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A Passage From India – Day 1

I was given a unique opportunity to travel to India to do 3 days’ 1-1 coaching, which was too good an opportunity to miss.  I extended it to 5 days (though the long haul meant I would be away for 7).  This is the first of my posts about the experience.

Tuesday, 10 December, 10pm

My base is Udaipur, in Rajasthan, North West India – a 10 hour flight from Manchester to Mumbai, then a 5 hour stopover and a 1 hour flight to Udaipur – arriving 6.30am on a fairly chilly morning.

Straight away, this a new world for me.  A first and lasting impression, is traffic and road use.  Lane conventions seem non-existent; zebra crossings are decorative only; the beeping of horns is incessant – and often necessary for me as a pedestrian.  Health and safety is, frankly, a laughable concept, completely bypassed here.   And then there are cows.  Whatever you might have heard about them being a sacred animal, allowed to roam unfettered and free – is absolutely true.  And dogs are everywhere, often in packs, and noisy.

Udaipur turns out to be a sensory overload: all 5 senses are in overdrive.  There is colour everywhere, from the ubiquitous small stalls to the magnificent saris, worn by most women; the sound of tuk tuks (appropriately named) and religious bells are everywhere; as are the smells – from the gorgeous ones of cooking food to the gross ones of untreated sewers; the touch and feel of a massive range of goods for sale – such as clothing, tableware, trinkets; and…the taste, oh the taste of India.  I’ve had two restaurant meals, each overlooking the lake, the centre point of the city, with views to die for, and they were sublime.

And yet … walk down to and alongside the lake, or climb into the foothills up to one of many temples, and all is peace and quiet, and calm.  The contrast is almost shocking, but a brilliant example of the rich diversity within one compact city.  Crowded, yet spacious; frenetic, yet calm; hot days and cool evenings.

And authentic.  I think this is the first time I have been abroad and not felt cocooned as a tourist.  I’m staying in a basic (very basic) Airb&b, in the heart of the city, on a dirty side street, with local dogs who bark 24 hours a day; Anna (my coachee) and I are the only white people I’ve seen.  I think Udaipur is the only city I’ve visited – ever – that has no corporate western presence: no McDonalds, H&M, M&S.  Nothing – literally nothing – that is Western or European.  So I feel immersed in India; living IN India, not some Best Western or Ibis.  Even if only for a week.

And it is so inexpensive to live here. Typical prices: full restaurant meal for 2: £16.  High class tailored, made to measure linen shirt, with details: £35.  Hand painting, exquisitely crafted on silk: £15.   High quality framing: £3.  Almost everything I’ve seen for sale is hand made.  And blimey, are they keen to sell!  Be prepared to be (politely) requested to “take a look”.  More than that, they are all inter-connected, usually by family.  So if I go to a shop selling prints, and mention I’d like a Nehru shirt, the shop owner clearly doesn’t sell such an item, “so sorry”, but…knows someone who does. So I’m taken to a relative running a tailor shop, and mention silk scarves…and “so sorry”, but…knows someone who does. So I’m taken to another relative who…and so on.  It’s fantastic. And I can experience too the joys of haggling.  The product is such high quality, and so cheap, it seems offensive to haggle; but it’s expected. So I do. I even had one shop owner, on the way to another, explain to me his principles of haggling!

All in all, this is a unique experience for me.  I feel I’ve been transported to an alternate world, an authentic part of India. I’m fully immersed in it, and it’s wonderful. All of it. And, dare I say it – there have been none of the things so far that I felt was sure to be present, and uncomfortable: no begging, and no upset tummy.  On the other hand, there are rats.

More on this, and other experiences, tomorrow …

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