Sacred Cows, Aloo Gobi & the Maharajas’ Express

Delhi / India / Maharajas’ Express | April 29, 2013

When people think of India what do they think of? Poverty? Mayhem? Bad smells? Constant noise? Delhi belly? Me too! Well that’s all I’ve got on that one. Thanks for reading. I’m JOKING of course. There is more, panic over…

As I was saying, my perceptions may have been similar to anyone else’s so I decided to take a two week trip around Northern India to see what all the fuss was about.

When first landing in Delhi there is no hiding from the mayhem. There are people everywhere. I mean everywhere. 1.2 billion to be precise and I saw at least half of them crammed into the back of a Toyota Yaris when we were waiting for our transfer from the airport.

That leads me onto my first perception:

Driving
I have never experienced anything like it. ‘Organised chaos’ is how the locals describe it and they are not wrong. I imagine when taking a driving test, the more errors you get, the better the pass mark. Indian roads are so confusing that even the road signs just say ‘I don’t know’. It really is crazy but it is part of the experience and you should embrace it. The real king of the road is the cow. They are fearless predators of the road, walking and laying where they please, stopping traffic and causing diversions. At first, the driving experience can all be overwhelming but after a few days you DO adapt and get used to it. Don’t let it put you off! It is just part of the culture and by the end of the trip I must admit I did feel very comfortable travelling on the roads of this magical country. One final thought on driving for you. I saw a guy on an elephant overtaking a push bike around a roundabout. Speechless.

Poverty
This is something which is very difficult to avoid when travelling in India. It is widespread in all cities and unfortunately the gulf between rich and poor is there for all to see. I was very fortunate enough to be travelling on the luxury Maharajas’ Express and as we passed by shanty towns and streams of homeless families it really did put everything into perspective. It was like looking from one world into another. Of course there are areas of each city where poverty is less of a problem but you will still receive occasional attention from people begging for money and food when walking around. This is one perception that I wish I could say was false, but it isn’t.

Food
The food in India puts English food to shame. It is simply delicious. From Byriani and Butter Chicken to Pav Bhaji and Aloo Gobi, it is amazing. The tastes and the spices change as you travel across the country and I can safely say you will never enjoy a curry in quite the same way back home again. The big one you’ve all been talking about; Delhi belly. My advice would be do not get carried away and go crazy on the first few days. The street stall sellers will try their best to tempt you in but try to hold back otherwise it will put a road through you quicker than you can say Imodium. Local food stalls line the streets of most cities and they offer a whole host of tasty treats from Pani Puri to Aloo Tikki. This ‘perception’ of the food making you ill should not be totally ignored, but if you are careful you will find the food is one of the best memories you take away with you from India.

Hang on, that’s the phone. I’ll be back in a minute.

Back… I thought it was someone from the Delhi hotel telling me I’d left something in my room. Turns out it was Sanjeev from a call centre in Delhi asking me if I’ve got 10 minutes for a survey on my car insurance. Of course I haven’t Sanjeev; I’m trying to write a blog here! Anyway, where were we…

Travelling on the rails
I was lucky enough to be travelling on the Maharajas’ Express for 7 nights and it is fair to say this is one of the most luxurious trains in the world. From the moment you arrive at the exclusive train station you are treated like royalty. The cabins are beautifully decorated and spacious, the butler service exceptional, the regional cuisine exquisite, and the onboard staff incredibly helpful. This is the best way to see India, no question. All meals and most drinks were included in the journey, as were the daily excursions. The red carpet is rolled out at every station and you do feel like a ‘somebody’ as the local crowds await you to disembark the train. They must have been disappointed when a sunburnt Englishman stepped off the instead of the royalty or celebrity they were expecting. Visiting the iconic Taj Mahal, seeing wild tigers in Ranthambore National Park, taking a rickshaw ride around old Delhi, playing Elephant Polo, meeting the Indian Royal family, dining in exclusive palaces, all whilst staying on the most luxurious train in India. I can guarantee you will not experience the levels of hospitality you receive on this journey anywhere else, it truly is the best. Yes, I’d love to ride the local rails but this journey is now top of my list and I really cannot recommend it enough. Go on, live like a Maharaja, I know you want to…

You can choose to have one of two different mindsets when travelling around India. You can be totally overwhelmed by everything and let India get the better of you. The alternative is to totally embrace everything and fall in love with this beautiful country. I know what I chose.

When I think of India what do I think of? The world’s best food, amazing culture, sensual smells and sounds, incredible sites and monuments, all in all a life changing trip. Well that’s all I’ve got on that one. Thanks for reading.