to our 2002 India and Nepal travelogues. These articles, movies
and pictures detail our 2002 travel adventures across this glorious
sub-continent, from the frozen mountains of Ladakh and Everest to
the searing desert of Rajasthan in summer.
With over a billion people, 200 languages and
dialects, 25 states, innumerable religions, sects, tribes and cultures,
India is a country united in its diversity. Three months was never
going to be enough. As it turned out, we spent half the time in
Nepal, leaving only six weeks to try and get a flavour of India.
We hardly scratched the surface. Even before
we left we were planning return trips to see more of this vast and
diverse country. In some ways, though, six weeks was enough. India
has so much to offer, so much variety, such rich history, but theres
no denying that it can be a hard place to travel at times.
We were daunted before we arrived. We had been
warned so many times and from so many quarters about heat, poverty,
dirt, touts, rip-offs and of course the seemingly unavoidable Delhi
belly. The reality was easier than we had expected, though, and
we felt pretty smug at first. Clearly we were seasoned travellers,
and it was other, weaker people who got freaked out by India. This
was of course nonsense. True, we had travelled in Asia before, and
so we were a little more ready for some of the things that westerners
can find difficult. Largely though, we were lucky.
We headed north to Manali
almost immediately. Here at least the heat would not be a problem.
High in the Himalayas, the town was buried under three feet of snow
when we arrived. It was a good place to ease ourselves in to India
far more relaxed and friendly than the plains below. It wasnt
really until we got to Agra and Varanasi that we began to experience
more of Indias famous negatives. It seems that Agra,
having the Taj Mahal, sees no need to appeal to the visitor in any
other way. Varanasi was the India we had been expecting all along
hot, smelly, crowded and dirty, but hugely exciting, atmospheric
After a mere three weeks we hopped across the
border to Nepal, and relaxed. It felt like wed been holding
our breaths all along, and only now exhaled. So we had been finding
India tough, we just hadnt really noticed. In many ways, it
seems crazy to give Nepal the same amount of time as India, but
then in 6 weeks you feel that you can really get to know Nepal.
In a geographical sense, we saw a limited area of the country, since
the bulk of our time we travelled on foot. In a cultural sense,
though, we had time to absorb a lot as we trekked through the Annapurna
and Everest regions.
Our first stop back in India was Ladakh,
Indias northernmost tip. We were reminded in some ways of
the Everest region we had just left. The people are largely Buddhist
and of Tibetan origin, as are the Sherpas. The land is high and
harsh, the people overwhelmingly friendly and welcoming. Really,
though, Ladakh is not like anywhere weve ever
been, and that probably goes some way to explaining why we liked
it so much.
By the time we reached Rajasthan
it was the end of April, and temperatures were in the mid-forties
or higher (thats 115°+ in old money). In the interests
of sanity, we didnt try to do too much here, especially between
11am and 3pm. Vibrant, exotic, full of palaces and poverty, Rajasthan
deserves its top billing on the tourist circuit of India.
The heat quickly drove us on to Bombay,
and somewhat to our surprise we loved it. For so many visitors to
India, this is the starting point. Its a pretty tough introduction
and its unsurprising that people are shell-shocked. By the
time we got there, though, we were a little more inured to the rough
side of Indian urban life and we could see the good the city had
to offer as well as the in your face down sides. Only when we left
for South East Asia did we notice that, once again, wed been
holding our breaths.