Max and Jenny Williams make their way around the Golden Triangle
Prior to our trip to Thailand in April 2017, we decide to head off a on an eight-day land tour of the ‘Golden Triangle’ in northern India – organised by Gate 1 Travel. This tour will start in New Delhi and take in Jaipur and Agra. We’ll visit colourful Jaipur (the Pink City) where the movies, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel 1 and 2, were set, and then head to Agra to visit to one of the world’s best known icons – the Taj Mahal.
Chemist Warehouse almost had to close down a week before we leave because of a shortage of stock – we had it all in our bags! Travelan, Imodium, antibiotics, Gastro-Stop, Aquatabs, Restavit, hand sanitiser, hand wipes, high strength DEET, sunscreen, tissues and so on. We also had to ensure we were up to date with our vaccinations, so we loaded up with the essentials.
If you ever have to apply for an Indian visa online, you’ll understand our frustration. I’m surprised we haven’t been asked if we’re wearing coloured underwear, such is the degree of information required. Finally, our visas are approved.
After a very slow drive out to the airport because of road works on the ‘Tulla’, we arrive three hours before boarding (Thai Airlines) to beat the queues. The problem is that it seems as if everyone else had the same idea.
The long queue moves like a snake on Valium. A fair number of people have trolleys full of polythene wrapped boxes, multiple suitcases and a number of kids in tow. We survey the large number of small children and look knowingly at each other – we’re in for a doozey of a night. Screaming, crying and smelly kids. Mental note for the future: buy proper noise-cancelling headphones and consider an upgrade from cattle class.
We pop an over-the-counter sleeping tablet and manage to get a couple of hours of sleep on our overnight flight to Bangkok.
The flight out of Bangkok to Delhi was uneventful. We’re able to spread out on this quarter full plane and get some decent rest before our Indian adventure. The immigration queue at Delhi airport isn't long but it still takes about five minutes to process each person.
So far, we’ve only explored one small part of India, but have already formed a view about this country.
Almost half of the 1.3 billion population lives below the poverty line. The population consists mainly Hindus (80 per cent) and Muslims (14 per cent). It is estimated that a baby is born every two seconds. The median age is 29 years old. Only 1 per cent of the population pay taxes and the unemployment rate is over 20 per cent.
In the cities and villages, rubbish is strewn about and in some places piled high. Most of it seems to be plastic bottles and bags. There doesn’t seem to be any personal or national pride in keeping the place clean and we wonder why this is the case, particularly when you see many young well-dressed men standing idle in groups. Hey, why not employ all these people to clean the place up? Simple question but complex cultural answer, I assume.
Cows and bullocks roam the streets searching for food in the rubbish piles and have priority on all thoroughfares. They meander across the road much like the locals – without any thought about the consequences of being hit. The women always seem to be occupied and working, or walking a few paces behind their husbands. It is certainly a male-dominated society. This traditional village culture is one where generally three family generations live in one house ruled by the matriarch, whose daughter-in-law’s role, among other things, is to prepare and dry the cow pats for fuel.
The women generally work the fields while the men are seldom seen there. About 80 per cent of marriages in India are arranged, mostly by the family matriarch. Amazingly, there is only a five per cent divorce rate.
Unlike many other Asian countries we’ve visited, India seems to have embraced the idea of encouraging people not to smoke. Very few men smoke and I haven’t seen one woman partaking. There are dedicated stalls of smoker’s gum or chewing tobacco and it appears that there is a plain packaging policy applied for cigarette sales. There are no obvious sales outlets of cigarettes.
There is no police presence anywhere and road rules seem to be invented on the spot. Cars, trucks, buses, tuk-tuks, motorbikes and pushbikes form an ordered chaos – running red lights, weaving in and out of traffic and ducking as you wonder whether your travel insurance is in order.
There’s an Ashock Leyland truck with a decorated front of flags and glitter and a blow horn pasted on its rear. Here, it seems, automotive paint is thinly coated on vehicles just to allow safe passage. And yet there is no road rage and minimal evidence of road accidents.
In city centres you generally see motorcyclists with helmets, but in outer suburbs or villages, very few wear them, In fact, most motorbikes seem to be able to accommodate up to five people with balancing skills that could get them a job with Cirque Du Soleil.
Basically, it is said that there are three things you need on an Indian road – a good horn, good brakes and good luck!
The inversion layer is pronounced as we near Delhi, the capital of India. On the ground it is cloudless and a little hazy, which mostly clears as the sun’s intensity increases. There is no humidity and the temperature nudges 40°C by mid-afternoon. Delhi is supposedly one of the most polluted cities in the world. It has almost the population of Australia, about half of whom live in slums without adequate basic services. Ironically, Delhi is home to 18 billionaires and 23,000 millionaires.
New Delhi was founded by the British around 1911. The city is well set out with orderly tree-lined boulevards, large roundabouts with gardens and shrubs, and British-era architecture. It is in total contrast to Old Delhi, which was established by Shah Jahan in 1648, although the greater Delhi area has been continuously inhabited since the 6th century BC. We are at our four-star Park Hotel near the centre for the next two nights. With an afternoon to ourselves, we head out and walk some of the local streets and laneways to get a feel for the place. We are targeted by many students and others trying to get us to go to nearby handicraft shops – of course they will get a commission on any purchases.
These places are the same worldwide – you are pounced upon by smooth-talking salesmen (no women here), who lead you from one room to another. There are the usual things: carpets, clothing, jewellery, art, and so on. We dodge their persuasive techniques and bail out. We are well-travelled, hard-nosed Aussies and over the years have bought these sorts of handicrafts from all over the world. The items generally find their way to the rubbish bin or the local Vinnies store during a spring clean or house move years later. These days, we are only likely to buy a fridge magnet or a small trinket as a reminder of our trip. We take a tuk-tuk ride home for $1. For dinner, we venture out and grab a delicious Indian meal at a local restaurant. We have eaten too much. This will really test the inner tubes.
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