Today is the 5th day of my Indian journey. Me and my mother arrived to the chaotic New Delhi on October the 6th we soon ourselves captivated by the way of life of the people here.
Having already traveled to Egypt, I was no stranger of the extreme hassle of the touts and hawkers, but our experience at the New Delhi train station (on a sunday, way past the closing hours of the International ticket office) was a complete nightmare.
Long story short, we were unable to book a train ticket to Agra and ended up booking a private tour of 11 days trough Agra and most of the Rajasthan region.
My original idea was to backpack all the way to the desert at Jaisalmer using a combination of coaches and trains, but the relatively cheap price of this custom-made tour really convinced me to just go for it and enjoy comfort in what is starting to shape up as the most chaotic and yet astonishingly beautiful country I’ve visited.
A word of advice? If you want to travel in India by using railway, be sure to book in advance, reservations can be made up to 90 days, do not expect to find a last-minute ticket available upon arrival.
So, having just a few more hours left at Delhi before departing early in the morning for Agra the next day, we did the best thing we could do at this time: go shopping.
We figured that we would still have to explore the Indian capital on our way back from Rhajastan so we decided to go to one of the many textile shops located within the city and buy some traditional clothing for our visit to the Taj Mahal.
Our private driver kindly took us to an outlet with fixed prices to save us the hassle of having to bargain, so even tough it was quite outside our budget, we ended buying one outfit each.
We were ready for a new journey of wonders.
Traveling like a Rajah
Rajah is a word that can be roughly translated as an Indian Prince, and so far, I have regretfully felt like one. With everything, from driver/guide to stays at 4-stars hotels already been taken care of, the feeling of guilt as we pass through an impoverished village on an A/C car really gets to one.
It is sad to start thinking that even tough India is part of the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China), a great percentage of the population of its most touristic cities lives in poverty, something that it isn’t quite so in the case of Russia and Brazil (and yes, I visited of the favelas and trust me, they’re nothing like this).
During the 5-hour journey from Delhi to Agra, there was quite a lot to see on the road, from abandoned cows roaming the road, who, after running out of milk are left behind by their owners instead of sending them to the slaughter-house since they are sacred, to kids playing football and the occasional seller of handicrafts, books and even photographs with cute little monkeys dressed like humans.
In many ways, this was like Mexico, where necessity and creativity combine to offer a vast array of means for people to gain money.
A few dollars can buy you a lot in India, from a decent meal to a private guide, but it sure cannot buy you peace of mind.
My first impression of India
Unlike the Egyptians guides that I encountered at Giza and Luxor, the Indian guides that I’ve met so far are some of the kindest and noblest people I’ve ever met. Even tough the fee of the city tour guides is already included in the package, they often go the extra mile to ensure you have a good time (often taking pictures of you with your camera for free).
At the end of the tour, they just thank you for your visit and are prepared to leave. Tipping is entirely optional and they won’t neither demand it or complain if you choose not to tip them.
This came as a real surprise to me since in Egypt I was almost attacked by a guide after I tipped him what he considered as something small and made demands for a greater tip.
Another aspect that I greatly appreciate about the Indian culture is the hospitality and honesty that they have, since (at least in my particular experience), they tell beforehand if a store/restaurant is aimed at tourists or at locals and discuss upfront whether they shall receive a commission or not. This established trust really comes in handy when its time to make purchases.
Also, when it comes to the specifics of haggling prices with merchants, I have come to learn that big stores with fixed prices are less likely to follow you offering discounts while small shops and street vendors will follow you up to your car, opening the windows and not only accepting your initial low-offering but also sweetening the deal with a free gift or two. Amazing, right?
A splash of culture and nature
So far, we have visited the Taj Mahal, the crown jewel of Islamic art and a new wonder of the world as well as the two other most important buildings of the Mughal era: The Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri, the ghost city.
In Jaipur we have explored the Amber Fort, the Monkey Temple and the City Palace, where the current royal family of Rhajastan currently resides? Did you know that one of their rulers was a Polo fan who died during a tournament? Shocking, isn’t it?
In future entries I shall go in-depth about the particular cities and temples that I’ve visited so far as well as sharing the travel photography about this fascinating country. For now, I leave you with this amazing quote by Thomas Jefferson: “Traveling makes men wiser, but less happy” Agree, disagree?
Have you ever visited India? Would you like to? Hit the comments section down below and share your opinion!!!
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