Top Ten Country Countdown, Number 2: India

Short Journeys: India

If someone was to ask me what is one country in the world that you should visit before you die, then I absolutely without hesitation would say ‘India’. Why? When you go there for any length of time you will certainly see poverty like you have never seen before. You will be confronted with some stark realities – beggars on the train with no legs on trollies for a start, endless slums. You will probably get sick. People will try to rip you off, you will face long delays on the trains, and no doubt you will be overcome by the sheer number of people in the cities.

Offering on the Ganges, Varanasi

Offering on the Ganges, Varanasi

However, it’s this dose of reality amongst the colours, the smells, the beauty of India which completes the picture and you find yourself faced with simply the most stunning, varied, adventurous country you can find on this Earth. Well, top two at least! I swore after one trip to India I would never ever return. I did twice, and would be up for another trip there any day someone gave me the tickets! You don’t just learn about India, or the world when you are there. You don’t just learn about history, colonialism, about the irrepressible force of life. You WILL learn about yourself.

Ok so I’m being or attempting to be rather deep and philosophical here, but it is just the most amazing country on Earth. Over a billion people now, rickshaws, spices, temples, trains, dodgy people, amazing people, good honest people, cricket-mad, economy-growing, one day the world may well revolve around India, and it shouldn’t surprise anyone.

Travelling by train is my favourite way to get around, and the Indian Railways are deservedly legendary. Yes, they don’t go very fast and you can experience big delays (my first time at Delhi station I heard a train being announced as 24 hours late for example), but they are the life and soul of India. People cook on the train, travel inside the carriages, on top of the carriages, between the carriages…

Toy Train, Darjeeling

Toy Train, Darjeeling

The food is spicy. There’s no way around that if you’re like me and haven’t even the slightest tolerance towards spicy foods, however I did find milder dishes in most places. If you like a curry, well, I don’t need to complete this sentence.

As for highlights. Living a day in India is a highlight. Nevertheless, I found Mumbai to be my favourite big city in India. You can see the home of Mahatma Ghandi, the gardens are full of people playing cricket, the bay has something epic about it and Victoria train station is really stunning.

Goa is wonderful to get away from the ultra-craziness of it all. You can party, or if you go down south in Goa you can relax with a lot more privacy. The beaches are as good as they get in India, even if you do have to share them with the odd cow.

Delhi is, in all fairness, a slice of hell, so naturally where I spent the most time in India. It’s the central hub to most of the country, it’s big, polluted, crazy. I arrived there late one night in 1999 for my first taste of India, and believe me I won’t forget that moment. Leaving the airport to see thousands of people at around midnight waiting for loved ones to exit behind a tall fence.

Paraganj - backpacking district, Delhi

Paraganj – backpacking district, Delhi

But Delhi is not all bad. There is good eating, and you can find the backpackers’ area not so far from the station. Of course you don’t want to hang with backpackers all the time you are away from home, but in the midst of the craziness, and Delhi’s traffic is out of this world (the horns never stop in India wherever you are) the backpackers’ area is almost a bit of a safe haven.

But there’s a bit to see and do as well, from the Red Fort to Qutab Minar, and the beautifully elegant Baha’i temple.

Agra is a few hours south by train, and is famed primarily for the Taj Mahal. Give it its dues, it’s stunningly beautiful and not to be missed. I stayed at a little, cheap guesthouse just literally around the corner from the Taj when I was there in 1999. And then I saw my first Bollywood film the afternoon after I saw the Taj in the morning. Oh yes, don’t miss a taste of Bollywood whilst in India!

The Taj Mahal, Agra

The Taj Mahal, Agra

Varanasi. On the Ganges. Up at 5am in the morning to take a boat on the river as the sun rises. That’s what it is all about. Another sacred and special place in India. Beautiful, crazy, with more alleyways than you can poke a stick at. The life of India is the Ganges, and the BEST place to view it, experience it is Varanasi.

Cricket by the Ganges, Varanasi

Cricket by the Ganges, Varanasi

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Amritsar and the Golden Temple. The centre of the Sikh faith, a golden temple surround by water. Unless the water is drained for cleaning as it was when I was there. I went by fire truck to the temple. It was pretty special.

Golden Temple at Amrtisar

Golden Temple at Amrtisar

Darjeeling – fancy a ride on a toy railway? Who doesn’t? Up in the mountains where it’s a lot colder, in a charismatic town with a Tibetan feel.

Children in Darjeeling.

Children in Darjeeling.

There’s so much more too… but there’s only so long I’m prepared to make a blog post. GO TO INDIA. I can’t promise you won’t regret it, but it will change your life in ways you might not have ever expected! If you want to know a little more about some of my experiences in India, then:

Dhakar to Dakar Chapter 3: India

Is a good place to start. Part of

Dhakar to Dakar Book 1: Journey Through Asia

 

And so 10 began, one remains…

10 – Slovakia

9 – Romania

8 – Mali

7 – The United Kingdom

6 – Japan

5 – Central Asia

4 – Laos

3 – Ethiopia

2 – India

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