North India: Getting Used to India

Mummy and I look similar enough to be recognised as mother and daughter. When greeted by an Indian for the first time, they always point at mummy and ask me: “your Muma?” When I nod in agreement a huge smile fills their faces. The mother/ daughter travelling combo is proving to be hugely popular in India.

The Indians we’ve met all adore mummy because she has four children, including one son. However, I seem to get a slightly different reaction. In fact, I’ve had the exact same conversation with every Indian I’ve met so far, although I’m getting better at preempting it now. The first one was with a 23 year old guide going by the name of Mr Raj, and it went like this:
“What are you studying?” He said. Reading the confusion on my face he asked: “You are a student?”
I shook my head, still looking a bit confused.
“How old are you?”
“How old do you think I am?”
“You are seventeen”, he beamed.
“Seventeen!” I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. “I’m twenty eight!”
“Oh. Sorry mam.” He looked downcast.
“Oh it’s ok, I know I look young.”
“No, it’s not that. It’s just that being twenty eight and not married is a big problem. There must be something wrong with you.”
“Oh…right.”
** such a long awkward silence **

After some time of enduring the painstaking silence, where I simply couldn’t think of anything to say, Mr Raj continued on with the conversation. He began to tell me that he was single and how much he would like a foreign girlfriend. He also assured me that I shouldn’t worry, as he wasn’t looking for a girl with good looks, that didn’t bother him, he was just looking for a foreigner with a good heart. He knew I had a good heart because I had been very good at listening to him. I couldn’t bring myself to say that he had mistaken my listening skills for stunned silence.

This conversation happened in Rishikesh, the self-proclaimed yoga capital of the world, nestled on the River Ganges at the foothills of the Himalayas. In the flow of things, I had an evening meditation class to get to, so I made my excuses to Mr Raj and left to breathe off the conversation while overlooking the holy river.

In Rishikesh they talk about the area having a special energy. Whatever you believe, it’s certainly a special place. I loved my morning yoga classes, watching the sun rise over the mountains and lighting up the bright blue of the fresh mountain water in the wide and fast flowing river. I felt very inspired. Indeed, The Beatles wrote many famous songs (that I’d mostly never heard of) while staying at an Ashram in Rishikesh in the 1960s. As a result, the town was filled with a number of cultural references that were slightly lost on me.

In Delhi, Jaipur, Jodhpur and Udaipur we visited lots of beautiful forts, temples and palaces from lavish eras of times gone by. Mummy inspected every curtain hook, pole and hanging, while I imagined what it would have been like to be one of the many maharani (queens) back in the day. I decided it was probably a bit lonely, as the queens were all in purdah (hidden from view and had to stay behind screens the whole time). Having said that, the palaces in Udaipur were really really really amazing, so that might have made it ok.

In Agra, we visited the Taj Mahal at dusk and again the next day at dawn. At dusk, we were accompanied by another 5,000 visitors (mostly Indian domestic tourists). At dawn, we were lucky enough to be the first ones through the West Gate. It was amazing to see the huge building emerge as you walk through the equally huge arched gateway. The intricate detail with which it is decorated really blew me away. Again, another very special place.

In Mumbai we saw the hustle and bustle of the Indian economy in full force. Mummy had been reading a book about the history of the East India Company and was fascinated to see all the colonial buildings and how they were depicted now. I had been reading Shantaram…

Our final stop together was Goa for some beach time. We’ve explored several beaches up and down the long Goan coastline. One of my favourite beaches was Agonda beach, which is where my yoga course will be in a month or so.

Mummy leaves tonight and I will miss her. It’s been so fun travelling together and I’m a bit nervous to go off into the unknown without her. Although my next stop is an Ashram and she did say she couldn’t think of anything worse than staying somewhere with no coffee, meat or alcohol…

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