I had a very mixed experience in India. As I travel, whenever I realise that I’m starting to dislike a place or that I’m unhappy, I try to do a mental reset and approach the day with an open mind. I did this more than once per day in India. I met some fantastic people and caught up with some friends, and saw some truly amazing things, but in general I was really unhappy here. I would, however, recommend the willful reset of your outlook as a way of dealing with troublesome places. I would have preferred staying in bed to going to Agra, but I’m so happy I went. As I bought the plane ticket to Varanasi, I thought about how great it would be to just not go but went anyways. Again, in hindsight I’m glad I went despite my discomfort.
Setting out from Paro, Bhutan, to Delhi I once again experienced the exhilarating departure through the valley.
The weather was clearer than when I flew in, so the view of the Himalayas and Mount Everest was very good.
The hostel I was staying at first had sent me an email warning of an airport taxi scam, and giving me an idea of what it should cost to get to the hostel. Sure enough, as soon as I left the airport I got many offers but managed to find a taxi for a third of what they were initially asking.
I made it to my hostel safely, despite what is easily the most insane traffic I’ve ever experienced. After Delhi, traffic in every other city is easy. I was even warned about Bangkok traffic, but after Delhi I was weaving through cars like I owned the place.
On my first day in Delhi I was lucky enough to be able to see a friend that I met previously on this trip in Split, Croatia. Her name is Snigdha and we had dinner together in Cyberhub, a popular business center in Gurgaon which is a city right next to Delhi.
Already feeling overwhelmed at this point, it was so nice to have a friend to talk with and get advice from.
I had butter paneer, which was easily my most ordered dish while in India, and Snigdha was amused seeing a white guy eat with his hands.
I have to admit that when it comes to Delhi I really didn’t do the city justice. Just walking down the street can give you a headache between the pollution and every driver honking at each other. I owe my one real day of exploration to a guy I met at my hostel named Nick. Despite how I was feeling in Delhi, I’m so glad that I got out of the hostel because this turned out to be one of the best days of my trip.
We spent the afternoon dealing with scam after scam as we tried to accomplish the impossible: locating the train station tourist office for him to buy a ticket to his next destination. After being dropped off at the wrong place, we came close (unknowingly) to the right one when a guy with a fake government ID decided to help us find our way to some agencies that weren’t the tourist office, who helpfully claimed that they couldn’t sell the tickets.
Serious question, what do you do when you know someone is lying to you, and they’re getting offended that you won’t trust them? I really don’t know how to approach that one.
After making it back to the right place the earlier “government official benevolent helper man” was gone, and we made it into the building where, despite clear signs indicating the office, more helpful people with more fake government IDs tried to steer us away. This time we made it in though and the ticket was purchased. I really liked the clearly mocking warning sign on the way into the office that warned about people who might try to keep you from reaching it. Upon careful reflection I might have instead placed the sign some distance away where it might actually be useful.
With that done we went to the Red Fort, one of the most famous examples of Mughal architecture.
There was a long line to get in, but at the direction of security we were brought to the front of the line and were through fairly quickly. I initially felt guilty about this, until I remembered that my entrance fee was 50 times what a local has to pay.
The Red Fort was commissioned by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, and was the main residence of the Mughal emperors for years.
The Mughal empire encompassed most of the Indian subcontinent, and was the world’s largest economic power at the time.
It was under Shah Jahan’s son Aurangzeb that the empire was at its largest, but then began to decline until the end of the empire when the last emperor was exiled by the British for treason.
As Nick and I walked around the Red Fort we were constantly getting our picture taken and having people ask (or not ask) for selfies. That got old pretty quickly, and I really wonder what people do with the pictures. Do they claim they met a celebrity? I was told by one guy that I look by Justin Bieber, which is really not fair to the Biebz, unless there truly is a resemblance after I’ve sweat my way around Delhi all day.
Despite the awkwardness of stopping for so many pictures, the Red Fort was pretty cool to walk around. As always, the experience was so good not because of the place itself but because of the person I saw it with.
Our last stop of the day was the Bahá’í Lotus Temple. It was closed, but seeing it at night was worth it.
That night Nick boarded his train and the next morning I got on a bus to Jaipur.
Back in Bhutan, during the trek up to the Tiger’s Nest I met a brother and sister from Jaipur named Chaitanya and Karni. It was great talking to them on the hike, and we resolved to meet up in Jaipur when I visited. They made Jaipur awesome.
Jaipur is the capital of the state of Rajasthan, and while it wasn’t as hectic as Delhi, I appreciated the view of traffic from inside a car. It was a welcome change.
On the first night while we were driving around, we saw a wild leopard run across the road. I found out later that this is a very lucky sighting, and it would be the perfect start to the safari that is Jaipur. In the few days here, I saw a leopard, elephant, bats, goats, monkeys, dogs, camels, cows, boars, and a horse.
On the first full day Chaitanya and Karni took me to Amer Fort just outside of Jaipur.
I had read before that the second longest wall after that one in China was in Rajasthan and wondered if this was the one. It’s not, that one is near Udaipur, but this one was still impressive.
I really liked this fort for two reasons: the architecture style is exactly the type I had hoped to find while in India, and the Queen’s room/house of mirrors was pretty cool.
This was one of the many places with monkeys who I didn’t trust.
Another of Jaipur’s famous sights is the Jal Mahal, the water palace on Man Sagar Lake.
Also impressive was the Hawa Mahal, the Palace of the Winds. It was built with red and pink sandstone, the popularity of which caused Jaipur to be known as the Pink City.
Following the morning of sightseeing, I was treated to lunch at Jaipur’s famous LMB restaurant. The food was great, as was the yogurt drink ‘lassi.’ After eating, sugar and fennel seeds were brought out as a way to cleanse your palatte after spicy food. I was then encouraged to try an Indian dessert which, as expected, was super sweet.
That evening, after driving around the city, I was invited to Chaitanya and Karni’s home for dinner. It was such a great experience, being invited by new friends for a home cooked Indian meal, I felt so lucky to have met them on that hike in Bhutan.
I then returned by bus to Delhi, because I had an event to attend! First though, I must introduce Devashish.
Back in September (2016) when I was recently graduated and beginning to plan my trip, I got my first Waterloo alumnus email telling me of the community and resources available now that I had graduated. I found that there are Waterloo global ambassadors around the world, and since I was already nervous about India, I was encouraged to see that there was an ambassador here and he was around my age.
I reached out to Devashish with a few questions about India and after some correspondence and a Skype call was feeling much better. He was awesome for advice on how to navigate India, and even helped me plan the trip. (He told me to go to Varanasi, so I did.)
Anyways, he’s an entrepreneur, very smart, and a great person. We met up one night before I went to Jaipur and talked about Canada and India, and shared our experiences and challenges from Waterloo. He helped organise a networking/social mixer event at the Canadian High Commission for graduates of certain US/Canadian universities in India, and invited me since Waterloo counted. It was a cool event, I got to answer “so what do you do?” with “travel” a lot and meet some very nice people.
Devashish and I got a picture together with the moose.
The next day I flew to Amritsar, but rather than covering my time here chronologically I’m going to skip ahead to Agra to make this post about India’s Golden Triangle. (Amritsar/Varanasi will be next.)
I was tempted to stay in bed all day rather than taking a day trip to Agra, but I figured that I would regret not going and that I wouldn’t have to worry about scams if I’m on a tour with a group. I was half right.
We began at Agra Fort, which like the Red Fort is a great example of Mughal architecture.
It was from here that I got my first look at one of the New Seven Wonders of the World: the Taj Mahal.
Like the Red Fort, I liked the red sandstone used in its construction.
Instead of going to the Taj Mahal next, the tour brought us to a marble shop where, as the only foreigner on the tour, I had the pleasure of being brought to the showroom on my own and guilted for 40 minutes into buying everything. Even when I found my guide and asked if we’d be going soon, he directed me to another part of the store. It was exhausting.
In keeping with the theme, my day was completely turned around by a new friend I made on the bus – Rahul from Darjeeling. He was really nice and really funny, and we ended up spending the rest of the tour seeing the sights together.
After the Red Fort, my expectations for the upkeep of the Taj Mahal were somewhat lowered, and I wasn’t expecting too much, but I was amazed by how beautiful, well kept, and big the Taj Mahal is.
The greatest example of Mughal architecture, it was built by Shah Jahan for his wife Mumtaz Mahal. The Mughal Empire was an Islamic Empire, and the Taj Mahal is a mausoleum with a mosque next to it. The minarets were constructed to lean out slightly so that in the event of an earthquake they would fall outwards and not damage the tomb.
The current threat to the Taj Mahal is pollution and acid rain, which is turning it yellow.
The rest of the tour included some temples, including Krishna’s birthplace, and more attempted scams, but I was happy to ignore them and spend the time with Rahul. Overall I was very happy that I went to Agra.
I want to specifically mention the hostel I stayed at for most of my time in Delhi: Soulstay Hostel. Yes, they had good coffee, but that’s not the reason! What I liked the most is that it felt like they had my back completely. They made it a personal mission to set right any scams their guests may have fallen prey to, and it honestly feels great to have somebody on your side when you’re dealing with something like that. If you’re thinking if visiting Delhi, my advice is to stay with them.
I hope that this doesn’t come across as a condemnation of India. I really did not enjoy a lot of my time there, and was overwhelmed by the combination of paranoia against getting sick (I didn’t get sick), wariness of the traffic that really is like nothing I’d ever experienced, and a growing aversion to leaving my hostel because I felt like I couldn’t trust most people I met. Then I really had a fun dinner with Snigdha, met Devashish who I’d been talking with for months and connecting over shared university experiences, spent an adventure filled day with Nick, got a personal tour of Jaipur from Chaitanya and Karni, and laughed my way through Agra with Rahul.
I don’t think I would ever do India alone again, but I don’t think I’ll ever have to.