Going abroad is great. Within no time, you seem to have forgotten what day it is, and it doesn’t even seem to matter. Time begins to evaporate, and you’ll spend hours in a rooftop cafe, sipping a lassi, listening to the birds chirp and the dogs bark…
Unfortunately, the difficulty with this disassociation between you and time starts to become apparent when you spend way too long sleeping, turn up late to group meetings, and get panicked in Indian fortresses when you’re by yourself at the top of a turret and the train to the next city leaves in twenty minutes.
Suddenly you remember that, back in your normal life at home, time is absolutely always of the essence, that you spend most of every day checking your phone, and why, oh why, did you think it was a sensible idea to go travelling without any kind of watch?? After two weeks of using my iPod to set my morning alarms and asking everyone around me for the time (because apparently carrying my iPod around in the daytime was too much of a struggle), I finally decided it was necessary to procure a timepiece of my own.
Shopping for the perfect Indian watch
I’m not really a fan of the typical watch, though; with the amount of random bracelets I wear on each wrist (surely set to increase as this trip continues), watches often get in my way. But I knew I had to buckle down to the constraints of modern society – and for the sake of my travel companions’ tempers – so I popped into a little store near our hotel in Delhi, and asked for ‘the cheapest watches you have’.
After being presented with a watch face surrounded by glittering flower petals in different colours, and hearing that it was priced at a hefty 350R (about £4), I reasoned that the store probably didn’t have what I was looking for and tried to leave, telling the owner that his stock was ‘simply too lovely to be cheap enough for me’.
I was almost out of the door when his aged father, sat in the corner with bottle-top specs covering most of his face, suddenly piped up in Hindi, gesticulating wildly to his son. The man’s face lit up. He ran to a different cabinet, pulled out a couple of boxes, and returned triumphantly to me, wielding a package with a gleam in his eye.
“This is special, special, and only 300 rupees! Gandhi’s watch, look!”
And from the moment I saw it, I was in love.
Getting used to India
India is known the world over as being a hot country. Ever since my arrival a few weeks ago, the weather’s been getting steadily hotter – and it increased with a distinct vengeance after Holi, the flamboyant colour festival that celebrates spring and the coming of the harvest. It’s also the event I’ve been looking forward to ever since I touched down in Asia – and it certainly didn’t disappoint.
We’d ended up in Orchha, the last little town left on our itinerary for the first trip’s leg, and also the place with the most Westerners we’d seen in two weeks. While it was somewhat annoying to be classed into the tourist bubble again, I’m not gonna lie: there was a definite relief at not being stared at quite as much.
Yet where the staring stopped, the selling began, and Orchha quickly became the place where I happily succumbed to the first wave of shopper’s delight.
It all started with the requisite of ‘needing’ destroyable clothes for Holi, as the coloured powders that are thrown around with such wild abandon tend to be the kind that will stain whatever they touch.
And so we set off, in search of clothes that we’d be happy to see the back of after one day of wearing, which of course led me to a hippy shop with awesome, sky blue, baggy trousers that somehow found their way into a plastic bag attached to my hand in exchange for money… A bracelet from a entrepreneurial begging child and a silver ring later, and Orchha was fast becoming my new favourite place to spend a little money.
Let’s play Holi!!
Luckily, Holi celebrations got in the way of my potential shopping spree – being greeted at breakfast with a faceful of coloured powder was just the beginning.
We rode around town in a rickshaw, stopping at the houses of various families that Chetan knew, and playing Holi with a steady stream of little children, who relished the chance to cover foreigners in colour.
We’d been informed that running out into the streets during the festival could prove a bit problematic, as the local children had developed their own tradition of throwing mud, wet dirt and sewage from the streets at each other. God knows why they thought this was more fun than the coloured powder, but we were certainly wary of every small kid with a glint in their eye and a hand behind their back for a good few days!
Once the festival was over, spotting the aftermath of Holi was probably even more fun than taking part in it. Somehow the little town of Orchha had exploded into colour, with every building, animal and piece of graffiti even brighter than usual. A veritable photographer’s dream…
Exploring the capital of Delhi
We enjoyed a whirlwind few days in the capital, wandering through the streets of Old Delhi, visiting Qutub Minar, Gandhi’s house, the National Museum and India Gate – and also found ourselves at McDonalds more than once. This was not my idea in the slightest, but the fault of certain Americans and Ozzies who plaintively claimed that they simply had to see what a ‘Chicken Maharaja Mac’ was like.
As a newly pseudo-vegetarian (for the extent of my stay in India, at least) I went for a Veggie Burger, which – sadly – tasted as bland as I expected it to.
After saying farewell to our wonderful leader, Chetan, our group was taken on by another leader, a 28 year old guy from Udaipur named Myank, and we welcomed six new members into the fold.
All of whom are women.
The next section of our group trip around India
The addition of our new travellers now means we amount to twelve; eight girls under the age of 27, two women in their fifties and our requisite two men, who are destined to share a room every night again for the next three weeks, owing the the company’s single sex room-sharing policy.
As for us girls, we’re switching room buddies at every new hotel, which means a nice mix up of night time conversations. But for the first night as a group, we headed to the most fascinating of Indian experiences.
The overnight train.
We’d already taken a night train to get into Delhi from Orchha, but at a trifling six hours it didn’t really feel right to class it as a real overnighter. This second journey, from Delhi to Jaisalmer, took 12 hours, and provided me with copious tidbits of information to bear in mind for any future overnight train journeys in India.
- not to use your sleeping bag, but to ensure both earplugs and eye mask are within easy reach;
- to go to the loo as soon into the journey as possible to avoid the rapidly-declining cleanliness of the bathroom;
- to keep all valuable possessions in easy reach at all times;
- and to always drink the on-board chai with caution, after hearing from an Indian woman that the newspapers recently reported a train line was found guilty of using Tippex instead of milk to whiten up their tea.
With those exceptions aside, though, the trains in India are actually a fascinating experience. A huge amount of different people stagger through the corridors on every continually bumpy journey, and you constantly find yourself embroiled in impromptu conversations every step of the way.
Obviously this isn’t the most welcome thing at 3am when you just want to get to sleep, but at most other points of the ride it’s great!
Arriving into Jaisalmer
The midday sun involved just as much staring as ever, but this time it was bathed in the desert heat of Rajasthan, which afforded us the ability to don sunglasses as we started sweating profusely, and thus simply not care about the amount of eyes directed our way.
And once we walked inside Jaisalmer’s famous living fort, it didn’t seem to matter a jot anymore; despite the city certainly being touristy, the winding lanes and gorgeously photogenic buildings were nonetheless completely captivating.
Because we were staying inside the fort’s walls (jostling for space amongst all the other guest houses) we didn’t need to venture out into the city and instead could just get lost in the alleyways all day.
There was also the option of getting sucked into a scarf shop with a salesman who looked “exactly like Tom Cruise” in his own words, drinking chai after chai and ending up buying a whole load of scarves that the weather won’t let us wear.
Yet somehow we keep trying – if only to justify the purchases…
Luckily there was a need for at least a couple of the scarves, as we headed off into the Thar desert for a night of bonfires and fireworks under the ridiculously bright stars.
Neither I, nor my arse, was prepared for the rigours of camel riding, but the two hours ‘riding’ (read: walking slowly and very bumpily) through the sand dunes was definitely an experience I won’t forget in a hurry.
Our camels carried us shakily but surely to our designated camping spot, just in time for the sun to set. From the top of the dunes with an ice cold Kingfisher in hand, we dug our toes into the sand and tried to make the dung beetles race, while absorbing the information that Pakistan was a mere 60 km away.
After a thali dinner of daal, rice, roti and mango pickle, we set the desert sky ablaze with a collection of hastily purchased and probably insanely dangerous Indian fireworks, which were, of course, awesome.
We spent that night sleeping under the stars – although most of us took a long while to actually close our eyes, because staring up at the constellations was simply too incredible.
Staying on the clock… an Indian one
But time moves quickly, as Gandhi’s watch keeps telling me. I’m already in Jodhpur, the famed Blue City, still baking hot and contemplating an eight hour bus ride tomorrow; our only means of reaching Udaipur. But today is both St Paddy’s Day and a group member’s birthday, so the evening will involve a trip to the local bar/pub/discotheque – definitely destined to be an experience unto itself.
My bag is already bulging at the seams and there’s still a large amount of Rajasthan to drag my shopper’s eyesight and pursestrings through, so I’m hoping to find some lucky travellers who’ll be happy receiving half my belongings.
And as for travel plans after the group trip finishes? There’s a vague plan for the rest of my time in India starting to come together slowly, with various strands of working, volunteering, and meditating all coming to the fore.
And I might even be heading to Thailand too…