I just spent five and a half weeks by myself in India. Depending on your perspective you may say, ‘No big deal,’ ‘How brave,’ or something in between. And that’s how I felt about it too. In the run up to the trip I got a bit anxious about the journey and about the whole trip. The news certainly didn’t help, and that’s probably what made my mum extra anxious about me going on my own. Anyway, I did it!
I spoke to two Indian people on the plane who said they thought I was a writer, ‘Ah we thought so, when you said you stayed in one place for a long time!’ I was pleased. I watched two films on the plane. Diane, an interesting portrayal of older women and difficult aspects of motherhood, and Richard says goodbye: ‘You’re unusual, the world is dying for you. Don’t give into mediocrity like the rest.’ The prospect of death helps to realise the feeling of being alive…
Arriving at Delhi airport felt familiar, but even inside the airport the poor air quality, which we’d seen from the plane as a smog enveloping the high rise buildings, made people cough and made my eyes sting. There was a long queue at immigration and I got tired but I made sure I concentrated hard on what I needed to do, get my bag, change money. John had booked my place to stay, choosing a place with good reviews and popular with backpackers, and arranged for them to pick me up. It was very nice to step out and see a sign held up with my name on.
The driver was nice, we chatted about his family- he had five daughters- and he slowed down so I could get a good look at the monkeys which hang out near Parliament Gardens, and which I remember seeing on our first journey from the airport to Paharganj (Main Bazar), on arrival for me for the first time, in March 2018. My guesthouse was slightly off Main Bazar and down an alley, I was slightly disorientated, and the driver had to show me where the entrance was.
Walking in it looked a little shabby and there were lots of men standing around. I was shown up to my room which was three floors up. I shut the door behind me and wobbled for a moment, then reminded myself that John had thoroughly researched this place. I went back downstairs, they were able to sell me an Indian Sim there and set it up for me straight away, and I went out to complete the rest of my mission namely to buy a fast charger, I got one which had two USB ports which was great as often there’ll only be one point in a room. I got crisps, coca cola and nuts, just like usual (only it wasn’t hot like usual), and water, and shampoo, and managed to accumulate an impressive amount of change, always an ongoing mission in India.
I slept and then went out for dinner, I walked the length of Main Bazar and felt unable to decide on anywhere, went back to the guesthouse and the staff advised me where to eat, just around the corner. I felt comfortable in the restaurant and had tea and more tea, and again, as usual, things felt much better with a belly full of warm food. And I didn’t get sick, a first for staying in Paharganj.
In the morning I had to wake the staff to let me out, I walked down Main Bazar to the end where the train station is. It was early and dark, but there were quite a few people about, including tourists with wheely suitcases, and I didn’t feel unsafe. My driver from the airport had said to me, ‘Don’t be too friendly to people in Main Bazar.’ The hotel staff had said, ‘Don’t listen to anyone at the train station unless they are wearing a black hat and black jacket,’ i.e. the official station staff, because scammers can tell you your train is cancelled (and I suppose then try to sell you hotel rooms, drivers and so on.)
I got to the train station and was about to go to the counter to ask which platform when a man told me it was platform 2. I thought it won’t hurt to believe him, so I went in, and when I checked on the board, he was right. Then I couldn’t work out how to get to it as one stairway was closed, again a man told me the way, and it was correct. So again, although there are scammers, of course, there are also tons of people who are just helping you.
It was five am and dark. You have to get to the station an hour before in India. Because we’ve taken trains before I knew that there are letters and numbers on small displays on the platform which correspond with the carriages, so I waited in the correct area, later making sure by checking with a staff member on the platform. I waited near a family group and messaged John to let him know I was okay.
I was in chair class, in the middle, next to a man Indian born, raised in the UAE and living in the USA, we chatted a lot. On my other side was a British man, who it turned out was listening to exactly the same book I was reading, Haruki Murakami’s The Windup Bird Chronicle. I wondered if we had a message for each other or something, but in the end we ended up chatting and then getting a taxi together to Pushkar, where he was also staying.
The train stops at Ajmer, there was full on hassle re taxis and auto rickshaws, and no pre pay stand there. I hadn’t been able to arrange a pick up from the guesthouse, and potentially that was the most dangerous part of the journey, getting in to an un pre paid taxi, or at least the part I would have been most anxious about. So if that’s all that book synchronicity did, made sure I shared a taxi, felt safe and was safe, that was plenty enough. The taxi dropped me at the bottom of the guesthouse steps, I texted John to say I had arrived and went in to what felt like a home from home, I even had the same room we had in 2018!
Photos: Sunrise on New Year’s Day somewhere between Dubai and Delhi. Supplies and change in my room in Delhi.
About the author
I am forty nine years old, married to John Hill, we live on a narrowboat in rural Northamptonshire, UK.
In March 2018 after selling our house and giving away 95% of our possessions we embarked on a year of slow travel in South East Asia, mainly India.
I’m writing a personal/spiritual/travel memoir of that year. This is my personal blog.
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