It took very little persuasion from my friends for me to book a flight to India, so we drove to York and that’s exactly what we did. I came home, my cat hated me, he knew I was abandoning him for three weeks. After a series of unfortunate events – i.e Us leaving our VISA bookings until the absolute last minute then nicknaming the situation VisaGate due to the unwarranted stress it caused – everything was booked and we were ready to go!
We were given an idea on what to expect upon arriving in Delhi and I dismissed the ‘assault on your senses’ as metaphorical drivel – until we arrived. Sweat beads dripped from our faces, we would’ve faired better in the sauna at our local swimming pool. The humidity was unbearable and I genuinely thought I might die from drowning whilst breathing the air. The taxi ride from the airport to Paharganj where we were staying, was an eye opener. The lanes on the motorways meant nothing and the desperate poverty slapped you in the face. There was no getting away from the endless men, women, children and babies lining the motorways and roads into Delhi, sleeping on the dusty streets. It shocked me into silence and there wasn’t very much said during the journey.
Arriving in Paharganj was another shock. Obviously as an animal lover I was delighted to see the huge cows roaming the streets, chilling and just being generally sacred. The stray dogs on the other hand, didn’t make me too happy. They looked happy enough themselves and looked like they were being fed but it’s hard to get away from the western idea of ‘homeless dogs.’ I realised my outlook on this had to change if I wasn’t to spend every day of the trip feeding stray animals and crying because I can’t take them home.
The smell was the most shocking part. Deliciously disgusting. Beautiful, aromatic, dirty and vile. Huge piles of incense tried to cover the stink of the filth and the urinals. My sense of smell was definitely assaulted in Delhi. The emotional rollercoaster began on the first day; a dead puppy. Casually strolling through Connaught Place, trying to deal with the heat, we walked around the corner and there was a poor dog who had given birth to a large litter of puppies in the middle of a busy footpath. The runt had died. It was the shock more than anything but I became a hysterical blubbering mess. Of course everyone was staring at us anyway because we were white tourists but this was only an introduction to how much we’d be stared at.
Delhi was an amazing place. It’s true what people say about the love, hate relationship you might have with it. I unwittingly walked into a mosque with my shoes on, was shouted at by a Muslim man – him putting his hand on my head I later found out was a huge insult – he had obviously cursed me because I hit my head on a low gate way five minutes later. I hated Delhi that day. I hated it and wanted to leave. Nikki Graeme had nothing on me that day.
The rest of the time, I loved Delhi. I didn’t realise until we went back after the trip for our last days there, but I did love it. Janta Mantar, used for astrology, the bazaar’s, the elephant who casually strolled by and all of the other sights truly were amazing. This was our first taste of our new found celebrity status. People asking for photos with us – we were later told this was because they were Indian tourists perhaps from smaller villages and probably hadn’t seen white people before. Of course with my pasty English Rose skin and Aaron’s blonde locks, they went crazy. Agra was the next stop, monkeys, camels, babysitting (not out of choice) someone’s 10 month old child at Agra Fort, having another million photos taken with us and oh yeah, the Taj Mahal. The latter was definitely worth the 5am wake up call. Hayley read the story of the Maharaja who had it built for his wife who he adored, who had unfortunately passed away. I, of course, ever the cynic, looked past the romance and saw the fact that she was his ‘favourite wife,’ not his only wife. I don’t buy it, tradition or not. We marvelled at its magnificence. It seems cliché but it’s true! It genuinely was like nothing we had ever seen before.
A trip to one of the local pools was erm… eye opening. Hayley; ‘Awwww look, that little boy is waving at us.’ So we all wave back. He stood there for a good 15 minutes, making us feel quite uncomfortable, then of course he began to masturbate and whack his teenaged cock out to us. It wasn’t the ideal situation so we hid against the wall in the swimming pool and waited for him to leave. That must’ve been the reason behind the pool timetable which separated foreign tourists from Indian people, that I had been so appalled by earlier in the day.
Jaipur was the next stop. Jaipur meant illness and a few days of reading, sleeping and a few days of believing I was about to die. (This became the general feeling for myself and Hayley throughout the trip and afterwards, but, we ploughed on!) The palace of the winds was beautiful, beautiful architecture, beautiful art, beautiful sandstone, just the epitome of Indian-ness. There were many other sights in Jaipur – The Pink City and the capital of Rajasthan – but the most interesting part was the nephew of the hotel owner, who was a definite friend of Dorothy. We stayed up late every night on the balcony, listening to his elaborate stories about foreign tourists and the Indian Caste system. He turned out to be a weirdo but he gave us a good insight! We named his three cows after ourselves, of course.
Next stop, Pushkar. My absolute favourite place in India. Stunning, picturesque landscapes, glittering lakes with mountains alongside. If anywhere was the image of India that I was expecting, it was Pushkar. Quiet, peaceful, friendly and happy. The people were genuinely happy to see us, rather than pestering us into buying something from them, getting us in their rickshaws or trying to con us into some sort of ‘guided tour.’ We were welcomed and took a few days to relax and replenish. The hotel – The Milkman – had a few levels, one of which was a lovely little restaurant with floor Chinese-style seating, friendly staff and a chilled vibe. The music at times was questionable, we definitely felt like we were in a bad porno at times, but it was just so peaceful. We spent every evening down there, reading, taking, getting to know the staff and the family who ran the hostel, drinking lemon and ginger tea and smoking too many cigarettes. Our trip to another swimming pool caused a bit of a stir among the men stood on the hotel balcony. Well… I wouldn’t be much of a feminist if I hadn’t taken the opportunity to sunbathe topless. Screw the patriarchy! The down side to Pushkar was undoubtedly the animal welfare. A man received a torrent of abuse after stacking his donkey (definitely not a euphemism) with so many bricks the poor thing was shaking under the pressure. I made sure he understood my point and swore at him enthusiastically, telling him his Gods would undoubtedly send him to hell for abusing the poor little thing. I could’ve probably been shot, or stabbed, or both. I am woman, hear me roar!
The next place was Udaipur. The rooftop restaurant was unbelievable, fantastic views along the lakeside, including a view of the City Palace. Again, however, illness struck one of us, making our escapades limited. Leaving Udaipur was particularly eventful. A twelve hour sleeper train. It’s hard to describe what it looked like, but here’s an attempt. Our section of the coach was around a quarter of the size of a train coach on say, an East Coast Trains journey. There were two (approx 3 seater) benches facing each other and another long ways at the end, with the aisle inbetween. When it was time to sleep, we realised – to my dismay – that the backrest of the bench pulled up to be a second bed, on both sides and there were third beds on both sides even higher still. The top and middle beds were held up by chains and you had to wriggle like a snake to get in, whilst balancing on a partly built metal ladder attached to the end. The space between the beds was so little that you couldn’t sit up and the aisle inbetween the rows of beds was less than arm length. It was pretty cramped to say the least. I nearly fell out of the bed a good few times as the train stopped at different stations. It was not much of a laugh. We were fairly lucky to have non-staring, non-Indian people in our ‘compartment.’ An Israeli couple we conversed with all night were particularly informative about the Israel/Palestine war and gave us a whole new – personal – perspective on the crisis. Sounds boring, yes, but we were all pretty enthusiastic about politics.
By the time we arrived back in Delhi, I hadn’t slept at all and I was ready to drop dead. Feeling filthy, sleepy and exhausted, we headed back to the hostel in which we started. Good old Parhaganj – which I now appreciated massively as a pretty authentic Indian part of Delhi. The rest consisted of shopping for gifts and trinkets, sleeping, then boarding two flights with a German Under 18s football team of purely Aryan descent and eating rubbish European food in Munich airport. They did have a smoking lounge though so I could forgive the bad food. Despite ending up in hospital and being told I might have had malaria, I think I’ll definitely be going back at some point.
Home sweet home!