The trip almost died before it had begun. The visa process is needlessly extensive. I had to take three separate trips to the Indian embassy before they even accepted my paperwork, not to mention the five days I had to wait for the bloody thing. In all, I had to provide my passport, a copy of my passport, two passport photos, a letter of invitation from my cousin who lives in India, a copy of my bank statement, a letter of employment and 11, 900 tenge. Gambrill had even more paperwork, including a permission letter from her father and a copy of his passport. A harrowing experience, and we only received our visas the day before we left.
Henri IV of France once said “Paris is worth a mass.” For me Goa was worth the headaches, Tylenol and subsequent extra time spent over the toilet one day. It was just after the rainy season, so the beaches were less crowded. We settled on Agonda beach in South Goa and only had to share the beach with the cows and a few other random travelers. Nothing compares to eating curry and drinking beer with the sand filtering through your toes and palm trees waving in the background like a Rastafarian at a reggae concert. I’d love to be poignant and elegant, but we truly just lay on the beach, and life was good. The world is truly a better place when you don’t have to wear shoes.
After a quick detour to Pune to see my cousin (boring family details, no need to tell you all) we entered the detour from the sphincter of Hades. Due to the fact that our visas took so long, we didn’t buy train tickets ahead of time. Bad mistake. By some act of God, or the Devil simply screwing with our heads, we got tickets from Goa to Mumbai. This is not normal. There are over one billion people in India and they all seem to be after those precious tickets that you covet. So, we had to take a detour from Mumbai to Ahmedabad and finally to our destination in Pushkar. We were ripped off by rickshaw drivers, shuffled between three separate travel sheds (office would be too kind of a word) and finally made it onto a bus that got us to Pushkar.
Again, it’s always a question if an experience like that is worth it. For me, Pushkar’s camel festival was a sight to be held. This small little village booms as locals come to buy and sell camels, compete in random competitions and be gawked at by tourists (yours truly). The best competition by far was the Mr. Moustache competition. In the state of Rajasthan, a prominent soup-strainer is a sign of virility, and if that’s true, we were staring at some men who probably have to beat women back with a lathi stick. The most amazing one was the man who had two strands that he could pull out a full 2 feet away from his face. It basically was a fair, with amusement park rides, food vendors, stalls selling anything and everything (including camel dung paper) and, of course, camels. But, after plenty of shopping, singing, dancing, and tackle Red Rover (or at least that’s what the game appeared to me), we were ready for Jaipur and Ranthambore.
Rajasthan is the land of kings, so it makes sense that there are a ton of palaces in Jaipur. Most of them are structurally breathtaking with influences from the Mughals and Hindu temples, the Amber Fort, the City Palace and the Palace of the Winds and Water are massively detailed structures built on mountains, in the city, and in one case, in the middle of the lake. Even walking around the many shops and stalls in the Pink City, where every building is a vibrant pink shade, it shows a brilliance that wipes away any memories of Soviet winters in Siberia. We even tried to catch a glimpse of the king of the jungle. Not far away from Jaipur is Ranthambore National Park, where you can take a safari to possibly see one of 45 tigers wandering the reserve. The closest we got to a tiger was a paw print, but the nature and other wildlife (monkeys, gazelles, antelopes) was still worth it.
Finally, we finished with Agra and one of the wonders of the world. The Taj Mahal is truly worth the visit. Brilliantly white, even on a cloudy day, no picture can prepare you for the magnificence of its edifice. The craftsmanship put into this building is simply breathtaking. To think, the only thing this Mumtaz had to do was give the king a baby. For a building of that wealth, I’d try and push out a baby. Luckily, Agra is also littered with other buildings to see, such as the Red Fort, Chini-e-Kauza and the Baby Taj. But a day trip is really all that’s needed for this. Still, nothing wrong with ending the trip in a place of shown glories.
I thought I’d end on a few thoughts and tips. India is big. I know it’s an earth-shattering proposal, but it’s true. I know most people from Kazakhstan plan Delhi,-Mumbai-Goa trips, but it’s must better to make your trip geographically smaller for flexibility’s sake. You will always lose at bargaining, unless you can somehow change your skin tone and accent. People in India tend to be more helpful than in Kazakhstan, but it can be difficult sorting out the ones being benevolent and the ones who are looking for a few bills from your wallet. Food is cheap and good, but make sure that you bring plenty of stomach medicine. I am grateful for the anti-diarrheal medicine my parents sent me from the states. In some cities, it’s possible to just hire autorickshaw drivers for the day, which I think is worth it (Jaipur 500 rupees, Agra 350 rupees). And if you think that people speak fluent English in India, you’re sorely mistaken. Basically think about the standard level of English for an 11th grader in Kazakhstan, and that’s the best fluency you’ll hear. Learn from our mistakes, eat a lot of curry and enjoy the time you spend in India. It’ll be some of your best memories.