This is a brief report on both my first trip overseas and into India. If anyone would like to talk, please feel free to Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I flew from Sydney via Singapore, with an unexpected over night stop over in Singapore. I found Singapore airport and the city surrounding it to be very pleasant. Everything was well run and the people were ever helpful. I spent my brief stay wandering Little India, akin to the Chinatown of most cities but with an Indian flavour.
The first thing I noticed about India was that it has a smell to it, akin to something musky and minty, I just don't have the words for it, its not unpleasant or pleasing, just very Indian. I even found that peanuts in the Hotel Sahil had a taste akin to the scent.
I've had numerous explanations drift in to me about this - ranging from coconut oil used as a skin balm to dried cow dung fires - I don't know. All I know is that the experience of India is an exotic and chaotic free-for-all that impacts all senses and leaves you stunned.
I arrived in Bombay (Mumbai) very late at night and found the customs people helpful and efficient. I used the pre-paid taxi service to get me to my hotel and had my first encounter with street hustlers, something that would trouble my trip. I could not escape these touts anywhere I went. I think that 'big' solo foreign travellers, like myself, are especially susceptible to their attacks.
I spent two days and three nights in Bombay and found the city to be a real culture shock. It was the street life that threw me, I had read a lot before my trip and assumed I was prepared - very dumb move. I did the usual tourist spots, museums and parks, and ate at some nice little places.
I then moved on to Udaipur and had really good time for four days. I must recommend my one true friend of the whole trip here to everyone. If you are in Udaipur, please look up Istiyak Khan, auto-rickshaw wallah, at the Hotel Mahendra Prakash.
In Udaipur, I stayed one day one at the Lake Palace Hotel, part of the Taj Chain. It was a one of those must do experiences. I toured the city and spent time at the Bhartiya Lok Kala Museum (crafts and puppets), Saheliyon Ki Bari (Garden of the Maids of Honour), Nehru Island Park on Fateh Sagar Lake, Pratap Smarak, and the Monsoon Palace. I ate at the Lake Palace restaurant and enjoyed some folk dancing.
On day two I toured the temples, both current and ruined, and was enthralled. I then lunched with my friend Khan in a new hill-side restaurant with sweeping river views. I have never before eaten a vegetarian smorgasbord with good friendship and kingfisher beer while watching eagles soar over distant temples. It was one of those magical moments in my life. After lunch I took the 110Rs boat tour of Pichola Lake and ambled around Jagmandir. That night I attended the folk dances at Meera Bhawan, Sector 11, and was thrilled by the peacock dance. Khan and I then had thali for dinner in my first encounter with India street food. I enjoyed the food greatly and luckily avoided Delhi Belly.
Day three was spent at Jaisamand Lake and exploring the ruined Summer Palace. With a very pleasant dinner afterwards at my hotel (Oriental Palace), yet again with my brother Khan.
I left Udaipur early the next day, with Khan seeing me off.
I found Jaipur to be a major rip-off in my two days there, although the old buildings were quite nice and one auto-rickshaw wallah was helpful. I was impressed and saddened by Tiger Fort, it must have been truly beautiful before it fell into ruin.
I cut my trip short in Delhi, as I found travelling alone to be a real mistake. I got very low and had a lot of trouble starting conversations with the locals. I usually mix fairly well, but the constant silent stares were really off-putting. I think that you must definitely make the first move and don't be put off if your first few tries are unsuccessful. Also, tell touts to get lost as soon as they appear, be rude by all means. I found it the only way to get some peace.
I did tour Delhi, both Old and New, and was amazed at the Red Fort. I did both the day tour and the night tour of it, and have some fantastic photographs. I also did the sights of New Delhi and found the restaurants to be great.
I was humbled by the simplicity of the ghat where Gandhi was cremated.
All in all the trip was both good and bad. I still cant make up my mind whether I enjoyed India or not. I guess its that sort of place.
I had no trouble with Air India or the trains, the service was excellent. All of my long range internal Indian travel was by train. I pre-booked from Sydney and had no trouble catching all of my connections. I travelled at the upper end of the price bracket, although my trip into Delhi was in 2nd class. I enjoyed the views from the train, but the lack of people willing to talk to was a low point.
The aerial views, during the Delhi-Singapore flight, of the rolling Indian countryside with rivers snaking across vast plains were awe-inspiring, full of the majestic splendour of the ancient lands.
I do plan on going back. But the next time I'll go with Indian friends and avoid the solo travel blues.
My warmest thanks must go to Istiyak Khan (once again), Nazeer Ahmed and Feroz of Kashmir Himalayan Expeditions, Sleem Javed (370871 in Jaipur), and all the waiters and housekeeping people who helped to cope as best I could.
Thanks to all of you and best wishes always.