I’ve been living in India for about 55 days, and my feet have been incredibly dirty for roughly 45 of those days. In the beginning, I made it a point to wash them often so the creases of my toes were void of any dust or grime. Now, it seems the layers of dirt are adding up as my wandering among side streets increases and weekend walks around forts become more frequent. I’m beginning to grow a fond appreciation for all the dirt packed tight in the leather cracks of my sandals and markings of adventure on my feet.
Perhaps it’s a personal quirk, or the effects of running around barefoot outside for the larger portion of my childhood — and young-adult life for that matter — but I often associate my fondest memories with the level of dirt I can acquire between my toes. My Indian escapades have consistently been experienced with dirty feet.
On a weeklong excursion to Bikaner, a small desert city very close to the Pakistani border in the Western part of the state of Rajasthan, my feet got the dirtiest they have been thus far. Simultaneously, I also crafted one of my favorite memories in India since my arrival.
The night I arrived in Bikaner — after a seven-hour trip on a bus that easily could have fallen apart mid journey — I left the guesthouse with two friends and one goal: to get lost among the foreign streets. A rickshaw with flashing, multi-colored lights and Indian pop music blaring dropped us off at the gates of the old city. We walked until we found a side-alley, swarming with small shopkeepers and steaming with the tempting smell of spices and street food, and peeled off the main road to explore.
My feet were comfortably tucked inside my 5-year-old Birkenstock sandals and relatively void of dirt when we began wandering among the small streets. We snuck through passageways smelling of hot garbage and greasy samosas and found ourselves in a vegetable market covered by canopies of burlap and illuminated by flickering lightbulbs. Desert sand dusted the ground, and the cleanliness of my feet became a thing of the past.
As we continued to walk — with no exact destination in mind — glances of mutual curiosity were exchanged with the Indian men behind their market stands. The bazaar was crowded with cows freely roaming among the narrow pathways in search of a fallen or forgotten piece of fruit and women carrying vegetables in large baskets gracefully balanced on their heads. My senses were overwhelmed and reached levels only experienced far from my comfort zone.
After passing by stacks of chickens in cages with a doomed fate and tailors sewing Indian dresses on old-fashioned sewing machines, we emerged from the market and found our way back to a familiar street. That’s when the rain began.
At first it was a light sprinkle, but that only lasted 30 seconds. Soon, water was dripping off my eyelashes as the rain fell harder and faster than I would have expected it to in the desert. Getting caught in a downpour in the middle of a Bikaner, India, was perhaps one of the most joyous and youthful experiences I’ve had in the past month and a half.
We ran through the streets and toward the guesthouse, laughing from our bellies. The dirt covering my feet quickly turned to mud as more rain fell and puddles grew larger. An Indian man ran by us and passionately yelled, “Welcome to beautiful India!” We exchanged broken bits of Hindi with street merchants who invited us under their tarps to escape the rain, but we continued on until we reached a little restaurant with wooden walls and stone floors. I ordered too much naan — if that’s even possible — and had the best paneer butter masala to date.
At the end of the night, soaked and blissful from the desert rain, I looked down at my feet. They were painted with splashes of mud, and I was left with the dirtiest of feet and the happiest of hearts.