Monday, April 30, 2018

Rajasthan with Raj

I like airport pickups. The comfort of a sign with my name on it when I leave an airport into what is usually a loud chaotic mess of taxi's, yelling touts, honking horns and confused travelers is reassuring. Sure, it is a bit more money than other options but this is my one travel luxury that I will never apologize for. Arriving in Delhi from Kathmandu we were met at the airport by a short smiling man with an A1 Tours - Ms Caitlyn Tran sign. He introduced himself as Raj and he was going to be our driver for the next 10 days.

I found A1 tours as you do, Google and Trip Advisor. Trip Advisor I usually take with a grain of salt. After a bit of back and forth and our constant schedule change, the owner Javed said that "it does not matter when you arrive, we will be ready." We arrived almost a month early as we did not hike Annapurna and he still accommodated us without issue. He teased us a bit when we arrived at his shop about our constant changes "nobody ever changed so much",  but it was all in good fun.

Our tour would consist of the major sites and cities around Rajasthan, the most popular tourist destination by province in India. The tour even had a great name, The Pearl of Rajasthan. We  would visit the following towns, Jaipur (2 nights)- Pushkar- Jodhpur - Udaipur - Bundi - Ranthambore - Agra (2 nights) - Delhi.

Each stop included a hotel and breakfast, plus English speaking guides in Jaipur and Agra. Raj would drive and pay for all gas and tolls. The cost for this would be less than a car payment back in Canada. Yes, it is that inexpensive to travel in India. Both Caitlyn and I agreed well before that this would be the best way to introduce ourselves to India. We only have 3.5 weeks here so there was no reason to spend most of our time "figuring it out". This tour was going to bring us to ancient forts, palaces, tiger safaris, spice markets and temples.
The website is  If you come to India I highly recommend them.

I did not know what to expect in India. Fellow travelers have told me it is unlike any other place you have traveled and to always expect the unexpected. Most travel articles confirmed it and every video reinforced it. The main messages seemed to be "Do not drink the water, do not eat the street food, do not eat any meat, be vegetarian while you are there, people will be aggressive when they try to sell you something". My head hurt and for the first time in my travel life I entered a country with pre-conceived negative thoughts. They would not last. I would rather not drink bottled water but sometimes you just have to do it. The chicken masala on day 2 was delicious and the vegetarian options are outstanding. Sadly, street food is still off limits until we find a busy "food street". The stomach viruses here eat Imodium like candy.

As for vendors, they are the same everywhere, except for Egypt where  "aggressive selling" is an art form. Here a smile and no thank you will usually suffice. If you look the person in they eyes you will usually get a smile in return. There may be a second attempt to have you buy something or jump in the Tuk Tuk but it is usually just habit. More times than you can imagine a cell phone will magically appear and you become the star attraction in a " Bollywood street selfie show".

With a little effort you can find decent coffee, American Fast Food (remember, no hamburgers as cows are sacred), soft serve ice cream and good inexpensive restaurants. For the record we destroyed 2 KFC meals in Agra in less than 3 minutes.

Poverty is a part of your experience here. It is tough and brutal to see. Advice in the form of "you must look past it" is easy to receive but tough to follow. Cows are everywhere and I mean everywhere. They are huge and do as they please. That being said, cow shit is also everywhere. There are lots of street dogs but they are skittish. In the streets you will also see camels, horses elephants, monkeys and goats. After a while they just become part of the scenery if you can imagine that. I still say "cow" 20 times a day to piss Caitlyn off but she does not bite.

The one and only Raj

You will instantly realized that India is loud, messy, dusty, dirty and hectic.You will marvel at the traffic, especially the traffic circles and large intersections. Police look like they are directing traffic but nobody listens. Cars, trucks, tuk tuks, scooters, bicycles, motos, delivery vehicles and yes cows all converge in a loud frenzy, but it works. If you watch it long enough you will see the patterns of madness emerge. It is quite impressive really.

Finally India is colorful, happy and helpful. The aromas continuously change and sometimes not for the better. It took me a few days but you really need to drop your shoulders, relax and just let India happen.

With that being said, we jumped into the air conditioned car with Raj and headed to Jaipur. It was time embrace the insanity that I knew was going to hit me smack in the face.

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