India 1: Unsettling Poverty, the Taj and Food Poisoning

Ok, first of all, sorry for that terrible cliffhanger. Long story short: we had a period of life-draining food poisoning followed by a really nice time on a tropical island without WiFi.

Anyway, first things first: the Kathmandu Airport was closed when we got there due to the crash-landing with Turkish Airlines, and nobody seemed to have an idea when planes would be allowed to leave again. We decided to take control of our own fate and went on an adventure. We went on an overnight local bus to Sunauli (with music from hell, disco lights and constant honking). The next morning, we crossed into India on foot, took another bus to Gorakhpur, and took a 22-hour train from there to Agra. For those who want to see something funny, try a Google Image search with “train Gorakhpur”. The fact that it was the morning of Holi meant that we did get our fair share of harassment, but we got to our Agra hotel safely around 2 AM. The upside of the trip is that we got our cancelled 80 EUR flight ticket refunded, and the journey over land cost us about 10 EUR each (and saved us a night of accommodation). We later found out that the Kathmandu Airport had remained closed for 4 days, so our little adventure had proven to be well worth it.

Holi is sometimes described as the festival of colors. Beautiful images of paint fights pop up when you research the happening. We were so tired though that we slept through the color-and-fun-bit and roamed the city during the everyone-is-tipsy-free-from-work-and-f*cking-annoying-phase. Staring, stalking, shouting, more staring & stalking, et cetera at infinitum. You get the point; not a nice experience. We did visit some splendid landmarks (Red Fort, Taj Mahal, Baby Taj), so here come some semi-obligatory pictures of these 😛 :

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That last picture was taken from a quiet rooftop bar, where we could finally escape the hectic streets for a bit. Even the landmarks were no shelter from harassment: the pricing schemes everywhere stated that foreigners had to pay about 20 times the entry fee of Indian ‘tourists’. Because it is so cheap for them, many just decide to hang out there and hunt white people to take pictures with/of. Apparently, pictures with white people have a status-enhancing effect. We did not stand a chance.

The other thing about Agra is that all the landmarks are merely a flimsy facade: the city is extremely poor. We give you a picture below to get an idea, but this was not nearly the most unsettling part of town. In the really dirty parts we did not dare to take our camera, fearing both the people walking the streets there and the hundreds of vultures scavenging endless heaps of trash.

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After Agra, we went to Delhi. The hotel there was amazing for the price: Smyle Inn. In the capital, we took things very slow: visited some nice temples (on the picture below: the marvelous Akshardham Temple – the largest Hindu temple in the world), enjoyed the food, and rested a bit. We even went to the zoo, and got you guys an up-close picture of the one-horned rhinoceros we saw in Nepal too. Among the collection of animals in the zoo, we – white homo sapiens- were again the most interesting species though: whenever we wanted to take a picture of an animal and let our guard down for a moment, all Indians had pointed their cameras towards us. We had slowly gotten used to this rude behavior.SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

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On our last evening in Delhi, disaster struck: poorly prepared chicken kebab gave us both the ‘Delhi Belly’. Most terrible food poisoning imaginable. From this moment on up and until our arrival in KL, we both needed a toilet in our vicinity 24/7. I am not going to mention it all the time, but the overarching theme of our trip over the next week was: pain and slow, SLOW recovery. By now you may have guessed our travel advice for India: unless you got near-infinite patience with pushy people, can cope with the suffering in the streets and got a strong stomach, think twice about going. A general consideration once in India is ‘paying for safety’: excursions in groups, expensive hotels and all-in packages.

After Delhi, we flew to Kolkata. We mostly had to stay in our hotel room, but the times we did come out we really enjoyed the city. People in Kolkata do not harass you, which makes a HUGE difference for your overall ability to enjoy a place. We leave you with a picture of the Victoria Memorial, a nice piece of colonial architecture. On the 13th, we flew to Port Blair, the capital of the  Andaman and Nicobar islands. Read about our dream stay there in our next post. Spoiler: we became certified divers, relaxed on the beach, and had the most amazing sea food on a daily basis.

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