Before I left for India, everyone who had been there (and everything I had read) tried to prepare me for the chaos, the crowdedness, the poverty and the exploitation of tourists all over India. I was frankly pretty anxious about what I would find in India, and almost considered touring in South East Asia because I wasn’t sure I would be up to India after Nepal.
So, when we landed in Delhi and the prepaid taxi wanted 400 rupees when we expected it to be about 250-300, we were positive that already, 10 minutes in to our India experience, someone was pulling one on us. But what could we do? Upon comparison with friends, it turns out that 400 rupees is, in fact, the going rate.
On the drive from the airport to the Main Bazaar where we were staying, I saw tree-lined avenues, working stoplights, paved roads, street signs, people using turn signals… Was I in New Delhi, or Paris? At one stoplight, a bedraggled looking woman with a small baby started knocking on the window of our cab asking for money. To date, after 15 days in India, she is the only beggar to approach us while in a vehicle. Where are the masses of beggars I expected to accost me every time I stepped on the street?
The taxi driver took us to an intersection and insisted that he couldn’t go any further because vans weren’t allowed in the bazaar, but we were really close. Freaked out that he was abandoning us in some unknown part of the city, we tried to argue with him, which in India is the best way to get about 34 other whatever-wallahs to crowd around and try to insert themselves in the situation. We decided that several dozen gesticulating, shouting taxi-wallahs was more scary than wandering alone with our bags, so we left. Turns out, the driver was right, and we were no more than 20 meters from our hotel. Why did this man tell me the truth and not try to lie or rip me off?
I had been in India for an hour and I was in shock… about my lack of culture shock. Was Delhi really pretty nice, or was I just so used to the much lower standard of living in Kathmandu that India felt like a major upgrade? Delhi continued to surprise me, as we went between tourist attractions, shopped and zipped around the cities. While it’s no glitzy, shiny European metropolis, Delhi felt like a great mix of infrastructure and color and flavor. There were no cows, almost no beggars, no trash on the streets, and trees and beautifully paved streets everywhere. The auto-rickshaw instantly because my favorite mode of transportation—it’s cheap, easily slides through traffic and is a great way to see the city zip by while still providing a measure of protection (In contrast, the cyclo-rickshaw is an experience we had once and that I hope to never have again).
After a few days in Delhi, we rented a car and driver for a day trip to Agra to see the Taj Mahal (my life is so tough). Checkmark on the bucket list, we bundled off before dawn the next morning for our first journey on the Indian Railways to head to Pushkar.
The journey to Pushkar was probably our toughest, but even that feels a little whiney to say, because nothing really went badly. 5:30am at the New Delhi Railway Station brings crushes of people and a lot of confusion, and for about 15 seconds we let ourselves be tricked by someone who tried to tell us that we couldn’t board the train with our printed e-ticket. We quickly realized this was complete b-s and boarded the train. Aside from some motion sickness from riding backwards for 7 hours, we had an enjoyable train ride. Things went downhill in the station- we were tricked in to taking an auto-rickshaw to a bus stand 100m away when we thought he was taking us the 18km to Pushkar, and we had to fight pretty hard to get on the bus from Ajmer to Pushkar (pretty sure I knocked someone out by swinging by giant backpack in to their face). The bus was one of the most crowded rides I’ve had this journey, and was made even more hot and sweaty by the old lady who sat on my calf (don’t know how that’s even possible, but hajuramma made it happen). After 45 minutes of cooking like sardines, we arrived in Pushkar and decided to find the Beit Chabad on foot.
We decided that when arriving in a new place, we would try to find the Beit Chabad to put down our bags and ask other Israeli travellers for recommendations on guesthouses. This is a great idea… if you don’t have a lot of stuff. But when you are carrying more than 50lbs on your back (and front), a 15 minute walk after an 8 hour journey feels like one of the cruelest forms of torture possible. However, our methods were successful in the end, and we found ourselves a lovely hotel on the edge of Beersheva, I mean, Pushkar. After Thamel in Kathmandu, I was used to seeing tons of Israeli backpackers, signs and menus in Hebrew and shopkeepers who would call to us with “Shalom, mechir tov, bo…” (Hello, good price, come). But Pushkar was on another level. We were surrounded by dozens of Israelis, and ordered Israeli food off Hebrew menus.
In short, Pushkar was a great and relaxing break—it’s a beautiful and calm city with ghats and restaurants by the lake that make for great people-watching, there is tons of cheap shopping and it was nice to spend a few days in the company of many other Israelis. After several packed days of eating and drinking coffee, and then sitting in the sun waiting until it was time to eat and drink coffee again, we had to head back to Delhi. We had been three from TbT together, myself a girl and a guy, and when we left Pushkar, we said goodbye to the guy, who wasn’t joining us for the journey to Kochi.
Overall, the first half of our time in India was marked by a lot of food, relaxing, shopping and generally enjoying after working and dealing with the conditions in Nepal.