Through the night my first overnight, long bus journey in India. Sleep did not come… pretty much at all. Just before dawn, whilst it was still mostly dark, I arrived in Delhi at a bus park where I was to change buses to go to Jaipur. I found the second bus, and the driver was kind enough to open it up to me so that I could grab an hour or two’s sleep, as it wasn’t due to leave until 7-8am.
And then the bus journey began! The difference from this one and the previous one was simply that now, I could see the road and where I was going. In India, that’s not necessarily a good thing. The road was pretty busy, and along dry valleys the road did wander. The horn blowing was pretty excessive, and the bus seemed to be in a serious hurry.
It was overtaking everything at any opportunity, no matter how insane the chances of making the pass was. The rules of the road in India – ‘Might is Right’, were obvious. If there’s a bus trying to pass, you let it. Unless you’re a big-ass truck, bigger than the bus. The trucks are decorated beautifully throughout the subcontinent by the way. Yes, they are seriously intimidating too, but all in all, it is unique and a little bit special.
But what was seriously worrying about the journey was the number of vehicles down the valley. Yes, there had been some serious carnage on the roads, and it was on display for all those that drove past. It was more than one or two, I must have seen a couple of dozen over the time of the trip from Delhi to Jaipur. Add that to the jolting nature of the bus ride, as the driver kept hitting the break then speeding up, it was a serious and unforgettable experience.
And so I alighted the bus and found my way to the Evergreen Guesthouse, really very shaky after what had been a very scary bus ride. I resolved to take trains wherever possible, and to take the much slower and less dangerous local buses if I had no other options.
The Evergreen Guesthouse was a backpacker favourite, especially with the – dare I say it – ‘hippy crowd’. Still, it was a little haven just off the main road in Jaipur which was as crazy as most main roads in Jaipur.
In Jaipur I was challenged. I found myself taken to a house by a guy I met at the post office (he helped me post a package home). Suddenly I was having the hard word put on me to buy a bunch of gems from another guy to sell when I arrived in Europe. Well, I did get out of there but it was really difficult. They made me pay for a coke they gave me too! Apparently it’s a popular scam in Jaipur.
The sites of the city are pretty impressive – a bunch of palaces and so on, and I took a day tour with a rickshaw driver called Ahmed, and he showed me around in a bit of a daze, and then I met his family at the end which was nice. Then, the gut gave out on me! And it wasn’t to fix itself until I left India.
Nevertheless, I moved on and took a night train down to Udaipur, a city famed for its palace on the lake that was used in the James Bond film ‘Octopussy’. It’s a charismatic place with wonderful white marble, lots of narrow streets that are a lot of fun to explore. I stayed at the Lal Ghat Guesthouse which was on the lake and really nice, and cheap.
From there I headed to Sawai Madhopur, positioned near Ranthambore National Park which is known for its tigers. However, I sadly didn’t catch a glimpse of a tiger there, in my one day ‘safari’ – just in a bus – but I did see plenty of antelope.
From there, it was bus and train journey to Agra. Yes, the stomach was still bad, but Agra was great. The Taj Mahal is as amazing as I had imagined – and on a Friday morning in 1999, it was free. My hotel (Hotel Sheela) was perfectly positioned (and very cheap! Around 8 bucks back then) less than five minutes walk from the Taj. But the best thing was making a couple of new friends from the UK, who I went to the cinema with to see my very first Bollywood film ‘Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’. It was a brilliant experience, and yes, today I have a small collection of Bollywood DVDs (don’t judge me!). But in the cinema, the fact that three foreigners were there to see a Bollywood film, and they chatted with us and sang the songs as they came on screen. It was a great experience.
And just as I was enjoying India again, after being sick every day and not seeing tigers, it turned on me that evening. I took a late train back to Delhi. As I arrived in the big bad capital again, I looked for a rickshaw to take me to the Ringo Guesthouse, where I could get a dorm bed for around four dollars and there would be a number of travellers to chat with. However, the rickshaw wallah refused and instead took me to a travel agent who tried to get me into an expensive hotel. They called someone who pretended to work at the Ringo Guesthouse and told me that it was fully booked. So back to the expensive hotel they tried to push me.
I couldn’t afford it, so instead they got me into a cheaper one which I begrudgingly took after it had been around an hour. I had a cupboard of a room, with a black and white TV and a bright red neon sign on the other side of my window. I watched cricket on the TV until about 4.30am, got two hours sleep, and was out the front door (where they asked me to pay taxes!) and I was gone.
I took a rickshaw to Conaught Place and from there could walk to the Ringo Guesthouse. I stayed two nights and got to check out the pretty cool train museum. It was so bloody hot! Over 40 degrees every day. My time in India was coming to a close. At least at the Ringo Guesthouse I had plenty of other backpackers to talk to. I was shown a diary by one such backpacker, with all her tickets and stuff stuck in – which is where I got the idea to do the same. From this point my diaries were far more detailed and beautified.
As I went to seep, Delhi was somewhat quiet and dark. I was then woken up by an earthquake. It was officially my first earthquake ever. These days, been there, done that! The next morning, I had to go to the airport to head to Europe.
The taxi then had a bit of a bingle on the way to the airport! I distinctly remember being so over India by this point, that I encouraged the driver to just keep on going and not worry about it. And he did! Well, no real damage had been done.
For the last 2 weeks, half the time I had been in India, I had been running to the loo every bloody day. Yes, it’s something you didn’t want to know. But that was the main reason that India had dragged me down so far.
And yet, the day I arrived in Europe, that issue had disappeared. India. It was brilliant, it was awful. Scams and dodgy bellies versus Bollywood and the Taj. Not to mention the generosity. India. It’s always unforgettable. And, it was done, for the time being. Now I was on the way to the next destination and Europe. I was on my way to Denmark.