There are many things to be said about India, for example
......spiritual....idyllic.....tranquil......I could do on forever. These are the feelings I expected to experience upon travelling to India. However, I have been debating what to write for a while. I have come to the conclusion to give you an honest, nitty-gritty, truthful review. It’s not going to be nice, but I will try and highlight the best and worst of my experiences I gained in this chaotic country.

Here goes.....

After my 16 hour journey from Cape Town, I was relieved to land in Delhi Airport in one piece. Upon leaving the airport the heat was overwhelming. You’d think after seven weeks in Africa I would have become accustomed to the heat by now, but obviously not! With my two tonne rucksack on my back I fought through the heat cloud that surrounded me and headed to what appeared to be a taxi. However upon throwing my rucksack off my breaking back and into the car, the man in the driving seat started ranting about ‘Pre-pay, Pre-pay...ticket, ticket’. It was then that I realised I was in India, where people speak little English and are not afraid to invade your personal space, and may even come across as aggressive. However, you’ll discover, just as I did, this is just the custom in India and you have to learn to accept it. Anyway, after I had worked out I needed a ticket from the pre-pay booth, we were off.

Now, let me think how best to describe the traffic and the way in which people drive in India.....Hmmm! Well, it’s very similar to a day out at the fair ground on the bumper cars. There are lanes on the roads, however the drivers appear to be completely unaware of them. Speed limits, what are those? Indicators, don’t need them , they have horns. Seat belts, no thanks, they have the window screens. For the people who say I’m a manic driver, go to India! Seriously, it’s something that has to be experienced, otherwise you will never believe the chaos that exists on the roads. But somehow, it works. People get to their destination, albeit, a little sweaty, shaking and thankful for their life, but they make it!

My first day in Delhi was an eye-opener, to say the least. I thought I had seen severe poverty in Africa, but the poverty in India takes it to a whole new level. Just outside the metro station there were children as young as three begging. This is one of the most heartbreaking sights I had seen on the trip and it was not helped by what I was about to see next. A business man in a pinstriped suit was in such a hurry to get to work, as he ran for the tube he knocked the small child into the stone steps of the metro station. I heard the begging girls bones hit the steps individually and as her skull smash on to the ground shivers ran through my body. However, to my horror the man just carried on running and it was then apparent that this is something that the girl is obviously used to. She jumped up, brushed herself off and continued begging. My eyes filled with tears and I had to walk away. As I was walking away I moved to hand the girl some cash. I was stopped by a fellow English tourist, and the kind lady explained to me that this is part of the organised crime that exists in India, and by giving the girl money I am only funding the reason for ‘them’ to continue to force this girl to beg.

Immediately after walking away from the little girl, I walked to the bridge to wait for the tube to take me to Old Dehi which overlooked the motorway. It was then that I witnessed the Indian form of transport – Elephants. Yes, you read correct, Elephants. Right there in the middle if the hustle and bustle of the traffic was an elephant. After travelling Africa, and it had been instilled in me that you stay away from these animals as they are deadly, and to see what I saw was the strangest thing I could imagine. The elephant appeared calm, yet it was still a disturbing sight to see. Elephants are such gracious and beautiful creatures and I certainly don’t agree with them being used as a mode of transport.

After hopping on the women’s only carriage of the tube and stepping off in Old Delhi, I’m afraid to say it didn’t get any better. The poverty again was taken to another level. Here there were people suffering with the affects of Polio and they were grabbing at my ankles. The dirt in the air made it barely breathable to walk through the city. It was certain I was far away from the splendour of Africa and even further away from the home comforts of England.

It was a relief to leave Delhi, and from here we moved on to Jaipur. Jaipur is often called ‘The Pink City’ as the buildings are decorated in a pinkish colour. Entering the city it was clear to see that I was no longer in Delhi. The streets were much wider with an orderly atmosphere, however the heat was still as intense. Whilst in Jaipur there was a certain buzz around the town. As it turns out Katy Perry and Russell Brand were getting married at some secret location in the city.

From Jaipur we moved on to Rajasthan, then to Agra. Agra is home to one of the world’s man-made wonders the Taj Mahal. The image that is conjured up when I mention is place is Princess Diana perched on that bench doing the infamous ‘Diana pose’. This was my sole aim when I reached the Taj Mahal, and with a lot of elbow bashing and pushing I managed to achieve my goal.
However, what I didn’t contemplate was how overwhelmed I’d be by the beauty of the building. Made from solid white marble it almost looks like a mirage. The Taj Mahal is surrounded by beautiful gardens, and it is easy whilst you are there on the grounds to forget where you are. Several times I had to turn around to look at the stunning scenery, and say to myself ‘Oh, look, there’s the Taj Mahal’, and have a little chuckle to myself. I’m not alone in this thought, many people commented that they felt the same.

From Agra we travelled through Orcha, Khajuraho thought to Varanassi.

In order to reach Varanassi we had to travel on one of India’s notorious sleeper trains. I had no idea what to expect when we boarded the train. After seeing what I had seen so far in India, I must admit I didn’t have the highest expectations. However, I was pleasantly surprised. The bunkers were spacious, well enough for a woman my size and appeared to be clean. But just to be sure I ran the Dettol wipes over my bedding. No, I haven’t got OCD, but just wanted to make sure I was sleeping in anyone’s leftovers!

Anyway, getting off that subject quick, I also had a pleasant sleep on the train. The only way to describe it was like being rocked when you were a baby. I’ve never had much trouble sleeping, so I did sleep like a baby!

Upon arriving in Varanassi, I had done my research and thought I was prepared. For those of you that are not familiar with Varanassi, then here is your little insight for you. This is one of the Holiest cities in the world. The people of India travel huge distances to die, give birth and get married in Varanassi. Varanassi is also home to the River Ganges. One thing to note when you are learning about the River Ganges is the pollution content of the water. I won’t bore you with the facts of the centilitre pollution measurement rate of the river; however what I will tell you is that no Westerner should ever swim in this water as you will die. No joke! I use the term Westerner as the Indians do swim in this water, only because they are accustomed to the high bacteria content.
Anyway enough of the facts, this city had a similar madness to Delhi. The traffic is chaotic and the streets are packed with people pushing you and invading your personal space. However there is a different feeling here. It’s not something I can put my finger on and write down on paper. But there is certainly something different. It’s almost as though you can feel the religion in the air.
In the evening of our arrival I set off on a tuc-tuc ready for the boat ride that was to take me on a detailed tour of the banks of the River Ganges. On the way to the river we passed a street precession celebrating the life of a local man that has recently passed away in his sleep. But what was odd about this funeral was that the body was not in a coffin, as I am accustomed to back home, but just is a basket covered with bandages. As I passed, I said my prayers and continued with the journey.

Now, no amount of research could prepare me for what I was about to experience next. Travelling along the River Ganges passing through and admiring the local villages that resided on the banks of the river, I noticed in the distance several fires that were burning fiercely. I turned to the guide and asked what the fires were for. He then told me that it was an open-air crematorium, and the fires were the bodies burning. Now it made sense why the man I saw in the precession earlier wasn’t in a coffin, so the body burns quicker. This is something that happens only in Varanassi, and once the bodies were burnt to ashes they were then thrown into the River Ganges. Now you know why you should never swim in the river! Like many people, I had never seen a dead body before and it was pretty alarming, but none the less I wasn’t scared and could do nothing but absorb the atmosphere and tranquillity of the river.

Varanassi was the final part of the North India tour, and to be honest I was slightly relieved. I had seen many things in the North of India. Some that disturbed me and some that allowed me to continue to grow as a person and appreciate the opportunity to experience these sights. But now I was ready to move on to the South. I had heard that it was much greener and probably more what I imagined India to be like.

So here goes, South India here I come...........