"I took her to see India!"
"yes, at The Oval!"India always seemed to me like a place that I should go, and not just because I like curry. It's always had an appeal and, strangely, the exchange above from Fawlty Towers consolidated that, especially as I can't stand cricket so was unlikely to visit The Oval. My research into visiting actual India showed me that navigating around the place was like a Crystal Maze IQ challenge so I decided to go on a tour with Great Railway Journeys, who took care of all of that for me.
One thing I love about going overseas is that despite how much you read, how much you ask people who've been there and how much you quiz the natives residing or visiting the UK, you always see things no-one ever mentioned.
RailwaysIn the end we selected a Great Rail Journey that took in Delhi, Shimla, Agra and Jaipur. After arriving in Delhi on an overnight flight we were taken to a hotel in Delhi and threatened with our lives if we were to even think about drinking the local water. And ice was considered a killer of westerners far more threatening than Al Qaeda. We were then served ice in a jug of local water, which I shied away from as if it were plutonium. "Give me lager!" I demanded (nicely), it is by far the safest drink in India.
In the evening, after discussing the possibility of diarrhoea and being stuck on a train, with every member of the tour, I decided to fill my body with curry. Many of the others chose Irish stew, much to their later regret.
It was a joy to visit Delhi station early the next day. Entire families seemed to live on the platforms, eating, sleeping and, er yes, everything else. And how friendly they were too. Clearly living on a station you had to be pretty poor, but they smiled at us, showed no obvious resentment and went about their business, which could be quite horrible.
We took the Shatabdi Express to Kalka, our first taste of Indian Railways.
|Family platform at Delhi station.|
|Pretty much everything can be done railside. I have not included 'everything' for the sake of taste and decency.|
|On-train snack, Marie biscuits, not seen in the UK since the 60s.|
Toy TrainIn Kalka we changed to the sort of train you normally find on a fairground to get to Shimla. Actually called the 'Toy Train', it was a delightful thing, but not if you had to spend four hours on it. The line had been built by the British after Shimla had been made the summer capital of the Raj. A bit like making Thurso the capital of the UK when it gets a bit humid in London, and making everyone travel there by Hornby.
|Light at the end of the tunnel.|
|Do what the elephant says.|
|You'll get a shock if you try to complain here.|
|Sort of van train|
ShimlaThe summer capital of the Raj was incredibly British. There was mock Tudor all over the show, as well as a neo-Gothic church. The weather was bearable too, a bit like Snowdonia in the summer (we were in Shimla in October) and the hotel, the Oberoi Cecil, an absolute charmer, though they made the piano player play with a broken arm.
|Real monkey, warding off dehydration.|
|Monkey god, looking over Shimla.|
|Foothills of the Himalayas|
|Neo-Gothic church, Shimla|
|Mock-Tudor town hall, Shimla|
|I am the egg man.|
|Controversial issue in India|
|Black Forest Gateau! No steak and chips though.|
|Broadcasting corporation mascot.|
|Hindustan, which used to be a Morris Oxford.|
Driving in IndiaIt is difficult to describe the utter chaos that is the roads of India. There are no rules, none that anybody obeys anyway. If you were to do some of the things they do in the UK you would literally be considered to be attempting to take your own life and those of a number of other people too.
|It is clear that there is a 90 degrees bend here: an ideal overtaking situation, according to the Indian Highway Code.|
|Life's a gas, unless you run into this chap, which seems all too likely.|
|"If I kill us both, at least you've got the portable stairway to heaven."|
|Taking out the wife and mother-in-law.|
|Tour de France in India, the 'freight event'.|
|If you drive in these conditions, you need a sleep...|
|Our coach did a three-point turn on a main road. At no point did the traffic going either way stop.|
This was an aspect of India that had never been mentioned to me. I have never seen so much rubbish, and I lived through the UK's 'Winter of Discontent'. The Indian government is determined to do something about this with a big 'clear up' and the commencement of refuse collection.
But this is not as simple as it seems. If you took away the rubbish from some villages, there wouldn't be any village left. Many people live off the mountains of junk, sifting through it, finding things they can barter or sell. Some of it entirely innocent, and some not, like the refilling of mineral-water bottles with tap or other water, a killer for some people.
|"It might be rubbish, but it's my rubbish."|
|"Press 1 if you already have an elephant, 2 if your elephant needs development..."|
|Beautiful Diwali decoration made of flowers|