Perhaps the most personal blog I’ve ever written reveals how I returned from India as a changed man to the one that left Australia.
Firstly, let me begin by saying that everyone from a western civilization who can afford to should visit India (or a third-world country) in their lifetime. India is a country with multiple facets that allow its land – and its people – to survive and even flourish in (what can be perceived as) deteriorating circumstances.
This is not a blog meant to deter you from visiting India and experiencing its vast cultures and esoteric hideaways, rather this is a blog of how it transformed my life.
It’s April 2016. I’m deciding how to survive for six weeks on my summer holidays from work with no pay. The question I posed was this: How can I travel for a month and still have enough to live on when I return?
After taking this question to my Uncle, the answer was diluted into two possible choices: do individual weekend trips spread across the month or visit a third-world country.
Thus “Stin’s Indian Trek” was born.
Now, just because I am a born and bred Australian – flipped upside down at the bottom of the globe – doesn’t mean I am not aware of the conditions of the world’s continents and countries. Of course I was aware of the range of wealth in India – from the abundance of wealth in the Sikh Empire, to the extreme poverty in the heart of India’s slums. I am not ashamed to say that the wealth of my knowledge of India sprouted mainly from films such as Slumdog Millionare and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Of the two, Slumdog properly captures the multifaceted nature of India.
One seven hour and one connecting flight later, the wheels of the plane touched down in New Delhi, the capital of India. Without even leaving the airport, the first tragedy struck, the airline had misplaced my bag…it turned out to be back in Dubai.
Stin’s Travel Tips #1 – Always pack your essentials in your backpack or rucksack (i.e. Phone charger, map, medication
Eventually sorting out the bags arrival, I prepared myself to exit into Delhi. After overcoming the wave of intense humidity that hit me in the face like a sticky, damp cloth that had been reheated in a microwave for too long, I was in a (less than pristine) taxi.
Remember when I said I was aware of the state of India? Nothing could prepare me for that trip from Delhi to my hostel.
The driving and traffic in Delhi can only be described as a mix between real-life dodgem cars and Wacky Races. What was meant to be two lanes of traffic became – an extremely cramped – three lanes, with enough street left for the sacred cows to freely wander. This journey – passing children as young as three sleeping under bridges, hidden garden oasis’ that looked extremely misplaced and naked men freely roaming the streets – was the most overwhelming car journey of my life.
Stin’s Travel Tips #2 – If staying in New Delhi for the first time, stay somewhere that is more on the expensive side of town – It may cost you more but it will ease you into life in India.
Again, this is not meant to deter you from India and so let me turn this into something more positive. The moment I stood on the rooftop of my hostel (some hidden, air condition-less place in the south of Delhi) I was in awe of where I was. This was India. India! If you had told high school me that I would one day be travelling – on my own – in India, I would have (to quote The Castle) told you that you were dreaming!
If you’d like to know more of the places to travel in the Rajasthan region of India, please feel free to read one of my other blogs. For now I’ll do a quick summary in order to delve into the crux of this blog.
I was not alone for my entire journey, I was honoured to share my time with a fellow Australian, some enthusiastic Turkish travelers and the most welcoming trio of British women I could have had the pleasure of joining on part of their holiday.
This chapter of my Indian adventures begins in New Delhi and ends in New Delhi.
Arriving back from Udaipur I was not feeling my jovial self and I wasn’t sure why.
I thought I had drank plenty of water (from my filtration bottle, which is Stin’s Travel Tip #3 – If going to India, invest in a filtration bottle to filter clean water from any tap or hotel bathroom) and I definitely did not skip out on breakfast. So, what was wrong with me?
Another tricky cab ride out of the airport later, I ejected myself onto the streets of Delhi, feeling as though I needed to regurgitate some devilish spawn. Feeling faint, I threw myself into the nearest safe haven I could find (ironically, this turned out to be two doors down from my hotel) and cried for help. My hands felt like they were home to a swarm of bees, my head was a roulette wheel and all bets were on black. This was when I was helped by my saviour, the manager of the Hotel de Aura. But even he couldn’t stop the next step of my fatigue. My hands were suddenly no longer hands, they were claws, curling themselves inwards, rejecting any control I had over them. And suddenly, my speech was slurred, for my tongue had swollen.
This is the time to note two things: One, that I am not, nor have every been allergic to anything in my life. Two, that nothing this medically drastic had ever happened to me in my life, so obviously, I was rather panicked.
Unable to communicate, the trusty lifesaver and his employees thought to do the only thing they could – put this near unconscious foreigner into a Tuk Tuk and get some medical help.
For those playing at home, what did I say previously about the traffic in the streets of India? Yeah, I’ll leave you to imagine how speedy the trip was.
The Tuk Tuk ambulance’s first attempt was one medical practitioner near the hotel who took one look at me and went back inside; clearly the situation was above his pay grade. It was at this point that flashbacks of my first aid training came back into my head. “The one thing you should remember boys, is that when a person has a seizure, you need to ensure they don’t swallow their tongue”, rang the voice of my Scout Leader. So, feebly, I attempted to tell my protectors to ensure I don’t do that one thing…my communication was, however, unsuccessful in getting this across.
After some quick thinking, I was taken to a nearby private hospital and “admitted”. It was another stroke of bad luck though that it was at this particular hospital, which was considered a more expensive place to be treated in Delhi, that the staff there frequently had to deal with young kids who were either on some psychedelic drugs or highly intoxicated. So, naturally, they assumed I was on either of those two strands of medical attention.
Pause here for a second, it’s time for a What-Would-You-Do?
Situation: You’re in the middle of India, alone, 5% battery left. Luckily, you’ve got a hint of data signal since you cleverly purchased a SIM for the time you were staying in India. You know no one in India and you need urgent medical help. You are able to now break the hold over your cramped fingers and have the ability to feebly type on your dying phone. What do you do?
Me? I phoned my Uncle and with my 5% battery I uttered these few words, “In Delhi, can’t speak, need help, hospital near Delhi Airport…” and then the phone took its final beeps and went black.
Now, being a cinephile (Google it) I’ve always imagined having a movie moment, you know, one of those times where you look back at it and go “That’s like something out of a film!”. The last thing I remembered in that hospital bed was a clear movie moment.
As I lay half in and out of consciousness, I felt the lightest of hands stroke my feverish head. I forced my eyes open and through my hazy vision I saw an elderly Indian woman in the most colourful garbs of orange and yellow, with a large Bindi in the middle of her forehead. She stood stroking me softly and whispered ever so gently “Rest, rest now. Peace to you”. And then I zonked out again. This was probably the fever manipulating my sight but I could have sworn she had a blurry light exuding from behind her.
So there you go ladies and gentlemen, God, if there is such a thing, is an elderly Indian woman.
Jump ahead to the next day and I was back on feet, albeit a little bit shaken. I had been discharged of my own free will and was on the hunt for the hotel in which I threw my crumbling body the day before. Back at the Hotel de Aura I thanked my saviour, R.P Chauhan, more than I could muster and repaid him the hospital charge from the night before. Next time I’m in Delhi (oh yes, I’ll come back) I’m staying right here as repayment for his efforts, which was more than I could have asked.
On reflecting on my time in India, I can say that it was the strangest, most confronting, most exhilarating and most memorable time of my life. Sure, I may have awoken a strange anxiety due to the feeling of choking but all these things happen for a reason, which is why I eat so slowly now and remain in such great shape! So whilst this experience may seem shocking, this is a story I will take with me wherever I go and I tell you what, it makes for a hell of a travel story around a campfire or pint of lager.
So I say one more time, please don’t let this story deter you! India is exotic and marvellous in so many ways and I encourage anyone I meet to go there, just make sure to be prepared for the most unexpected of things to happen.