My mum and older sister spent a month travelling around India when I was eight, and my lasting memory is of meeting them at the airport and them being covered in mosquito bites from head to toe. Whilst they relayed exciting tales of their adventure, what stuck in my young mind was them encountering abject poverty, cripples and children begging in the streets, tumble-down slums and huge lizards in hotel rooms. So in all honesty, India was never top of my travelling wish list! Yet when I spent three weeks there last November I was captivated and left wanting to see more.
There’s no denying it – Poverty is a huge problem and India in itself is a huge culture shock, even for those who consider themselves well travelled. Nevertheless, there is infinite charm in the chaos. It is vibrant and colourful, raw and utterly fascinating. Whilst sights such as the incredible Taj Mahal in Agra and the Amber Fort in Jaipur are reason enough to visit India, for me, it was the scenes of everyday life that I loved the most.
Cows rule the streets, they are literally everywhere, except perhaps where one would traditionally expect to see them: grazing in fields or on perhaps on your plate! Sauntering across busy highways, bringing traffic to a halt, standing nonchalantly in the middle of roundabouts or between stalls in bustling market places, Indian cows appear to be at ease in most environments. This is not overly surprising since I was informed by our guide that the penalty for knocking over a cow in a car is more severe than knocking over human! If I were a cow, I’d certainly pray to live in India!
The traffic in Rajasthan is also eye opening to say the least. On the streets of Delhi and Jaipur, there is a cacophony of beeping horns. Green and yellow auto rickshaws which splutter out fumes, weave at great speed, between cars and beat-up trucks. Men on elephants lollop down the middle of the road, seemingly unaware of the chaos surrounding them. The few traffic lights that are in working order appear to be fastidiously ignored, and yet I never witnessed any accidents or road rage. There is almost some kind of chaotic harmony at play on Indian roads.
Riding in an auto rickshaw in Jaipur on my Taj Express tour was my most fun Indian experiences. I’ve never known such speed from a little engine and such blatant disregard for safety – certainly not for the faint hearted, but exhilarating entertainment for those who like to live life on the edge. India certainly packs plenty of VA VA VOOM!