Dispelling the Myth of Delhi Beli
Western folk are a minority on the planet, and New Zealanders are an infinitesimal percentage of those. Usually we bat above our average and compete internationally at the highest level with surprising success. We are gypsies at heart, perhaps it is because our families immigrated here from the other side of the world, whatever the reason we are globe trotters travelling to many corners of the globe; North Pole, South Pole, the Equator, the Pacific Islands, anywhere at all – they are our entire playground…except perhaps India.
A few months ago I announced I wanted to visit India, what a different response met me. Why? Why? The most common comment I received was I’d love to go but I might get sick. Really!! Of course you might get sick; you might get sick if you stay in NZ. Eden Park had an outbreak of food poisoning a year or two ago…remember? I’ve had food poisoning in Hong Kong and Australia, a friend recently succumbed in Toronto, so why is India so scary? Read on and I say to you the chances are minimal if you take care! Men especially said they had no desire to visit India, but women were more enthusiastic. Consequently four of us, all women, set off to experience Rajasthan province and Agra, Orchha, Khajuraho, Varanasi and Delhi.14 frenetic fun days cramming in every opportunity available to us.
Firstly I am going to presume you are not back packing through India. Would you back pack anywhere? Not my age or friends. This is a guide for the people in their prime of life!
The nuts and bolts to having a great time in India are your preparation and the dollars spent. Firstly don’t blindly accept the word of your GP and or Travel Doctor, speak to people who have been to India, research the areas and the season, and use Google. The results and choices will play a major part in your good health. Our doctors gave us all conflicting advice so one needs to shop about and do your research. December through March is winter in India so very much cooler, a little like our summer; 28 degrees might be your maximum temp. Some mornings were 14 degrees but the days warmed up quickly. There are few mosquitos in winter and certainly not malaria carrying ones in December and January. Hence you can be spared the dreaded and expensive anti malaria drugs. Secondly there is a relatively new oral vaccine called Ducelor that combats water born nasties, certainly worth the money to dose up on this the week before you leave. Pro-biotic’s seem to help too, so ask about these tablets. Hand washing with anti-bacteria products and only drinking water from a reliable source is essential. No salads, no ice, brush your teeth in bottled water! It is so easy to get good quality water if you are travelling with a reliable company. Dynamic Tours were our local Indian company selected by WORLD Journeys in NZ, we couldn’t fault their service. We were met and greeted at every airport and station and they always had plenty of bottled water in our vehicles. http://www.worldjourneys.co.nz/
Of course take out good travel insurance. And pack a medical kit. Antibiotics, antiseptic such as Betadine, blister_plasters,electrolyte_sachets_to_rehydrate,Imodium http://www.patient.co.uk/medicine/Loperamide.htm and have it with you, not in your toilet bag back at the hotel!
Money… we were told that we needed to pay a departure tax of 200 INR or Indian Rupees, so we carefully ensured we had the correct amount and we were not asked for it.so we had a last minute spend up in the Duty Free area of Delhi Airport!
Prior to leaving we googled and read that you cannot take money into India. However this seems untrue and the ANZ Bank gave us all NZ$400-00 in Indian rupees to see us through the first week. Why the internet said this is a mystery.
Electric plugs – take a European plug, – this has two rounded points also take a double adaptor to recharge phones and cameras simultaneously.
Going vegetarian is definitely an option and we chose this 95% of the time, but when we did eat chicken it was delicious. Watch the cottage cheese dishes, some of the dairy is not pasteurised, some is. We ate in our hotels at night and had lunch at recommended restaurants. We ate no street food – well why would you take the risk? You can see the flies hovering! My biggest problem was dehydration so ensure you drink plenty of clean bottled water…some are more prone than others.
We were away for 17 days and although we had a few little stomach gripes none of us succumbed to Delhi Belly, so seriously put India on your bucket list, but near the top of the list, it takes energy and stamina. India has vast distances to travel so if anything I would change the length of time we had so our pace was less frenetic. I might cut out a couple of temples or forts but then again they are all so very different. A few half days where we could relax in our hotel/ palace grounds would have been rather enjoyable; we didn’t even have time to take a swim in the beautiful hotel pools!
Another important factor to enjoying India and staying well is to choose your hotels carefully. Nothing less than 4 star and preferably 5 star hotels is my suggestion. They are catering to western tourists; breakfasts are familiar to you with ‘live’ eggs cooked any way you desire. However the Dosa with Masala was a real hit with all of us. Dosa is a very thin pancake filled with delicious spiced but not hot potatoes.
Meals are not necessarily spicy, many dishes were aromatic and sweet…rice is always available. Naan and Roti are excellent and we had no problems finding wine and or spirits to cap of our long days. Indian Whiskey is very good as was the Indian white wine. Coffee and tea was always pretty good even if ‘flat whites’ were scarce. Some places ran to cappuccino. The local Kingfisher Beer became a favourite at lunch times and I see it is sold in Auckland supermarkets.
I booked our trip for four people with Fortis Travel in Ponsonby but I am sure your favourite agent can assist you. http://www.fortistravel.co.nz/ Ask if Dynamic will handle your Indian travel as they really are an amazing company, and I would use them again. Avoid visiting India during their summer, unless you love the heat and flies, the mossies and the crowds.
Tipping was a constant – annoying at times as small change was not always easy to locate. Every toilet was 10 rupees. Although there are squat toilets we fortunately only had to deal with them on one occasion, often a male attendant but they seem innocuous enough. Then there is the guide and driver tips to fathom out constantly.
Our hotels varied from stunning modern hotels with all facilities (free Wi-Fi sometimes) to old palaces with three foot thick sandstone walls and park like settings. Beautiful ceiling decorations and murals, elegant chaise lounges, brocade drapes, four posters, bidets and very cheap and quick laundry service. In Agra security was tight and we received the famous ‘ pat down ‘ every time we entered the hotel but at least we felt quite secure.
Airlines internally were efficient, Spice Jet waived our excess baggage once we explained we were on an International ticket; however Jet Airways charged us despite the fact the plane was 90% empty!
I haven’t even touched on what we actually saw, the sights, the shopping, the hotels, that is another story and I am happy to forward my itinerary if you want it. Let me just say The Taj Mahal is far more impressive than any photograph can do justice too.
Riding camels at sunset is fun as is the elephant ride up to the Amber Fort. Then there is the shopping, acres of stunning silk and pashmina scarves (did I mention the Shatoosh*), jewellery from a few rupees to thousands of dollars and the carpets, Durries to silk masterpieces. *These shawls were originally very few and it took very skilled artisans to weave the delicate hair (which measured between 9 and 11 micrometres). These factors made shahtoosh shawls very precious. Chin hair from the Chiru antelope found high in Tibet and Nepal.
Inlaid lapizlali flowers, silver mirror tiles, fields of mustard, camels and goats, progress as in hundreds of miles of motorways and stunning new airport buildings all interspersed with ancient and impressive architecture, century old customs as seen in Varanasi and humble self-effacing people who seemed to like the fact we came from the same place as Stephen Fleming!! Everyday bought new experiences, sights, smells and delights. India has it all – just go!!
Faces of India.