India - the ‘Marmite Effect’! By Matt West
I have always wanted to experience India and knew I would not be able to take my family (who are used to active beach holidays) until I had checked it out. The perception of India to people who have not been, I find, is a Marmite one – ‘love to go’, or ‘no way’! I asked our Destination Manager Hans Tuinman, to organise me a 7-day ‘see as much as possible’ tour, something our Tailor-made Department can do. I also asked our Flights Department to find me an ‘economic’ Business class flight, and when they came back with a very low price from Air India, I was amazed.
I was met in Delhi by Kuldeep Singh, who was to be my tour leader. It was lovely to have a local guy with me for the trip. He gave me insights into his life in India, and each day we shared things about our lives. He showed me various temples and talked about the numerous religions.
We met up for our first breakfast at 6.30 am. There I was with my antibacterial hand cleaner making sure all the cups and plates were clean so I didn’t catch Delhi Belly. The waiter brought me cornflakes and hot milk! Not really what I was after. I explained to Kuldeep that I would like to eat what he ate where possible. So we went to the buffet and brought back puris with chole beans. About to dive in with my knife and fork, Kuldeep asked if I would be offended if he ate with his hands as this was normal. I’m not sure the antibacterial added to the flavor but the food tasted good eating without tools that morning.
Delhi, the capital of India, is divided into an ancient and a modern part. Old Delhi was the capital of Moghul India between the 12th and the 19th Centuries, and in this part are therefore the mediaeval mosques, forts and bustling bazaars, dating back to Moghul times. Kuldeep took me here in the morning, my first real taste of India, and I was surprised by the mix of modern and ancient, rich and poor. The most lasting memory was the cows in the roads. At busy intersections or in crowded markets they wander freely and feed off rubbish cleared out from the stalls, mainly vegetable rubbish but sadly now some plastic is getting there too. Also the mix of bicycles, oxon carts, rickshaws (both gas and pedal power), tuk tuks and cars. Another eye opener was that all the tuk tuks were gas - they are so far ahead of UK in terms of pollution control.
At some point we stopped for lunch in a lovely Indian restaurant where there were more surprises for me - almost the same menu as I would have in my local Indian in the UK but less fussy and much tastier!
We visited the Red Fort, the Jama Mashid mosque and Chandni Chowk, and took a rickshaw through the bustling bazaar streets. As we were being cycled through the narrow streets the rickshaw driver asked if I wanted to stop at a little street. Why not? In the street kids were playing cricket and asked me to bat. I was bowled for a duck first ball! We could do with some of these in the England team…
We continued to the open, spacious streets of New Delhi, the imperial city created as the capital of India by the British. Here we drove past the India Gate, a war memorial arch, to the impressive Parliament Building and the Rashtrapati Bhawan, once the imperial palace of the British viceroy and now the official residence of the President of India. We also went to see Humayun’s Tomb, a sandstone mausoleum in proper Mughal style (the Taj Mahal, built much later, follows a similar style of architecture).
My introduction to India had been full of new sights, sounds and experiences. And all in just one day…
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