Just as advertised, India is incredible. The poverty is extreme, hawkers will test you patience, and the health of your stomach is always on your mind. In a country this geographically and culturally huge, as Shibu told me “you can’t see India in ten days.” But in ten days you can see a lot. In that time we toured an ancient Jain temple in a hidden Old Delhi alley, looked out on beautiful sprawling Moghul mosques and architecture, visited the Sikh’s sublime Golden Temple, ascended the Buddhist ghompa at the residence of Dalai Lama, and hiked up to Hindu temples perched on ridges overlooking rivers, rolling green hills, some of the highest peaks on earth. One day we were strolling through the chaotic markets of Old Dehli looking down on busy wallahs of all sorts. A couple of trains later we were rolling through fertile farmland and soon we were basking on the beaches of the banks of the Ghanges in Rishikesh watching beautiful Hindu arti ceremonies and hiking through terraced wheat fields and swimming beneath waterfalls.It’s not the easiest place to travel and we met a few young travelers that were overwhelmed and a few old ones that were totally bitter- I heard one lady fully outfitted in high performance gear on the train to Agra say with a London accent “this is fucking awful,” in complete disgust. She was minutes away from visiting one of the Seven Wonders of the World. So if you plan to go look into what you’re getting into. That being said planning doesn’t always work out. We actually completely changed our itinerary the day after we arrived in Delhi. We were looking to travel east through Bihar, Varanasi, the hill stations of Darjeeling, and ending up Sikkim which is that little nub in Northeast India above Bangladesh and sandwiched between Nepal, Tibet, and Bhutan. We called about getting a permit to go Sikkim and were informed that violent strikes had been going on for about a week and that it would be next to impossible to get transport in and around Darjeeling. So we opted to do go North looping up through the states of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, and down through Punjab along the border with Pakistan. It turned out to a be a great route.
Rajaji National Park outside Haridwar
If you’re going to Delhi, or if your not, I highly recommend an incredibly well written & researched travel book called City of Djinns by William Dalrymple. It is a reverse chronology of the city beginning with the 1984 assassination of Indira Gandhi, back to Partition, British Colonial rule, the height of Mughal period, and the Sultanate before them. Dalrymple weaves great interviews, with the adventures of eccentric, diabolical, and inspiring historical figures, and his own thoughtful narrative.
The people wherever we went were incredibly kind, patient, and warm. I kept thinking a billion people!? and it works. I thought of a quote from David Gregory Roberts from another amazing piece of non-fiction called Shantaram that Corinne turned me onto:
And the Indians, they love most of all. Your little friend may be beginning to love you…It happens often and easily, for the Indians. That is how they manage to live together, a billion of them, in reasonable peace. They are not perfect, of course. They know how to fight and lie and cheat each other, and all the things that all of us do. But more than any other people in the world, the Indians know how to love one another…India is about six times the size of France…But it has almost twenty times the population. Twenty times! Believe me, if there were a billion Frenchmen living in such a crowded place, there would be rivers of blood. Rivers of blood! And as everyone knows, we French are the most civilised people in Europe. Indeed, in the whole world. No, no, without love India would be impossible.
What I loved seeing was both the dynamic chaotic cities where human life exists on a scale that I’ve never witnessed and then getting outside the city and into beautiful pristine land. Within days of arriving and throughout the trip Victoria and I were plotting our return and the spots we want to see next. We met a guy in shop in McCleod Gang, just outside Dharamasala, who was Kashmiri. He told us that elderly people in the North of India, that have traveled the world and returned, like to say that if you haven’t seen Kashmir then you haven’t actually lived. Guess we know where to plan our next trip.