Longer trips – India – the north

Taj Mahal Agra IndiaFollowing our (in retrospect, cruisy) trip to the south of India two years ago, hubby was keen to introduce me to the craziness of the north – the real India.

And I was prepared. I really was. But it still hits you hard.

India boasts a smell that accosts you the second you arrive and doesn’t quit until you get back on the plane – it’s all heat and spice and incense and garbage. Sometimes one trumps the others, sometimes it’s a heady mash-up all at once.

India is not for the faint hearted. Sure, you can travel with a higher budget; you can ensure your rooms are clean and you have all the mod cons of home. But as soon as you leave the comfort and safety of your hotel, expect real India to come rushing at you.

It’s dirty, there’s people everywhere, and the honking never ever stops. The poverty is almost inhumanely confronting, in fact almost everything is confronting. On the streets the hassling is like a broken record. Where you from? Why are you here? How long are you here? Can I have a selfie? Would you like to come and see my shop? Not everyone is selling something but it’s hard to distinguish the genuinely interested from the upstarts.

But India also boasts a beauty that contradicts its supposed ugliness and unrest.

You need to be willing to step out of your comfort zone and look beyond what’s on the surface. And what you discover is an entrancing country full of history, packed with friendly locals clad in all the colours of the rainbow, surrounded with a spiritual aura that when you let it, is humbling.

India Group travelWe travelled India the easy way, in a tour with a group and a tour leader who steered us along like ducklings. He made sure we never ate anything dubious, always carried what we needed, and knew what to do and what not to do… and when his back was turned… well that’s when I fed monkeys and patted dogs and got Delhi belly.

Our G Adventures tour began in Delhi and took us through the Rajasthan region. I can’t fault it. A tour is the ideal way to see India, especially when you want to pack as much as you can into a short space of time. Doing the same trip on your own would take months in India. While plenty of people speak perfect English, plenty don’t, and nothing ever seems simple or on time.

Cows on road in IndiaAnd boy did we pack it in. It seemed that every second day was a pre-sunrise wake up call. We were trekking up to temples and enduring long hours of bumpy roads and staring out the window enthralled with the sights of tiny villages and goats and waving children. Holy cows stand in droves, motionless on major highways, their unconcerned brown eyes surveying the traffic which crawls to a halt and carefully drives around.

We saw tigers! That’s right. Actual real live tigers at Ranthambore National Park. It was something I was hoping for, but not really expecting.*

The Taj Mahal at sunrise is something I will never forget. It was beyond doubt the pinnacle of our trip.

I loved Udaipur – with its small streets and picturesque lake which we cycled around at sunrise and boated on at sunset. I wanted to love Pushkar with its promise of quiet bustle and spiritual holiness, but all I got was an overabundance of stoned backpackers and underwhelming Indian food. Savitri Temple at sunrise and our breakfast afterwards was the town’s only saving grace.

Savitri temple sunriseJaipur was sheer madness, too big to traverse on foot; an endless network of packed streets. But we chilled out for an afternoon at an Indian cinema and enjoyed an epic rooftop dinner. The Amber Fort was another highlight; though falling down a flight of marble stairs out into a courtyard of surprised but concerned tourists was not my best moment.

The Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur, with its views out over the ‘blue city’ was spectacular. Jojowar, a tiny rural community, was a welcome break from the madness, and as we traversed the streets and tasted local street food we received plenty of attention, but it wasn’t unwanted; it was friendly and welcoming.

I could go on and on about it. In fact, I already have. And don’t worry, there’s plenty more blogs to come on this topic.

India Red Fort AgraOur trip to India was definitely a travelling adventure, rather than a relaxing holiday, something we had to recover from at the end. As much as I loved it and I was loath to leave the heat and spice and colour behind, there was something crisp and fresh about the autumn air of Austria when we arrived back home.

Will I return one day? Probably. But for now, it’s less than a month until Bangkok OC. And on we go.

*Thanks to my group for providing pics of tigers… much better than the ones I took!

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