August has been our most difficult month around the world so far. India was unfortunately, as we had feared, a challenge and our recovery vacation in the heavenly Seychelles Islands got spoiled by health issues.
Dehli, our arrival in India
Even before we arrived the difficulties began. Our flight got cancelled just as we were setting off for the airport! Fortunately, we still manged to catch another flight later that day.
We were told a lot about Delhi being the most difficult city to visit. At first, we thought it was manageable but we got a little over confident. We stayed longer to enjoy the sunset at one of the beautiful historical sites we were visiting. It turned out to be a bad idea: at night, we had trouble going back to our homestay and were followed and harassed.
The next day we met up with a friend and visited Delhi smoothly with her (meaning we mostly talked for hours in cafés). We are very happy to have been able to visit our friend Shambhavi with whom Clémentine did her master’s degree in London.
Agra and the Taj Mahal
Our journey to Agra was the worst part of the trip. We were meant to arrive late afternoon and had booked a hotel with pool and dinner on the rooftop facing the Taj Mahal for our first wedding anniversary. To begin with, we waited for our delayed train. After this, it actually got cancelled. As a result, our anniversary celebrations got canceled with the train…
Unfortunately, we only booked one night in Agra. Because we had to arrive the same evening, we finally opted for a taxi.
Our driver purposely took the long road. As we drove along the highway, we saw cows, dogs, and even men running across without even glancing at the traffic. Our driver allowed himself to make a U-turn and went against the traffic.
When we finally reached our hotel at 2 am, the driver pretended to get lost and dragged us into dodgy alleys to extort double what we were supposed to pay him. We tried to protest but then, tired and worried, we ended up giving him the money.
Three hours later we got up, frustrated and exhausted, for one of our dreams to come true. The Taj Mahal did not disappoint us! It is a majestic monument and a beautiful testament to love. Indeed, it was built in the 17th century by an emperor as a tomb for his wife (his favourite wife because he had several…).
Jaipur, the Maharajas city
The same day we took an uneventful train to the city of Jaipur in Rajasthan. This region, land of the Maharajas, was composed of several kingdoms before the takeover of India by the British Empire. Jaipur is full of historical places and we visited temples, palaces, tombs and forts. However, as in Delhi and Agra, it was difficult to walk around. We could not move without being aggressively asked to make a purchase or get into a cab. Many men stared at us (especially at Clémentine) intensively. On top of this, the traffic was hellish and crossing the road requires dexterity and bravery.
We decided to tour a guide for two days. It was a great experience which allowed us to wander serenely and get to places, such as the local market, we would not have dared to visit on our own. The guide even invited us to his home where his mother cooked for us. In the spacious townhouse where we had lunch, our guide explained that his family raises buffaloes to sell milk. Clémentine, curious and pragmatic, asked if they kept them in a place nearby. You can not imagine our surprise when in front of us, he opened a door between the television and the sofa and there was the stable with three huge buffaloes and two babies!
Mumbai and the Bollywood
To get from Jaipur to Mumbai, we took a 16 hours night train. For the longest train, we booked a first-class private cabin. The train was on time but the cabin really dirty and old. Once again, we were the only tourists and the men from the neighbouring cabins came to stare at us through the window. Once night fell, armed soldiers guarded the wagon doors. Another peculiar experience but against all odds we slept very well. As soon as we arrived in Mumbai we could see this city is much more accessible. Indeed, there are sidewalks and people were not staring at us.
Moreover, there, we were lucky to have been put in touch with a friend of a friend. Srikar was very disappointed to hear about our difficult experiences in India and determined that we enjoyed Mumbai comfortably. He took us on amazing tours around the city and we had a wonderful evening with his family.
As you may know (or not) we are Bollywood fans. We used to go to dancing classes in London and we even performed a surprise demonstration as our wedding’s first dance. The word “Bollywood” is a mix of Bombai (the colonial name of the city of Mumbai) and Hollywood. This huge indian film industry is often about romance and usually includes dynamic songs and choreographs. We have been to the cinema twice in India, the movies are in Hindi but you don’t need to understand everything to enjoy the atmosphere. Once in Mumbai, where all the studios are located, we had hoped to get noticed by a producer. In desperation, we went on a studio tour. An incredible experience where we had the chance to observe some live shooting. We also discovered the behind the scenes of this glamorous industry and it is… not very clean!
For our last days in India we stayed with a friend from London’s aunty and we were received like kings. In India, we met incredible people from different backgrounds and religions. The diversity is breathtaking and we were lucky to discover the country’s rich culture with amazing people. The day before our departure, August 15th, was the anniversary of the Independence Day (1947). We went with our host to a ceremony (which is done across the country in communities and different neighbourhoods). We had the surprise and honour to be asked to raise the flag!
India, between difficulties and wonder
We were unlucky to accumulate difficulties at the beginning of our journey, however it ended beautifully. India is not an easy country to visit but it is an incredible trip.
We have not yet mentioned the best of India: the cuisine! Each of our meals was absolutely delicious and we have never eaten twice the same dish whether it was cooked at home, in a restaurant or from the street. There are so many flavours to discover, each region and community has different specialties. The real problem is knowing how to stop eating. Especially when you are facing the disappointed face of the cooks, on the verge of a liver crisis, and you have too tell them that you are truly to full to keep eating!
After these intense moments, we were looking forward to our two weeks of relaxation in the Seychelles islands. Now it is actually not the best season, the sea is quite rough but we are really enjoying the “freshness” of the 26 ° C (after three months of extremely hot temperatures).
On the program: the Mahé Island where the capital and the international airport are, the pretty Praslin Island and the heavenly peaceful La Digue Island where motorised vehicles are prohibited. Except we had a problem: after two days Nicolas got sick shortly followed by Clémentine. Ironically, our stomachs have survived Asia but not the Seychelles where even tap water is drinkable. We still managed to go hiking and on boat trips between two days staying in bed. The landscapes and the beaches are sublime but we were disappointed by the seabed. Unfortunately, the coral is in poor health because of the water increase in temperature…
The Seychelles archipelago remained uninhabited until the 18th century. This is probably the reason why today you can still find giant tortoises there (which can only be found in the Seychelles and Galápagos). These tortoises can grow to more than one meter, weight 150 kilos and live several hundred years. The Seychelles islands, first under French and then English control, were populated with slaves deported from different parts of the world. This blend of culture has given rise to the pretty Creole culture.
What’s next ?
We are feeling better and hoping to be back to a 100% because in September we are going around Africa. No doubt it will be challenging: The 1st, after a night’s stopover in Ethiopia, we are going to Zimbabwe. We are volunteering to work with wild animals in a UNESCO protected area. The organisation in charge of the reserve is fighting against poaching, especially to try to save the last black rhinos which are in great danger of extinction. A friend is joining us from France for this project.
After the volunteer program, we will embark on an incredible adventure: a 21-day safari starting in Zimbabwe and ending in Kenya going through Malawi, Zambia and Tanzania.
Finally just a heads up : we do not know when we will be able to send you the newsletter next month, it might be late!