Think of India and what comes to mind? I would guess at a whole mixture of things, some good, some bad, some exciting, some off-putting. It is rare you find someone with no preconceived notion of India. Certainly I had ideas in my head of what it would be like but I tried to leave them in Heathrow and embrace whatever India had to throw at me.
From the impromptu tiger impression from a market seller in Jodhpur to the fully internally carpeted disco ready Ambassador we toured Jaipur in Rajasthan was never short on moments of unexpected humour. Wanting to take in everything Rajasthan had to offer I tried to employ every one of my senses to absorb the rich melting pot of experiences on offer.
I hope this wander through the senses will cement in my mind why I feel now that this trip was the first of many to this charming, hilarious, intriguing country. It might also inspire you to think of a visit (in which case you might like this).
There are thousands of ‘sights’ in Rajasthan but for me the sights that evoke the strongest memories of the trip are the sunsets that we watched, sometimes with other tourists, sometimes with locals, sometimes on our own. Even in the madness of towns and cities across Rajasthan a quiet moment could be found around sunset. Time seemed to slow down as the last rays of sun split and finally disappeared from the horizon. The final disappearance of the orb would be accompanied by the mesmerising call to prayer from the mosques, for a short while the horns blowing would sound less incessant, people would slow in the streets and make time to stop and talk to a friend or shopkeeper and the smells of spices frying ready for the evening meal would begin to waft deliciously from locals houses. It was a special time of day for all, a time for reflection and often a time to think back of the beautiful ‘sights’ we had seen through the day.
If New York is the city that never sleeps then India is the country that has chronic insomnia. Sounds of car, scooter, truck and cart horns were the constant soundtrack to India. A trip down any road in India is a travel experience in itself. Imagine a river after a storm; covered in flotsam; the river meanders and has countercurrents and eddies. Then imagine that this river is an Indian road, the flotsam could be anything; a person, a schoolclass in a tuk-tuk, a cow, a badly parked car, a truck, a horse and cart, a mobile greengrocers. The road is narrow with buildings on all sides but somehow that river will keep on flowing, the contents weaving through the obstacles sometimes going with the current sometimes against it but always moving. Not once did I witness an accident, no animals were harmed, and despite the incessant use of the horn no anger seemed apparent. It appeared there was layer upon layer of unspoken rules that kept the roads moving. The horn was king but its role was never clear, nevertheless it was sounded with glee abandon at all times of day and night
I have never eaten and drank so well on holiday without alcohol or meat. India is a vegetarian paradise with cheap, delicious food available at every turn. Every dish we tried truly surpassed its English doppelganger. The joy of a freshly cooked chapatti over an open flame was an essential accompaniment to every meal and one that I will sorely miss. The pot luck of a roadside deep fried snack was a great game to play. 30p a roll of the varyingly spiced dice, sometimes the level of spice would be eye watering at other times it was a sweet surprise when you expected savoury. India even on a street food snack level never failed to surprise! However if I had to limit myself to
just one taste it would be the taste of fresh chai, on the train, in town, at the roadside all had their own unique blend but all were uniquely delicious. Forget a generic chai latte, forget a chai teabag if nothing else can persuade you to go to India I would genuinely go just for another chai on the train from the chai-walla.
I’m not normally a shopper but it would be very, very hard to come to Rajasthan and not be seduced by the wonderful array of textiles on offer. Advertising is unnecessary as every woman is a walking advert – every sari offering colour, texture and detailing screaming out to be examined , touched and worn. Touching and feeling the materials was an integral part of any
shopping experience and would always come into the bargaining required to actually purchase anything. Each shopkeeper would earnestly display his products, then get you to examine the quality of the workmanship and tell you in detail about how it had been made. Through touch alone the quality and thread count of the fabric could be found, the stitching analysed, the finish appreciated. Some of these shopping interactions have formed some of my favourite memories of the trip. Not only did I buy some beautiful clothes and souvenirs each negotiation really offered a window in the world of the Indian shop keeper and how proud they were and how lovingly they cared for their products.
Fairly predictably there were some bits of India that didn’t smell very good at all, cows wandering the street accompanied
by temperatures of up to 40 degrees is not a good combination but thankfully there were many sweeter smells that will be able to transport me back. One smell in particular will take me right back to a specific journey along a specific street in Jodphur. The streets within the city walls of Jodphur are so narrow that cars are not allowed to enter. Having arrived in Jodphur via air conditioned car with our rented driver Prakesh we were swiftly bundled into his ‘cousin brother’s’ tuk tuk along with our bags. Unlike other tuk tuks we had taken this one was more roomy, normally you might think this is a good thing. When tearing along roads frequently swerving to avoid cows/people/fruit carts being crammed in next to your neighbour is about as close to a safety feature as you can get. I digress; the particular street that we were heading down to get to our hotel happened to house the local spice market – the smell of spices filled the air; coriander, pepper, star anise, cinnamon all mixed together to create an invisible fog of delight that for a moment transported us away from the relentless beeping and weaving of the street to a place so beautifully perfumed that for once the volume of India was muted.
I could easily have written a diary like travelogue but I hope this has given you more of a general sense of my trip. It was more than I could have hoped for and far exceeded my expectations of just how much I would fall for India and its people. I cannot wait to visit again.
For more practical information about where I went, what I did and what I would recommend please click here.
Wishing you many happy journeys,