It's over a year now since I visited India for the first time. My memories of the people, culture and places I had the chance to meet and visit, remain as strong as my desire to return and discover more of what India has to offer.
The DK Exchange Programme, which happens in the month of May, is now in its second year. The programme in which I was in, set me up for arrival in India from London at the peak of summer with temperatures often hovering around 45°C! Even for a lover of summer, a sunny Delhi day can be quite hot!
Amazingly though, the heat was hardly a concern given that I spent a lot of time moving between air conditioners – the office, automobiles and the hotel – all of which were at a cooler temperature of 20°C.
My experience last year was absolutely amazing; full of intrigue, both at the office and in the city of Delhi itself. My colleagues at the Delhi office are such a vibrant bunch of individuals with an abundance of skills, knowledge and an entrepreneurial spirit to match the excitement of the city.
Surprisingly, the office looks like it could exist within the Strand of London. The warm welcome of my colleagues was above and beyond what one would expect on a normal working DK day. Gracious, helpful, friendly are only some of the words that could be used to describe everyone at the office, from the kind kitchen staff to Aparna Sharma, Managing Director, DK India.
Amongst the hustle and bustle of Delhi, beautiful symmetry exists!
At first, Delhi seems like a city full of chaos with a constant hustle and bustle of traffic, honking horns and people everywhere. The city is a drastic contrast to the inviting symmetry and friendliness of our colleagues at the DK India office.
Symmetry is a great means to describe many other aspects of India that I noticed throughout my far too short time in India. Art is everywhere in the city. I was often awestruck, looking with fascination at the local Delhi architecture, art in doorways of palaces, window designs, the India Gate, or even the symmetry found within the grounds of parks such as Lodhi Gardens.
I was further astonished at the attention to detail that has lasted even amongst the ruins of the beautiful Qutub Minar. At one point during the week, I even had the opportunity to stop and watch bats flying overhead in the evening sun of a busy street, criss-crossing as they danced in flight between the trees.
The final day of the week started at 5 o'clock in the morning, which is much earlier than the usual London workday trek to the underground, but it was well worth it! Pradip Krishen – DK author, environmentalist and filmmaker – guided about 30 wide-eyed early birds on an insightful nature tour of the famous Samadhi Gardens, bringing new light to the trees of Delhi and their global biodiversity.
The serenity of Solo India travel
Like a proper first-time-to-India tourist, I spent three days travelling along the Golden Triangle or the Delhi-Agra-Jaipur tour. Being someone who generally enjoys roaming off the beaten track, I can say without a doubt that despite the hordes of other tourists, a trip to the Taj Mahal remains a must-see life experience.
Madhavi Singh, Head of the Department at DK India Travel, deserves a special thanks for not only having brought me to some hidden jewels of New Delhi, but for also suggesting I visit Fatehpur Sikri, a lesser known attraction between Agra and Jaipur.
It goes without saying that a solo trip requires a level of dismissal of the many people who try to grab your attention with the intent to sell you something, no matter where you go in the world. When you have red hair and blue eyes in India, you tend to stand out even more than I am accustomed to in London. That being said though, as a redhead with blue eyes, I stand out almost everywhere except a family gathering!
I was often asked while on the tour, “Where are you from?” This seemingly innocent question often became an interlude into attempting to sell me a souvenir elephant, have me visit a local ceramic factory, or get me to visit a nearby restaurant. My standard response to this common question became, “My mother!” This is both accurate and had the added benefit of leaving most vendors at a loss for words as I continued to walk on.
After stepping out of the car on my way to Fatehpur Sikri Fort, I was immediately bombarded by local vendors. I successfully avoided their sales attempts having already had the help of new friends to barter for all my wife's present requests. I did, however, allow a young man intent on guiding me to the Fort of Fatehpur Sikri to tag along on the adventure. His insistence to join me was not worth debating.
The young man was too endearing and entertaining to brush off. He told me funny stories of his friends and the mischief they would get into. Sometimes those unexpected and even undesired interactions with others offer you a never before seen perspective of the world through the prism of a stranger's eyes.
Moving onto Jaipur, the Pink City, I found it to be both characterful and full of characters, the most entertaining of whom were monkeys! Jaipur is a great city for the solo traveller to find moments of peaceful clarity while at the peak of Monkey Temple looking out over the city, or within the historic grounds of the Jaipur City Palace, isolated from the city noise.
It has been a year now, and I am still in touch with some friends with whom I had the opportunity to see DK through a new lens, and scratched the surface of one of the world's most captivating cultures – not bad for a week's work!