Last month I joined a dozen other Impact Teachers on a trip to Delhi for an intensive week mentoring around 50 Indian teachers. This was part of Impact Teachers BEN (Beyond Education Needs) Program, which focuses on spreading improved teaching pedagogy to places like India and Uganda: sharing skills and knowledge with local teachers.
Being a supply teacher here in London means I enjoy a very flexible work schedule. So I made tracks for India earlier than my colleagues and arranged to meet them when they arrived.
India: PART 1 is about the first half of my week traveling alone, and finding “my way”.
India PART 1 – Always Back Yourself
Be Prepared For Your Adventures & Always Back Yourself: Never allow yourself to give in to the fears of others
“But why you leave, sir? I call my manager, you speak with him first”, pleaded the barefooted, scruffy little bellboy. There was no use pleading with me now, though. I was saddled up – the waist strap of my Osprey backpack clipped in and all – there is no turning back from this level of ‘ready to go’. I thanked the bellboy for trying to help, reminded him that I had already booked elsewhere, and asked for my passport back so I could be on my merry way. Stepping out into the sunshine and strolling down the dirt track toward town alone felt like I had just broken out of daycare: I had finally left the driver, the pre-booked hotels, and best of all, any trace of a guide behind me. A big, stupid smile spread itself wide across my face!
I had flown into Delhi 4 days earlier, which gave me eight days to explore Rajasthan before making my way back to Delhi to meet up with colleagues from Impact. I had heard about how crazy and unsurvivable the traffic in India was – as I’m sure everybody has – but my intention remained the same: rent a motorcycle for the week and set off for a unique, immersive adventure. Unfortunately, I had made one rookie error which would ultimately lead to the poisoning of my confidence, and my magnificent plan to be sidelined for something “safer” – I had not booked a hotel for my first night in Delhi!
HOT TIP #001: I am all for hanging loose without a plan when I travel, but it is wise to at least book the 1st night accommodation so you can get your bearings and sort out an exit strategy.
Without a place to go when I landed, I wandered outside in search of a Taxi or train to the middle of town and an internet cafe. Simples, right? Well, kind of. As soon as I crossed the road and breached the concrete footpath area beyond, I was mobbed by 4 or 5 Indians vying for the pleasure of my butt sitting in their taxi seat. I’m not sure if this was rehearsed and they worked as a team or not, but after undercutting each other a few times, I settled on a price of 250rupees with one of them to take me into town – somewhere there was internet I could use. Whether it was rehearsed or not, I was happy to part with £2-3 for a ride to town where I could sort out a bed and some plans.
Unfortunately, something was lost in translation. He drove me into town, yes. He took me someplace that had internet, yes. The trouble was, the only computers in the joint had travel agents sitting behind them eagerly awaiting my wallet. I mean, money. I mean, to help me. One was already asking me how many days I would like to travel before I had passed through the foyer. I outlined my plan to hire a bike and book my own hotels, and that I would be more than grateful if they could just let me use their internet, or point me in the direction of a hotel for the night. And with that, the art of fear-mongering commenced, and a consequent wearing down of my self-belief in being able to manage just fine getting about by myself.
I was aware that the Diwali Festival was just a few days away, but they painted a picture of COMPLETE MAYHEM:
- all hotels being booked out for months in advance;
- traffic so bad, you could pitch a tent at the side of the road just waiting for the gridlock to ease;
- arriving at hotels, only to be turned away because they were constantly double-booking;
- and fables of people having to pay £100/night just to get a bed because of how crazy busy everywhere was…
I sensed balderdash here, but there were already chinks in my armor from cautious advice I’d recieved from friends and family before coming to Delhi – & I began to doubt myself. An hour later, I reluctantly decided to play it safe for my first visit to India, shelling out a little over £400 for 8 days; 8 nights; accommodation; drivers; trains; an elephant ride; & a bus. In the itinerary below you can make out a line about “No hidden costs”. I believe “No hidden costs” roughly translates to “Gotchya!! You’ll pay for everything again along the way, Whitey!” haha.
But it’s only money, I suppose – and a lesson learned for next time I visit India, (and that perhaps I can pass on to others now).
HOT TIP #002: Unless you are A. completely incompetent; B. want to waste your rupees; or C. you like following the well worn tourist trail, don’t use a travel agent. It’s cheaper, more exciting, and more immersive to forge your own path
For the next 3 days I had a driver, “Bacchu Singh” – Like a sneeze followed by something you do in the shower. He spoke fairly good English, and on the drives between Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur managed to teach me a few key phrases and gestures which would come in handy throughout my trip. I scrawled a few important bits and pieces on a piece of paper and carried it around in my wallet until the phrases stuck.
Bacchu was a friendly old chap of 50-something who got me where I needed to be, took care of my hotel accommodation, and drove me to see a bunch of cool stuff along the way. He did his job marvelously, and I could kick back and relax while he made everything happen around me, it was easy. (Check out India Gallery #1 for more pictures)
Now, that’s all well and good if you’re into that kind of guided tour experience – Being shuffled around from place to place (on time), peering in at the iconic marvels of a foreign land to take a picture and say, “I was there, I saw that”. Then being taken to the same carpet and marble shop that the steady stream of tourists have been ushered through before you: basically, having your hand held the whole way like a child, and kept safe from the “local savages”. As much as I may like to act like a child every now and then, I am NOT very keen on being guided around.
Bacchu fulfilled his final duty on my fourth day in India: delivering me to the train in Jaipur on time, without a hiccup. But as we shook hands and parted ways on the platform, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of relief wash over me as he sauntered away up the stairs. I much prefer to forge my own path, get lost sometimes, mingle with the locals, have a few close calls, make my own schedule, and experience a Country and it’s people, rather than coming all this way just to look at it from a safe distance.
I had a train ride ahead of me, then a taxi booked to pick me up from Ajmer, but beyond that I had already decided to leave the guided tour Tourism India had booked for me as soon as I got to Pushkar – Starting with a change of hotel.
My trip was about to get a hell of a lot more intimate and interesting…