India – ahhh where to begin with you. Before arriving at the airport of Delhi, you know you are going to experience one of the most fascinating countries this wonderful world has to offer. I am doing the Rajasthan Explored tour and I have never been more excited to see a country that everyone had said to me “you’ll either love it or hate it”…but I know myself pretty well, and I knew I was going to fall totally in love with this massive country.
Before I set off, I was already warned about the positives and the negatives of visiting India. We have all heard of the “Delhi belly” phenomenon, well we tourists have many ways to combat that. Our guide, Beebol, shared some stories on the first night’s meeting about one guy would take showers with swimming goggles on and duct tape his mouth shut so no water gets in there! I know that is one way, but maybe too extreme for me. I am hoping the only thing my belly would suffer from (knock on wood as this is only Day 6) is too much laughter, as this is by far one of the funniest, most entertaining places I have ever seen. Another great thing I was told is that if I wanted to avoid that phenomenon that hits about 1 in 2 tourists, then I should go vegetarian and avoid meat at all costs. After my first couple of days, I knew this would not be a problem since this is a veg heaven! So far I have bought goggles (kidding), but in all seriousness, I am avoiding the water by buying 1L water ($0.20 USD), and use that also to brush my teeth. About veg-ing out, well Beebol insisted I try the chicken in Jaisalmer’s “El Trio”, so I tried a little bit and I am still alive (48 hrs later).
My flight from Toronto left on Thursday through Frankfurt and I finally arrived at DEL around 2:00 am. After getting some rupees out of the ATM, I got myself a police-run taxi to the hotel, finally arriving around 4:00 am. You want to know something? I have never in my life seen so much traffic towards a major city at 3:00 am! What are they doing? I am not joking when I say to you it was bumper to bumper for the entire 2+ hour journey. I finally got to the hotel and of course, I felt bad waking up the staff that were sleeping on the sofas. I wanted to get some zzz before my 1st day started, as now it is Saturday, 4:30 am Delhi time. After a nice chai tea, I set off on a taxi and I had a great day planned out. I am going to visit this fort, then drive south and see this museum, then definitely visit this temple and this one too…did I tell you where I was? Delhi is a big city and there was one factor I should have considered. Put it this way: if traffic was bad at 3:00am, what you think it might be around noon?
Getting to Old Delhi was a nightmare. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love exploring new places, but I just can’t understand how this city functions. First of all, they all drive on the wrong side of the road J (I am Canadian and I had to, sorry) and for what should be a two-lane street somehow turns into 4, and if you count the rickshaws and cyclotaxis, then maybe 5 (not to mention the fact that no one walks on the sidewalk/pavement). I could touch the car beside me while I am sitting in the back of my taxi! I finally arrived at my first stop, Jamir Jasmid (Mosque) and it was worth the hour drive. The actual mosque was very beautiful from the outside, and since I am developing an appreciation for architecture, it is needless to say the inside was stunning.
After visiting this mosque, my next move was to go to the famous Red Fort. Again, how’s my day going?
So an hour later, even though they are about 20 min walk from each other, I arrived at the Fort, saw it from the outside since I knew I wouldn’t have the necessary 2-3 hours to see it properly, but it was also a Saturday and it’s worse than a zoo in the capital of the second-most populated country in the world! Then from there, I decided being inside a car and being stuck in traffic was not y way to start my Indian experience, so I got dropped off at the Connaught Place, had a little bite to eat and then slowly made my way back to my hotel. I met the rest of the group and we all had a quiet night since some maybe be victims of jet lag or (cue the music) Delhi belly!
The next day we were off to Bikaner and we had a sleeper class train for the 7 ½ hr journey. It was a lot better than we expected…India + train = an unforgettable journey. Although you could definitely lie down and take a kip, you didn’t want to miss out on seeing something amazing along the ride. When I tell you that India is a pure assault on your senses, I mean it 100%! The sights never fall short of breathtaking, and as far as smells go, well they take your breath away too! The landscape varied but the common theme was dry, hot and sunny as we were heading west.
My Monday morning a week ago meant waking to up to -11 in snowy Edmonton, and a week later I am at a very peculiar place here in Bikaner. The Karni Mata temple is home to some 2000 holy rats that may carry the soul of the Karni Mata, which means when you walk inside (no shoes, socks are allowed) you will have to be very careful not to step on any of them and just admire how these little creatures are adored. They are fed milk, coconut shavings and the best thing is if you spot the white rat, it’s meant to bring you good luck. I guess I have to come back to Bikaner to spot it. The other great highlight here was the Junagarh Fort which blew me away on the every architectural aspect.
From there, we moved onto Jaisalmer, the “Golden City” and I was looking forward to seeing this amazing city but also our included Camel Safari. We had time to walk around in the morning and visit the very impressive Fort while zigzagging through the streets and its very tempting shops. There is nothing better than getting a chai tea ($0.20 USD), a samosa ($0.13 USD) and people watch around Gate 1 of the Fort, as you will see it all – cows, cops, rickshaws, camels and all with their corresponding smells and sounds. I just knew this would be a highlight for me and we still had another full day when we come back from the desert.
After a very nice lunch at “El Trio” (remember my chicken experience? Probably not the best timing), we packed up and were now heading to the desert for our overnight camel safari. We drove about an hour and then met our friends. Kalu is only 5 and he didn’t want any of me on him, but after feeding him a banana, we went for round 2 and off I went on top. We rode for about 90 minutes onto the beautiful sunset over the Thar Desert, some 30 km away from Pakistan.
After a very lovely dinner, we just sat back and enjoyed a chilly, quiet (finally!) night under the stars before heading into our tents capping off a very unique and memorable experience in India. We returned the next morning back to Jaisalmer, where after a well-deserved shower, I hit the city, explored the nearby sights, sipped on endless chai and indulged on delicacies that rhymed with “veg” or “no meat right?” There are no words to describe how magnifi-scent this city is and as a bonus, how safe and friendly the locals are towards us gora/gori (white male/female – kids yelled it at us all the time).
On Thursday morning, we boarded another local bus and this time we were heading to Jodhpur for two nights. The local bus ride was quite good since we managed to stop a couple of times for toilets and grab some more local snacks and we got here in about 6 hours. The rickshaw drive up to our beautiful hotel was fascinating, not to mention almost running into motorbikes and people.
After checking in, we went for a walk along to explore the “Blue City”. What a great place this is, you have very friendly people once again while you are trying not to get hit by a rickshaw on the narrow streets. Shops are tattooing the streets and there is no shortage of roof-top restaurants to gaze at the very massive Mehrangarh Fort. We got up this morning and trekked to the top, and it was one of most gorgeous buildings I have ever seen. We spent about two hours walking around, and the view of there is a great panoramic view of the city from above.
This is a great place to relax, catch up on laundry, walk around, shop for spices and teas and loads of souvenirs, and most of all, have a delicious meal while catching the sunset over the fort. Which reminds me, it’s time to go and do that right now! Stay tuned for Part 2 of this India blog as we head to Udaipur tomorrow and then follow the Golden Triangle capping it off with the majestic Taj Mahal next week.
About the Author: Tony is Sales & Marketing Executive for Tucan Travel. He has extensive experience tour leading in most of Tucan Travel’s most popular destinations. You can find him on Google+ or read his other contributions here.