India is a place you are supposed to LOVE if you are a seasoned traveller. It's seen as a weakness to let this country beat you, once it has thrown down the challenge and bated you with its promise of curry for breakfast and lovely brightly coloured saris.
Did we ever really stand a chance, going to India in the height of Summer? Probably not, no but we faced it like we face all our travels- with a mixture of blind optimism and senseless determination.
I went 10 years ago and came away loving bits of it, so to show the children the world in all its technicolour glory and encourage the youngest's love of architecture, we decided to take the plunge.
Delhi, Agra, Rajasthan- if it gets too hot- the mountains. Easy!
So what went wrong, you ask?
1. THE HEAT.
We knew it would be hot.
It was so hot that that our desert camel trek was cancelled due to children not being allowed out in the extreme heat.
One hour at 47 degrees at Jaipur Palace and we all felt like we all wanted to vomit.
So much burning hot dust everywhere it felt like we'd smoked 20 fags each before lunchtime AND the locals kept telling us off for bringing the children (collective parenting is a thing here)
Still, it would be off-peak season, so there would be fewer tourists and things would be cheaper, right?
2. Rip offs:
We did in fact get good a hotel deal however, much of the tourist industry were scratching around for a living adding 'taxes' left right and centre.
In Ranthambore we did a tiger safari but the tigers were only seen by tourists paying the £100 tip to go off road. Sad for us. Great for the jeep driver.
At the hotel, staff were frequently knocking on our hotel door asking for ‘tips’ so i complained… only to have the staff marched out in front of me and forced to apologise like naughty school children. It was absolutely mortifying- for them and for me. I totally wished I hadn't mentioned a word.
Many tuk tuk drivers tried to over charge us- like, a LOT. Who could blame them though? It's a hard life here. But the touts were persistent and undiluted by other tourists so we noticed them much more.
On top of the over charging Tuk Tuk drivers, tourist buses were not available as there was little demand for them. When we decided to take the kids to Ranthambore National Park to see wild tigers, our choice was public buses or private cars. In the searing desert heat we opted for the private car. A four hour journey cost £40- of which our driver only actually received £4 (see poverty) .
No Welfare state, no health service and over 2 million people homeless on the streets of Delhi according to this article. You’d think there would be people begging everywhere, but actually it wasn’t overly distressing. Well it was actually, just not in a ‘blind boy who suffered an acid attack with no legs on a skateboard’ sort of way that I was bracing myself (and the children) for.
The naked babies, playing with rubbish alone at the side of the road- now that was distressing. The lack of future and hopelessness was tangible. Also see ‘Weeing and Pooing’
The rich/ poor divide was extreme. The 'landlord' system that the British brought with them still seems to be alive and kicking, and those who do not have wealth or property cannot claw their way out.
Hang on, isn't India the 6th wealthiest country in the world now?
Yep, and yet people still have to take a crap in the gutter as they don’t have a toilet or running water.
5. Wees and Poos.
People live in basic accommodation and many don’t have any facilities so they have to go in the street. Sometimes, though they even go just outside the public toilets- I have no idea why. There is no rain to wash this away so bits of the country just smell like an open sewer. I guess though, if you always just go to the loo in the gutter, you get used to it. We noticed it though.
Yes, there were countless stray and injured animals and lots of cows munching their way through rubbish. I also saw a lot of people feeding the strays and showing animals kindness- there was even TWO animal sanctuaries in Dharamshala which was great, Still loads of injuries and poorly dogs that I wanted to take home though.
7. Delhi belly-
The kids were fine. Most people aren’t. Mike and I had the squits for about a week- I think it was just adjustment to new food. We were all vegetarian the whole time time though and followed basic rules: No meat. No Ice cream (due to the instability of the electricity- I doubt it remained frozen for very long) . Check out the hygiene of any street food vendors before purchasing- and return to trusted vendors. Use hand sanitiser before you eat. Easy.
8. Personal space:
India is overcrowded and personal space isn't a 'thing' like it is for us Brits. Men cuddle eachother all the time and everyone crowds into a place without any bother about whether anyone has space to breathe or not.
It’s weird for us if this happens anywhere other than a packed tube- but not for the locals and we probably seem weird to them, with our uptight, unspoken rules!
9. Unwanted attention:
- Misogyny- the biggy. In fact, too big a subject so I gave it its own post. Right here
- Selfies; We didn’t mind the odd photo. Our boys are used to attention after being on the road for 8 months, but this was another level. The attention was worse in tourist hotspots- as, I imagine there were many people from outlying areas who may not have seen many Westerners before- particularly fair-haired small boy-shaped ones.
Our dream trip to the Taj Mahal was marred by the onslaught of people queueing up to pinch the boys’ cheeks and take selfies with them whether we liked it or not. This would not have been such a problem in peak season, but we were the only westerners there and felt like a bigger attraction than the Taj.
It was relentless and left the boys in tears. This pretty much happened every day for the next 3 weeks of our trip. Stepping outside felt like an onslaught and it made them not want to go out.
Still, their dreams of being 'famous like Justin Bieber' have been reassessed, so that must be a good thing.
Would we go back again?
I doubt it.
Could we have done anything differently?
Yes. not gone in the hottest part of the year.
There were bits that we loved, like seeing the Dalai Lama teach (AWESOME) and bouldering at Dharmashala- which was much less hard work than Rajasthan. On the whole though, it was an endurance test that no-one really enjoyed. That is the joy of life though- hindsight is 20:20.
Please see below for details of where we stayed, what we did and how we got around.
Where we stayed:
The beautiful Umaid Bhawan hotel, Jaipur, Rajasthan. £52 per night including taxes, pool and live evening entertainment. Usually £93 per night but we got a special deal on Booking.com.
Madison Grand Hotel, Ranthambore (Sawai Modhupur) £35 per night including breakfast.
Hotel Krishna Deluxe, New Delhi. £25 per night. They tried to add loads of taxes as they thought we got it too cheap on Booking.com (!?!)
India House hotel, Dharamshala. £23 per night. In the middle of everything if that's what you want. Cheap and in walking distance of food, shops, temples, waterfall... Lovely place.
What we did:
Jaipur palace. £9 per adult, Jaipur Rajasthan
Manter Jantar- £6 per adult. Guide paid by donation. Jaipur, Rajasthan.
Ranthambore National Park. £125 for a family of 4 in a jeep.
Teaching of the Dalai Lama, at his temple complex, McleodGanj. Check this website for info.
Bhagsu Waterfall- a short walk from McleodGanj. Free entry with several cafes and drinks stall along the way. We liked to climb the boulders right up to the waterfall then climb back again.
Humayan's Tomb. Beautiful, take a picnic. £7 each adult and almost as lovely as the Taj!
How we got around.
Private cars, worked out as about £10 per hour. Use google maps to calculate.
Overnight sleeper bus to Dharmashala cost £18 per person to get there. £13 to get back. purchased through the hotel.