This is an email I wrote while in India in 2008. Hope you enjoy.
After 3 weeks in India I have decided that it is impossible to travel anywhere fast. Trains seem to stop at every tiny little town along the way and invariably run late. 3 overnight trains I have caught in India, one of them a 20hour trip, and every single one has been late. How can you not get anywhere you want to go in 20 hours?! Buses also stop at every little town, but, in addition, they stop at train crossing waiting for the scheduled trains (you know, those trains that are invariably running late). It is never a good sign when the bus driver gets out of the bus and goes to get some chai at a train crossing! A 135 km bus journey the other day took more than 4 hours, and no, the bus wasn't late, that is just how long it takes! And, we were informed, this was on good roads. Catching a taxi or rickshaw involves intensive negotiation about price before you can even get in, and then halfway through the journey there is generally some backtracking as the driver realises he has forgotten where you want to go. Cyclo-rickshaws do go fast enough to overtake pedestrians, but only just, and not when one of the pedals repetitively falls off, as happened on a journey of mine the other day. And walking - forget about it! Between dodging cow pats, crumbling pavement and taxi and rickshaw drivers that pace you offering their services, one of the other options will actually be quicker!
You can imagine my happiness the other day to finally be catching a fast and efficient form of transport - the airplane. No traffic or bad roads to contend with up there. I was to be crossing the entire country in less than 3 hours. I got to the airport on plenty of time for my 12:15 flight. Traffic in Delhi was so light that it was only a 20minute trip to the airport. And then my flight was delayed to 1:15, then at 1:15 we were told 3pm and then at 4:20, over 4 HOURS LATE, we finally took off. Apparently fog had delayed the plane's previous flight and then when it did finally arrive for us there were mechanical issues that needed sorting. Ahhh!!!!
I am in Goa now, known for its beaches and Portuguese influence. I am having to adjust from seeing Hindu temples everywhere (and I do mean everywhere - temples on the roadside and outside houses are common) to Catholic churches, many of which rival those seen in Europe. And less Hindu influence has resulted in towns that are free of cows roaming the streets, although there were a few sunning themselves on the beach this morning. And, for the first time in India, I have seen beef on the menu - however I am refraining from having any until I get home as it feels sacrilegious!
Although I am not known for being a morning person, I have managed to get out of bed before sunrise of a few occasions here. Why I have got up so early I am not sure. Aren't holidays meant to be for sleeping in? I mean, did I really need to see some old mausoleum as the sun rose? (Seeing the Taj Mahal for the first time was one of those "Oh my God, I am really in India" moments. It is magnificent, although even before dawn it is crowded with people.) Or to take a boat ride? (Along the Ganges river and watching the people bathing on the ghats, and even the cremation ghats that work 24hours a day. I certainly wasn't putting even a toe in the water of the Ganges - it has arsenic levels 50 times higher than is healthy and they put the unburnt bits of people straight into the water.)
India is truly amazing. So overwhelming and basically indescribable. It is an assault to the senses 24 hours a day and, just when you are fed up with the pollution or touts or bargaining, you will come across something that will make every insignificant. It might be some majestic old building (I don't know how we know the Taj Mahal so well but have no idea of all the other wonders that India is filled with) or some kids that dare each other to say hello and ask where you are from or a religious festival or wedding celebration, and this country has a lot of these! In Jaiper we has 3 wedding processions pass our hotel in one evening, all complete with groom on a horse, fireworks and an amplified brass band. And in Varanasi we saw a parade dedicated to Shiva, the god of destruction. We were watching all the intricate costumes and floats that were going past until we needed to get out of the way of the elephant that was being walked down the street. That is India for you!