As we drove to Ankit’s hometown from the airport today, I experienced the biggest culture shock of my life.
Within five minutes of pulling out of Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi, we encountered children tapping at the car windows, trying to sell us fresh roses and toy airplanes. Monkeys were casually hanging out with a couple of pigs on the side of the road, and yes, there were cows everywhere. The traffic was chaotic; car horns continuously sounded in a disorganised symphony, and roundabouts were like the automotive version of Russian roulette – every time you ventured out onto one, you were dicing with death.
Two-car lanes were somehow magically transformed into four-car lanes, and brightly coloured tuk-tuks were a law unto themselves. Buses packed to the seams with passengers seemed to think it was fun to try and ram us off the road, while motorbikes and bicycles zig-zagged in and out of traffic and across the road, further peppering the chaos. And then there were people. Absolutely everywhere.
Namaste, India. I’m extremely pleased to meet you. You’re just as beautifully chaotic as I expected you to be. I’ve already identified a spot where a scene to a Bollywood movie was filmed, so maybe we’re not complete strangers after all.
This is the 15th country that I’m visiting and it’s the one that I’ve waited the longest to get to. My love affair with India began back in 2001 when I was studying at the University of Leicester. Leicester has a very large Indian population living there; Belgrave Road is mini India, with sari shops, sweet shops, restaurants and food stalls lining the entire stretch. Lights are put up to celebrate Diwali, and there’s also a spectacular fireworks show.
While in Leicester, I had many friends of Indian heritage, so at the age of 19 I was taught how to make daal and authentic curries (real Indian food – not a vindaloo in sight). So (not surprisingly) the love affair began in my belly. I’d regularly take a trip to one of the many sweet shops to buy ras malai and marvel at the rows upon rows of multi-coloured delicacies, and I’d indulge in spicy curries whenever my pocket allowed me to.
Pictures of Indian weddings fascinated me; the colours, the traditions, the grandeur of it all. I pleaded with one of my friends at the time to hurry up and get married so that I could wear a sari. I also started watching Bollywood movies and listening to Hindi music. So much so, that I remember my grandma believing that the ‘real’ reason I was fascinated with India was that I had an Indian boyfriend.
It’s been more than ten years since I first declared that I wanted to visit India, and I’ve only just made it here. I looked into coming years ago, but the truth is, India can be a challenging country for a solo female traveller, and many Indians whom I am friends with back in Dubai recommended I visit with a local. They assured me this would be the most enjoyable way of doing it.
Turns out, life is a funny old thing. Two years ago I met and fell in love with an Indian, and over the last two years my education on the culture continued. And so now I finally find myself here, ready to explore it for an entire month, with my local in tow. Here are just a few of the things that I’m looking forward to.
This is a given. Indian food is my favourite cuisine, and it’s time to finally try it out at the source. I’m going to learn how to cook more dishes by watching Ankit’s mum, I’m going to sample delicious chaat and to hell with the risk of food poisoning, and I’m going to bore you all with loads of pictures on social media. Bring on the Buddha belly; it’s time to embrace being chubby.
Spending time with Ankit’s family
I first got to meet Ankit’s mum, dad and brother earlier this year, so I’m really looking forward to spending more time with them and visiting places together. I also cannot wait to explore Dehradun and to finally see the town where my beau grew up in.
What an amazing time to be in India! Diwali is the country’s biggest holiday of the year and the festival celebrates the victory of good over evil, light over darkness and knowledge over ignorance. I’m looking forward to experiencing the country during the festive season, witnessing the different traditions and taking a stupid amount of pictures. The colours! The food! The lights! The clothes! Who knows, maybe I’ll also finally get to wear a sari.
The places we’re going to see
India is a massive and diverse country. Unfortunately, this time round we only have a month to explore, so we’ll only touch upon some of the fascinating places the country has to offer. The Taj Mahal, Jaipur and Udaipur are just a few of the hotspots I’m eagerly awaiting to finally see.
Writing about what India is really like
Out of all the countries we’ve been to so far, people have expressed the most interest in hearing about my opinion of India; Europeans who are slightly apprehensive to visit want to see the country through my eyes, while Indians are extremely interested to know what my experience of it is.
I’m not one for sugar coating my experiences, as you may have guessed in posts such as How Not To Hike In Sapa, but I’m also not one to shy away from a challenge. So rest assured that I’ll report it all to you; the good, the bad, the ugly, the astounding. I’ll also hopefully dispel some common misconceptions and inspire more of you to take the leap and visit India.
So there we have it. Keep your eyes peeled for daily updates across social media (if you haven’t already, now is definitely the time to like us on Facebook, and to follow us on Twitter and Instagram). Cannot wait to share the experience with you all.