I Didn’t Expect To Fall In Love With India

Old Delhi

The Sikh Temple in Old Delhi

My daughter was my travelling companion - here at the Palace in Jaipur City Palace

Traffic is moving pretty well at the Jaipur City Palace

The market in Udaipur

I had always wanted to go... but, when I got there I wondered what I had expected because it was so much more than I could have imagined.

You know what you are going to see in India – the Ganges, the Taj Mahal, teeming streets, dirt, fortresses, castles, dirt, but, I didn’t expect -

Delhi to be so green – it’s full of trees – hate to think what it would be like without them sucking up some of that smog. Despite the air quality – the smell of smoke and flowers is pervasive and it’s not at all oppressive. One of our favourite experiences was visiting Shish Ganj Gurudwara, the Sikh Temple in Old Delhi. We weren’t prepared to walk barefoot in downtown Delhi for the ½ block from the temple’s reception area to the actual temple – where no footwear is allowed but, we survived. A portion of the temple is dedicated to its charity kitchen where volunteers were preparing huge quantities of naan, rice and lentil stew for the approximately 25,000 people they provide meals for every day! Anyone is welcome to come in and eat – as much and as often as they like. No one is limited or asked to leave. It is a part of the Sikh commitment to charity and it is an incredible thing to witness.

We all know the Taj Mahal is beautiful and set on lovely grounds but I was totally unprepared for the effect it would have on me. I’m not sure why... the romantic story, its perfect symmetry, its gorgeous white marble that is continuously modulating in shades of pink and yellow – I don’t know, but it brought me to tears and I fell in love with India right there and then.

Driving into Varanasi from the airport, the highway is under construction creating complete chaos the entire way. The huge machinery, the heavy  traffic, the dirt, the dust, the noise... a total mess. And, all along the route, people had built their homes and businesses illegally – too close to the road. So, in order to widen and re-build the highway, the fronts of most of the buildings have been ripped off leaving them open to the elements and the dirt and whatever. But, life goes on... people were buying their lunch from vendors cooking amid the clouds of dirt and dust or were enjoying sitting outside their ravaged homes playing with their children or enjoying their tea and the morning paper.

 Traffic... a most amazing display of adaptation to circumstances! Try to picture a 4 or 5 lane highway – not too different from the 401. But, can you imagine the result here if a few cows suddenly appeared meandering toward you or a pedestrian decided to cross – or a truck suddenly came rumbling along toward you on the shoulder. And... if the highway has 4 clearly marked lanes... that only seems to be an invitation to create at least 3 or 4 more... there’s always room to squish a bit.

 Traffic circles are another fascinating experience. Granted nobody knows how to navigate a traffic circle here in Canada – but, they’re usually only on residential streets. In Indian cities everyone just heads directly to whichever point of the compass is their final direction... no matter what types of vehicle or creatures have similar or different intentions... everyone going 6 different directions all at once... and it all works out just fine. And, in all of the traffic chaos – there will be a child riding his bike to school, or a multi generational  family on a scooter – sometimes as many as 5 or 6 people including babies and children.

 The honking is incessant – but not in anger... just a gentle reminder that I am cutting you off, squeezing you out or sneaking up beside you... just so you know... here I am... Most trucks actually have “please honk” signs painted on them... it’s just polite to give them a toot.

 To my amazement, internal flights and Indian airports were anything but chaotic. The service on both IndiGo and Air India was excellent and the airports were oases of well organized calm.

And the people... so welcoming, kind and always want to give you more of everything! Full disclosure, we did stay in the exceptionally high end Oberoi properties throughout most of our journey and we travelled with a private guide and driver. That certainly did shield us from any inconvenience and returning each day to the most beautiful hotels I have ever seen added immensely to our enjoyment of the trip.

All of our arrangements were handled by Yatra Tours that are represented in Canada by my long time friend Doug Vogl. I was absolutely clear with Doug and the folks at Yatra that my trip was strictly a vacation and I didn’t even plan to write it up at all. But, I couldn’t help myself... it was all just too amazing! I must return to India – and so should you!

The Oberoi Amarvilas, Agra  

                                                                           The Oberoi Udaivilas, Udaipur 

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