The many faces of India

Arriving into Delhi train station early morning and seeing the commuters scurrying around like millions of ants crawling all over the trains (people spilling out of the windows to piling on top of the carriages) — the sheer number of people makes you stop and stare in bewilderment.

As you drive along the streets heading to Agra, Northern India you pass by the dusty, dirty and crowded roads with cars, trucks, people, cows, tea stands and rubbish all vying to claim their place in a land where space is one of the biggest commodities.

Walking from the grotty street you pass through a narrow-arched walkway. You arrive and it feels as if you have stepped through into a magical kingdom. You look ahead and the sight literally takes your breath away…

There is nothing to do except be in complete and utter awe at this building- an exquisite monument that was built for love. Its intricate design, clean gardens and surrounds is a vast contrast to what awaits you when you leave the grounds of the Taj Mahal.

Built by Emperor Shah Jahan in the 17th Century as a resting place for his favourite wife Mumtaz Mahal- this is the world’s ultimate monument for love and is India’s most revered tourist attraction and one of the new seven wonders of the world.

To me, the Taj Mahal captures all that is the real India; on the outside you see the dirty, poverty-stricken India that the world associates with this country but when you look a little closer and dig a little deeper India’s riches and immense beauty reveals itself to those who choose to see its real worth.

This is the real India. The trials and challenges, the dirt and dust, the hardships and struggles completely mixed in and intertwined with the dense forests, the roar of the animals, the melting pot of tradition versus modern living and the gold, jewels, riches and astounding wealth that envelope this fascinating country.

For better or for worse, in sickness and in health. This is India.

I remember spending the whole day at the Taj Mahal just looking, watching, staring in amazement.

Racing through the streets of Chennai then still named Madras in Tamil Nadu Southern India, our auto-rickshaw driver sped his way through the streets in the crazy style that only Indian rickshaw drivers know how to do; weaving past thousands of pedestrians, rushing by truck stop cafes on the sides of the road, whizzing around countless cows, chickens and goats aimlessly wandering past us and avoiding the massive trucks that screech past with their horns blaring getting out of their paths in true Indian ‘jungle law’ style.

This was my introduction to this country as a 12 year old on our first family holiday there and my first hour in this insane city.

My family travelled all our lives. For my parents’ work, for holidays and for the sake of travel. We travelled just to travel and to experience the 4 corners of the Earth.

My second hour in India met with our crazy auto-rickshaw driver getting stopped by a policeman, pulled out of his driver’s seat, getting punched by the same policeman then being sent on his merry way (with all of us still in the back).

This was clearly too much culture shock for even my child self who was already a seasoned traveller- I started to cry…

It took me years to realise- For better or for worse. In sickness and in health. This is the real India.

India is a land of extremes. A phenomenal place to travel to and a place which makes you confront everything that you think you know and believe.

Day 2 of our holiday found me walking past a street corner seeing a girl, not much older than me back then, homeless, crippled, begging. I couldn’t believe what I saw. On the last day of our trip I asked my mother to bag up all my clothes. We walked to that street corner and I gave her the plastic bag with my belongings. She just looked up at me and I looked at her.

A year later our family went back again for holidays. I saw that same girl again sitting on the same street corner. A year later, on the last day of our trip, I bagged up all my clothes again and took it too her. A year later she looked up at me and I looked at her.

When I was 15 we moved to India.

As an adult I have been back there many times on holidays and each time I go back it still amazes me. For better or for worse, in sickness and in health- this is the real India.

From the poverty to the excessive riches, the cast system that is still there and always will be- India is all about extremes.

It is an assault on all your senses. The sights, the smells, the tastes, the noise- it is all there in large doses, every minute of every day.

If you have ever travelled through India you will remember that feeling of meeting fellow travellers from around the world all there in search of something different- whether they know it or not. Travellers become friends over curry dinners and the conversation inevitably ranges from ‘delhi belly’ and the latest stomach queaziness to travelling by train and sitting in 3rd class to where to find the best markets for shopping and the most beautiful palaces to visit.

It is in these commonalities and in the extremes that this place touches your mind and your heart and makes it one of the most amazing places in the world to not just witness but to be part of.

For better or for worse, in sickness and in health. This is India.

For those of you interested in travelling to India from Australia, Qantas and Singapore Airlines fly daily via Singapore with connections onto all major cities in India. Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways also fly to India via the Middle East. The new player to enter the Australian skies Malindo Air now has flights from Melbourne and Brisbane via its hub Kuala Lumpur to all major cities in India.

For any other information or tips for travelling around India, please clap and comment below or message me directly.

As always, enjoy your travels!

Lia

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