GORTLEE BOY HITS THE INDIAN GOLDEN TRIANGLE.
Last week was the opportunity I had to take by ticking a few more things off the bucket-list by visiting Asia for the first time courtesy of an eight day stint in India. A place which seizes all your senses going by the sheer volume of things to see, hear, smell, touch and taste all at one given moment. A place not without its challenges either though as such obstacles as huge congestion, intense heat and the old ‘Delhi Belly’ had to be faced.
By Jonathan Foley
The journey began with an overnight flight from London to New Delhi and sure a seven hour flight is grand. Sure by the time ya squeeze in an in-flight film or two and a bit of grub, you’re as good as there. Prior to this, a lot of people were asking was I looking forward to be heading off to India and was I excited etc.
Truth be told, I’m always the same when I venture off somewhere in that I never have time to enjoy the build-up excitement until I’ve done all I need to do it at the airport check-in, the luggage put-through, the visa, the not losing the passport, but I’ll admit the buzz does start after that’s all done.
Most especially upon the moment when I board the plane and start to see people who, going by their dress and language, are the people from the country I’m visiting.
So for this trip, it was when I saw the women wearing the sharries and the kids with the sallow skin and big brown eyes that the let me know that the trip was only now becoming a reality. Probably what made me realise this more was during the flight itself. As the plane began its descent from the sky, even there, you could begin to feel a change in the atmosphere as the warm air began to set in. Welcome to the Indian subcontinent, me thought. ‘Quare warm already, hiy!’
No sooner had I arrived in Delhi and we were into the drive from the airport to the hotel. You’d expect this to be a fairly routine and uneventful part of the trip, right? Wrong! As fun and bemusing as it was in one way, those driving in this huge congestion of traffic did cause the occasional fright as the traffic laws seemed to be as loose as they come. Still though, all part of the fun and, as you’ll see later, we’d return to some whacky race driving a few days later.
Following the six hour trip from Delhi to Agra the next day, we got to witness a mixture of the historical side of India’s royal past which coincides contrastingly with some of its more modern harsh realities. A visit to what’s known as the ‘Baby Taj’ was a way of seeing age-old architecture, superb marble designs and the most well kept of gardens but at the same time, a simple glance over a wall would show you nearby children begging, living in abject poverty or amusing themselves by playing in highly-polluted lakes or rundown tenements. Having said that, these were still very friendly and happy children despite the circumstances they were living in.
What I did enjoy most about that evening was when I found a bundle of old stones that I could climb up to get a better view of what I thought looked like a very typically Indian photo. It was a huge field where locals were playing numerous games of cricket at one time – many using bricks as the stumps – traditionally dressed women and children cheering them on with the famous Taj Mahal building in the distant background watching over them just as the sun was about to set. These are things that you travel for.
The next day and it was a 4am rise from the hotel. Not your usual wake up time on a holiday, you might say, but it was a must on this particular day it was off to the Taj Mahal itself to see one of the Wonders of the World at sunrise. Now that’s definitely something ticked off from the aforementioned bucket-list. As a History teacher, I’ve often marvelled at the foresight and talent of the people who built such beautiful mausoleums as these, and that they were able to last and stay as iconic as ever centuries later. Seeing the Taj was a sight to behold forever more.
Concerns did rise after such a special visit to such a special place over the question if the rest of the trip could live up to that part. And to be honest, there probably was a slight dip the following day when we went off to visit a series of temples and forts that we stopped off at on the way to the province of Rajasthan. With the greatest of respect to them and their place in history, myself and the group temporarily became a touch fed up of ancient long history lessons in such hot climates, so they became a bit of chore during that part of the trip. In good natured spirit, our guide later joked that he could tell we were all “a bit tired” that day.
It’s not that we were disrespecting the stories from the fifth century royal families; it’s just that I think we cared more about modern day India and how people lived in 2018. Thankfully though, that insightful information came our way almost immediately as we made the trek to the remote and rural surroundings of Dhula Village.
A small area miles from any major town where we slept in purposely made huts and were treated superbly well by the locals. One night a handful of us sat out after dinner and were even given a few beers to enjoy – a rarity in India compared to other holiday destinations – and chatted away under a well-lit night sky with only the noise of critters and a religious figure preaching his teachings over a microphone to the people of the village from the local temple. A sermon of sorts that goes on all through the night.
My abiding memory of that part of the trip was the next morning. After filling up on imodium and copious amounts of water to fight the rumble in my bowels after yet another day on the spicy foods, we got taken on a walk around the village by a local boy. He showed us an old temple, of course, but there was a moment of worry when he brought us to the roof and we were spotted by a fiery-aggressive wild monkey. The local guide raised the alarm by picking up a stick and urging us to get away as quickly as possible. My thought was “if the local guy is afraid, then we should be afraid!” Thankfully nothing came of it and, as you can imagine, I sure was thankful I’d taken the imodium tablets earlier that morning. Phew!
After a brief visit to a school where young children were quietly working away on their English vocabulary lessons, as a teacher, I was amazed at how devoted they were to their work without the technological resources we have in classrooms in these parts of the world. In fact, the kids weren’t even having their lessons inside the school due to the heat and were instead huddled in the shade of a porch area to do their work. A humbling sight.
Upon the next part of the journey, we were off to the more urban surroundings of Jaipur. A bustling and very nice city to see. On route, we went off road for an hour to visit the Chad Baoiri stepwell. An absolute gem of ninth century architecture which way dropped underground but for me, it was a chance to get my geek on, because this place is better known now as the set of ‘the pit’ scenes from The Dark Knight Rises movie. As a fan of those films, I got a buzz out of seeing this place quite a bit.
Our travelling group were well bonded by the time we reached Jaipur and we began to enjoy forts again by the time we reached the spectacular Amber Fort where throngs of people, elephants and camels roamed the grounds. Our guide did plead with us not to avail of the elephant-ride service as he felt strongly that their presence at the fort, instead of the wild, was a form of cruelty. We happily obliged.
And later that day, after a frantic tuc-tuc ride through the city traffic, a handful of our travelling group stopped by The Monkey Temple on the outskirts of the city. A short visit that was full of laughs throughout. Initially we were blessed with a red mark on our foreheads by a Hindu priest and because it was Good Friday, I sniggered during the ceremony when a girl from Limerick in the trip, Deirdre, muttered “well at least we got our Mass in anyway, lads!”
We didn’t know it at the time but this temple area had been previously featured on documentaries by David Attenborough and National Geographic for the sanctuary it provides to the animals. Unlike Dhula, these monkeys were friendly wee lads and were well accustomed to humans. One of whom seemed to take a shine to me by climbing on my shoulders, playing gently with my ears and becoming oddly amused to be holding the browny/reddish hair-colour of mine which I was told they weren’t used to in such parts of the world.
A grand wee trip overall. Great laughs and well looked after by a very friendly race of people. Challenges with the heat and rumbling tummy at times for sure but I wouldn’t have changed a thing. And thankfully I’ve Africa and Japan booked and paid for before the summer is out. As Willie Nelson’s song says: ‘On the Road Agaaain!’ Until next time, Namaste!