So, I’m at senior school, I’m in year 10 and I’ve been invited on a trip to India to explore travel writing with the writer of ‘New Tricks’. Wow, what an opportunity! I took the letter home to my parents… They didn’t agree with the school trips like skiing because they didn’t see any “educational value”, however, an English-based trip they could get on board with.
After endless shopping trips to buy all of the kit list for the trip and cramming it into my backpack (which upon first wear, I collapsed backwards onto the bed and wondered how I’d ever carry this on my back for 2 whole weeks), I was ready to go.
OK, it got to the morning that I was due to leave for the airport. I sat crying * cough – hyperventilating – cough * into a bowl of Cheerios, begging my mum to not let me go. I then progressed to crying on the school playground to my friends (8 years on and they still never let me live it down). Reluctantly, I got on the coach and my family waved me off.
The first stop was Delhi. The haze of tuck-tucks and the never-ending horn-beeping swarmed the city. Upon checking into our hostel, we were greeted with lunch. Great – I was starving! I tucked into what I thought was an Indian version of chicken tikka masala to find that the chicken was an unusual texture. I questioned if the chicken was edible to then be informed that it was in fact not chicken at all, it was cheese. I knew now that I could trust nothing. For the rest of the day I ate only plain naan bread and boiled rice. I was going to starve for the next 2 weeks (it’s a good job I’m not dramatic, isn’t it…)
We visited a local fast food restaurant that evening, and a teacher offered me some of their “stuffed paratha”. I was so relieved to eat something and enjoy it that the teacher ended up giving it all to me and had to get himself another meal!
We explored old streets with sights ranging from barber to kitchen to bedroom to toilet; we explored temples and mosques; and local markets with the most pungent aromas and delicately decorated clothing and jewellery. I fell in love with a burgundy pashmina but when the woman told me it was 300 rupees, I nearly fainted. I thought HOW MUCH?! To then be reminded that it works out to just over £3 and suddenly I felt like a millionaire and wanted to purchase the entire stall…
Indian train stations are definitely a spectacle on a visit to India. They are the most manic and crowded places, and half of the time there are more people hanging off the outside of the train than there are inside it! We travelled on an overnight sleeper train in a 3-tier cabin. I unravelled my sleeping bag, got tucked in and was out like a light for 13 hours. Some of my friends hardly slept a wink.
The only reason I woke up was because of a woman shouting “CHAI! CHAI!”. But who doesn’t love to wake up in the morning to a cup of tea?
Stop 2 was a beach camp alongside the River Ganges, with huge pavilion tents for eating and entertainment, and earthy showers built outside in the jungle. Do you know how hard it is to rinse and repeat when you have a monkey swinging above your head?
Night-times are pitch black when you’re surrounded by only nature, so I was thankful for the head-torch on my kit list. Or so I thought… I was walking back to the pavilion tent one night and turned my head-torch on to guide the way; to only turn it in the direction of a tarantula on the sand by my feet. In a screaming frenzy to get away, I tripped over a guy-rope (nightmare things designed to make manoeuvring around at night impossible) and I’ve now face-planted the sand. Not my finest moment.
The tour guides told us that we were going white water rafting down the River Ganges. I’m a wuss, a MASSIVE wuss, and toyed with the idea of even giving it a go. Next thing you know, I’m standing up in the raft as its bounding down the waves. The most exhilarating experience that I would have done again as soon as it finished! Who’d have thought?!
Our final stop of the trip was a camp at the foothills of the Himalayas.
We visited a school in the mountains and got to spend the afternoon helping the children with maths and singing songs and playing games in their school garden. The children were so welcoming and so grateful to meet us, my heart felt so full, and we all donated items to the school, such as shoes and stationary. We then sat around the camp fire every night and the writers would tell us stories, I mean full-on audiobook-quality stories. It was ace!
We were scheduled to do a “survival night” where we were left to our own devices for the night. Unfortunately, this was cancelled as there had been a leopard attack in a nearby village and that definitely wasn’t something that I wanted to tell my family about whilst I was away!
We ended the trip back in Delhi with a visit to a hospital and orphanage that homes people from birth to elderly. I remember a little 1-year-old girl crawling across the table and smiling at us all and loving the attention. We spent the evening playing games with the children and making them feel loved. It was one of the most heart-breaking and moving experiences that I’ve ever had – it puts your whole life into perspective!
Our final meal was at a revolving restaurant called ‘Parikrama’ – I’d never been in one before. There is definitely nothing stranger than looking down to eat your food and when you look up your view is completely different. The atmosphere and food was fabulous, and it was the perfect way to finish the trip!
So, after starting on the ultimate low, the trip only got better and better. I wrote in my journal every day and still have it now to remind me of it all.
I still laugh to myself because this trip later became the reason that I wanted to make sure my future was filled with travels and trips out of my comfort zone.
“The world is a book and those who do not travel only read one page.” – St Augustine
Thank you for reading!