipped with a new projector attached to the ceiling, allowing teachers to implement multimodal education
An exciting kabaddi tournament that the village has diligently organized, part of a much larger festival that’s held every year for Hola Mohalla
The live commentary keeps the momentum going and makes watching the matches twice as entertaining
The mesmerizing wheat fields remind me of the opening scene from one of my favourite Hollywood movies of all time, Gladiator

Leisure in Amritsar

The stunning gate that welcomes visitors into the city of Amritsar
A gate that helps set the tone for Amritsar’s splendor
Khalsa College, one of Amritsar’s most famous landmarks and also where my mother once studied
Outside of VR Ambarsar, previously known as Trillium Mall
The informal and cool way to say Amritsar
A gaming and entertainment centre called Smaaash, which offers video games, sports, virtual reality, music, and dining
A glowing bowling alley in a designated area within Smaaash
A skate park for kids to practice and relax in Kabir Park
A glimpse into some of the usual traffic on the streets of Amritsar
A soothing drive in the outskirts of the city can provide a getaway from the constant hustle and bustle
Inside of the Mall of Amritsar, previously known as Alpha One Mall, which also has an entire arcade and movie theatre within it
The food court inside of the Mall of Amritsar has many options to choose from for a very fair price
There are many retail shops that are sure to satisfy anyone’s shopping needs
Wearing a traditional outfit consisting of a kurta (long, collarless shirt), vest, and Punjabi jutti (leather footwear) with curved tips

Taj Mahal in Agra

The massive entrance gate that leads to the Taj Mahal offers a small taste of the beauty to come
One of the most exhilarating experiences is walking through this gate and witnessing the Taj Mahal seemingly move further away from you, an optical illusion cleverly implemented by its architects
Completed in 1653 by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, it was dedicated to house the tomb of his wife, Mumtaz Mahal
The four minarets surrounding the Taj Mahal were purposely built with an outward incline by a few degrees so in the chance of an earthquake, they would fall away from the mausoleum instead of on top of it
This place is one of the new 7 wonders of the world for a reason, as its grandeur is unmatched
View of the grounds and entrance gate from the Taj Mahal
Views from the backside of the Yamuna River, Agra Fort in the distance, and detailed inscriptions on the Taj Mahal’s exterior
Feeling incredibly lucky for the opportunity to see such a marvel up close in person
The main entrance to the Agra Fort that was completed in 1573, eighty years before the Taj Mahal
The Agra Fort served as the main residence for rulers of the Mughal empire until 1638, when the capital was shifted from Agra to Delhi 200 kilometers away
One of the many inner courtyards with lovely gardens surrounding the walking paths
In 1658, Aurangzeb led a rebellion against his own father, Shah Jahan, and imprisoned him within the walls of the Agra Fort
For the last eight years of Shah Jahan’s life, he was forced to look upon his greatest achievement from this distance
Every room is detailed with the finest craftsmanship, from the floors to the walls and ceilings
The Jahangiri Mahal showcases the perfect symmetry of Mughal architecture

Delhi, Capital of India

A brief look at some of the traffic of Delhi at night

India Gate

Also known as the All India War Memorial, the India Gate honours the thousands of brave soldiers of the British Indian Army who died between 1914 and 1921
Views from the India Gate at night where people have come to spend time, take pictures, and reflect on their country’s sacrifices
A statue of Subhas Chandra Bose, a prominent Indian nationalist during British rule, was unveiled in September of 2022
Both the India Gate and the statue of Bose are lit up at night to represent India’s tricolour flag with saffron at the top, white in the middle, and green at the bottom
The inscription reads, “To the dead of the Indian Armies who fell and are honoured in France and Flanders, Mesopotamia and Persia, East Africa, Gallipoli and elsewhere in the Near and Far East and in Sacred Memory also of those whose names are here recorded and who fell in India on the North West Frontier and during the Third Afghan War”

Qutb Minar Complex

The Qutb Minar is the tallest brick minaret in the world since its completion in 1220
This victory tower was built over 800 years ago during the Mamluk dynasty, celebrating their conquest of Delhi
The entrance door for the Qutb Minar
The large brick archways on each side are now a shadow of their former glory
The Tomb of Iltutmish, one of the earliest rulers of the Delhi Sultanate
Verses from the Quran, the central religious text in Islam, are carved into the brick walls with the finest detailing
Intricate stone carvings on each column
Near the base of the Qutb Minar stands the Alai Darwaza, a gateway made out of red sandstone built in 1311
The Alai Minar was originally planned to be twice as wide and twice as tall as the Qutb Minar, but its construction was abandoned once the ruler Alauddin Khalji died and none of his successors continued the work that he started
This Iron Pillar‘s metal has yet to show any signs of rust even though it was constructed around 400 AD during the reign of Chandragupta II, which makes it over 800 years older than the Qutb Minar complex itself
The passage of time eventually engulfs all empires that once ruled with authority, but their structures remain behind to help paint a picture of their prime

Lotus Temple

The Lotus Temple was completed in December of 1986 and is a major attraction in New Delhi
This Baháʼí faith temple is renowned for its lovely lotus-shaped design
The maintained grounds outside of the temple include many orange trees and flowers
The symbolism of the lotus plant is significant in many religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism
A Baháʼí house of worship is a space for people of all religions to gather, reflect, and worship

Humayun’s Tomb

The entrance gate leading to Humayun’s Tomb bears resemblance to the gate that leads to the Taj Mahal
Humayun’s Tomb was completed in 1572 and was the first structure to use red sandstone at such a large scale
Before Shah Jahan ordered the Taj Mahal to be built for his deceased wife Mumtaz Mahal, Empress Bega Begum ordered this tomb to be built for her deceased husband Humayun 81 years earlier, who was Shah Jahan’s great-grandfather
Views from the backside, which also happens to be near the Yamuna River as is the Taj Mahal
Lush greenery decorates the open grounds surrounding the tomb
Interior view of the tomb within the central chamber underneath the dome
View of the grounds and entrance gate from Humayun’s Tomb
The entire complex feels like a prototype from which the Taj Mahal got its inspiration from, as all that’s really missing are the 4 minarets in the corners
Near Humayun’s Tomb is the Tomb of Isa Khan, with its mausoleum constructed in the shape of an octagon
There are endless restaurants to eat from in Delhi, especially within Connaught Place, but the food and drinks found here at the Ministry of Beer (M.O.B.) exceeded expectations
All this sightseeing would make anyone thirsty so a few specialty beers were tested out within M.O.B.’s microbrewery, which all received top marks

Palampur, Himachal Pradesh

An extraordinary villa with a clear view of the Himalayan mountains
Panoramic view that includes the main house in the centre, six smaller houses around it, and a kitchen on the far right
Everything about this place generates the feeling of staying in the clouds, away from all the noise and distractions of city life
The villa is entirely self-sustained using cattle, chickens, and crops that include vegetables, fruits, and wheat
The geographic landscape of India is incredibly vast and its topography can dramatically change from north to south, east to west
My friend approves my attempt to try and blend into the local culture by wearing a Himachali cap
More friends casually hanging out and enjoying the natural scenery of Palampur
Monkeys are commonly found throughout India and some consider them to be divine when connected to Hanuman, one of the central figures of the Hindu epic Ramayana
The Baijnath Temple, completed over 800 years ago
This temple was dedicated to Lord Shiva, one of the principal deities in Hinduism
The rolling valleys, hills, rivers, and mountains in Palampur provide a sense of peace and calm
Natural river streams intersect throughout many of the walking paths found in public parks
One of the many tea gardens found throughout Palampur, as tea is one of its most valued commodities

McLeod Ganj

Located high up in the mountains is McLeod Ganj, a suburb of Dharamshala, which was once a hill station for the British to come and spend their hot summers in
The Tibetan National Martyrs Memorial honours those who’ve fallen since China’s annexation of Tibet in 1951
One of the holy seats of the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism
Mantras are inscribed on these metal prayer wheels within the Namgyal Monastery, which can be spun for good fortune
Gigantic boulders rest on level ground at the base of McLeod Ganj

Thank You to India and Everyone Reading!

Getting ready for my next adventure… Who knows where fate will take me next?