India truly is the ultimate land of contrasts. Here, staggering grandeur sits alongside heart-wrenching poverty. Old ladies in traditional saris chat on fancy mobile phones while young women carry vast, heavy bundles on their heads, gracefully crossing modern six-lane highways.
Indian driving initially seems totally crazy, but it’s actually a well-ordered system. Tooting is imperative. A loud honk doesn’t mean ‘get out of the way’, generally the driver is simply saying ‘hey, I’m coming through.’ This friendly practice keeps the traffic flowing and a chorus of constant tooting fills the air, all day, every day.
Kicking off in Delhi, I visit major tourist sites and explore fascinating back streets. I find the best way to travel is by auto-rickshaw, also known as the tuk tuk. These wee vehicles can zip in and out of traffic with ease, sometimes scarily but generally safely and provide a fun way to get to destinations around town.
So, I hail a tuk tuk and motor towards Old Delhi’s intricate oriental bazaar – a jigsaw puzzle divided into different specialty stalls and workshops. In its atmospheric lanes I am hypnotised by the fragrances of the spice bazaar, and mesmerised by the vibrant sari stalls and handmade kites.
There’s a whole street of stalls selling threaded flower garlands, incense and other temple offerings, and tantalising street food stalls everywhere.
Lethargic cows wander most streets. The Hindus regard them as holy animals. To my surprise a seemingly docile creature aims its horns, and head down, launches itself towards me. I’m further surprised when a tiny, frail, old lady pulls me up into her shop, beating the cow away with a stick. When I calm down I thank her as best I can, then carry on my way, vowing to be a lot more wary of holy cows in future.
of the buildings are painted a pinkish colour (with natural pigments and white relief), the traditional colour of welcome. There’s much to see in Jaipur: the Amber Fort, the City Palace complex and the majestic Hawa Mahal (Palace of the Winds), where in days gone by the royal ladies of the harem could watch the street below through the lattice of tiny windows, without being seen.
Jaipur is a busy city, too. At any time of day, a jumble of taxis, tuk tuks, carts laden with fabric or produce, cows, rickshaws, camels, elephants, bicycles, and a sea of people swirl through the streets.
I've been here two weeks now (with several months left to explore) and already my mind is a whirl of colourful images, unforgettable experiences, spicy taste memories, and friendly faces. India is many things to many people, but to me, it’s an endlessly fascinating visual feast that must be tasted at least once in a lifetime.