Having discovered my passion for travel in my late teens and travelled extensively throughout my twenties, it was with great excitement that I boarded my flight to Delhi last November, keen to see what this new and mysterious country had to offer.
Like many travellers to India, I had done some research before I left (I had read Shantaram and watched Eat, Pray, Love) and felt totally prepared for everything that I was going to experience. What an idiot!!
The journey from the airport to the hotel was an exciting one, having gone straight to Heathrow from work the day before and definitely suffering from jet lag I had splashed out for a private air conditioned taxi. However, as we weaved in and out through the packed streets, there was so much going on everywhere that even in my extremely tired state I couldn’t sleep. People watching has always appealed to my nosey side and India has got to be one of the best places in the world to indulge in this voyeuristic past time as people live out their daily lives right there on the roadside in full view.
Having spent half an hour, familiarising myself with the ways of India, from my little air conditioned bubble, I finally arrived at my hotel and with much excitement I stepped out of the car.
That is when it hit me, it is hard to put in words but the best way to explain it is like all my senses where overwhelmed at once. The feel of the heat and the squelchy sensation as I stepped onto the road would have been manageable on its own, but coupled with the near deafening sounds of the city and a smell quite unlike any other I have ever experienced, I was left feeling quite light headed. I immediately blamed the jet lag and hurried into the hotel.
After a restless night listening to the sounds of the city, I woke up very early to take a train to Jaipur. The main train station is where many of the poorer people in the city bed down for the night, so getting there before 5am means making your way between the sleeping bodies to the right platform, it was here that I first experienced a new feeling that I haven’t ever felt before when travelling and it made me feel uneasy. It might have been the jet lag, it might have been the overwhelming smell of so many sleeping people in such a packed space, it could have been the fact that my train was over 30 mins late, or maybe I was just getting soft in my old age but for the first time when travelling, I was home sick and wondering if I had made the wrong choice in coming to India. My train eventually arrived and I boarded a dark carriage full of more sleeping bodies, found my bed and drifted off to sleep to the sounds of a young boy shouting “chai, chai” every 5 mins.
When I awoke the carriage had been transformed, it was no longer a dark and seemingly lifeless space, light poured in through the slated windows and the vibrancy of the colours on the clothes of the people all around really brought the carriage to life. From my top bunk view I could see several adults all sat together on a brightly coloured blanket on the floor of the carriage chatting animatedly, whilst 7 children were squashed onto one bunk bed playing some game that seemed to involve tickling and laughing with big bright smiles and khol eyes. One of the older kids caught my eye and egged on by the younger children said “Hello” in perfect English to the sniggers of the younger ones. My response of “Good morning” received twice as much laughter. At this point the oldest lady from the group of adults seated below, looked up and started talking to me. Not only did I not understand her but I didn’t even have a clue as to which of the many languages spoken in India she was speaking. Anyway, her meaning was clear, she was gesturing for me to join the other adults on the floor.
Somewhat nervously I got down from my bunk and was immediately followed by all 7 children. As I sat down I spotted a stack of silver tiffen boxes that were being opened. It was then that I realised I had been invited to eat with the family.
It was at that moment, squashed into a small carriage, sitting uncomfortably on the floor surrounded by the smiles of the children, that India won me over. I hadn’t yet experienced any of the great things my journey was to offer, my first sight of the Taj Mahal, my first Bollywood cinema experience, I hadn’t even tasted any of the great food on offer, or had my first cup of chai, but India had gotten under my skin and I knew right then, sitting on the floor of that train, that this trip would not be my last to this great country.
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About the Author: Jac is Sales & Marketing Manager for Tucan Travel. She has travelled extensively on Group Tours and independently to South and Central America, Asia, Australia and Africa. You can find her on Google+ or read her other contributions here.