Thursday, January 19, 2012

India '11

I realised I haven’t even written about my two-week trip to India last December...

Throughout the trip, my mum repeated that India could be described in just three words: messy, noisy and dirty. Truth is, India is all those, and so much more. One could easily overlook the notable air pollution during the first few days of arrival, as frankly I was pretty fascinated just to be there. Plus, I reasoned that the dusty air gave the place a beautiful dusky quality, when even sunsets were exceptionally powdery and pastel.

I’m sure anyone who’ve been to or ever contemplated heading to India has heard the horror stories about being conned, being pestered by relentless vendors and beggars, and/or contracting diarrhoea. What can I say, those are all part of the experience. On my first day itself in front of India Gate, I had my first quintessential India experience. Ignoring my (much too) polite refusals to get a henna tattoo, this merciless woman grabbed my hand and proceeded to draw one anyway. Judging by her strength and steely determination, I’m guessing she does this manoeuvre a lot and has the means to buy lots of chapati. Sure enough I was left in a bit of a shock after that encounter but hey, it was only the first day and no excessively grabby Indian lady was going to dampen my spirits!

The thing is, especially in the touristy areas, after some time you realise you can never be sure whether the locals are really being friendly or are just trying to get you to buy something at a jacked-up price. At the same time you also realise that that’s just how they do business, how they earn the money to support their family, and you really shouldn’t take it personally. But man, patience does have its limits. Mine was seriously tested at Fatehpur Sikri, where persistent locals were swarming around foreigners like flies, trying to offer guide services or sell some sort of thingamajig that I couldn’t care for anymore. This was during the second half of the trip, so honestly my initial fascination had waned and the culminated frustration after over one week of aggressive peddling left me a very, very grumpy person. I am not proud of this at all, but I even grudgingly refused at first when my brother came to me for Rs2 (~ RM 0.13) to give to a blind beggar up the stairs leading to Jama Masjid.

That is not to say that touring India would leave you totally heartless and jaded. We did meet many genuinely friendly and curious people along the trip. Some requested to have their photos taken with us, many enquired about our country of origin, and many offered amiable smiles and greetings. One thing to note is that NO ONE got it right when they tried to guess where we came from. The closest we got was Singapore. We sure had a lot of Koreas, Japans, Chinas and Thailands. Which only serves to say that Malaysians travelling to India are few and far between. Malaysians, where you at? Or more specifically, Malaysian Chinese, where you at??

I’ve got to admit that we did not see many Asian tourists the whole trip, barring a few Chinese tour groups. Most of the foreigners there were Caucasian, because damn do they love India. It’s most probably due to the exotic factor and the fact that India is such a different place from their home, be it Europe, America, Australia or New Zealand. And isn’t that the point of touring after all? To head somewhere different and to experience new things and immerse yourself in different cultures?

One would think that the highlight of the trip would have been the Taj Mahal. Ah the Taj… one of the wonders of the world, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and so horrifically overcrowded at the same time. Granted, we were there on a Sunday evening, but the droves of visitors and lack of maintenance of the reflective side pools left us a little, if not sorely, disappointed. My mum agreed that when she visited 8 years earlier it was still an impressive sight, and now it seemed kind of lacklustre. All the forts, temples, and mausoleums we visited the week before might also have had something to do with our disappointment. After some point in time, they do tend to look the same. But I would still highly recommend a trip to Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur, the fort that all three of us favoured for most beautiful among those we visited. So if anyone wants to be awed by the Taj, it’s probably better that you visit it earlier in your trip, and on a weekday.

So that begs the question, what was the highlight of our trip? Two words: camel safari. No, it’s not actually a safari where you sit in a jeep and ogle at humpy camels along the way. Oh no. You ride on camels, to somewhere in the desert and spend the night under the stars. You also have the option of spending more than one night, or not spending the night at all. That’s a real oversimplified explanation there, but you get the gist.

I could practically hear the giddy excitement in my brother’s voice as the camels that we climbed onto stood up. That was the happiest I’ve seen my brother so far in the trip. To be honest, for the first few minutes I was more than a little terrified of falling down. I have never ridden any animals before, so it surely was interesting to have given my first time to a camel *ahem*. Camel rides are bumpy, very bumpy, but you’ll get used to it (as if you have a choice).

After an hour plus of camel riding, we finally arrived at our site for the night in the Thar Desert. Other than our guides, there were just six of us. It’s hard to describe how being in the desert felt like. Being isolated like that, you just feel as if you were transported to another timeline. Standing atop a sand dune, it was as though I could hear sounds from a thousand miles away, sounds that arrived unobstructed and unfiltered. The desert felt like a place of ancient ruins and mystic charm, a world of difference from the hustle and bustle in the streets of India.

The moon shone so bright that night, there was no need for any artificial lighting at all. As we formed a circle around the fire during dinnertime, Mr Desert of Sahara Travels regaled us with his life story, a heart-warming tale of success and contentment. We chatted on after Mr Desert left, got to know each other a little more and exchanged travel tales. That night I experienced another first, as that was my first time sleeping under the night sky. It was oh-so-cold, but still oh-so-amazing.

For that experience alone, the trip was probably worth it. Yet the trip was made up of so many interesting bits and pieces. It’d be no mean feat to encompass every detail in one writing. If you’re getting tired of the typical shopping and eating vacations, why not try India? India is truly a place that you should experience yourself, if not just to be shamelessly asked for tips at the toilet for just opening the door! (True story)

1 comment:

Malaria Max said...

Pictures or it never happened!