Holy Cows, Majestic Temples and Very Real Encounters

How Jessica Scranton’s journey to India TWELVE years ago changed her life forever


I was just about to graduate from college when my mom asked me if I want to go suit shopping and if I’d applied for any jobs that might provide health benefits.  I looked at her square in the eye, “Mom, I think I want to go live in India for a year”.  I’d been thinking about this for six months and something deep inside of me wanted to have a totally new experience completely different than my suburban upbringing in Needham, MA or my college life at Northeastern University in Boston.  I wanted to be flipped upside down and see the world with new eyes.  So with very minimal research, I just knew India was the place.  My Mom, god love her, calmingly gulped probably confused by my early wanderlust, but she said, “A-ha” and we moved on to topics such as my sister’s upcoming baby and the weather.

I pulled double shifts at a local restaurant and when my fellow coworkers would go out late at night and party, I’d say no thank you and put my money in my India jar.  I knew what I wanted, and I was going to get there. I had found a volunteer program in Jodphur, India called the Veerni Project which works to empower village girls and women, and I had secured a three month placement teaching English in the villages.

Girls being taught mathematics at the Veerni Project School. By Jessica Scranton

Girls being taught mathematics at the Veerni Project School. By Jessica Scranton

On December 30, 2004,  I got on a plane to Jaipur, India.  I was so terrified to do this alone.  I called my boyfriend and said that I’d made a mistake, that I really didn’t want to go to India and that I was scared.  Maybe I should just go home to what I know and live safely.  He calmingly told me to get on the plane and so I took a deep breath and willed my feet to move forward onto the skygate.

I arrived around 10pm to Jaipur, Rajasthan and I knew instantly that I had made a mistake.  My taxi driver drove his white Ambassador like a crazy person swerving on the road while telling me historical facts about this ancient town like this was an everyday affair. He’d honk every other second and narrowly missed hitting cows, busses, little children wrestling on the side of the road, and men carrying heavy wooden carts filled with vegetables.  There was a barber shaving a man’s beard on the side of the road in a makeshift tin box lit with one tungsten bulb.  There was trash burning on the sides of the street and smoke filtered through the road lights, and it smelled of burnt tire and plastic.  I sunk into my seat, holding back tears. What had I done?  

Reflection of a man walking down the street in Pushkar, India. By Jessica Scranton

Reflection of a man walking down the street in Pushkar, India. By Jessica Scranton

I called my Mom that night and when she picked up the phone, my voice quivered “Moommm, I made a mistake. I want to come home”. I was sobbing uncontrollably now.  “Are you ok?”, she asked.  I answered, “Yes, but it’s crazy here and everything is different, and I want to come home”.  My mom is one of the sweetest women in the world but can be very matter of fact especially in crisis situations. “Well”, she said, “take a shower, go to bed, get someone to show you around tomorrow and you’ll live”.  I wanted her to tell me it was alright to come back home and that yes, I had made a mistake.  Her truth stung, but I followed her instructions, I took a shower, laid in bed spinning with jet lag and sometime between the honking horns and the smell of burning rubber, I slept.

The next day I woke to honking horns, the chimes of bells and the smells of burning incense.  I wanted to open the door, but another part of me wanted to keep it shut forever and lock out this new and terrifying world.  However, following my Mom’s instructions, I opened the door and let  the world of India in.

When you open your heart to India, it opens to you. This is a saying I’ve heard many times from good willed hippies or yogi types, and quite possibly this is true for them.  For me, India was more of a rollercoaster, with thrilling highs and deep lows and sometimes just moments of reality, like I just put myself on the double twist Boomerang Ultimate ride and now I have to endure ten minutes of heart pumping and vomit inducing excitement. Usually I’m happy I did it,  sometime I question my decision making skills, but ultimately I will need to do it again to get my fix.  This is India to me.  It took me in, shook me upside down, made me realize there is no right way and opened me to a whole new set of beliefs, customs, clothing, friends, humor, food and ways of doing things.  It was overwhelming, exciting, intoxicating, beautiful and real.  And I, a young twenty year old full of energy and wanting to experience every emotion, contradiction and high and low, absorbed every moment.   It changed me and opened me to a new life. I have never looked back.



PART 2: Coming soon! 

Please check out Purposeful Nomad's New Trip to India call Jewels of Rajasthan.   It will be led by Jessica Scranton of PN with Govind Rathore and Virendra Chouhan from Sambhali Trust.  

**Jessica Scranton is co-founder of Purposeful Nomad and a freelance International photographer.  Her work has been published in Smithsonian, Boston Magazine, Christian Science Monitor, Conservation International, USAID, United Nations, Girls Who Code, etc..  She lives in Brewster, MA with her boyfriend on an organic vegetable farm. To see her full bio please click here