When we started to plan our trip around India, we decided to initially spend a few days in Delhi at the start, mainly in order to acclimatise. Yes, acclimatise to the humid heat that the monsoon season brings, but also a few days to acclimatise to India and the aspects of travelling as a westerner here that hit you right in the face.
Acclimatise to the fact that no matter how well planned or hopeful you are, not everything will run to plan or expectations. Our first moment of truth here was when we arrived at our hotel, jet lagged and tired, to find they had no knowledge of our 2 month-ago booking (although in fairness, they sorted it out no issue).
Acclimatise to the fact that, particularly as a glaringly obvious tourist, you will be the target of every scam imaginable. We just had to accept that we would fall for a few, and just make sure we didn’t fall for this big ones. These happen from the moment you walk out of arrivals at the airport and try to get into the city. The “official” transfer company will simply quote whatever they think they can get – for us they quoted €35, but simply go to the taxi police cubicle (literally 2 metres away) and we paid €6. And no, your hotel has not closed for the weekend, no matter what anyone at the airport says.
Acclimatise to the fact India (for us at least) is a major culture shock. It has been very challenging at times – such as the extreme poverty you see. It has been very rewarding – such as trying out all the different street foods to test the spiciness limits of our taste buds.
But a few days of acclimatisation and we realised why we wanted to come here and were excited for our 6 week trip ahead!
We stayed in the Karol Bagh district of Delhi which is a large market area. It was full of street food stalls selling everything from samosas, momos, chai to kebabs and pasta (? – not sure why but he was doing an amazing trade as well). Lots of stall owners shouting to get your attention.
“Mister – let me help me spend your money!”, was a common one.
Giles thinking : “I’ve been with him for 15 years and I can’t get him to spend his money so I don’t think you are”.
During our time in Delhi, we explored all the must see sights such as Old Delhi, Humayun’s Tomb, India Gate and Lodhi Gardens. On more than a couple of occasions, Indian couples and groups asked if they could take a photo with us. At first, I thought maybe my brother is right and people are thinking The Proclaimers are on tour in India, but then I realised that it was probably the sight of two sweaty mess foreigners that had them laugh – either way, at least someone is getting a smile from our funny faces somewhere in India.
As we wanted to see as much of India as possible in a short-ish time, we booked a basic package with Intrepid Travel which basically includes transport, accommodation and a couple of walking tours in different places. The advantage of this is that whilst everything is planned we can do as we want in each place, including food and activities. There is only one other person on this 6 week trip – and she just happens to come from Cork and knows all of our favourite pubs in the city.
Our next stop was Jaisalmer, a city in the far west of Rajasthan in the Thar Desert. This was the journey I was probably most anxious about – 19 hours by train, in a 3rd class (albeit air conditioned) sleeper carriage. Beds are 3 on top of each other. I got very lucky and got a bottom by a window with plenty of space. Giles didn’t get lucky and got the top with no space to do anything other than lie there. Cue plenty of moans from Giles (still going on…) but plenty of hilarity at him trying to get his legs up as elegantly as possible but failing a lot. The train was delayed by 3-4 hours, but we got there eventually (desperately needing a wee as after 35 degrees heat and 22 hours, there was no way in any universe I could go near that toilet). A few more train journeys ahead, but the longest out the way!
Jaisalmer is a beautiful city with a “living fort” where lots of people live and work. The fort is made out of sand stone and is centuries old.
We were told that one of the best places to take some good pictures of the fort is from a nearby lake, so early morning we decided to take a walk here. Being very early, there were not many people around but a lot of cows eating scraps from the ground and bins. Unfortunately, Giles startled one as it was eating and it didn’t seem very happy as it made quite an angry charge at Giles. To be honest, I have never seen him move so fast but it did mean that we both ran in opposite directions. Being scared I was going to be skewered, Giles had to direct me over to phone as to avoid the cow. Needless to say, we will be a little wary of these “peaceful” creatures now.
And whoever said that the pictures of the fort from the lake was worthwhile wasn’t telling the truth, so the near skewering was for nothing anyway.
By far the highlight of our first week in India has been the opportunity to sleep overnight in the desert, literally under the stars. We had to ride a camel to the campsite. At first glance at the camel options, I knew the one I wanted and the one I didn’t. And obviously, Giles gets the former and I get the latter.
My camel just didn’t seem to like the other one beside him and made it known. Grumpy noises. Trying to get away from the other. Not wanting to sit down to let me off. In truth, it was an amazing way to see the desert even with sore bottoms now.
Watching the sunset over the desert was a truly amazing experience, and what was also amazing was being able to get a 4G signal in the desert – so we gave our Mum and Dads a video call so they could see it as well. I may be 4,000 miles away, but ever the thoughtful son!
Next stops – Jodhpur, Udaipur and Pushkar!