We love India.
It's one of those places that really sticks with you. It's an intense culture shock and every trip there will be eventful. It's the kind of country you want to go back to time and time again, there's never a dull moment in India.
Here are a few of our favourite memories from visiting this beautiful country:
An unusual spa
India is full of part entrepreneurs, part chancers, and nowhere was this more evident than in Udaipur. Whilst walking around the beautiful lake city we were approached by a couple of guys offering massages and the usual spa treatments. I don't think they ever expected us to take them up on it.
Cat had requested a pedicure, and it was a pedicure like no other. After walking in to the salon there was an intense period of activity. Lots of too-ing and fro-ing and mobile phone conversations. Before she knew it, the whole town turned up, each with a different piece of equipment needed for the job. It started with a foot spa in freezing cold water full of shampoo.
Having successfully distracted Cat with the freezing water, the "spa owners" set about finding someone who had some nail polish and drummed up a grand total of two colours to choose from: bright orange or tipex white. Needless to say she came out with not just her nails, but the majority of her toes painted orange.
Udaipur is one of favourite places in Asia and you can read about it in this blog.
McDonald's unlike anywhere else in the World
I doubt India was a place McDonald's ever thought they'd ever expand to. A predominantly Hindu and Muslim country means around 75% of the western menu will be knocked out. However, where there's a market, there's a way McDonald's will try and make it work.
In India, they've decided to make a menu of several veggie and chicken burgers. My personal favourite was the Maharaja Mac, their equivalent of the Big Mac.
We entered India via the Nepalese border, crossing just south of Lumbini and heading to Gorakhpur. It was one of the more eventful journeys we've taken.
It started with Cat leaving a bag on the bus. We soon found ourselves in a rickshaw chasing down the bus (like a very Indian car chase scene in a movie). With shoes recovered, we hopped into our transport (a jeep) and began making our way to Gorakhpur.
Within 15 minutes one of the passengers lost it. It was a Brit who started screaming and climbing from the back car seat onto the front seat whilst the car was still in motion.
He then began trying to climb through the window of the passenger seat that Cat was sitting in, only then did the driver decide to pull over. Once he bailed out, he grabbed his bag from the roof, stumbled, and almost walked into an oncoming lorry and continued running down the hard shoulder of the motorway.
We never did find out what his problem was, maybe he knew just how bad Gorakhpur was.
Our destination must be one of the roughest places we've ever been to. The fetid smell is everywhere in the city and your choice when walking around is either stick to the roads and risk getting run over or stick to the pavement and wade through piles of trash and human excrement.
Even the hotel didn't provide refuge, it was swarming with cockroaches, covered in blood stains and had small pools of stale water that the mosquitoes just loved.
Can you believe we stayed there? Nor can we, but it was the only place with a bed left.
Get your train classes right
There I was, smug as anything having secured what I thought was a decent class of train travel very cheaply. Later I found out that second class unreserved was actually the worst on the whole train!
Second class unreserved is not second class, but seventh class (the hierarchy goes - First Class AC, First Class, Second Class AC, Second Class, Third Class AC, Third Class, Second Class Unreserved).
This meant we had to squeeze into the carriage crammed full of people, dogs, chickens... you get the picture! The other passengers were kind enough to let us squeeze on a bench seat, one buttock on and one buttock off style, we were eternally grateful because the alternative was standing elbow to elbow like on the London tube for the next six hours.
Our privileged position on a bench meant that you are fair game for holding other passengers' things (and fair enough) this included but was not limited to - babies, handbags and food parcels.
Six hours on a train with hundreds of people silently staring at you can feel like an eternity but they were some of the sweetest people we have ever met, not to mention pretty hilarious. One guy turned to us and said 'Incredible India huh?'.
Indian bureaucracy can be infuriating and nowhere is this more evident than at Delhi Airport. Having rushed to get there, we were greeted at the entrance by two armed guards who asked for proof of an airline ticket. Showing our e-ticket on the iPad, they shook their heads and demanded we must have a paper version....
This required a trip to the conveniently placed Internet cafe next door. 30 minutes later with paper in hand we got passed the first checkpoint.
There were another four rounds of ticket and passport checks before we could get to the departure gate.
Jobs for everyone
We come from a world where we are used to jobs roles expanding more and more. Someone gets made redundant or leaves the company and instead of hiring a new person the company will just palm that person's duties off onto another employee.
That is not the case in India. Going to a petrol station is a good example of this in action. There is someone who will wash the car windscreen while someone else fills the car with petrol. You go to hand the money to the person who filled the car up, but no wait, that's not their job, there is another person who collects the money and passes it to the person who will give you your change.
Confused? So were we, but in the best possible way!
Becoming reluctant celebrities
The first time we visited India we took the train from Mumbai to Goa. We decided to spend a day visiting the temples of Old Goa.
After a while we started to get the feeling that people were staring at us and we mistook this for hostility and felt a little uncomfortable.
It took one bold man to come up to us for a photograph before we realised that people were indeed staring at us, but not with hostility, but curiosity.
It wasn't long before there were queues and we mean literally long snaking queues of people wanting their picture taken with us. We did as many as we could until our faces hurt from all the smiling and we had to make a run for it.
Tales from the Tuk Tuk
We enjoy a good bit of bartering and you do have to if you're going to get a reasonable price for a tuk tuk ride in India. Upon beginning a haggle in Agra we had our starting price accepted immediately, this seemed almost too good to be true. And it was.
Before taking us to our destination we had to stop at several shops along the way and look around, no obligation to buy anything but we realised the driver was taking a commission from the shops just to have brought us there at all.
Our new phrase when hearing a price after that was: '100 rupees? and how many shops with that'?
How good are you at long jump?
Now as most people know, the cow is a sacred animal in India, and they are treated with the utmost respect. They wander freely around major towns and cities and as you might imagine this can lead to a little, or rather a lot of soiled streets.
When staying in cities such as Jodhpur with narrow winding alleyways this can get interesting. Our hotel was down a particularly narrow street and there must have been several large cows hanging out in the area.
In short, in order to exit the street, we had to take long run-ups and then jump as far as we could over the heaped piles of cow dung.
Indian straight talking
We were chatting with our tuk tuk driver about what it was like to live in London vs Delhi. The tail end of the conversation went like this:
Tuk tuk driver: 'Living in London must be very stressful'
Me: 'What makes you say that?'
Tuk tuk driver: 'Because you look so old, you look at least 47. If you lived in India you would look 20 years younger' (we were 28 at the time).
The Indian Ibiza - Pushkar
Pushkar's a sacred city and has quite a few rules in keeping with this status. There is strictly no alcohol, eggs or meat, but you'll quite easily find hallucinogenic lassis (work that one out).
It's also a city of near constant celebration. Most nights you'll hear the sounds of drums, pipe organs (again, not something you expect) and processions through the streets celebrating weddings or holy days.
Then - almost like someone turned the power off - the whole place falls silent. The next day it's like walking through the main strip of Ibiza, seeing the aftermath of the celebrations. You'll suddenly see several people in beige suits with "green" written on the back, clearing it all up in preparation for the next night.
When yes really means no
We had just arrived in Lucknow following the aforementioned second class unreserved train journey and were feeling a little worse for wear. We decided we wanted to treat ourselves to a slightly nicer hotel but after traipsing round most of the hotels in walking distance we discovered we couldn't afford any of them.
Cue the need to find some wifi and take a look online. We headed to the nearest coffee shop. The conversation went like this:
Me: 'Do you have wifi'
Waiter: 'Yes of course"
Me: 'Oh brilliant, thank you. Please could I have a cup of tea'
Waiter brings tea.
Me: 'Please could I have the wifi password?'
Waiter: 'Wifi? No wifi here'.
A trip to the cinema is anything but ordinary
We'd been travelling for a few months by the time we arrived in Delhi. After a few days exploring the city we decided we wanted a bit of a 'home' day and planned a trip to the cinema.
We went to a big flashy mall with a very modern movie theatre. Before entering the cinema we were put through the kind of security check you'd normally associate with the White House.
The film began (James Bond in case you're interested) and all appeared normal. After about 15 minutes the person next to us begun a rather loud mobile phone conversation. We sat there for a while being very British and not saying anything. Eventually, I felt the need to ask them to finish the call outside (it had been around 10 minutes at this point). The person smiled, motioned he'd only be five more minutes and carried on.
However, that was not the end of the fun. The film then cut out, not once but six times, and when it eventually came back on properly the sound was out of sync. This led to loud clapping and wolf whistling from the crowd.
We never did find out what happened in that movie.
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Do you love India as much as we do? Ever had something ridiculous happen to you on your trip there? We'd love to hear from you. Let us know in the comments below.