Hidden Tales of India – A quest for symbolism and nonsense

Unfolding in layers, seen and unseen – a blend of contrasts and confluences, India whispers myths of the unknown. Side by side with a Rajistani family, who had adopted me without my consent, I can’t help but wonder:” Why do they wake me up every time the airplane meal trolley comes near me?”Must be love. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines gave up on their national delicacies and we may question the choice of a full-on curry-based menu – Requiem for the bathrooms. The air was charged with the energy of centuries-old wisdom – my pilgrimage debuted. 



Midnight madness 


Taxi negotiations began at Delhi Airport, yes, no, maybe – intuitive old tricks resurging at 2 am. As a smooth operator, the driver asked me to wait 10 minutes only to return with more passengers – shuttle mode, though I respect the hustle. We departed, packed as a mule on the Atlas mountains or, more commonly, your girlfriend’s suitcase when she pretends to come just for one night. 


After a few u-turns on the freeway, like it ain’t anything, our eyes were glued to Google Maps on a half-downloaded grid, an abstract configuration only announcing chaos. The hotel was nowhere to be found as the pin was randomly dropped on the freeway. Classic. We carried on silently, burdened by the weight of our luggage, and dropped the alleged Bollywood squad off an unflattering alley or perhaps a crime scene. In a flash, my primitive instincts were on alert as I framed the present circumstances: unidentified actors, phone down, and a fraction of Coco Pops bar left somewhere in my bag. My thoughts were suddenly disrupted as the taxi driver shouted, “You look like Avatar; let’s take a photo.” An impromptu photoshoot began – the 19 cameras on his Samsung Galaxy were activated, only to provide a blurry effect and more confusion. Getting the fuck out was not an alternative. 


The fictional romance ended abruptly: “See ahead the illuminated replicas of Disney ornaments around the “Hotel” sign? This is where I am headed”. The driver was not having it. He silently followed me inside the edifice and worked his magic to ensure I couldn’t find a room available. Changing trajectories with my Rimowa titanium –  testing the German engineering on gravel at full speed – I teleported to the hotel next door. A sense of déjà vu prevailed as I scored my second rejection. In the kingdom of nonsense, a security agent gradually emerged from the trenches, flexing his sheriff star to an invisible audience. His eyes were livid and impassible to my narration despite my underrated mimes performance. The show ended on a nervous and barely audible note: “No, ma’am.” 


As in any ghetto fairytale, the third time may be a charm. I passed the audition at the following lodging and was allowed to sit on the faux leather couch while Mr. Stalker was kindly asked to declare forfeit. The front deck crew gathered around to ask me the usual questions about the Eiffel Tower and Napoleon’s skincare routine– tales on tales; I dozed off in the arms of Morpheus. 



Reframing mindset 


Cultivating abundance between marriage proposals flowing one after another and collecting counterfeit iPhone chargers that almost blew up my hotel room – a daily rhythm. Less is more and vice versa -before I knew it, the syndrome of frenzy negotiation got the best of me. The look of fulfillment on my face when I save 50 cents says it all. Within a few days, fatally, my mom turned into the Wolf of Wall Street, trading Indian handicrafts over the phone with her one surviving AirPod plugged into her ear. 


The ambivalent fairy tale resumed at the self-acclaimed 5-star hotel, which coincidentally – or perhaps not – served as decor for rapper Gucci Mane’s Trap House album. Two goats casually posted at the reception desk, lurking at potential intruders, assured the hotel security. The concierge led the way toward the elevator, which had been on a French strike for the last 10 years. Down the dollar version of the Hall of Mirror, Versailles-ish Chandeliers flashed on and off a subtle message: “Get out – now.” The twelve strokes of midnight echoed from the abyss of Delhi when suddenly a family of cockroaches pulled up with their extended relatives loaded with Tupperware and ready to tear down my room. Merci aurevoir



Soul Train


On the run at 4 am from Delhi madness to my next shelter, the city of Agra. The escape was sponsored by Indian Railways, the national catalyst for organized chaos, transporting approximately 24 million passengers nationwide. Meanwhile, Paris is racing against time to get its “mass transit” system ready for the 2024 Olympics – the metro rail being overwhelmed when 2 and a half rats are on the tracks. 


The ticket counter is at the core of all the unwanted interactions. Dedicated lines were designed as an optical illusion, a mundane phenomenon observed among the overly-enthusiast-optimist-architects. Women-only kiosks, whose initial mission is to serve as a tangible manifestation of the Indian Railway’s commitment to enabling a safe space for female passengers, are more likely a thirst trap. Kolé-séré is the new motto – flowing movements of men behind me embracing the inaudible smooth Caribbean tempo. A deep sense of interconnectedness prevailed – or what some may call “community participation” – as 20 Aam Aadmi (the equivalent of Average Joe in Hindi) gathered around the ticket window for my payment transaction. 


Legend has it the Gatimaan Express will take you to one of the new 7 Wonders of the World, not the Gucci store but the Taj Mahal (Agra), in less than 2 hours. However, the reality says otherwise, with a margin of 6 hours. Do I live in an alternate reality? Commuter trains, express trains, superfast trains, or luxury trains, you named it, the engineer chose deliberately to merge them all into one abstract version. On board, the 10 classes, ranging from the hoodrich zone, where people gave up on life, to the balling section, set the record straight. A condescending demeanor on the caste system conditioning social interactions. Delving into the Court of Miracles of Victor Hugo, where you may cruise along shamans offering discounted healing sessions, men running away from their families, goats working on their upcoming TED conferences, and indoor BBQ tandoori paneer prepped by a 4-year-old. 



Far Far West 


Once upon a time, in a land far away, there was Shah Jahan, one of the most extraordinary Mughal emperors to be saidIn memory of his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who passed away during childbirth in 1631, Shah Jahan commissioned the construction of a mausoleum in the city of Agra. We’re not talking about your kindergarten Berbere tent project here, more likely of 20,000 workers and over 32 million rupees – I let you deal with the conversion rate. A marble flex, or perhaps an ode to love and devotion, when we know that some of us can’t even get a match on Tinder (I really speak for myself) – the Taj Mahal perpetrates its eternal splendor. 


Words on the streets propagated on a not-so-young-33-year-old single-French-woman vagabonding around. In a momentum of pity, a family next door agreed to pimp me out in exchange for a modest contribution of 2 euros and a bag of spicy Namkeen (your friendly teatime deep-fried snacks.) Aadhya, the matriarchal figure, amassed all the sarees available in the borough and initiated the fittings beneath awestruck gazes. Under the familial prism, eyebrows rising, resonances of despair – unanimously, the red saree with golden embroideries, re-enchanting what the juxtaposition of ABBA and Indian tailoring may have been, struck. The sudden euphoria came to an end when I chose to elope, lacing my Nikes.


“Music videos are strictly prohibited inside the temple” echoed as an understatement, a warning for low-budget R&B music creatives and TikTok devotees. Nestled amidst the picturesque Aravalli hills, Galta Ji Temple is a significant Hindu pilgrimage, a shelter for sacred recidivist monkeys only interested in robbing iPhones 14 and up. I never felt safer. An ecosystem fueled with macaque conflicts, foreign families asking for the impossible, and holy water cleaning no sins. We are all in communion, exploring the transformative power of spiritual introspection; the best is yet to come, but that’s solely on how much you are willing to donate to the shrink. 



Under the moonlight of Nepal 


Conspiracy or distorted reality, all national Nepalese airlines happened to be blacklisted by the European Union. Despite the 27 fatal crashes over the past three decades, what we know for sure is that Yeti Airlines, Buddha Air, or Himalaya Airlines will take you to visit Jimi Hendrix rather sooner than anticipated. Plan B, the road. Eyeing my imaginary set square on Google Maps, the divine light set the tone. Across the valleys, over mountains high, where cockroaches soar beneath the endless sky, I cruised throughout India for 3 days and 3 nights. 


Posted at the check post in Sonauli behind 200 monks from Thailand, I activated my magic shoulders and slid through the religious conglomerate. The luxury bus to Nepal chose me – my chakras were rising to the prominent disco bowls and debatable artistic endeavors. For the past 9 hours, Bollywood movies with no subtitles conditioned our existence. A journey punctuated with unorchestrated and frequent stops welcoming new faces sitting on plastic chairs in the central alley. Pioneering in low-cost, Ryanair vibes. The driver said the ride would only take 8 hours – well, it took 17. I opened the curtains – the moon rose and glistened the cliff we were casually proceeding. A sherpa (Tibetan ethnic group native to the mountainous regions of Nepal) outside, barefoot, instructed the vehicles. In a flash, it eventually hinted – Are Nepal’s highways among the most dangerous in the world, or is it just me behind the wheel? Forming one with my 10 uncertified Apple chargers as I urged my phone not to let me down. Drama is for you. 


In the valley where the mountains wake, a city of wonder with intricate grace – Kathmandu. Seeking spiritual enlightenment and sponsorship from North Face and Patagonia, Neohippies emerged to the rhythms of the Stupa bells. Tales and folklore were transposed to modern fiction in my hotel lobby: “I climbed the Anapurna in 24 hours, carried a fridge to the top, and fought a Yeti – you Melissa? Well, I climb my bed so far, that’s about it”. Fast forward, I embarked on a 10-hour-toddler-friendly trek to Namo Buddha, a sacred site where a young prince, believed to be a previous incarnation of Lord Buddha, sacrificed his own body to the tigress to save her and her cubs from starvation. Faith or fascination – spiritual refrains and ancient whispers resonated in the heart of the mystic – there is only peace.


Melissa Alibo

Raised between Paris and the rest of the world, Melissa likes to define herself as a contemporary nomad. Less routine, more life is her motto. Curiosity has always driven her desire to explore new environments, cultures, and ways of life.