Planet Retirement can sometimes be a bewildering place and with a scarcity of UK retirement blogs out there (other than those proffering financial advice) I thought I'd keep my own.

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Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Passage Through India

It is hard to do justice in describing the attraction of India. It is a country where vibrancy hits you in the face and makes your head reel. More than 1.35 billion people, many dressed in a brightly coloured sari or salwar kameez, a vast array of wildlife, magnificent temples and wonderful scenery. There's constant background noise whether of people, birds, machines or honking horns.

Every direction you look there is something that catches your eye, so different to home that you are entranced, captivated and amazed. Camels help pull loads or plough fields; monkeys chatter on street corners; whole families travel on one motor-cycle or alternatively pile into a vehicle with friends too and like everywhere in the world, women work hard whilst men operate the gadgets.

Everything is different and very much happening right in front of you with people bathing in tubs off the highway, sleeping on the steps of the mosque or beside the road; eating their meals and washing up in the street; drying their washing on the riverbank.

Even in the remoter rural areas you cannot escape the gift of human life. Nowhere are you alone.

Add to the mix the thousands of Hindu gods; the reverence paid to birds and animals, the innumerable sacred places. The land that gave us Buddhism, yoga, the caste system and was invaded by Persians, Huns, Mogul warriors and the British, is a vast melting pot of sensatorial experiences.

It is not the most comfortable country to travel in. The heat and dust as well as the pollution I have already written about, are inevitably tiring. Once fabled for the beggars on the streets, prohibitory laws and growing prosperity have curtailed this issue but in turn increased the hassle from street hawkers and the risk of petty crime and scams from touts.

Poverty is still there. India may be the world's biggest democracy but it is no welfare state. To see human beings living in makeshift shelters scratting through rubbish alongside pigs is heart breaking to encounter and one best dealt with by donating to the numerous charities seeking to alleviate hardship there.

It is a good place to visit in December to get your own life into perspective, appreciate your blessings and understand how irrelevant the material goods of Western society with its mass-marketed and tinsel-wrapped Christmas really are.

Our trip on this occasion concentrated on the Golden Triangle of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur with a brief respite in the foothills of the Himalyas at Shimla where the British encamped for the summer months.

It is also possible to experience a glimpse of colonial life in good hotels where great food and service, albeit at European prices, abound. I assure you, however, that being greeted by hands in prayer, a bow, a "Ma'am" makes every rupee spent worthwhile, especially if the government taxes levied on your stay in some way go back to help the local economy.

Indian food is delicious with no Balti curries and instead a tasty mix of spices, nuts, pulses, yoghurt, rice, vegetables and meat, yielding exotic flavours and of which my favourite had to be cottage cheese stuffed with prunes and almonds; imagine that if you can!

Na-ma-ste is the only Indian expression a tourist needs to know. It's a fitting term that seems to cover hello, goodbye and thank-you when delivered with your own bow, palms together, thumbs against the breast bone. Oh and don't forget to dress modestly yourself; many tourists seem to adopt a European version of Indian dress with a long top and flowing trousers and scarves; certainly a silk scarf worn across the front of the shoulders, Indian style, comes in useful especially for popping over your head when entering a mosque or other holy place.

The roads are slow not only because of the volume of traffic but also the dogs, cows and even elephants wandering along them; we actually saw all three in the centre of Delhi! Although taxi rides are not quick, they are good value with a driver effectively being hired by the half day and as well as conventional motor cars you also have the option of cycle and automated rickshaws.

The rail system, for which India is rightly famous, is probably better for travelling longer distances, from the narrow gauge track between Kalka and Shimla to the Shatabdi Express which trundles along at just 70 kilometres an hour. There are official porters who carry your bags on and off the trains, using their heads as well as their arms and an array of food was served as part of the package with each carriage having its own designated waiter. There's even a separate toilet compartment for the ladies  (it is just a hole in the floor) but it is shirked by most European travellers, who are also less than keen on tucking in to the snacks and meals served, with an eye on the possible consequences. I certainly paid the price the next day for tasty bhaji in a paper bag.

Rail travel even has the added bonus of retiring rooms. Mister E and I got quite excited when we saw those, thinking they were made for our current status but in fact they appear to be a dormitory for tired travellers, whose journeys take so long.

We also tried the Delhi Metro system. It did not look as though many Europeans venture underground but the air conditioned carriages are akin to those used in London and the station platforms smart and clean. Moreover you can travel 4 stations for 12 rupees which is roughly equivalent to £0.12; now that would not even buy you five inches at home!  

Of course India is changing. It has altered significantly since our last visit but it still hasn't lost the vibe and excitement that the proximity of so many people can bring. It is not a destination for a luxury spa break or beach resort and you definitely would not go there if you want to spend your night clubbing and wake up to an all day English breakfast. However, if you want buzz and unique experiences there can be nowhere else better suited on the planet. It's somewhere to go early in retirement for you still need your fitness and mental faculties to cope with uneven pavements, screeching monkeys, crossing the road and avoiding those tourist scams. 

You know it's been worthwhile when you return home exhausted (in my case ill too) but always invigorated!


  1. What amazing photos and commentary! My niece has spent extended time in India, first study, and then in charity work. It has a hold on her heart!

    1. Oh to be young again. I think India does that to your heart but I guess that I would need to be a few years younger now to live there for an extended period. We really did find this trip tiring.

  2. Dave and I have often talked about visiting India, but I don't know if the trip will ever be more than a pipe dream. The country looks so fascinatingly different and vibrant.

    Hope you feel better soon?

    1. It really is fascinating but I would recommend staying away from the major cities until the air pollution issue is sorted; it really is a problem at the moment. However, on our last visit, we went to Kerala in the South, which seems far less industrialised, and we did not encounter it at all.

  3. We are thinking of doing an "around the world" trip in spring 2017--one of those plane tickets where you can stop a certain number of times, but have to go in the same direction and end the same place you begin. There will be four of us, and we are thinking six places in three months. India is on all of our lists, but we aren't sure where yet. Such a trip seems almost extraordinary in its planning.

    1. Oooh, that sounds exciting. India is easy to travel around by train and taxi, but journeys are very slow! We can also thoroughly recommend the Oberoi group of hotels for great service and a feel of life in colonial times. Sita (part of the Kuoni group) helped us with our trip, part of which we did as a small group tour which avoided much of the hassle that independent travellers can be subjected to. On balance, whilst nothing compares with the first sight of the Taj Mahal which is so beautiful that it moved me to tears, on this trip, which included the Golden Triangle, we probably suffered from fort, mosque and mausoleum overload, concluding that the sights of Agra may have been sufficient in this respect. It's hard to say as there was so much of interst in Jaipur and Delho too. Our previous visit to the South West, however, was more varied, concentrating instead on Kochi, the countryside inland and the waterways as well as the varied flora and fauna. In contrast Delhi is currently the most polluted city on the planet and even Agra was shrouded in smog throughout our visit, although fortunately just after we left the Government did announce measures to try to start tackling the issue. Have fun planning your own adventure and if one of your four cancels, then I shall certainly be available!