India roundup.

Yes, I know this is a bit late. It’s nearly a month since I left India, and how time has flown. So sorry. I’ll try to keep up more. It’s only because China blocked my blog. Honest.

Well. What can I say about India. The India tourism people use the tagline Incredible India. Do I agree? Hell YES.

Incredible.

I had the most amazing month there. When I first got to India everyone said a month wasn’t very long to spend there. But at that time it seemed a really, really long time to me. Well, now I know what they meant. It isn’t a long time. It’s a very short time. I didn’t really touch the surface, let alone scratch it. You could spend years exploring India. I guess it depends what you want to do there. I spent a month doing a mixture of seeing different sights, meeting different people and experiencing a whole range of different things. I think you’d class it as slow travel, as I only actually stayed in 4 different places. But, I didn’t want to be dashing from one place to another. I found I liked to stay in a place for a while to experience it; get a feel for it.

So, it’s safe to say I really enjoyed my time in India. There was something about the place that captured my heart and soul. It was a truly fascinating experience, and now, looking back, it seemed to go so quick. I had a huge range of experiences; done things that I never would have dreamt I would do, and experienced things I never would have if I had stayed in the UK and carried on my life as I was. I’ve seen and learnt so much, if I was to try and write down everything I wouldn’t know where to start. So, I’ll make an attempt to do a bit of an India roundup on some of the highlights and ‘special’ moments. There were lots, and I’ve probably forgotten some that will probably come back to me when I hear, see or smell something years from now.

  • Seeing the Taj Mahal. It’s probably the most beautiful building I have ever seen. I will never forget that first glimpse of it through the gatehouse building, it was like it wasn’t real. I’d seen so many pictures but to see it in real life was just something else.

  • Spending ten days in silence. Thinking back, I’m not quite sure how I managed this. But I did, and I will always remember the thought of it being harder than the actual doing of it. But it was one of the best 10 days of my life. I learnt so much, I got a glimpse of what goes on inside my head and took a break from life for a short while to just stop and look around for a bit.

  • Learning about Buddhism. I knew nothing about this religion before coming to India. Surprising really, as it’s probaby the only religion that is close to how I want to live my life, and some of my core values and morals. So to spend time learning about it was fascinating, and made me realise I’d not done any learning for a while. It was good to get my brain in gear for a bit.

  • The food. Oh, the food. Curry for breakfast, lunch and dinner if I wanted. It was goooood. I got to try all sorts of stuff; proper home cooked Indian food, hot curry in Delhi, traditional tibetan momos cooked all ways, porridge with banana and honey, paneer in everything, meals on wheels on the train and more types of Indian bread than you could shake a stick at. Throughout my whole month, there wasn’t even one thing that I tried that I didn’t like. And I never got Delhi belly. Win.

  • Staying with a local family. I got to experience real Indian life. Real Indian food, TV, conversation, toilets, showers. I learnt about their religion and beliefs, traditional family life and how to make a mean dahl.

  • Hiking in the foothills of the Himalayas. The mountains in the places I visited (apart from Delhi) were all himalayan ranges, and I made efforts to go walking and hiking as much as I could. My best memory was the walk Vicki, Anne and I took in Mcleodganj. Not only did I meet two amazing, interesting people who I hope I will see again someday, but we got to see a beautiful waterfall after a little steep walk up a mountain. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a day, although the monsoon rain we got caught in just before we reached Dharamkot could have done one.

  • Heat and humidity. Ok, yes, I know part of the reason I came travelling is for a bit of sunshine. But, not 35+ degree heat. And not humidity. I didn’t realise how humid it would be in Delhi, and I really didn’t like it. Thank god for air conditioning! It’s making me appreciate the weather in England. Those few days in the summer that are a bit hot and stuffy, they’re nothing like here. I’ll certainly think before moaning in future.

  • Monsoon rain. Yep, I visited India in the monsoon season. I had to; it’s the only time it fitted in with the rest of my plans. But, it wasn’t so bad. It’s not like it rained non-stop – it was only ever a couple of hours at a time. And it was quite pretty when I was at the retreat centre as I wasn’t going anywhere anyway. And with monsoon season comes some amazing thunderstorms and so much lightening. Like a free firework display, love it. Getting caught in it after the hike to the waterfall wasn’t cool though, we got absolutely drenched. Like drowned rats. Hats off to my Berghaus jacket though – I was dry on my top half underneath, which, considering the rest of me, was a small victory.

  • Being stared at. This is not normal for me and I found it very strange. Sometimes it got a bit wearing. Sometimes I felt like I had two heads. Sometimes I had to check I a) hadn’t got something on my face or b) wasn’t exposing myself unintentionally.

  • People wanting their picture taken with me. This happened A LOT at the Taj Mahal. Sometimes people would just sit down on the bench next to me and start snapping away. Mostly they would ask though. Some people wanted pictures shaking hands, some just stood or sat next to me. Or they’d shove their children towards me. I felt like a celebrity, but I am still bewildered about why they would want their picture with me. A red-faced sweaty tourist? I ended up sitting next to one guy who had his picture took with me on the train on the way back from the Taj Mahal, and we chatted for a couple of hours. I asked him why, his english wasn’t great but he said something along the lines of that they don’t see a lot of Westerners, and of those that were there, I was beautiful, and so worthy of a picture. Not sure if this is actually true or whether he was just trying to be sweet. Either way, I’m still not sure I get it.

  • Scammers. All the scammers. Oh, there’s loads. Especially in Delhi. You have to constantly be on your guard, and think about people’s motivations, and remember that to a lot of people you are just a walking wallet. This is a shame really, but it’s just the way it is here. Luckily I didn’t get scammed; I had read up beforehand and generally have a feel for what’s right and what’s a bit dodgy.

  • Missing my onward flight to China. Yeah. This was a bummer. I’d underspent in India, which was great I thought, more money to go towards China where I’d booked a tour and so overspent already. But no, that underspend (and more) went on booking a new ticket to China because I managed to read my ticket wrong. I’ll not make that mistake again. Hopefully.

  • Toilets. Hmm lots of different toilet experiences. No Delhi belly, not that kind of experience. Ok, so 1) squat toilets, some good, some bad. Tip: don’t go to a squat toilet in bare feet while drunk. Yep, I pissed on my feet. And god knows what I might have stood in. I blame the Kingfisher Strong beer that night. Good job for taps in toilets in India. And always carry toilet paper with you. Handy for all sorts. 2) I stood in a cow pat in my flip flops once. Tip: always look at what’s on the ground in front of you; those cows get everywhere. 3) Once I had to make an emergency toilet stop in the woods half way through a run. Large Asian plant leaves make good toilet paper. Luckily it wasn’t a poisonous one. 4) When somewhere says don’t put toilet paper down the toilet, you really shouldn’t. Not me, but someone at the retreat did. It blocks the toilet. Not pleasant.

  • Having some downtime in Manali. I spent a week not doing a lot. In a way I felt I should be, but in another way it was nice to have a bit of a break. I needed it. I read a lot, went on walks, ran, ate and slept. I’ve not done that for ages, and after all the hectic planning of the last few months, the teaching in Zambia I needed a bit of downtime. Like a holiday. Ok, I know I’m technically ‘on holiday’ but travelling isn’t quite a holiday. Certainly not in India. It’s busy, can be stressful, you have to figure out where to be and when and how and everything is new. Constantly looking at maps and trying to find out how to do stuff.

  • The scenery. It’s just been amazing. Mountains, forests, rivers and lots of trees. I do like a good landscape, a mountain here and there and green stuff. I grew up in the countryside so although I love cities, I think I love natural stuff more. And India has had loads of it. Ok, so some of it gets ruined by the amount of litter or electric cables or water pipes but that’s just what it’s like here.

  • Meeting all kinds of different people. I’ve met loads of people. All sorts, from all different backgrounds, all doing different things and on different journeys. Everyone has a story to tell, and some people I’ve met so far have just fascinating ones. I’ve made some new friends, I’ve shared meals and drinks with people that I’ll never see again and don’t even know their name. I’m amazed by the kindness of people, and grateful for the help I’ve been given, and pleased I’ve had a chance to help people myself. The traveller community is a diverse, multi cultural melting pot and now I’m part of it.

  • Travelling in different ways. I’ve been on trains in sleeper class and chair class, local buses, private buses, mini buses, my feet, rick shaws and more. All while carrying around everything I have in just a backpack. Which is still heavy. I’m getting used to chucking it on and off though, and am a dab hand at getting in a rickshaw without taking it off (there’s a bit of skillful negotiation needed to get the bag and my body through the gap between the roof, the curtain and the chassis). The buses are just scary but fun, the roads are crowded and busy, the trains are efficient and serve good food and my feet still keep on taking me places.

Like I said, I’m sure there’s loads more but that’s off the top of my head. India was incredible, and I’m pretty sure I’ll be back someday. It’s a huge country and there’s so much more to see and explore. And it’s so cheap. Where else can you get a bed for the night for £1.25? Or a meal out for £2.00?

I’m getting used to travelling without having anything booked or arranged. This isn’t normal for me; usually when I only have a couple of days or weeks I want to make the most of it and so usually have most things booked and planned, but I’ve quite enjoyed the freedom of no real plans and just seeing what will happen. I’ve enjoyed spending time in a place and just experiencing it for a bit, not going from sight to sight. I suspect other places in India have more of this, but where I went that wasn’t the case, it was all about the experiences.

And experience it I did.

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