Our trip to India with TDactive was an adventure, an incredible experience; it was not a holiday, if you expect a holiday to be relaxing. We covered a lot of ground and were constantly on the go. Early starts (a few at five o’clock) were the norm and a lie-in until 8.00 a.m. was a rare luxury. So, yes you need to be relatively fit and you need to go with the flow.
Before You Go
The Indian visa application is a little tricky. Make sure that you get every detail correct or it could cause problems. TDactive does offer to do this for a small charge and if you are not tech savvy it might be a good idea.
Our friend Dave made a mistake in his original application which he thought he had rectified. He nearly did not get on the plane in Dublin; he nearly missed the connecting flight in Abu Dhabi; and he again was questioned for half an hour when we landed at Delhi. Harried officials in each city were busy making phone calls, to check that he was not a security threat! There he is on the right, below.
We had been in Vietnam and Cambodia a few years ago so only needed a top-up. It is always important to check what exactly you need for each area, depending on the time of year.
TDactive does warn you in advance that Indian ATMs can be problematic (and they are!) but our real issue was with our Irish bank which failed to have any advice online on how to use their cards in India. We were limited to a daily withdrawal equivalent to 100 euro (approx. 8,000 rupees) so check with your bank before you leave Ireland, bring euros to exchange in India or get a Revolut card (which we will certainly do for future overseas trips).
Once You’re There
4. Guided Tour
Going with an escorted group tour means everything is organised for you and you get the most out of your time there. Our group had the maximum number of twenty, but we all got on well and, most importantly, everyone was always on time.
We visited six different cities in sixteen days. You also get a dedicated guide who is with you for the entire trip and expert local guides for each attraction.
Our guide Dinesh was superb and learned to cope with our sense of humour very quickly. On long bus journeys, he would chat about Hinduism, arranged marriages, the caste system or India’s colourful history and answer all our questions. And he knew when to let us relax and in some cases sleep.
It took us a while to get used to our ‘celebrity status’. Dinesh informed us early on that, given any encouragement at all, locals would pursue us for selfies and photos. And we should do whatever was comfortable. Blondes were particularly sought after, so our friend Sara (below) was very popular, but all of us had babies thrust in our arms and several selfies per stop were mandatory!
We did not find it intrusive as we were never bothered when listening to our guide. The men and women we came across were very respectful and many were eager to learn more about us and our country. The train journeys gave us the opportunity to chat and mingle and to ask them questions.
6. Poverty/Disparity in wealth
There is huge poverty and it can be upsetting to be constantly approached by beggars, particularly children. But we were told not to give money, as it only encourages more begging. We did buy from vendors in the local markets and supported the local economy.
What is interesting is that you can see poverty and wealth side by side, co-existing. And what you cannot fail to notice is that the majority of the people are positive and smiling. They seem content with little.
These two houses (below) were right beside each other!
According to the W.H.O., India has made rapid strides in fighting poverty, with its rate nearly halved, falling from 55% to 28% between 2006 and 20016.
Of course, the way forward is education and there is a major drive to encourage parents of lower castes to send their daughters to school.
8. Dirt & Pollution
Yes, there is litter and there are problems with pollution, particularly in Delhi. In some cities there are initiatives such as anti-litter campaigns, but there is a long way to go. Rubbish is also big business in the slums as portrayed in the non-fiction book ‘Behind the Beautiful Forevers’ by Katherine Boo.
And animals roam around freely: the sacred cows can wander anywhere in the cities and towns.
I have never seen so many dogs and some of our group took to feeding them, and on several occasions, the entire dog population of that area followed us!
I could write about what we learned about India’s history, the caste system, politics, etc., but maybe the best advice is to go and see for yourself.
India is one of the most fascinating countries I have visited. You can’t but be enthralled by its history, its culture, its religions and its colours.