“We’re really doing it now, this is the real deal. No more pussy-footing around in Europe, this is proper travelling.” I was excited and adrenaline pumped. Giz was looking worried. We were hurtling through Delhi’s special kind of traffic in the back of a taxi with a man of questionable sanity at the wheel. We had no idea where we were going and apparently neither did he. We learned quickly that this was usually the case. Taxi drivers and their eccentricities would feature heavily in our Indian baptism of fire.
This was our first time in India and we’d heard so many stories, good and bad from friends, anecdotally via friends of friends of friends, from blogs, books and documentaries but we still felt under-researched and under-prepared. Actually now I’m writing this I’d say that you’re probably never really prepared for India, you learn on the job so to speak. India happens to you and you just sort of take it all in, in a bit of a delirious, bewildered stupor.
I really thought I was a bit ‘hard’ actually. I scoffed a bit when people said, “It’ll change you”. When people told me that it would be unlike anything I’d ever seen I pondered upon globalisation and multiculturalism, and the media we are exposed to and thought, surely the world’s a smaller place now, how different can it be? I expected to be disappointed as I wanted so badly for it to take my breath away… But I was wrong. It’s SO different. It’s overwhelming. It’s wonderful. It’s awful. It’s heart-wrenching and harrowing but gut-punchingly exciting.
The poverty is real, and very dark, we were both shaken by it almost immediately. It is further emphasised by the disparity between that and the riches, the jewellers, the Bollywood stars, posh cars and glittering palaces of hotels for the rich. It’s side by side… and it’s very hard to take in. Although we didn’t see much of the affluence, only short snatches of it. We stayed mostly with families in humble, suburban parts of town, not in fancy hotels. We tried hard to see the real India, as much of it as we could handle on our first visit, and we were glad we did. There is true beauty here, in the people who are curious but kind and extremely welcoming. The colours you associate with India are everywhere, in jewel pink, green and yellow saris, bright green oranges being carted through the streets, old men’s dyed ginger hair, and brightly painted shop fronts and monster trucks. But everything is muted by a layer of dust and smog, so India looks like an old black and white photograph which has been coloured in afterwards, and it is equally quaint and charming.
I fell absolutely head over heels in love with India. At times I cursed its name and wished for a genie to send me safely back home. At times I was horrified at its disarming disorder, choked by bad smells, eyes watering from thick smog, heartbroken by begging, barefooted children. But like any love story, my heart held true despite the negatives, despite the pain, I ADORED India and I cried great chest-heaving sobs on the bus to the airport when we had to leave.
As I have mentioned, for much of our trip around the world we were jamming on it. We didn’t really make plans, and in fact we didn’t think more than a few weeks ahead for most of our journey. So we only decided 100% to go to India while we were working in Greece. Because of this we went for the 30 day visa as to apply for any longer we’d have to visit the Indian embassy in Athens and maybe wait for a week or so to get a result. Numerous people told us a month wouldn’t be long enough and I totally get why people said that, India is ridiculously big and there is so much to see and do.
However, we managed in 30 days to experience the chaos of Delhi, marvel at The Taj Mahal, find peace for 10 days in an ashram in Rishikesh, explore the pink city of Jaipur, get in the Bollywood mood in Mumbai and spend a few tranquil days in beautiful Kerala. We took two flights, two trains, two private car journeys, a few bus rides, a couple of motorcycle backies and countless rickshaw and velorickshaw rides. We saw and did a hell of a lot in our short time in India so I’d say if you’re thinking of going, as long as you plan a bit in advance (unlike we did, and it caused us a few problems) then a month is a good amount of time for an introduction to this amazing country. If you only have two weeks then I would pick one city or town and base yourself there.
Whenever people ask me what my favourite country we visited on our trip was I find it a really difficult question to answer, as I honestly enjoyed every single place we went, but when pressed I usually I come up with India. I find it challenging to summon the right words to explain what an amazing place it is and I really struggle to be brief. So I’m going to write separate blogs for each place we visited. And out of the twelve countries we managed to include in our RTW trip, India is the one I feel an overwhelming urge to return to ASAP. Even if it made me cry on many, many occasions. Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned the food! Don’t worry, I will.