Memories of India: Part One

Claire Armstrong

From Moominpappa’s Memoirs to my own Memories of India…

I’m reading a book at the moment with my son – Memoirs of Moominpappa (by Tove Jansson).  Moominpappa has decided to write down his adventures from his youth to share with his son Moomintroll, and it occurred to me that it might be nice to share some of my own adventures with my children. 

I got out my photos from my trip to India, 18 years ago – the dim and distant past to them (long before they were born – in fact before I’d even met their dad).

We had a look through a few of the photos and video clips, and mostly he was interested in the short video I’d taken of some monkeys.

But I had to stop short of going through all my photos – I couldn’t quite remember the story behind them all, not off the top of my head. And without that, it would be a bit meaningless.

So instead I’ve decided to write my own story down properly… so both my children can one day read it at their leisure (or maybe I can read it to them, like Moominpappa). I’ve started sorting through my photos and reading back through emails I sent home at the time. I’ve even done a bit of Google research to find out what the buildings were that I’d taken photos of… that sort of thing.

I’m not ready to tackle my whole life story – not right now, anyway.  Just this little snippet of it – the time I left sleepy Cumbria and travelled to the other side of the world – China, New Zealand, Australia… and finally India, which is what I’ll talk about first. Exotic, crazy, quirky India – where cows and monkeys roam the streets, the roads are a seething mass of rickshaws, overcrowded buses and honking lorries, and people paint beautiful patterns on everything (even the pavements).

Mumbai to Delhi – arriving in India

I came into India via Mumbai, although I was meeting up with friends in Delhi, for 3 weeks of sightseeing, before I started working at an orphanage in Chennai for the rest of my 3-month visit.

I landed about 8pm, so it was dark, and not quite as hot as I’d been expecting (still well over 30°C though!). I was proud of myself for negotiating a good deal on a taxi to my hotel (I’d been ripped off once when I got to China, and didn’t fancy repeating the experience!).

Then after a very long drive through shanty town after shanty town, we arrived in the city centre. The hotel was air-conditioned, so felt quite a bearable temperature, although my own room itself wasn’t – it just had a ceiling fan (I was trying to save money) so it was pretty hot in there. The hotel staff were really nice, and found me a room even though they had no record of my reservation (they just shrugged a lot, said “did you book it over the internet?”, smiled understanding smiles to each other and asked me what room I wanted).

I only had a couple of days in Mumbai – not enough time to see it properly, but enough to see a few of the sights, work out how to rig up a mosquito net over a bed (badly!) and find my feet with the currency and food.  And start to get used to the stares that you inevitably get when you’re a tourist a long way from home, and stick out like a sore thumb.

A very badly set-up mosquito net! I just about managed to sleep under it…
Gateway of India and harbour, Mumbai

After my brief stay in Mumbai, it was time to fly up to Delhi, which was a whopping 41°C when I landed.  I had to wait an hour and a half for my airport pickup, so I was a bit hot and bothered when I arrived, but thankfully the hotel room had air conditioning! I arrived early enough to have a look around before Lisa and Sue arrived, although I didn’t venture far from the hotel.  I did get to the Main Bazaar, though, which was as hectic as you can imagine from the name… and I admit I found it quite scary, compared with Mumbai.  Instead of wide leafy avenues there were narrow, dusty streets, and people everywhere, and, fascinating though it was, I was a long way out of my comfort zone.

The busy streets of Delhi, as seen from the back of a rickshaw

I retreated to my hotel, and waited for my friends to get there.  Unfortunately, due to a mix up, although they arrived at 1am, we didn’t meet each other till about 3am…so the following day, we were a bit too tired to do much other than plan what we were doing next.

Sleepy tourists…

Our idea was to start by travelling to Agra, then visit Rajasthan. We hired a car and a driver and off we set.  This is where I’m glad of all the emails I sent to people from internet cafés along the way, because now I have lots of written records to refer back to.

This is what I had to say about the journey…

“We set off at 7 in the morning and headed for Agra. Now at 7 in the morning it’s really hot… but by 12, it’s unbearable. 4 people squashed in a little car with lots of luggage and only a weeny little blower to cool us down. At one point we had to stop to pay road tax, and got pounced on by the streetside hawkers, including one guy holding leads, on the end of which were 3 monkeys and a very unhappy muzzled brown bear. Very depressing. Plus we only had a banana for breakfast and hadn’t managed to get any lunch, so all in all we were very frazzled indeed by the time we got to our first port of call – Lord Krishna’s birthplace.”

I hadn’t even remembered we’d been to Lord Krishna’s birthplace!  It’s got a mosque on the site now, though (a pretty one at that).  I’d completely forgotten the unfortunate bear and monkeys – selective amnesia maybe 🙁

But I had remembered the car journey – when you live in Cumbria, anything over 25 degrees is uncomfortable, never mind the 40 degree heat we were travelling in.

Anyway, when we eventually got to Agra, it was absolutely beautiful.  We had a lovely hotel room, with a pretty garden outside – and we felt like we’d really landed on our feet.

The lovely hotel in Agra, with Lisa and Sue enjoying the shade

For a few hours, anyway… but I’ll tell you all about that incident tomorrow!

Everyone has a story to tell, and telling yours might be easier than you think!

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