By RAVINA PATEL
As soon as I stepped off the plane, I was hit by the overwhelming smell of smoke and manure. I looked outside to see shrubs, mud, and a smoggy haze. I had low expectations, but my mother’s excitement about visiting her homeland was infectious, and I tried to give the country a chance. While driving along the Gujarati countryside to visit the villages my elders grew up in, I saw as many animals as people, ranging from cows and camels to lizards and monkeys. Over my two weeks in India, there was never a dull moment. Whether I was sleeping on a bus, riding an elephant, visiting the Taj Mahal or playing with a life size chess set, every day was full of surprises. I was stared at for being an American, and I could not help but stare back in fascination at the people who had skin and eyes similar to mine but were so foreign in behavior. While running through the markets that lined the streets or catching a rickshaw ride through the village, I could not help but feel like India was where I belonged.