India: do we love it or hate it? - This is surely the question that lingers on the lips of most first time visitors to India. And justifiably so - however good we think our preparation has been during the previous 5 months of our trip, nothing can quite prepare you for rolling over the border into India.
So lets unpick the evidence! As with all our blogs, this is as it happened; we're not ones for fabrication or exaggeration. Fact, not fiction!
We think we hate it when:
- on day 1, having already traveled for 16 hours from Nepal on 2 buses and a rickshaw, we're informed by the train guard that our two overnight train tickets are actually for two halves of the same seat. To our dismay, stuffing a fist full of Rupees in his top pocket fails to solve our problem
- on day 2, we go shopping for a sweat towel for James and a lavender scented towel for Nicola
- James trips over a dead body on day 3 in a Varanasi street (admittedly lined up beside a river crematorium, but still)
- you find out that the Taj Mahal is closed on Fridays. A little known fact that you learn on the Friday morning of day 4 of your only day there
- on day 5, we think of the wonderful wedding in the Cotswolds that we've swapped for the dust and filth of a bus journey
- you put on a crisp white t-shirt at 7am. By 9am it's yellow; by 12pm it's brown; by 3pm it's grey; and by 6pm it's beyond salvation and in the bin
- the vegetable curries become a little monotonous and Hotmail's advert banner for Domino's Meat Feast pizza is just cruel
- everything comes with a hint of masala. Tea, toast, shampoo, newspapers, bed-sheets...
- you look around and every single man has a creepy (but sometimes splendid) moustache and too much of a Brylcreem look to their hair
- the daily power-outage is timed perfectly to coincide with every rugby match
- it takes 40 hours over 3 days on 3 trains to reach the beach from a town that, on the map, appears to be pretty close to the coast
We think we love it when:
- you are forced to have curry, naan and Kingfisher twice a day
- the oppressive touts are defeated by our claim to be 'Espanol' and James's ability to roll out a whole Tapas menu when hassled for a rickshaw ride
- after yet another overnight train journey, we sit on the roof terrace of our hostel and feast on masala omelette and masala chai while gazing at the splendour of a small building called the Taj Mahal
- we finally figure out how to beat them at their own game in the queue at the railway ticket office; put your big rucksack on and swing those hips
- the mad dash in the back of an auto-rickshaw to the train station reminds us of fairground dodgems - or in this case definitely 'bumper-cars'
- our evening beer arrives in a teapot with cup and saucer in the holy city of Pushkar (you can get anything if you ask nicely and pay your back-shish!)
- you drop down a gear on your Royal Enfield 350 Bullet and, in a clap of thunder, roar past a camel-train and a Rajasthani fort, lit up by a gorgeous red sunset
- you can legitimately pass hours (and hours) of talking about cricket as "getting to know the locals"
- when the curries get too much, we stumble upon the famous Chicken Maharaja Mac in a well known food outlet with fast service
- jelly bellies are positively celebrated out here. Old women get their muffin tops out in sari crop tops and old men stick out their pregnant paunches in Lux white wifebeater vests. Long live saggy stomachs!
- in an afternoon, you can visit a palace, drink chai, buy jewellery, go for a boat on the lake, have an ayurdevic massage, sup on an icy beer and chomp on some masala peanuts, and still have change from a tenner
- you're forced to chase a big monkey with a big stick around a big sunset-drenched fort because the beast has your flip-flop in his mouth (monkey and flip-flop survived but both were left scarred)
So overall? We think we love it, and we hate that we only have three weeks left. Next stop... Goa!