Adventures in India, Part 1

It’s been a long time since I wrote about anything on this blog. I don’t think I’ll realistically catch up on everything, but one trip that I want to record is India. These so-called adventures (normal trip to India) took place in April. This is going to be in two parts, because there’s so much to say.

We spent about 2 weeks in northern India – starting in Amritsar, then moving on to New Delhi, Rishikesh and Agra, before finishing up in Jaipur. If you don’t feel like reading on I can summarise with the following: India was hot, chaotic, fascinating and a vegetarian’s dream. Oh and it’s true that there are cows everywhere. I was also asked some interesting questions like, “are those your original eyes?” For anyone else wondering, they are.

Amritsar (Punjab)

This was my first taste of India, and oh what a taste it was! Speaking literally, the food was fantastic here. Speaking culturally, I can only describe it as a shock. In fact, I would say the entire experience of India was a culture shock like no other for me.

When we first arrived, I was struck by the number of stray dogs roaming the streets, the madness of the roads, the noise, the dirt and encountering some very poor people living on the streets. These are the things that shocked me and which I had never seen to such an extent before.

Getting Indian SIM cards was an ordeal and a half, but aside from the SIM cards which we eventually got, the process also involved a guy taking these delightful mugshots of us after about 4 hours of scurrying around in the dusty heat trying to understand literally anything.

Mugshots2.jpg

But it was definitely not all negative. In fact, Amritsar was probably my favourite place in India. We stayed in an Airbnb with a lovely couple who served us fresh aloo paratha (basically potato bread with some spices) each morning with some chutneys and yoghurt, arranged a driver to take us to main sights in the surrounding area and generally treated us very kindly. I really loved the food here. One of the local specialities is makhani dahl (black lentil dahl) which is now a favourite Indian dish of mine!

Amritsar is an old city. I saw no high rise or modern looking buildings at all. There was nothing familiar to me in any sense, but after the initial shock and feeling of being overwhelmed, I really appreciated the history and culture here.

The highlight was the Golden Temple, which is the most important temple in the Sikh religion. A close second was the Partition Museum, which was really interesting and well presented. We had a local driver arranged by our hosts who took us around the main places of interest, and as a Sikh himself he was a great companion at the temple and made sure we behaved ourselves and saw everything! Although we still had a language barrier, I would definitely recommend having a local driver or guide, as getting around in India alone as foreigners can be quite difficult and intimidating.

 

Another unexpected highlight was going to the India-Pakistan border from Amritsar. I don’t believe the India-Pakistan border is generally a safe place to be, but this one part called Attari-Wagah is fine. They conduct a ceremony there every night, which involves military displays on either side and then very briefly opening the gates between the two. The most surprising part of this was the build up. It was, like so many things in India, insane. Speakers blaring out what I would describe as Bollywood style music (although I’m no expert), the crowds going absolutely wild with India flags waving and painted on their faces, and just general mayhem, in a very joyous energetic way. At one point the main area between the viewing stands was cleared for women and children to come down and have a big raucous dance. Of course I joined in and it was such a funny happy experience, all the gals dancing together away from those pesky men for a change. Then the ceremony itself was fascinating. We couldn’t see too clearly on the Pakistan side but the uniforms and the style of marching etc. seemed very similar. The main difference I could see in the crowds was that the India side was extremely colourful and rowdy, whereas the Pakistan side appeared a bit more subdued.

 

Chandigarh (Haryana) & New Delhi

From Amritsar we took a bus (again with the help of our hosts) to Chandigarh, which was the most modern and “familiar” feeling city we visited in India. We only spent one night here to go to a cricket match, my first ever! It was actually pretty fun, the Indian fans were so full of joy and energy, I didn’t have to understand the game too much to enjoy myself.

From Chandigarh to New Delhi, where we met friends to celebrate their wedding. We had limited time here and the only thing we really did was attend the Mehndi ceremony for the wedding, which is when the bride and the female guests get their henna designs for the big day. The bride had the most intricate designs on her hands, arms, legs and feet, and the rest of us had some on our hands and wrists only. I absolutely loved this, as you can see from my excited little face and the number of photos I took of my own hands. (Also check out my gorgeous outfit, made to measure in Little India, KL!)

 

Rishikesh (Uttarakhand)

The wedding itself took place in Rishikesh. The Indian airline we were meant to fly with went bust the day before, so we took a 7 hour taxi instead. We took several inter-city taxis in India and they were all ridiculous experiences. They were very cheap for the distances and length of time the journeys took, but the driving in India is truly outrageous. There seems to be no concept of lanes, lots of horn-tooting, and the main tactic to avoid collisions with other vehicles is to SPEED UP and dodge. Still traumatised.

The wedding itself was extremely colourful, beautiful and fun. It was unlike any wedding I’ve ever attended. The groom entered on horse and cart, following a parade of dancers (including yours truly) down the street with a live band. There was no alcohol and honestly it didn’t matter. And finally, the food was all vegetarian and was bloody delicious.

 

Aside from the wedding, Rishikesh was actually a disappointment for me. I found it really dirty, noisy and crazily busy. Cows with big horns roamed small winding streets, in what I considered to be a menacing fashion. It was a very stressful place to be. This is the alleged birthplace of yoga. At the very least, it’s a big hub for yoga lovers and teachers, even if its not the birthplace. And while it’s a naturally beautiful place, I just didn’t get any of the secluded peace you might expect to find there. I didn’t look terribly hard, to be fair, but I was honestly pleased to get out of Rishikesh after a few days of the mayhem.

We also went to the famous ceremony along the Ganges which ends with everyone lighting little baskets of flowers on fire and setting them into the river, but bizarrely I don’t seem to have photos of that. Must have been having a spiritual moment or anxiously avoiding some cows. But here’s a view of the Ganges taken from a small hike we did into the foothills of Himalayas.

Rishikesh Ganges.jpg

I also got some great pictures of the monkeys who invaded our balcony too.

 

 

That’s all for now. Adventures in India, Part 2 (featuring Agra and Jaipur) coming soon to a blog* near you!

 

*this one.

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