Four weddings and many funerals in incredible India
I’ve wanted to visit India for as long as I can remember. I’m not even sure why – it’s just one of those places that has always fascinated me.
So when my colleague Sharon and I were chatting about holidays, and she said she felt exactly the same, a plan was hatched.
Our husbands couldn’t understand the attraction. Dirty, smelly, overcrowded, and Delhi belly, were words bandied about. They were having none of it — so we went without them.
Dirty, smelly and overcrowded India certainly is, but also endlessly amazing, often beautiful, and strangely hypnotic.
Our ten-day visit was organised by a Travel Counsellor with experience of getting people all over the world. Sharon swore by him, which was good enough for me, and the trip was amazing.
We travelled independently, opting for the standard beginners’ tour, known as The Golden Triangle, of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, and then tagged on a couple of days in Varanasi.
No matter how much you read, how many pictures you see, or how many films or documentaries you watch, nothing can really prepare you for India.
It is often described as an assault on the senses, and that is certainly true. From the moment we landed at Delhi, everything was such a rush of colour, bustle and, more than anything, noise.
Indian traffic has to be experienced to be believed. The roads are packed full of walkers, bicycles, motorbikes, rickshaws, tuk-tuks, cars, vans, lorries, cyclists, sleeping beggars, dogs, cows, monkeys — even camels and elephants in some places.
There seem to be no rules — although our drivers assured us there were — with people going in any direction they want, relying on constant hooting of horns to warn of their approach.
Amazingly, we didn’t see a single accident, and we quickly learned that the best way to cross a road is just to go for it. Everyone else seems to work round you.
“This is incredible India,” our guide said, smiling at our alarm.
Music is also ever-present in India, and as we were there in the wedding season, the raucous sound of enthusiastic but not overly-tuneful wedding bands echoed on well into most nights.
Our guide invited us to go with him to see a wedding procession — his best friend’s cousin’s best friend was the bridegroom — but with so many going on it was well after 9pm and our fourth attempt before we found the right one.
We were welcomed as exotic guests, and were soon dancing along the street with hundreds of strangers, both thinking: what would our mothers say?
We visited many of the classic sights of India, including the stunningly beautiful Taj Mahal, rode on elephants to the Amber Fort, stayed with families in their homes, and witnessed desperate poverty and squalor, but the place that got into our hearts was Varanasi, which is the spiritual capital of India.
On the banks of the Ganges, it is seen as the holiest place to die, so thousands of people people travel from all over their country to spend their final days there, and have their bodies cremated on the riverbank.
Sitting silently on a small boat, seeing the timeless rituals carried out by the families, was an experience that will stay with us for a very long time.
It’s not called incredible India for nothing.