Returning to India: Delhi, One Year On

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.

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11.6.15; DEHRADUN, India

I’m writing this from my new favourite haunt, the Chhaya Café in Old Rajpur. It’s one of a few slightly hipster joints on the Old Mussoorie Road, a bit away from the hustle and bustle of inner Dehradun. Great, cheap food and drinks, a lovely view, and FREE WiFi! My dream location…

New fave
New fave

Okay, I lie. That’s the only bit I wrote in the café. Procrastinating much! Terrible…

On Thursday, I unfortunately was a bit ill again (does a week ever pass that something isn’t wrong with me???) and spent the day at home, reading and catching up with writing my book reviews – got a nice backlog to publish now, all waiting in the folder! I couldn’t believe that I had just a week left in Dehradun before I moved onto the next part of my journey… Friday wasn’t particularly eventful either as I’d improved a tiny bit – enough to drag myself to summer camp in the morning, but I spent most of the rest of the day asleep…

On Saturday I stayed home from the camp again, and made use of some of my time which wasn’t spent reading by repacking some of my bits and bobs in preparation for the next weeks packing challenge, and tidying all my stuff. Decided to give quite a few bits and pieces to the girls here because I REALLY don’t need all my stuff and it wouldn’t hurt to free up some space.

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4.6.15; DEHRADUN, India

First journal entry as a nineteen year old! Only one year left of being a teenager… What a grim thought. On Tuesday, I went to the summer camp as usual in the morning, and on today’s agenda was acting out the fairytale of Snow White! The kids do love acting things out, but they always feel terribly put upon when they have to play a King and Queen – they’re still at the age when even pretending to be married to someone is cringe-inducing. Ah, I remember those innocent times…

Afterwards, I headed out with Misha and Achala again. On my way to meet Misha (Achala was running a little late), I couldn’t resist running into a second-hand book depot at Astley Hall, opposite Gandhi Park, which is a much needed spot of green in the busy, dusty city which is Dehradun. It’s like a different world in the park – water features (admittedly lacking water) and trees everywhere – very pleasant! I’m told most protests start from there, perhaps in the same way that College Green In Bristol is a meeting point for that kind of thing.

Gandhi Park
Gandhi Park

I bought a couple of books, including Stephen King’s “Christine” and Austen’s “Northanger Abbey” – keep eyes peeled for the reviews! I also got a Lonely Planet Guide to Bangkok; I’m thinking that will be quite useful for when I’m there; I’m going to be in Bangkok on three separate occasions so I’ll probably get quite a bit of time to explore. I don’t want to just go to popular tourist stops, and I wouldn’t really use guidebooks to find cafes or places to stay and eat, but I think they’re very useful for tracking down all the sights and working out how to see what you want to in your available time frame.

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1.6.15; DEHRADUN, India

Wednesday’s session with the children in the summer school mainly revolved around learning the hokey-cokey, and yet ANOTHER Horrid Henry story. Not necessarily my favourite. They’re really enthusiastic about the hokey-cokey though… Perhaps a little too enthusiastic? Some children ended up on the floor. It looked a bit traumatic.

Followed this up with learning more kathak. I really find that classical dance is so much more interesting and enjoyable to learn than any modern styles. Obviously, that’s a huge generalisation, but I don’t take that well to contemporary of hip-hop. Not for lack of trying! It’s a bit sad that kids here are so obsessed with Western styles; be it clothes, music or dance, that not many of them want to learn kathak or take much interest in their own culture.

Learning kathak complete with Ghungroo bells!
Learning kathak complete with Ghungroo bells!

Nonetheless, I’m trying to learn as much as I can whilst I’m here. Maybe that should be a focus for me during my travels? Learning different dances from around the world? I never get bored of it! On Thursday, I did join in with a little bit of the hip-hop class, and it was good fun even if I’m pretty awful at it!

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27.5.15; DEHRADUN, India

I’m ill, AGAIN… I swear, there’s not a week goes by that something isn’t wrong with me. What is it this time? THE BLOODY FLU. Seriously. In possibly the hottest place I’ve ever lived, I have a cold.

Thanks, Satan.

Last Tuesday, I finally made good on my promise to the girls, and we went to Shruti’s house to watch the first part of Breaking Dawn; for my sins, I have already seen all the Twilight films, and loathe though I am to promote the ridiculous and unhealthy relationship depicted within them, the girls seem to love it. *cue distressed sighing*

Disclaimer: In no way did I enjoy this film. Any outward appearance of enjoying it will probably have been caused by tiredness and a lack of light in the room required to read the book I’d brought with me in anticipation of boredom and mild amusement at the film. Anyone claiming that I enjoyed it will be sued for slander and defamation of character.

This led to the girls quoting a few scenes from it OVER AND OVER again for the next few days, which is admittedly quite funny, especially when I do it in the required American accents. I concede amusement value, at least.

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18.5.15; DEHRADUN, India

Thursday was spent pretty much on alert for any unwelcome visits from the hideous in-laws again, but no sign of anybody, and I don’t remember having done anything else in particular that day. Dull note to start on, apologies! Later in the day on Friday, I went to a ticket agent with Hema to book my train ticket to Delhi for June 12th. I should probably contact my prospective couch surfing hosts again, actually, to make sure I actually have somewhere to stay…

The booking agent’s office was… interesting. A few people crowding around a not particularly official-looking desk where a guy would book your seat for you. I ended up paying 850Rs for the 5 or more hour journey from Dehradun to Delhi, and that’s in First Class A/C, so probably fairly luxurious. I’d rather have travelled in something a bit cheaper as it’s not an overnight train, but there wasn’t much available. And less than £10 for a first class long train ride? YES PLEASE!

In the evening, I went to Pacific Mall with Shruti, and we got some iced coffee, and I bought a pair of earrings from the Saheli Trust stand. Happily, I also saw some of the earrings I’d made myself on sale! I had assumed their terrible quality would more likely have sent them to the bin, but they were on display with all the others! We ate dinner at the house of one of Shruti’s relatives; the daughter in the family was a couple of years older than me, and is doing a medical internship. Despite having a medical degree, she was very shy and wouldn’t really speak to me in English. It seems like a symptom of a problem concerning so many young women in India; they’re worried people will laugh or think badly of them and so they’re used to not making themselves heard at all. If I lived in a culture like that all the time, it would drive me mad!

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14.5.15; DEHRADUN, India

Thursday 7th May was a big day for me! I was up bright and early to get to Shruti’s house for 6.45; we had to be in Rishikesh before 9am, to catch the bus from the booking office up to the BUNGEE PLATFORM!

I’ve wanted to do a bungee jump for such a long time; it’s been on my bucket list for years, but until I saw some advertisements in Rishikesh on my first trip there, I didn’t realise that I’d get to fulfil it so soon! It’s one of those things where you think, “I’ll do it one day…”, but never give all that much thought to what you would think if that day happened to be tomorrow. The company we decided to book the jump through is called “Jumpin Heights”, and their bridge is the highest bungee platform in India, at 83m above the valley floor just outside Rishikesh, over the Ganges.

The company seemed not only very professional with very good reviews, but they also had specialists from New Zealand working with them and catered for many visitors to the area; all seemed legit so we had booked a jump each for that day. The prices seemed almost too good to be true, like everything here.

In England, you’d pay £100 at the very least for a bungee jump. Here, I did mine for Rs 3000 – about £30 – and can confirm that the safety precautions were very good and the staff extremely professional. Another thing I didn’t tell my parents about beforehand; back home, I’m sure that the cheap price might have seemed an indicator of bad quality, but here in India, it’s quite a lot of money.

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6.5.15; DEHRADUN, India

On Saturday, I somewhat foolishly agreed to Shruti’s suggestion of a morning walk. I can safely say that won’t be happening again! Got up at 5am and went for a two hour walk (this bit is my fault, I said it was okay to keep going!), to the border of the Radaji National Park which is fairly close to where I’m staying. It was really beautiful to see the sunset and to be up and about so early, and I had the opportunity for a long chat with Shruti about so many different things, but it completely knocked me out for the whole rest of the day! I did an hour in the school (school ends at 10.30am on Saturdays) when we got back, and then had to take a nap straight away! Pretty much exhausted myself with that, and although the sunrise was nice, I think I’ll stick to seeing the sunsets! Not much else to report from Saturday that I can recall…

On Sunday, a couple of girls came to visit the shelter; in their mid-twenties, one has started her own NGO called “TeachGirls”, working for educating women and girls in the slum areas around Dehradun. It was interesting to talk to them as one had studied in England, at Cambridge University, for a year, and so we talked a lot about the differences between British and Indian Higher Education. I think we might meet up at some point during my stay and do something.

Afterwards, I went for a walk by myself out to the little temple in the wooded area, it’s a nice place to just sit and think for a while. Before the mosquitoes start biting at least… Went out to Pacific Mall after that to collect Radha from work. Had another quick browse around the shops but I’m finding that shops aren’t really doing it for me here; it’s far cheaper and more interesting to go to the market! When I got back, I tested a couple of the girls on some English vocab which I’d gone through with them the previous day.

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2.5.15; DEHRADUN, India

Thursday 30th April was my mother’s birthday. I’m quite sad I couldn’t be at home with her to celebrate; but the case will be the same for my own birthday in a month’s time! Regardless, although I wouldn’t really say that I miss my parents as such, it’s annoying to miss birthdays and things. I’m also going to miss the birthdays of my two very best friends (sorry, Fran and Phoebe, belated celebrations for all of us and Em once I’m home, yeah?). Can’t be helped, I suppose! Also, I haven’t been able to find a single place selling postcards, let alone greeting cards.

I spent the morning having a minor lie-in, as we were taking Ayushi to the hospital for her gallstones operation later on in the morning. Once, again, when we got there I was struck by the long waiting times and lack of development even in private hospitals in this part of India. Each patient’s room is very bare, with only a metal bed and table at the side, and a bed for overnight visitors. I imagine they all had adjoining bathrooms too. It doesn’t really bode well for serious treatment and operations that even a paid-for hospital, where the doctors and nurses are obviously well-trained and competent, is not particularly clean or well-equipped. Very thankful once again for the NHS!

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