And a big friendly, slightly smelly and dusty hello from India friends! First of all, I would like to extend my apologies to my readers – Chris and my Mum – for taking so long to get around to writing. As you may know, I’ve been wandering around India, trying to find my way and I’ve been wondering if there’s a correlation between the fact that the past 5 weeks have been pretty overwhelming and so overwhelming I’ve almost felt too overwhelmed to write – and I NEVER feel too overwhelmed to write. In fact, when I’m overwhelmed by things I write. This time, I’ve been exhausted to do so and can’t seem to stop using the word “overwhelming” What a mess – I’ll get into that later. Digression aside, let’s proceed.
I arrived in Delhi after a pretty manic week in São Paulo, Brazil, 18th April. To start, everything was going to plan. I’d conquered North Peru, and I was taking a night bus to Lima to stay with a friend before flying off to Paraguay to grab a connecting flight to some random place called Curitiba in Brazil. This would give me ULTIMATE time to explore parts of Brazil before making my way to São Paulo to catch my three flight flight to Delhi – you following? Yes? Good. I’ll continue.
At first I’d thought of flying straight into São Paulo and hovering around until my flight to India – the flight from Paraguay to Curitiba actually had a stopover in São Paulo – which would have useful, but to book a flight direct was too expensive and they told me they wouldn’t let me off. So I’d decided I’d have some days exploring Brazil as much as I could and was looking forward to my slightly inconvenient, albeit exciting venture from Peru to Paraguay to Brazil.
Emily makes a mistake
Funnily enough I seem to have a problem with a 24 hour close system after almost making the same error here, booking a flight from India to Malaysia at 00.30. Does anyone actually know which day a flight leaves if it’s 00.30? Evening of the day? Morning of the day after? Morning of the day before that evening?! SOMEONE TELL ME. I was absolutely sure it was the evening .. so there I am, at 4pm in Lima struggling to check in to my 00.30 flight and decide to phone up LATAM to inform them helpfully that their system is down.
“I’m trying to check in for my flight at 00.30 and your system isn’t letting me, I think there may be a problem with your app”
“Actually Madam, your flight was at 00.30 this morning so you are 15 hours late and have missed it”
So I decided to book a flight that night, which I was running severely late for, on the same flight path: Lima – Paraguay ( a stop in São Paulo) Paraguay – Curitiba only to realise we are delayed by two hours and I realise I’m going to miss my connecting flight from São Paulo to Paraguay and thus my following flight from Paraguay to Curitiba. (Also, let us not forget how much money I’ve currently lost in the space of two days). Upon arrival in São Paulo, with four language barriers, three crying fits and two LATAM staff being rude, dismissive and telling me they’re refusing to refund me over £100 for the flight I paid for from Paraguay to Curitiba because it was with another airline, I realise I am now even more penniless than the day before and stuck in a part of Brazil I didn’t want to stay in, having to wait until my departing flight to Delhi five days later.
Leaving São Paulo and its drug addled customers behind in the arrivals lounge, I choose Cafe Hostel as my base for the next five days and spend a brilliant time partying, writing and singing Karaoke to try and forget how broke I now am most nights before flying to my first stop South Africa.
My first flight arrived in Johannesburg where I had a day to explore before jetting off the following morning. The time difference I’ve been used to is technically 7 hours behind Johannesburg with Brazil 5 hours behind. I arrive exhausted and decide that I’ll probably never visit again, and thus should be productive through my jet lag, drink three coffees and learn a bit about South Africa’s history. Curiocity Johannesburg was a great hostel to stay in a nicer part of town, however even just walking around the neighbourhood made me feel uncomfortable. I was acutely aware of the security at every road who didn’t look like they were capable of catching a mouse let alone anyone nastier, the fact that homeless people were coming into the cafe I was eating at to beg for money and weren’t being told to leave and that I felt predominantly white, like I was sticking out like a sore thumb. It was an interesting feeling for me, because so often you hear about stories on the other hand, from people of colour feeling segregated and now, here I am, in a country where race has divided a nation feeling it in 2019. I’m not unhappy to have felt like that, in fact it was a strong and relatable emotion to start my Apartheid Museum tour off on. I had never known much about Nelson Mandela, but found the museum and its creative way of making you feel as divided by colour as people were back up until the 1990s incredible. I was given a ticket with a skin colour printed on it, and walked through the correct entrance assigned for it. I was shown into a world where benches, toilets, taxi stands and buses were allocated to someone based on their skin colour and learnt about one man’s determination to bring this to an end. I left the museum, bursting full of knowledge, continuing severe jet lag and a new found appreciation for South Africa’s history.
The following morning I jumped/crawled on a flight to Doha exhausted, and caught another connecting flight to Delhi, deciding to spend slightly extra on a hotel to relax in before my 15 day Uncover India tour the following afternoon and thus starting my Indian adventure.
The 15 day Uncover India was run by G Adventures and started in Delhi, through Jaipur, Rajasthan, small villages on the outskirts, Mumbai through to the end in Goa. It was my first time travelling so intensely with a group of people that I’d never met before and incredibly different to travelling by yourself. It’s impossible to squash a 2 week trip through so many cities into a blog post, so let me give you 3 pointers I find to be important. Please recognise that these are only my thoughts and feelings on India, lots of people have agreed and disagreed and this is only one person’s opinion. I have now been here nearly two months.
1. India has a beauty to it, which I’ve discovered from the differences between each city, but I’ve found it extremely hard to find unless I’ve looked really, really closely. The Taj Mahal was breathtaking, the cities of Pushkar and Udaipur were also beautiful, magical places to walk around and get lost in, but I’ve found that they are shadowed by dusty roads and watchful eyes.
2. I am grateful for experiencing India in a group for 15 days. Transitioning from South America to India which felt like a different world the moment you stepped out of the airport was hard, and I’m glad that for 15 days I didn’t need to start researching all the transport options through such a huge country. I’m grateful to have met such interesting people on this tour, and sharing that experience with them was great, but it must be said, I found it difficult to adjust from a care free, solo, travel experience to an organised group, where cliques can be formed and judgement can be found. From travelling solo it’s been evident to me how people in their rawest form can be kind and unkind, funny and rude, communicators and disregarders – we are human after all. I’ve realised that in hostels, you gravitate towards personalities suited to yours naturally, and you have space from those who you don’t blend with. In a group of varying personal traits and opinions, words and conversation can get lost, misunderstood and it can be hard to find the people you can authentically connect with. I’ve never been one for loose friendships, that’s why the people I’ve met in hostels I speak to nearly daily. They are my rocks and people I can have deep and meaningful conversations with. Sometimes, when you’re thrust together, you can feel like you don’t belong, change yourself for the people you’re with and the endless chatter of insecurity runs free and you have to be strong to get through it. You have to learn not to take comments personally and realise when you get left behind in shops in the middle of nowhere, that is not down to your values but someone else’s.
3. India is different to any country I’ve ever been to before. It’s an all encompassing mental and sensual experience, and everything is BUSY. There are an unlimited amount of animals, vehicles and people on the roads, the air is dusty and there’s rubbish everywhere. You’re stared at more often then you can stare in the first place and the humidity is intense. I am thankful to have had the opportunity to visit many countries over the years, and I’ve realised I have felt safer in Ghana, West Africa than I have here. Men, both individually and in their groups have stared at me to the point where I’ve felt uncomfortable, men have come up to me laying on a busy beach and not left me alone even when I’ve told them to leave, men have catcalled to me more times in a day then white van drivers in North West London. I am acutely aware of the stories you hear in the media and in turn of how different society views women here – and I hate it.
I think it’s important to get across that Emily 5 years ago would be annoyed to have immersed herself in a country she didn’t vibe with. In contrast however, I have LOVED not loving India. I have stayed here despite another friend leaving for the same reasons of feeling uncomfortable to see if my thoughts could have been changed on it, and along the way, of course, I have met some wonderful people who have transformed my experience. India has increased my patience to that of over 100% and I can proudly say that after I leaving, I shall never be coming back again, other than catching my flight into Bangkok but I’m super duper proud of myself for giving more of India a chance than falling at the first hurdle nearly 7 weeks ago. I have had the joyous experience of travelling through peaceful beach towns the last few weeks and am writing, reading and relaxing on a lovely houseboat in Kerala before moving onwards to Malaysia before my impending flight to LONDON.
I challenge each and every person to come to India and see for yourself how you love it or hate it – India to me is like Marmite. I think everyone’s opinion on it differs extreme amounts and people can take away factors that were both positive and negative. Upon arriving in Kerala, a friend told me I might get bored, and yet I’m loving this peaceful and tranquil part of the country. It just goes to show that every minuscule part of India is thought on differently and is really personal to the traveller visiting. I’ve loved immersing myself in such a different culture but perhaps the culture was just too different for me to get to grips with. I’d love to know your opinions on India, please leave comments below!