New Delhi > Agra > Varanasi > Kolcutta
1 August 2004
Expect the unexpected. If you have'nt travelled before, then this is not the best place to start as this is one of the toughest countries for any traveller. For me, this was my first travel abroad so India was quite a culture shock. Constant power cuts, consistent touts, this will inevitably turn you into a tough traveller. Put aside all these annoyances, you'll soon realise the rewards for this visit. Our first stop was New Delhi, this was not a welcoming experience. I was just so scared all through my journey. We had got on a auto rickshaw (old worn taxis) and it had basically taken us for a ride, as with many other rickshaws to come. The airport is quite far away from the city so it was one long, hot and hectic journey. Whenever the car stopped, like say for a roundabout, or even petrol. There were children running up to us or even mothers with babies... begging for money, which we've been warned not to. Fueling up on the petrol station was no laughing matter, we were told to get out of our car, and it seemed suspicious as the driver was talking to other drivers and they seemed to look at us a few times making us more than ever paranoid. Thank god Suzan was there with me! Eventually we were in the city, vehicles and humans go in all directions, roads are small and littered with rubbish. There are no street signs. It simply is another world. There are lots of markets, all fighting for your business, it could sometimes get out of hand! I could remember a particular moment when we were buying some bangles for our friends back home, we bargained hard and eventually got a very good deal... but it was all to be broken as my travel rugsack was as bulk as anything. Indian food is tasty, however, hygene is very bad so you have to look very hard... our advice was to look for a packed/busy restaurant. Alot of the times, we were ill after our meal! Some dangerous experiences included a time when a teacher (supposedly) was trying to help us to find Connaught Square, India's central park/shopping district. We were very well fooled by his charm, he spoke good English and said he had a good background, we wanted to get intouch with the locals so we were just chatting away. He got us a map (which he might have got commission) as they tried to sell us something aswell. Then as we felt uncomfortable with him, we asked for a taxi. He stopped one for us, and then he jumped in with us and was talking to the taxi driver. Panicking, as you would, we demanded the driver to stop, but he kept going for abitm but he stopped for us. We got out, and ran... only then to be shouted abuse at by the 'nice Indian teacher'. Suz was shocked by the lack of trust and this had probably dampened her view. We met alot of travellers, we made friends with quite a few as some travellers also found it difficult. Felecity is an English friend we made in India, she travelled alone but she decided she'll be better off travelling with us. She was fun and kept us in good company. Made travelling on those long, old, night trains alot safer. Our next destination was Agra, where it was alot calmer suprisingly considering it is the home town of the Taj Mahal. The countries glorious diversity means there's an astonishing array of sacred sites. No visit is complete without spending a whole day at the magnificent Taj Mahal. We went inside, every holy building we went to in South East Asia imposed strict rules, such as no low tops (you can't show much flesh), shoes must be taken off... so we took our shoes off, when walking of the Taj Mahal our feet were burning by the marble as it was heated up by the strong sun. Inside was calm and busy but alot smaller than we thought. There were stairs to the basement where the it thought the lovers were buried, everyone was trying to get in closer to take photos but that is fully cordened off, with not so good gates. Funny though cos we were charged like 700/800% more than the locals! We later sat outside with alot of other Indian families, I had a wonderful time and felt that we could interact with them. There were lots of families. They make this into a family occassion, and so it should be as I've never seem anything as impressive as this. We were asked alot to be taken photos with - kinda felt like a Bollywood star! Children were in lovely turbans, I managed to take some nice photos of them (with permission from the parents), people were nice and enjoying themselves. Agra was quite an experience, we got on a cycle rickshaw, in which we helped the kid who was cycling by visiting some of the shops he recommended (for every shop we visited, he gets commission). At one point a shopped we entered decided to draw the curtains so we demanded them to be open and make a quick dash back to the cyclist, from then on, we decided enough was enough. There are alot of scary stories, including the famous one about an internet shop (across our guesthouse) which scams its customers, readers of the Lonely Planet will know to avoid this. Infact, nearly all the travellers carry this guidebook and we deeply recommend it. It's a lifesaver. There have been plenty of times we've been lied at - it's pretty hard to find who to trust. Next long overnight train stop was Varanassi - scared the living daylights of everybody! Our rickshaw driver decided to take us for a ride - we were used to them by then. He kept taking us to different hotels or even 'fake' hotels! The town was very dirty, I remember one horrible experience when I was ill and I need to use the toilets... need I say more. This is where the body of the dead can be cast into the holy river for a watery burial on the Ganges. We saw this happening and it was quite an experience. I never seen anything like it. There were actually people waiting to die. Please read the following quote from the Lonely Planet - "Varanasi is best known for its ghats - there are over 100 of the riverside structures. While most of the ghats are used for sacred bathing by pilgrims, it is the few burning ghats - easily accessible to visitors - that really grip the ghoulish. Burning ghats, such as the auspicious Manikarnika Ghat, are where the dead are cremated. First thing in the morning is the best time to observe the death rituals in Varanasi; the light is at its most striking, draping a honey glow across the buildings rising steeply from the river. In India death - like defecation - happens in public: funeral pyres are open to everyone, and there's little of the fear or squeamishness everpresent in Western funeral parlours. Little kids rummage through the ashes for valuables that the owners will no longer be needing, while only metres away the devout cleanse themselves in the (slightly ashy) waters of the Ganges." Last but not least was Kolcutta (Colcutta), a bustling conial city. This was very busy was suprisingly very relaxed. Our guesthouse was lovely, it was an old building and held lots of old artifacts. We had good food in the nearby restaurant where it was full of Japanese travellers. The city had lots of old and nice building. I went to the National Museum which was quite interesting, the building itself attracted me to it. However, like every other town or city we been to, the poverty remains very high. Families of all generations were living on the streets or railways stations. Pavements were often taken up by families as a place of refuge, you'll have to walk on the roads. Children, men and women often stopped you to beg for money, they would follow you for ages. As much as we'd do our best to donate, we have been warned not to as this may lead others to follow. It's harsh and we blame the government for this. There is a big divide from the rich and poor. India may sound daunting or even dangerous but it's a worthwhile travel and a real eye opener. You'll learn alot this country brings. Alot of humbling and fun memories.