Travelling, as we all know, has its highs and lows. Unfortunately, when we’re out there, sometimes we get so stuck on dwelling on the little things which are going wrong, that we forget how lucky we are to be able to travel in the first place. I know that I, all too often, find myself complaining, even if it’s just in my head. Maybe I should make it a resolution to go just one day without moaning about something, even if it’s just an internal gripe.
Once you accept that things won’t always go off without a hitch, you’ll cope much better. Trust me. Because in the end, most of it is magical. Nearly every cloud has a silver lining. Nearly. And at the end of a bad day, you just might find something which will make you smile. I always do.
In no particular order regarding their amazing-ness, here are my top ten most grateful moments from my two trips to India these last couple of years… As far as I can think of right now!
I’ve taken a few trains over the course of my travels in India over the last couple of years, and whilst there are few things you can do to prepare, the journeys will never fail to surprise you. Be it delays, unexpected fights over your assigned seat (or lack thereof), or frantically grabbing your belongings to leap off the train at an unmarked station, there’s a lot to take in, and some things you just have to take in your stride…
Without further ado, here is my introduction to train travel in India, and what you can do to make the most of your journeys!
To anyone who asked me about Delhi after my trip last year, I always said the same thing. It’s a place you love or you hate, I said, and thankfully I took to it straight away. It was true – from the moment I stepped off the Shatabdi Express train from Dehradun in the middle of June, 2015, I knew there was something different about this city. I have also always said that I am eternally grateful that I had two months to acclimatise to India in Dehradun whilst volunteering with the Saheli Trust, rather than coming straight to Delhi and being thrown into the deep end. I don’t think I’d have coped nearly as well in the capital if that had been the case.
More than one year later, I’m back again. Or I was, for a day or so. Whilst last year I spent more than a week in Delhi, this year, it’s been a flying visit before moving on to Dehradun for a couple of days to visit, and then catching a plane to Mumbai (please, save me the 40-hour train journey!)
So, a few things have been different. I’m no longer wide-eyed and unaccustomed to Delhi traffic, and I have even less patience for touts and over-eager rickshaw drivers. More on that later.
When you’re travelling in South East Asia, the majority of backpackers you meet are fairly young. But the majority of those travelling alone are in their mid-twenties. It’s reasonably rare to see gap-year students alone, especially once you step off the main tourist circuit. This is particularly true of young women travelling alone. And that’s just what I saw on my travels in Thailand and Cambodia. In India, to see a teenage girl travelling alone is almost unheard of. To be honest, travelling solo in India really deserves a post of its own. Another time. But here are a few things you’re likely to experience, both good and bad, as a young solo female traveler.
I wouldn’t have taken back a second of my travels last summer. Although I definitely had some lows to match the highs, travelling solo did amazing things for my confidence and sense of direction after leaving my first university course. Although I only I turned 19 towards the end of my stay in India, I wouldn’t say that being so young had any detrimental effect on my travels as a whole.
NB: I apologise once again for poor photo quality; still no laptop/camera access!
I’m happy… But I’m sad. I’m hopeful, but I’m also a little nervous. I’m tired, but I’m full of excitement for the next part of my life.
Such are the feelings I face as I scuff my toes in the hypothetical dirt, unwilling to drag myself away from the action-packed, varied life of travel which I have been living for the last few months, leaving behind the unpredictability of life on the road in favour of a new Bachelors degree and a whole YEAR of living in the same place. I left university nearly six months ago; I flew to India a month later. Since then, it has been such a roller coaster ride. The lows are few and far between, but despite what some would have you think, they do exist. But the highs… The highs are extraordinary in every way.
I would not take back a second. I would not reverse a single decision or moment which led me to be here, writing this post in a cafe in Kanchanaburi, watching the monsoon rains splash on the road outside. Even though at points during the last year, I’ve felt so desolate that I could barely see my own existence into the next week, I am now exactly where I am supposed to be.
I got up at an absolutely RIDICULOUS hour on the Wednesday of that week; sad but necessary to get to Jaipur for a reasonable time, as the journey is nearly six hours long. Ideally, I would have liked to stay overnight, and had planned to stay with a Couchsurfing host, but it didn’t work out with the train times. When I’d been booking the tickets, I’d told the counter guy all this and watched his expression go from “mild interest” to “really couldn’t give less of a shit”.
I’ll write a focus post on my day in Jaipur when I get a chance (around the time I’ll write all those other location based ones, eh?) but for the moment, let it suffice to say that the day was very full, hot, exhausting, exciting, draining, confusing and a whole range of contradictions. Despite it being part of the “Golden Triangle”, I had mixed feelings about Jaipur and didn’t really love it as much as I did Delhi. For me, the hawkers were too aggressive (and that’s saying something, having been in Delhi for a week!), the sights not as impressive as I’d thought, and the place lacked the charm of Agra.
More on that later.
As I’d taken the sleeper train back from Jaipur (and that’s a whole other story!), I was fretting for about an hour before the train reached Delhi for fear of missing my stop and ending up in the back-arse of India in the early hours of the morning. Thankfully, it didn’t come to that, and after a few responses of confirmation to my questions of “Delhi? Next stop?” and quizzical looks, I managed to get off the train at the Old Delhi station just after 5am.
The next day, it was time to explore New Delhi! Most attractions in India are closed on Mondays, but thankfully most of the things I wanted to see were either outside or still open. Firstly, yes, I did walk all day again! I went to Connaught Place, which is pretty much the commercial centre of New Delhi – most of the big avenues lead onto a traffic circle which goes around a circular colonnade of shops, banks and restaurants. It’s like being back in Europe! Costa and Starbucks lining the roads, etc. I even saw Marks and Spencer! Home comforts!
Of course, I HAD to stop for an iced coffee, but straight after that, I headed to the Jantar Mantar, which is a huge observatory just off Connaught Place. It’s quite incongruous with the surroundings! Imagine, these huge red stone instruments surrounded by modern office buildings; very strange! Entrance fee was 100 Rs, but it was worth paying as the place was not only interesting to look around but quite a nice peaceful place to sit in the shade and people watch.
Hey there! So, onto my first journal entry from the big city!
I spent my last day in Dehradun doing one last class with the kids at the summer camp, and leaving to a chorus of “We’ll miss you!” to go and finish up my packing. I had to repack my bag a couple of times to fit everything in (damn the sarees!) but EVENTUALLY I got it down to the big bag, 2 pieces of hand luggage, and a bag of snacks (which I ended up not needing at all).
Later in the day, I bade farewell to my Indian family at Saheli, and started the journey to New Delhi, the capital of India. Check out my post on travelling to and arriving in Delhi HERE! Delhi really is something else, but I’m beyond grateful that I had a couple of months in Dehradun first to adjust to India; coming straight into Delhi really would be getting thrown in at the deep end!
Waking up on my first morning in Delhi was a little surreal; I could hardly believe that for the next two months, it was just going to be me and my backpack trying to navigate Delhi and then South East Asia.
Hey all! My day trip to Agra deserves its own post, I think, despite the fact that I only did a couple of things; I had an amazing day and there’s definitely a lot to talk about.
So, there’s pretty much one reason anyone goes to Agra, and that’s the Taj Mahal. The typical symbol of India, and one of the top tourist attractions in the world, the Taj Mahal really is something special. I mean, it’s famous for a reason, right? And it’s just one of those places that can’t be missed if you’re close. The “Golden Triangle” of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur if probably the area of India most frequented by tourists and travellers, and I am no exception.
I really wish I had more time in India to go south and see some other places, as the variation between regions in India in terms of language, culture, and of course food, if enormous. Another time, hopefully! I’m going off on a tangent again…
So, I’d booked my train tickets to and from Agra at the tourist booking office at the New Delhi Railway Station; this is a total lifesaver as it’s open 24/7, and the staff there don’t charge commission. The attendant who was booking my tickets seemed fairly exasperated with me from the word go, and remained churlish the entire time I was there. Some people…
I’m going to hold my hands up to the fact that I’m a little guilty of sugar-coating my travels. Not so much on this blog, because I’d like to think I don’t hide anything from you guys, but on my personal Facebook and Instagram, I do a fairly good job of making it seem like everything I’m doing is exciting and cool and indie and making my friends jealous, and pretty much presenting a rose-filtered version of reality. Nobody wants to hear moaning on Facebook, right?
But I won’t lie, there are times when it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Yesterday, I had to go and sit in Starbucks for a while just because of the familiarity – label whore much – when it all got a bit much.
I’m not really one for getting lonely, but I just felt quite overwhelmed all of a sudden. I like my own company, but sometimes it’s nice to have people to talk to, to have someone else to hold the camera and tell your stories too. I was lucky enough to meet a couple of other English girls on the train back from Agra the other day, but they left the next morning, heading to Bangkok. And my hostel isn’t particularly conducive to meeting other people.
I’m not really uncomfortable in India. And as for Delhi being quite different to where I was before, I feel like it’s one of those places which some people love and others absolutely loathe. For my part, I’ve really taken to it. I love the contrasts of New and Old Delhi. I love that you can turn the corner from a busy shopping street in Old Delhi and come face-to-face with a beautiful old mosque or fort. I love the wide avenues and parks of New Delhi. However, I won’t deny that the place has its drawbacks.