I cried in India. More than once. For its astonishing beauty and despicable ugliness.
Bird’s-eye View and Worm’s-eye View of the Ethereal Powai Lake of Mumbai
Spotted a buffalo enjoying itself in the cooling water
The Phenomenal Taj Mahal
After 13 hours on the road, the Taj, the magnificent Taj, the magnificent Taj in its glowing beauty, stood before me. It was such an emotional sight, beyond any words can adequately describe.
The magnificence of the Taj in sunset
Himalayas – Where Earth Meets Sky
One thing I learnt from my trip to Shimla (a hill station up in the towering Himalayas), was to take online weather forecasts with a pinch of salt. Especially when you are about to visit the mountains.
But, the coldness and unpredictability of the weather and the weariness of my body, were long forgotten, in face of such awe-inspiring grandeur of Nature.
It’s the People That Make the Place
I met a few locals who touched my life.
#1 – Vicky
Owner of a tribal antique shop and an anthropology lecturer, Vicky, and I became friends during my short stay of 2 days in Shimla. I met him in his shop and subsequently bumped into each another on the street. Call it coincidence call it fate, I was shown to the most sincere form of hospitality in a land that was most foreign to me. If not for him, I might have missed many highlights of this incredible trip, be it witnessing the world’s tallest high-altitude statue, ridding a horse in the Himalayan valleys, or experiencing a hailstorm on a rainy March afternoon (yes, in March!).
He was not only an amiable friend, a knowledgeable guide, an eloquent translator, a personal photographer, but most importantly, a knight in shining armor when I was being cheated by a despicable local travel agency (read on a few more paragraphs to find out).
Under the persistent encouragement and “coaxing” of my friendly guide, we embarked on an exciting and tiring climb up the Jakhu Hill to pay visit to the Jakhu Temple (Monkey God Temple) – situated on the highest peak of Shimla. And… in the midst of a hailstorm! Totally unprepared and under-dressed (with only a singlet, shirt and cardigan), I contemplated the probability between catching a cold and missing a rare opportunity of lifetime. It wasn’t hard to come to the conclusion that the former had to give way.
Deemed to be world’s tallest hilltop statue at 108 feet at the highest altitude of over 8100 feet, the Hanuman statue even surpassed the ‘Christ the Redeemer’ in Brazil. I was fortunate to have taken a clear shot of the statue in such heavy fog. Vicky said it must be that the Hanuman God had taken a liking of me and my sincerity, and therefore 30 sec of clearance. After which, the thick fog started rolling back again! How unbelievable yet amazing!
A stray dog from the Jakhu Temple walked us down the hill on our way back, stopping and waiting for us whenever we paused for a break. What a lovable and faithful guide!! I was exceedingly amused. Sometimes, I do feel that fate exists, in an indescribably charming way.
#2 – Vashal
Vashal (hope I’m spelling his name correctly), a shy 13-year-old and a owner of 3 ponies, stopped schooling after Primary school and is now earning his own money from tourists like me. For SGD$10, he had to walk us and his ponies for 4 hours in the mud and along steep valley paths. We couldn’t bring ourselves to have him walking the same arduous journey back and freed him with some simple biscuits. Thinking as though he committed a mistake, he stood by the roadside reluctant to leave. It was only when Vicky assured him in local tongues, he let out a contented megawatt smile.
So bright was his smile that it touched the softest spot of my heart, leaving it bittersweet.
＃3 – Friendly youths from South India
Met a group of fun-loving South Indian youths halfway through the horse-ride. And they were so excited seeing me doing a jump shot by myself and flocked around to join in! We could not communicate in the same language, but we certainly had fun laughing at each other through frantic and hilarious hand gestures!
#4 – Detestable Kaushal Bagadia from Glory Travels
After my business meeting in Mumbai, I was planning my travel itineraries to the Taj and Shimla. As I experienced some difficulties in booking the air ticket from Agra to Shimla and the Toy Train ticket from Shimla to Kalka, I approached the Mumbai Renaissance’s Concierge for assistance. Instead of helping me with the online bookings, the staff called up a travel agency named Glory Travels and told me that he “couldn’t help me, but Glory Travels could do the job”.
Claimed to be the “official travel agency of the Renaissance Group”, Kaushal Bagadia from Glory Travels met me in person at the hotel lobby and settled all my travel plans swiftly.
Need a clean and comfortable hotel in Agra and Delhi? Sure, let me book you into 3-star hotels. Want to enjoy your experience on the Toy Train? Sure, let me get you a First Class window-seat, with air-conditioning and served meal to top off the pleasant journey. Oh no, flights from Agra to Shimla are sold out! Fret not, I’ll provide you with a personal driver who can drive you to your destinations, best option for a lady traveling by herself in India!
Impressed, I went back to my room with a driver confirmation letter and an e-ticket for the train ride.
How was the 3-star hotel room in Agra? It was a tiny room on the first floor, right next to the kitchen. Not to mention the broken shower head.
Where was the personal driver who was supposed to wait for me at the Delhi airport? Missing without reason. And his “brother” Pradeep called me up instead to inform the arrangement had been changed last minute and he would be my driver.
How was the other 3-star hotel in Delhi? A badly lit room with a strong scent of smoke and the dirtiest bedsheet and pillow covers I’ve ever found in a “hotel”.
Worse of all, was the tempered e-ticket. It was only during boarding that I realised it wasn’t a First Class window seat waiting for me, but an aisle seat by the stinky toilet. And of course, there was never meant to be any air-conditioning or served meal. The cost of the train ticket was a mere $3.50, but was artificially inflated to $50 at the point of purchase.
Imagine this scene – holding onto a tempered/void ticket in my hand, thinking about the rest of my luggage that was being driven away by the driver (he was supposed to pick me up at the Kalka Station after I got down from the train and then drive me to Delhi), and trying very hard to surpress the discomfort of an aching stomach and feverish head…
If not for my new friend Vicky who came to send me off and helped me explain the situation to the station master who helped me switch to a less crowded carriage, I dare not imagine the consequence that might happen next.
听别人说，外国人去印度肯定少不了2种经历 － 泻肚子与受骗。它们就像鬼魅般地来无影去无踪，无论如何防范也逃不了它们的魔掌。开始还不信，但最终还是没辙地跟这两个“鬼魅”面对面了。
跟酒店串通好并打着 “Renaissance Hotel指定旅行社”的 Glory Travels假装专业地帮我处理了我6天行程所需的专人司机、旅店住宿、与火车票。最后接二连三地发现所有的安排都与承诺的有很大所出入！司机最后时刻被换人、所谓“3星级”的旅店是连许多汽车旅馆都不如的邋遢住所、应该是有着冷气与午餐的头等火车厢座位也完完全全是个天大的谎言。最可恶的是，火车票竟然被动过手脚，价钱被提高了十多倍不止，还让我差点上不了火车！每当我想到那个叫 Kaushal Bagadia 的人大言不惭地称Glory Travels为印度首屈一指的旅行社时，他情何以堪？
可能是我这个人傻人有傻福，离开西姆拉的那天还好有个热心好客的 Vicky 来送行。发现我的车票被动过手脚的他帮我跟站长解释我的不幸并帮我从原本厕所旁边的拥挤位置换到了另一车厢的靠窗位置。
I was mad at the travel agent, angry at my own gullibility, touched by the kind souls who offered to help, and embarrassed by my unstoppable tears which were so eagerly gushing out to greet the public. And it turned out to be such a hilarious scene that Vicky couldn’t help but to snap a picture of my flustered face. This photo, has become a frozen moment that has never failed to amuse me over and over again. :)
#4 – A Nepalese housekeeping boy
During my last night in India, I stayed in the shabby “hotel” which Glory Travels booked me into. As I arrived only past midnight and was feeling a wave of nausea and stomach discomfort due to the Delhi Belly, I did not bother looking for another hotel. But the room condition was so bad that I had to make the poor housekeeping boy changed my bedsheet and pillow covers 3 times before I even wanted to go anywhere near the bed. He was a hapless victim of my foul mood.
Feeling a little guilty for venting my accumulated frustration on a pair of helpful and humble hand, I softened and started talking to him. What amazed me was that this Nepalese young man came to Delhi a few months ago with all his parents’ savings to further his studies in Business Accounting, but only to find himself robbed in broad daylight by a few motorcyclist robbers on the very first day of his arrival. With all his money, ID and academic documents gone, no one believed his story and no policeman bothered to help him. At his wits end, he found shelter and a job at the hotel which he now calls home.
Were you not angry with what happened to you? Why do you seem so calm talking about it now? How do you find your current job and living conditions? I asked.
“Of course I was mad and I tried many ways to retrieve my documents, those were the most precious things to me. But this is India…and it made me slowly realise there is nothing I could do but accept the fact with an optimistic heart. Things happen for a reason, and maybe this is a test which life has set for me. I’m very grateful, that I’ve found a place that’s willing to keep me and pay me. I’m happy. Maybe one day I’ll save enough to go back to school.”
To hear a story as such right after being cheated, I was skeptical, I must say. But I decided to believe him just as I believed there’s always more goodness in this world than bad. Compared to his grief encounter, my hapless encounters became so marginal. Before my departure, I left him the remaining of my money. SGD $30 might not be a lot to many, but to a young man like him, it might be a step closer to dream. As a token of gratitude, I was given the only Nepalese note he was left with – he said it minded him of home.
During my crazy and spontaneous week traveling across 4 different cities in this foreign country, many were wary about my personal safety. I will not attempt to deny the latent danger that a foreign girl faces in a land where she has never been before. Especially after the many heart-wrecking rape cases that shocked the world. Be it traveling in group or solo, please please please, take triple precaution and always stay vigilant. Have a handy pepper spray on your body and wear money belts instead of loose wallets.
However, I never regretted a single moment in this incredible land, so much richness it has brought to my life that I could only be grateful. Iill-intentioned people and danger are indeed everywhere, but often than not, there are more heavenly angels scattered around different corners of this mortal world. They live different lives and breath different air, but occasionally, our paths would cross. When that happens, never underestimate the rippling effects of a lifelong inspiration and friendship that would come along most unexpectedly.