India holiday competition winner, their story
Every other month, someone who has booked their holiday through Responsible Travel is chosen as a winner of our Win a Holiday competition. This month one of our lucky winners reports back from India, where they travelled down the Ganges.
"What on earth had I been working on before I left here two weeks ago? I had absolutely no idea.
Now that's the sign of a good holiday!"
It's a grey Monday morning and I stare at my desk. I rifle though some papers, flick through my diary and stare at the lists on the whiteboard in the hope that I’ll remember. But no, nothing comes back to me. "What on earth had I been working on before I left here two weeks ago?" I had absolutely no idea. Now that's the sign of a good holiday!
My husband Eurwyn and I had already decided that our main holiday in 2007 was to be in India. We still had to agree on where in India to visit, when to go and what to do when we got there! Straight away Eurwyn was gunning for the Himalaya and I was starting to build a good case for the supposedly beautiful south. We decided to leave these discussions for another day…
Winning the holiday
The email from Amelia at Responsible Travel was a little strange: “I emailed you earlier this month in reference to the win a holiday competition. I was just enquiring as to whether all the plans are coming along OK with Intrepid Travel?” I stared at the screen, more than a little baffled. It sounded like I’d won a holiday, but knew nothing about it. Excitement welled up in me, Oh my god! I’ve won a holiday! Then, suddenly my emotions took a nosedive. Oh no! I didn’t receive any previous email, this email must have been meant for someone else and had been sent to me by mistake. But hang on, it was addressed to me by name, so…
Well, I could sit here and guess all day, or I could reply and find out. And so it turned out that we had won a two week holiday to India called Slowly Down the Ganges. Argument decided!
I must make an apology at this point in the story. I do not write for a living, I am not a trained novelist or journalist. The fact is I have absolutely no idea how to go about putting India into words! It is quite simply the most amazing place I have ever been. India is so much more than a string of superlatives on a page. It is possible to describe the look of the places we saw, it is possible to explain the things we did and portray the people we met, but what is impossible to communicate is the sheer noise of the place, the happiness, the absolute poverty, the vibrant colours, the death, the air thick with spices, the music, the taste of the most delicious curries, the thickest pollution, the feeling of being pulled along by huge crowds of people – people with the biggest smiles. So, bear with me while I try to explain my India, in less than a thousand amateurish words…
"I have absolutely no idea how to go about putting India into words! It is quite simply the most amazing
place I have ever been. India is so much more than a string of superlatives on a page."
When I visit London with work, it always makes me laugh when I arrive. I live in a small village in north Wales, and if we saw anyone walking as fast as Londoners do down the main street, we would think there was a fire! The pace of life is so different. I think Londoners would feel something similar on arrival in New Delhi! The place is absolutely crazy, and during the first journey you take through the streets, it seems like the city is stuck on fast forward. Despite the huge population (11.5 million) there is no sitting around in traffic jams for these people… oh no, they just stick their hand on the horn and go for it full pelt, weaving in and out of anyone or anything in their way! As one taxi driver put it: “You need three things to drive around here; a good horn, good brakes and good luck!”
After a couple of days sightseeing in New Delhi we took an overnight train to the town of Mirzapur on the River Ganges: the most sacred of Hindu rivers. We freshened up and made our way to the banks of the huge river where our boats were waiting. And so began three days of “Delhi Detox” as we sailed slowly down the peaceful water. Here we saw our first Hindu cremations on the Ghats leading down to the river, we stopped and explored rural villages, ate fabulous curries miraculously prepared on the tiny food boat, watched Ganges dolphins swimming by, and above all else chatted, relaxed and watched India slide by.
We arrived in Varanasi three days later - an experience that nothing can prepare you for. It is simply unique. I hesitate to describe it here as I think it is different things to different people. To some it must be a spiritually moving experience, to others it must seem hellish. To me it was a combination of both: a place of contrasts. We saw the burning Ghats on which the dead are cremated, which was poignant as well as sometimes disturbing, but we also saw a huge festival of women while we were there which was an amazing spectacle.
We got up at 5.30 one morning to see the rising sun over the river and witness the early morning prayers and bathing. What we got instead was a city jam-packed with thousands of people. So many people in fact, we barely made it down to the river! With music and the most deafening fireworks imaginable, another day in India had begun! We left Varanasi after a few days and took an overnight train for Agra, and made the obligatory visits to the Red Fort and the Taj Mahal, both of which were incredible sights.
Next, on to Jaipur, the “Pink City” from where we visited the Amber Fort, bargained for some beautiful Rajasthani textiles, ate more fantastic food and watched the sun go down from a small fort set high above this huge city. We also visited a charity that provides shelter and education for former street kids. They are taught how to make jewellery and crafts so that they will be able to make a living for themselves when they are older. It is estimated that there are half a million children living on the streets of Jaipur. Of course, we bought lots of the beautiful jewellery for friends, family and ourselves knowing that we were helping to make a small difference. From Jaipur, we headed over to Pushkar, a usually peaceful but important pilgrim town on the edge of the Thar Desert. Not for us though, this peace and quiet lark! We had deliberately chosen the date of our trip to coincide with the Pushkar Camel Fair. An annual, week-long gathering of camel traders who come from far and wide to show, race, buy and sell camels. These traders are also joined by many thousands of associated stall holders, tag-along entertainers and in more recent years, tourists. The town is completely overwhelmed by the event, with the partying continuing 24 hours a day and huge numbers of people trying to squeeze through the narrow streets.
We also had a camel trip in to the desert where we spent a night camping under the stars. But undoubtedly the highlight for me was the visit to the main Fairground Arena where we watched the annual tug-of-war contests: locals versus tourists! By a stroke of luck we managed to avoid being ushered into the tourist seats and stood in the locals end, looking very conspicuous amongst several thousand Rajasthanis! The tourists won the men’s competition much to my delight, and so started some friendly banter with our neighbours. The climax of the competition was the Rajasthani women versus the tourist men competition. The crowd were going mad! And yes, the Rajasthani women won! We had a great time, what a laugh!
And so it was time to head back to Delhi, and unfortunately for us, straight back to the UK and work. And so it came to pass that I had spent two weeks without thinking of work once. That must be relaxation mustn’t it?!
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