Where to begin.
So I went to India. There’s nothing more exciting than finding somewhere new and somewhere so incredible. I can’t express how much there was to see, how chaotic it was but also how incredibly beautiful everything was. I’ve never been anywhere so colourful in all my life and that’s something that has stuck with me.
As I’ve said many times before, the thing I always find so exciting about going anywhere new is the people. Coming from a Western country and going somewhere so vastly different with such a contrasting culture was mind-blowing. For me, India showed me how different somewhere can be but maintain so many similarities. Something I’ve really taken from this trip is just the sheer beauty of India, somewhere that has so many differences to what we know in the West but somewhere that I think we can learn many lessons from.
We were told it would be a ‘shock’ when we arrived in India, which is something I didn’t fully appreciate until we got there. When we had a meeting with the students who had gone previously, they explained about what the roads were like and the people and just generally what to expect, but it hits you with full force when you arrive. Leaving cold windy Heathrow and stepping off a plane into bright sunshine and 30 degree weather was confusing enough, and then a crushing realisation that you are in India. There were people everywhere, and I couldn’t help noticing that you couldn’t really see the sky. You’re down on the ground in some sort of thick haze that obscures your view into the distance, and it was the first sign of a place that was going to be very very different to what I am used to. By no means was this a bad thing – I couldn’t wait to explore and settle in to my new surroundings and fully absorb everything that I was seeing. The students who had travelled here previously had said that the one thing you need to prepare for is how much you’re going to see, and how little of it you will remember until you come back. As the weeks go by you’ll slowly remember more and more and it will come back in bits and pieces. Having come back that’s something I would definitely agree with. There are big patches that are just blurry and days that all merged into one big pile of India that I need to dissect and look through!
The first day was an intense one at the Amber Fort, an amazing building at the top of the mountains in Jaipur. Leaving the hotel and the drive up was anarchy – our first real experience of the roads in India. Road markings seemingly meant little to none, with three lanes meaning three cars, a lorry and a tuk tuk all vying for position. Our little tour bus was quite the warrior though, boldly driving through the crowds. We were dropped at the foot of the hills, overlooking a beautiful lake which looked straight up to the Amber Fort. We travelled there by Jeep, a rough and bumpy ride through tiny narrow streets which was my first real glimpse at ‘India’ and what it was like. Watching people shopping and looking through produce at the street markets, the animals sifting through the rubbish, and lots of noise. The Jeep ride was slightly terrifying, no seat-belts or doors or any regard for human life whatsoever which eventually became incredible fun. I managed to get a few really great videos of our journey up to the Amber Fort in our Jeep.
Arriving at the Amber Fort was initially quite shocking, as the pathway leading up to the gates was lined with street performers, beggars, and a limbless lady which was really shocking for me. I had never seen anything like that before in my life, and it left me stunned for quite a while when we were looking around the Fort. It really opened my eyes to the poverty there, which is something everyone knows about, but to see it in person was really different. The poverty and the people is something that I’d like to find more about, not necessarily for my work but just to learn about. The culture and economic situation that India finds itself in is not something I know a great deal about. Of course they have thriving industry and ever-increasing GDP, but what is the effect of this on India’s people? It’s definitely something I’d like to look into. Speaking of the people of Jaipur, it’s just a load more colour. The clothes are incredible in India, with every bright and bold colour worn on saris and turbans, and colour adorning the buildings and the cars and even the animals. We arrived before the end of Diwali so there was still plenty going on to celebrate this important Indian festival.
The wealth of colour is something that I personally think reflects India’s rich culture and its people, India obviously having a wealth of history, stories and knowledge. In the courtyard at the Amber Fort there was a beautiful view down into the valley below, and there was an elephant there! He or she was giving people rides up and down the hill outside. It was the first time I’d ever seen an elephant and I couldn’t have been happier. I know there’s a great deal of scrutiny over elephant rides and their treatment, but to see one in the flesh was amazing. Something that I think really shocked me was the amount of people who asked to have their picture taken with me. Being stood in this beautiful Fort, with incredible views, amazing architecture, and all the other things there were to see, apparently I was more interesting for some people. I didn’t mind the curiosity, I didn’t like the leering. One man thrust his tiny baby into my arms and tried to take pictures, but it was so abrupt and it happened with barely a thought to whether or not I even wanted this to happen. The baby itself didn’t seem too pleased either! I asked our tour guide why this happened, even though I knew the answer already, and it purely is curiosity and intrigue. For a lot of people they’ve never interacted with white people, particularly those as fair as I am. I would describe my pallor as milky at best, and my long blonde hair and blue eyes were a natural attraction. I can certainly understand this but it’s something that’s never happened to me before so I was understandably quite taken aback when this first happened. It was something that having come away from India I’ve definitely thought more about because it’s that element of fascination and curiosity about different cultures that led me to India in the first place. Was I any different being there in India? Was it any different for me to be taking pictures of people buying fruit and vegetables at market stalls or the women in their colourful saris? I guess not. I must have had upwards of 50 photos taken of me over the course of our time at the Fort. I imagine they’re now on a mantlepiece or in several Facebook profile pictures. Something I’m certain of is that I would hate to be a celebrity. A few hours of it at the Amber Fort was enough for me.