Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
An Indian Odyssey
It’s hard to package two months in India into one blog post—but I’m going to try.
At our final dinner together, our Intrepid tour leader asked us to sum up our experiences in a word. My summary of India was mystical, and my favourite part of the experience was transport.
That was three weeks in. Five weeks later, those words still held true. India is the most mystical place I’ve been, and every time I try to conjure up my “favourite” part, I usually come back to transport. I crisscrossed the subcontinent on domestic flights (mostly uneventful) and trains (best forgotten), but it was the other forms of transport that left the greatest impressions. And so, I’ve decided to package my Indian experience with a round up of my most interesting modes of transport.
Black and Yellow Taxi
My first memorable experience came my first hour in India. Like a good Lonely Planet disciple, I collected my bag and made a beeline for the prepaid taxi stand at the Delhi airport—the famous black and yellow taxi. The age and condition of a black and yellow is a crapshoot, as is the sanity of the driver. Having experienced a Cairo taxi and a Chinese bus, I didn’t think anything could faze me. But my ride in a Black and Yellow from the airport to my hotel near Connaught Place was the most frightening experience of my entire life. I really never thought a person could drive like that . . . seriously. Yet, despite seeing my life flash before my eyes, it was great fun!
Nothing is more classic than the Indian Rickshaw. The tuk-tuks of India come in different forms, the most famous being the little three-wheeled autorickshaw with the rounded roof. My first ride was in Delhi, when I hired a fella to run errands all morning. He was helpful, and quite deft at navigating the traffic. Since then I’ve been in too many autorickshaws to count. They come in different sizes too, some slightly bigger, more tuk-tuk like, and some even take on a mini-bus feel. I’ve seen autorickshaws filled to the brim with kids coming from school, and filled to the brim with goods to be delivered, and filled to the brim with luggage and people, and in Jaipur we even filled one of the larger rickshaws to the brim with 5 grown up party goers—that was a trip!
The calmest mode of transport came from my three-day trip down the Ganges. These little boats, powered by wind or rowing, depending on conditions, were a welcome break from my first few days in India. The beautiful scenery, the boys who ran the boats, and the kitchen boat that served up the best food I had in India, were the highlights of the group tour. Although, if I’m honest, it doesn’t take much for me to like a boat.
This wasn’t my first time on a camel, nor was it my most picturesque (in fact I found both the ride and the campsite somewhat lacking compared to my experience in Egypt), but I think every ride on a camel is worth noting. The most noteworthy part is that I’m pretty good at getting on or off a camel, even after riding one for over an hour. I enjoyed my camel rides in Pushkar so much that it made me think I really ought to start horseback riding. I’m not an animal lover, but whenever I get on a horse (or a camel) I think, “Oh yeah, I really like this, I should do it more often.”
Riding in a jeep may not seem that special, but my jeep rides through the countryside and villages of Rajasthan were great fun. They were just a means of getting from point A to point B, but the roads, the scenery, the dust, and the get-up (I dressed like a bandit), gave it all a cinematic adventure feeling. And my tour of Old Goa in the back of the youth hostel’s jeep definitely made the required tour of Portuguese Churches a little more exciting (not that seeing St. Francis Xavier’s remains isn’t exciting in and of itself!).
The Toy Train
One of the inspirations for my trip to Darjeeling was to see and experience the UNESCO World Heritage Site Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, also known as the Darjeeling Toy Train. The narrow-gauge tracks wind their way through the hill towns, along the same path as the Hill Cart Road, often passing inches from the houses and shops along the way. Due to a landslide last year, the lower portion of the railway is closed, so it wasn’t possible to take the train all the way down from Darjeeling. But I did take the Joy Ride, which travels from Darjeeling to Ghum and back using the steam engine.
My most significant transport experience was on the open road in Goa. Shortly after my arrival in the beach paradise, it became clear that I wouldn’t be able to really enjoy myself if I couldn’t get out and about on my own. And so I explored both North and South Goa on my own two-wheeler, enjoying several different beaches and seeing enough Portugese churches to last a lifetime. I even braved the crazy traffic to explore the cities of Mapusa and Margoa. In fact, my best days in Goa came on a scooter—my solo ride from Colva to Palolem Beach, and my Saturday girls’ caravan to Morjim, Arambol, and the Night Market in Arpora.
While the beaches of Goa, the Himalayan peaks of Darjeeling, the views of Udaipur, and the Literature Festival in Jaipur, among other things, are all rivals for “the best part” of my trip to India, it seems I always had the most fun while in transit.