A Travellerspoint blog

January 2016

India: Agra

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Our alarms woke us up on day 1 of our India tour at 4:30am. We had a train to catch to Agra at 6am and we had to get ready, pack, check out and navigate the temperamental traffic of Delhi. It was a cold and foggy morning and this coupled with our sleepiness made for a dazed few hours. After a very sweet and delicious masala chai tea at the station, we boarded our train and settled in for the 'supposed' 2 hour journey. Lauren and I were sat separately which was mildly disappointing at first but in the end proved the perfect way to get to know our tour-mates. The train carriage we were on was classed as 'luxury' but it was just like your average 20 year old Merseyrail train; basic seats in a 2 and 3 configuration, with overhead storage, fold down tables (many of which were broken) and limited leg room. One of our tour-mates Mona has brought a HUGE heavy suitcase instead of a backpack (that we’ve affectionately named 'Big Blue') that didn’t fit in the overhead compartment and so had to be stood up in the aisle. This meant that people had to squeeze past it. Everyone was very understanding; one particular Indian man even proclaimed that he was 'too fat' to get past and chuckled as he scraped his protruding belly along it. The only real 'luxury' part of the journey was getting fed. Men wandered up and down the aisles and handed out cutlery followed by a peel-lid carton of lemonade, a pack of digestive buscuits, a cup of tea (Tetley) and then breakfast; which consisted of two vegetable fingers, 3 chips and a few peas along with two pieces of toast, butter, jam and some curious spicy liquidy ketchup. Lauren and I enthusiastically chowed down on it all - always excited to receive free food from strangers.

The fog was immense; for the whole journey all we could see through the windows was white nothingness. At one point mid-nap my brain told me that the train had transformed into a plane and that we were cruising at 30,000 feet amongst the clouds. Perhaps our veggie fingers contained special mushrooms... Because of the fog, the 2 hour journey became 4 and a half hours but amazingly we both somehow managed to not need the toilet, therefore postponing our inevitable Indian rail lavatory experience for another day.

When we arrived at Agra train station, overtired and under-prepared, we were met with a wall of 50 men touting for tuk tuk business. They were shouting and gesticulating with great enthusiasm (edging on aggression) and as soon as our fat Caucasian heads broke into daylight all hell broke loose. Squabbles erupted, with guys pushing and fighting over who had dibs on us and our fat wallets. The commotion got us a little disorientated and at one point Jack, Helen and Lauren were following a random man they thought was our tour-guide Raj. Luckily, Raj quickly re-claimed us and we got on our way to Hotel Amar Yatri Niwas.

On arrival to the hotel we were instantly bemused by the presence of a Costa Coffee, KFC and Pizza Hut. Unfortunately you just can’t escape certain capitalist megaliths even in the less ‘developed’ corners of the world. After freshening up we got on a minibus to Agra Fort, an awe-inspiring palatial UNESCO world heritage site, built by the Mughals and dating back to the 11th century. Our tour guide was called Nadeem but we dubbed him Armani due to his choice of designer garb. After wandering, oooing and ahhing for a few hours Raj took us to a nearby restaurant called Dasaprakash which specialises in dosa; a south Indian filled pancake. For some reason, the paper dosa I ordered was significantly longer than everyone else’s (see pic); I just have to be different... Lauren had the sudden urge for a cream soda but after a few slurps she’d had enough, so obviously being a dutiful girlfriend I helped her out.


After a few minutes of digestion we made our move to the legendary Taj Mahal (Crown Palace). Naturally it’s respectful for women to dress modestly so we brought our sarongs and wrapped them around our heads and shoulders just to draw attention to our tourist-status even more. I won’t go into the history and background of the Taj as you all know how to Google, but I will say that it came into existence as a result of a loving promise between a husband and his dying wife. You might call it the most expensive and impressive romantic gesture ever given. After a short orientation we approached the palace and I can honestly say it took my breath away. Lauren was impressed but also a little underwhelmed (typical). We walked around the grounds trying to imagine whether either of us could be bothered to build a palace for one another if we were dying. We came to the conclusion that even if we had the money and resources we would probably just say we’d build one and then just not bother when the other one finally died. Ahhh love.

Weirdly, the majority of our time at the big T was spent posing for photographs with other visitors. Lauren was eager to replicate the infamous 'Princess Diana sitting on a bench in front of the Taj' scene, but because of the crowds and our new celebrity status, it took 20 minutes just to get the photo set up. After many snaps with random people and their whole family we made our way out and back to our meeting point (the Indian equivalent of Starfucks; Café Coffee Day). We sat out the front and were treated to an impromptu zoological parade; first a large bull came by, followed by a camel and then an old lady with her pet goat. Of course there were a few monkeys and dogs roaming around for good measure too. The bull actually tried to get through the turnstiles into the Taj but was turned away. He must have had a laser-pen on him or something.



That evening Raj took us to a restaurant called Maya where we were seated on a rooftop under some beautiful trees. We were also serenaded by a musical duo playing the sitar and tabla drum, who I jumped on after my meal and forced them to let me have a go on their instruments. It turns out I’m a natural on the sitar. But maybe the guy was just being polite. Lauren’s hand and wrist technique were pretty damn decent on the tabla too. We’re considering starting up a band when we return; the Grones collective.

Posted by advensha 22:22 Archived in India Tagged india backpacking travelling taj_mahal agra agra_fort dosa sitar g_adventures tabla_drum Comments (1)

India: New Delhi

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So far, India has far exceeded our expectations. I'm not entirely sure what our expectations were, but they've definitely been surpassed. We arrived in Delhi at 8:30am and after a bit of a faff with money exchanging (we were given only 1000 rupee notes which are too high to buy a 30 rupee bottle of water), we were on our way to our hotel; C Park Inn in the Karol Bagh district.

We were met at the airport by a lovely young man (unfortunately neither of us can remember his name) who is 21 years old but looks more like 17. He took our bags, bought us water and organised our transfer to the hotel. He is from an area of North India called Haryana. His mother is 34, a fact that made Lauren feel very old. He told us his favourite food is green mustard (a dish from his village) which we obviously are now keen to try. He is studying Hindi, English and Economics in university in order to improve both his and his family's lives. Of course he was incredibly polite, helpful and inquisitive but what struck me the most was his purity. He had a childlike innocence that was infectious. But then again he may have laced our water...


The first thing that hit us about India was the temperature; it was around 10 degrees but felt more like 5. The local people were all wrapped up in big coats, hats and gloves and there we were in our vest tops and light cotton hoodies. More fool us for presuming it was going to be hot. Luckily we brought enough trousers and socks to cope for a while.

The hotel was pretty basic but perfectly adequate. I was actually pleasantly surprised that the en suite had a 'Western' toilet. After a much needed nap, we decided to venture outside to sample some street food. As we made our way to the lobby, the hotel staff seemed a little reluctant to let us outside. They asked us what we needed and whether we wanted them to book us a ride. Of course the ever defiant me declined and proceeded to step over the threshold into deepest, foggiest Delhi.

It was everything you would expect from the capital of a country with a population of 1.3 billion (and growing). The word stifling describes the experience quite well; the polluted air, the traffic noise, the pungent smells of burning diesel, sewerage, hot oil and the sheer quantity of humans (and animals).

We held onto each other tightly and threw ourselves into the chaos. There were a few (easily-allayed) stares but our main concern was not getting mowed down by the relentless traffic. We walked only a few hundred yards from our hotel and found a stall selling samosas which Lauren was more than happy to test for contamination. Said samosa was deep fried there and then on a makeshift stove and tasted amazing; yours for 10 rupees (approx. 10p).


Hunger removed, we decided that for both safety and navigation we shouldn't venture any further so we went back to the hotel to chill for an hour before meeting with our group.

We sat down with our tour group that evening and met Raj (the tour 'CEO') and the other 6 travellers. In the group there are two other Brits (a couple), one Norweigan, two Aussies (a couple) and one American. We were pleasantly surprised by the mix of ages (youngest 22, eldest 32 and the rest in between) and they all seem to be on a similar wave-length to us. Raj is an excellent guide and a meticulous planner; in fact we've been spoiled by him and are a little concerned that we'll be useless when left to our own devices!

After our introduction, Raj took us to a restaurant a 20 minute walk away. As before, navigating the streets of Delhi was an experience, especially at night time, but we got to grips with it pretty quickly. In order to get across the heavily congested carriageways, junctions and roundabouts, pedestrians have to just walk out into the traffic, raise their hands making a 'stop' gesture and for the most part, have a blind faith that drivers will stop for you. It certainly gets your adrenaline pumping and your sphincter twitching. And it's not only cars you have to contend with, there are tuk tuks, mopeds, motorbikes, bicycles, buses, trucks, horse-and-carts, cows, dogs and occasionally a camel or elephant. Here's some accompanying video footage;

The restaurant was good; we stuck with vaguely familiar dishes such as paneer and lentils all washed down with massive Kingfisher beers. The thing I was most impressed with (and this says it all about me) is how the bills were organised. Each individual's order was itemised and processed on a bill and given to the customer. So each of us had our own bill with only what we ordered on it. This practice is India-wide and makes bill paying 10 times easier and fairer without all of the awkward 'splitting the bill' scenarios we get at home.

At the end of the meal a small tray of what looked like white gravel was passed around. Raj explained that these were sweet fennel crystals that are traditionally chewed after a meal as a digestif and to freshen breath. Although neither of us are big fennel fans we were immediate converts and now look forward to the 'fennel gravel' when we go for food.

After a busy and somewhat overwhelming day we retired to bed, filled with excitement, apprehension and curry, ready for the first day of the tour tomorrow.

Posted by advensha 23:14 Archived in India Tagged traffic india travelling backpackers new_delhi g_adventures Comments (0)

The night before

Sore throat and mental numbness

So we're sat in Irlam at Lauren's Mum and Dad's home, watching Celebrity Big Brother, melting into the sofa and counting down the hours to our imminent advensha.

Tomorrow morning we'll be on our way to Manchester airport, over-packed bags in tow and realisation setting-in (hopefully).

Lauren has been struck down with a steadily-worsening sore throat today; which I strongly suspect is anxiety manifested.

I am currently ailment free but feeling oddly numb about everything that's happened and is about to happen.

In the past 6 months, I've abetted all of these "big" changes in my life; a drastic haircut, premeditated unemployment and technical homelessness and of course a half "gap year" around the world's largest continent.

Anyone would expect a level of apprehension, fear, nervousness, excitement, regret, anxiety, enthusiasm or, at the very least, disbelief and denial.

The only overriding feeling I have at the moment lack of feeling. I couldn't even accurately describe it as apathy. I just feel numb.

I've gone back and forth on whether this is a positive or negative thing and for the time being, I'm just accepting it. There's no point having emotional expectations or putting additional undue pressure on myself. I am just hoping I don't have some sort of meltdown after we've arrived!

We've done our last bit of re-packing, we've organised our money, our travelling outfits, our hand luggage, our paperwork and our minds as best as we can.

The day has been filled with goodbyes, in person, on the phone and on this internet thing. So our duties are, as far as we can tell, fulfilled.

It all starts tomorrow. Wish us luck.


NB: Excuse the bad quality photo - it was taken on my laptop's inbuilt webcam in relative darkness.

Posted by advensha 14:07 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

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