DELHI > RISHIKESH > DELHI > VARANASI > AGRA > JAIPUR > BUNDI > MUMBAI > MANDREM > PANJIM > PALOLEM > GOKARNA > HAMPI > MYSORE > BANDIPUR > COIMBATORE > FORT KOCHI > ALLEPPEY > MUNNAR > KOCHI > PALOLEM > MUMBAI
We did it! We ‘survived’ India and even escaped a bout of the infamous Delhi belly. India is close to undefinable, but the best description would be a total sensory overload. Nothing can prepare you for the smells, confusion, shocking sights, startling efficiency and bonkers disorganisation, deafening street sounds and the explosion of colour. Nothing.
However, we had heard so many horror stories before we had stepped off the plane, that, not only were we prepared for all the scam methods, it just wasn’t as ‘bad’ as everyone said. Begging wasn’t as in-your-face as you’d expect, I’ve seen much worse toilets on the M4 motorway, we ate anything, everywhere and anywhere, yes, including meat and, apart from one morning of stomach cramps, we had zero illness, we loved being asked for our photo and no one tried to touch us up on the train.
Without a tiny whisper of a doubt, the highlight of India is the people, yes, the food is a very close second, but the people are the friendliest, craziest, silliest, kindest and hardest working-est people we have come across on our travels.
We absolutely loved it and are already talking about when we can go back. Here are some of our observations from the 75 days we spent in India:
PHLEGM: hocking up the contents of nose, throat and lungs occurs loudly and regularly. Particularly bad in the mornings.
NAMASTE: the beaming smile you often get when you say ‘Namaste’ to an older Indian lady that has been staring at you inquisitively.
THALI: different in every town, the best way to try lots of different curries, and they give you free refills. In the South, it is served on a banana leaf which you have to actually fold up to stop them piling on the food. Average price £1.00.
LIES: ask an Indian anything and he will give you the answer he thinks you want or the answer he can be bothered to give. eg: ME:Is that the Amber Fort (whilst pointing at Blue Fort)? THEM: Yes. OR, do you know where we can make international calls? THEM: No. ME: what about this place that you are sat outside of that has a sign saying international calls? THEM: No.
POO: staring wistfully out the train window as Indian countryside glides past only to spot a man crouching down doing a poo. This on repeat for much of Northern India.
1.21 BILLION: people. People everywhere. Personal space does not exist and queuing can be unpredictable with lots of pusher in-ers.
PANEER: Paneer. Paneer Masala. Paneer Kati Roll. Paneer Pakoras (or Pakodas as they call them). Paneer Tikka Kebab. Paneer with Paneer and some more Paneer on the side please.
WARM AND WELCOMING and so friendly. Indians are a chatty lot and, because the majority speak at least basic English, it is very easy to talk with people and find out a bit about their lives. Plus, they are super inquisitive and want to know everything about you too.
MONKEYS: more common in Northern India, they are pretty aggressive and freaking scary. However, when they do human-like stuff such as turning on a tap and drinking from it – that, THAT is amazing.
BEDS: oh the beds, the beds are awful. Thin mattresses are commonplace – well, not really a mattress, more of a 8cm thick piece of material.
MEN LOVE MEN: technically homosexuality is illegal in India, which is pretty ironic given how tactile men are with each other. Holding hands, stroking each others faces, leaning on each other. Guess that is what happens when you make public displays of affection between the sexes is taboo – you have to get your physical contact from somewhere. Mind you, the ladies aren’t at it…
WATER: geez, it’s not until you cannot drink tap water that you take for granted how brilliant clean drinking water is. I started dreaming of the day that I could brush my teeth without a warm and old bottle of mineral water.
BREAD: Naans, chappati, parartha, roti and puri all served hot and with optional delicious fillings or covered in butter and garlic. They are light, thin and not doughy like the squidgy ones we get at home. One naan will set you back 30p, 10p extra if you want garlic.
HOLY COW: if one thing defines India, it has to be this. Cows. Every where (apart from Mumbai). Seriously. Cows lying down in the fast lane on busy main roads, cows knocking at doors with their horns to get food, cows causing traffics jams down narrow lanes, cows, cows, cows.
CURRY: think you’ve tried them all? Nu ah. It’s impossible. My favourite was Kadhi Paneer, which is a spicy red sauce with tomatoes and red peppers. Mind you, the best bet was often just vegetable curry. One portion will set you back 80p. Add in a chappati, that’s a £1 for your dinner.
LIME SODA: is the national drink of India and costs 30p. Approx 1 whole lime goes into each glass which is almost enough for me, the lime enthusiast. Rubbish for Angela as she is allergic to citrus. I drank her quota.
MOPEDS: the transport o’choice for the modern Indian. Unlimited amounts of people allowed on at one time and tiny children actively encouraged to ride precariously perched on the back or on the handle bars and definitely with no helmet.
THE SUN: due to pollution, the sun turns into a big orange red ball at about 3pm every day. Very ‘end of days’ and very beautiful.
SHOPPING: This happens at least 27 times a day: “Hey madam, come see my shop, you look, you like, you buy.” Oh great, thanks for explaining the concept of shopping.
LOVELY JUBBLY: and other really old English sayings. Also popular is no worry, no hurry, chicken curry. Or, in Goa, fish curry.
BRITISH EMPIRE: the majority of the Indians we met were very complimentary about the British occupation. Weird. Initially we were a bit cautious about telling people where we were from but further conversations proved that they credited British with some of the things they love about India, which is basically the railways.
TRAINS: one of our favourite things about India. It really is just like a Palin documentary: you do meet amazing people, you can hang out of the open doors and the chai is the best in India.
DRIVING: like they want to kill you. Yup, it’s bad and we’ve seen some crappy driving in South America. If there is a car in front they must overtake. Even if the car is going normal speed, you are on a blind bend and there are five cars in front.
BREAKFAST: very nearly became my favourite meal. Particularly in Southern India where Masala Dosas are involved. Paper thin pancake things wrapped around spicy potatoes and onion and served with sambar, a spicy and sour curry, and coconut chutney. Add a masala chai into the mix and that’s a dream breakfast right there.
PRINCE LENIN: an actual person we met on a train from Dehli to Varanasi. He is a lawyer who devotes his time and money to taking cases against the state, basically the Indian Erin Brokovich, and he has been quoted in The Independent. Hero.
MASALA CHAI: chai, lovely chai. Controversial, I know, but Indian tea is better than English. Hot, milky, sweet and spicy, it is served in small glasses or paper cups. The best chai is from the chai wallas on the trains and costs between 10 – 20p.
BUSES: see above about driving and then add in rickety old bus with no suspension and from the sounds of it no break pads either. Also, seats are scarce and when available require squeezing three people into a two person seat. Well, mind you, Indians are much smaller and thinner than us Westerners, so probably is a three-seater for them…
HOLY MEN: the dudes with the long beards, hair and dressed in orange are men who have renounced their worldly life, said goodbye to both their possessions and their families, and now lead a life of celibacy, ascetic yoga, and a search for enlightenment. Except the ones that are actually criminals on the run…. Also, Indians swear that Sadhus never ask for money, but almost every Sadhu we saw held his hand out for money.
TOILETS: not as bad as we thought they’d be. More Western crappers than expected too. Sure, there were some shockers, particularly at train stations, but not the horror show we had imagined.
HONK YOUR HORN: In India you beep your horn to let the driver in front know you are there. It’s almost like the rules on ski slopes – you basically only have to worry about what’s in front. There are a lot of cars and there is a lot of mental driving manoeuvres, ergo a lot of horns honking. In Delhi, when we were fresh off the plane, it was overwhelming to the point of exhaustion.
RUBBISH: everywhere. This has got to be the most shocking part of life in India. Refuse collection is almost non-existent, bins are a rare site and the sun heats it all up to nice stinky levels. Seemingly a community agrees to all dump it in one area, at the end of the road or a random corner somewhere. Mind you, people drop litter everywhere. Once on a train, Angela asked the train guard where we should put our thali trays and he simply opened the door and flung them out.
CLEAN: means something different in India. There is a lot of washing, rinsing, sluicing but not much scrubbing.
YOGA: despite it being absolutely everywhere, Angela and I managed to get to just two classes in two and a half months.