I must admit the idea to travel to India was not my own. Amy proposed it after we tallied up the costs of travelling to Peru and realised quite quickly that there was just no way we could afford to do it properly. Some brief research revealed that India on the other hand would be doable even with the cost of 9-hour flights. Food and accommodation are beautifully cheap and a quick skim through some blogs and Pinterest sealed the deal and the flights were booked with an overall budget of just £1300 each. We went in September which is right at the end of the Monsoon season. We did this out of convenience rather than a calculated decision, but it did play a part in the cheap prices.
…the culture shock and heat hit me like a fucking train. A dirty, sweaty, crowded train.
The first stop was New Delhi and it’s fair to say, the culture shock and heat hit me like a fucking train. A dirty, sweaty, crowded train. There were protests of some description on the day of arrival and the long story short, it took four separate taxis / Tuk Tuks to get to our hotel, which turned out to be located in a rather rough area; not that we were to know that until later that day when a local made a remark about how brave we were.
When we finally got there, the hotel insisted that our Booking.com reservation was nonexistent and the hotel listed on the site, was different to the one we were stood in; it definitely wasn’t. Jet-lagged and frankly pissed off, we paid for a room for the second time. As regrettable as it was to just give in to the scam, it was only £11; the joys of India.
After stumbling around spending far too much money on more Tuk Tuks (if they tell you to give them whatever you think, give them 10 Rupees and then maybe they’ll actually suggest a good price), we finally decided we’d go to the main bazaar for our first dinner.
No matter how much research and effort you put into planning, the chaos, the heat and the staring are overwhelming; especially if it’s your first time in a third world country. Because of this, truth be told, I can’t really remember that first meal, but Amy promised me it was lovely. Back in the hotel that night I did begin to wonder why we weren’t on an all-inclusive in Corfu…
One positive that became apparent immediately was just how welcoming everyone was. The stares were initially a little intimidating, but we quickly learned most people were just fascinated. Several people came up to us genuinely trying to help out, getting us a local price for a Tuk Tuk, offering advice on where to eat and more. This wasn’t just Delhi, it was like this for the entirety of our trip.
The following day we were conned out of slightly more money, but this time by the official tourist office. Still, far from comfortable with Delhi, we were fairly easily convinced into hiring a driver for the day, again falling victim to actually just how cheap everything was. So when I say we were conned, we had a driver for the whole day who took us to all the sights for the equivalent of about £20. Even with the terrible post-referendum exchange rate, that’s still utterly incredible.
Aside from Lodi Gardens, Delhi didn’t particularly have anything really noteworthy compared with the rest of India – sorry not sorry. I admit my opinion is a little skewed by my culture shock, but we met many other tourists on our travels who were also not all that impressed by India’s Capital.
As regrettable as it was to just give in to the scam, it was only £11; the joys of India.
Agra: The Taj Mahal
Departing Delhi meant our first experience of the Indian Rail Network. We thankfully had a little help from our driver who dropped us off and once he explained the system to us, it was beautifully simple.
Instead of relying on knowing where your train terminated and what time it left the station (or waiting for your destination to scroll past on one of those annoyingly slow screens as we do back home) every train has a unique number. That number is on your ticket, huge displays in the main lobby areas and on the platform. Carriage numbers, also on your ticket, are then displayed on a series of small screens running the length of the platform. Providing you arrive early enough, it’s really difficult to get wrong.
The train itself was perfectly adequate even though we opted for a non AC class for the short 2-hour trip. With the exception of perhaps Motorbikes, train travel is by far the best way to see India.
Upon arrival in Agra, with plenty of Tuk Tuk experience from Delhi, we were prepared for the barrage of drivers offering to take us to our Hostel. It was strange at first, but entirely normal to negotiate a price with one driver only for him to then pass you onto another. We never really asked why, but assumed it was a sort of tit for tat arrangement they had. We found when negotiating outside train stations, the best thing was to pit the drivers up against each other in a weird bidding war, remembering to laugh at whatever figure they first quoted as it’s normally ridiculous.
When we booked Joey’s Hostel we were convinced it must be a scam. There’s no way a hostel with a private room for £10 a night can have a rooftop view of one of the most iconic structures in the world. But it did. And it was better than we could have imagined as our room was one of a handful that shared the same spectacular view of the Taj Mahal.
Needless to say, the first thing we did after dumping our bags was a race down to the riverside to try for a boat ride. Sadly, being offseason, it was extraordinarily quiet and no one was around to give us our sunset cruise, so we headed back to Joey’s to catch the last of the sunset there instead.
A picture so unbelievable it appears though a green screen has been erected and you’re part of another, albeit very elaborate, scam.
Kingfisher in hand and an excellent curry stuffed down my face, it was definitely a highlight of the trip and when I first realised we’d made the right call in coming to India instead of the Corfu all-inclusive I was craving the night before.
Following the advice of practically every person in Agra and our very helpful driver, we got up at the crack of dawn to get to the Taj. We bumbled around for a bit trying to find the ticket office, but eventually, we made it inside the gate.
There’s a lot more to the Taj Mahal than the famous white building. The surrounding gardens and gatehouses are also incredible and the symmetry of everything is bliss.
I thought having seen countless photos of the Taj, it wouldn’t really live up to the hype. Rounding the corner of the gatehouse opposite, however, where the white marble first comes into view through the archway, I was glad to be proved wrong as it was simply breathtaking. A picture so unbelievable it appears though a green screen has been erected and you’re part of another, albeit very elaborate, scam.
Just in front of the gatehouse was the busiest part, so we quickly made it round to the sides where it was much quieter and even more photogenic. Little did we know, our morning of peaceful bliss was about to be ruined by one bastard monkey.
Walking around the back of the Taj the path becomes quite narrow, especially as there was some scaffolding up at the time, but many other tourists had walked through that morning. For some reason though, one particular monkey decided it didn’t like Amy’s pasty legs so ran up and bit her.
No matter how much research and effort you put into planning, the chaos, the heat and the staring are overwhelming
Thankfully it didn’t pierce the skin and having forked out the £160 for our Rabies jabs before we left, we both remained really quite calm. We acknowledged that this was probably a once in a lifetime trip and carried on with only really the inside of the Taj left to see.
No cameras inside sadly, but it did make me chuckle… At the centre of several acres of near-perfect symmetry, of trees, ponds and paths all perfectly measured and painstakingly posited over decades was one centralised casket for the women whom all this was built for. Accompanying her, the man who made it happen with his own casket… just off centre.
Back in the Hostel after a call to Amy’s mum RE Monkey bite (we elected not to tell mine) and a google of surrounding hospitals, we decided to wait until we got to Jaipur and their much more legit looking Hospitals before seeking medical attention. I figured Amy wouldn’t turn into a monkey overnight and if she did, we wouldn’t pay for a Tuk Tuk for the rest of the trip.
Part two coming soon… ish.