India Gap Year Travel : Delhi, Jaipur, Haryana & Mumbai
I arrived in Delhi on the 11th October at 1 am. The atmosphere outside the airport was hot and dusty with a thick smell of cows & pollution. I managed to find my cousin Rajesh and we headed to his house in East Delhi.
Even though Delhi’s pollution has decreased recently, the old trucks can really belch out some toxic fumes. The area around Rajesh’s home was totally deserted except for gangs of wild dogs roaming the street.
I always expected the first day of my gap year world travel to be a shock and I was not disappointed.
Rajesh’s house was quite pleasant with marble flooring and ceiling fans in each room. I was pleased to see mosquito netting on each window. I slept well on the first night and it made a change to have so much room compared to the cramped conditions on the outbound Lufthansa flight. The first night is usually the hardest in a strange country but I adapted very quickly and was pleased that the journey had started.
Breakfast and food in general was very similar to home except that Indians often have parathas and sag for breakfast. The tea is usually very milky with lots of sugar. For the first couple of days It was quite an unusual experience walking on the streets of Delhi with its strange blend of cows, dogs, motorbikes, rickshaws and dusty pollution. I often took a motorised rickshaw to travel to various destinations and although everyone beeps and disregards any driving rules, I felt fairly safe in the knowledge that they are good drivers. An average journey only costs around 70 rupees (one pound).
I visited the usual tourist attractions with Rajesh and then with Kavita (who is a musician friend of my fathers) including the Red Fort, Gandhi Smriti (formerly Birla House where Gandhi spent the last 144 days of his life) and the Presidential Palace in central Delhi. The most amazing site was Chandni Chowk market. The whole market was jammed packed with all sorts of people selling clothes, food, bags etc. Everyone was rushing around and the traffic often mingled with the people at the edge of the crowds. The market area is huge with one main road and many side streets which were little more than five feet across. On the edge of the market lay a few slums with whole families living on the streets. Little children of 2 or 3 years mingled with grandmothers as they searched the filthy rubbish for anything useful.
I also travelled to various temples and some were quite beautiful. The Lotus temple in particular is quite spectacular as it is a large building in the shape of a white lotus flower. Delhi also has a few historic forts and mosques but it was difficult to enjoy them in the heat and pollution of the mid day sun.
Three days into my journey, I arrived in Rewari which is just outside Delhi in a state called Haryana. The town is quite small and is the place where I was born. The first meeting with my relations was quite emotional as we had not seen each other since I was 5 years of age. There were three families living in the large house and it was quite a lively place with young children running around. Rewari as a place was quite poor with lots of rubbish on the streets. There are many schools in the region and my uncle asked me to visit the Somany Institute of Technology where he is a governor. I expected a short visit but I was amazed at the response of the headmaster. He gathered over 300 students to hear me talk about life and work in London. They set up a stand with a microphone and invited the local and national press to cover the event. I had 30 minutes to prepare the speech but it went down very well with the students and many of them asked questions after my 20 minute speech. I was shocked to see my face and article in local and national papers the next day. Overall it was a great experience. I left Rewari after a few days. The hospitality of all my relations was overwhelming and and the whole trip was quite an experience.
In the second week I went to Jaipur which is an amazing place with beautiful forts and palaces in the lake. I hired a driver for one day to take me around all the forts and other sites and the cost only came to 8 pounds. I also did the customary ride on an elephant.
After sixteen days in Delhi, I travelled for seventeen hours on the Rajdhani Express train until I reached Mumbai. The train journey was long and exhausting and it was quite a relief when it was over. My relation came to meet me at the station and I was quite relieved that he managed to find me through the sea of people at the station.
Mumbai (formerly Bombay) is very hot and humid. I visited a few sites such as the harbour and Elephanta caves with its ancient statues of Hindu gods and goddesses. The caves date back to the 5th century and the statues of Shiva are quite striking.
Mumbai has the biggest slums in Asia and this sits uneasily with the wealth generated by Mumbai’s global position as the home of Bollywood. Travelling around Mumbai was fairly straightforward as I used mostly inexpensive air-conditioned taxis to get around. The trains in Mumbai are not for the faint hearted as the platforms are packed and many people get on the trains while they are still moving. Everyone just charged onto the train and no allowances were made for the weak or elderly. There are usually a couple of carriages for women only on each train but after using the trains once, I decided to stick to taxis for the remaining time I had in Mumbai if I was going to survive until the next stage of my gap year. I was quite relieved to leave Mumbai and caught an overnight train to Goa which took around twelve hours.