“What are the four things that are compulsory when driving in India?”
Mr. Satpal, our driver, looked at my friend Chrissy and I expecting an answer.
“Good horn. Good brakes. Good eyes. Good luck.”
Chrissy and I laughed nervously in the backseat, and with that- Mr. Satpal took off, swerving between cars, Tuk-tuks, trucks, camels, cows, and pedestrians- pointing out water buffalo and monkeys along the way.
It was like a knock-off game of Mario Kart, with Mario driving and Princess Peach and Princess Daisy strapped into the back seat. (Key difference being, there were no extra lives or bonus points.)
Chrissy and I travelled to India for work for the week, but came early to take full advantage of the opportunity and do a little bit of sightseeing. A friend of my father’s arranged a weekend tour of the Golden Triangle for us, and so, we drove from Delhi to Jaipur to explore the city, and then headed to Agra to check out the Taj Mahal.
While the seemingly lawless driving was a bit of a shock at the very beginning, by the second day Chrissy and I were napping in the back seat- oblivious to the surrounding chaos. In fact, I learned a neat trick: if you’re not looking at the road, you’ll be a lot less stressed.
Our trip happened during a less than convenient time- the city of New Delhi had just declared a state of emergency due to the smog levels. We had to limit our time outside and wear filtering masks. Jaipur wasn’t as bad, but the dreamy haze surrounding the Taj Mahal in my photos? That was just the smog in Agra.
All in all, I consider the experience an exercise in gratitude. How often do any of us actively think about the quality of air we breathe?
Let’s just say that as soon as I landed at O’Hare I was almost okay with the 15 degree weather- the crisp winter air made up for it.
Since I’ve been back, a few friends have asked me about highlights and lowlights.
My trip to India had plenty of highlights, but if I’m being honest (which is always and almost to a fault) there were quite a few things I didn’t love- like the general sense of overwhelm and crowdedness. It also bothered me that at certain forts or monuments people were allowed to walk everywhere and touch everything- without much concern for conversation for future generations. I wasn’t a fan of the piles of garbage on roadsides and disarray of sidewalks and buildings in certain areas, and it made me incredibly sad to see kids barefoot in the street or bathing in the middle of the sidewalk with water from a bucket. The juxtaposition of an occasional luxury car didn’t help.
These are my observations, but I do want to focus on the highlights.
While ten days in India were plenty for me- I feel like I got to see some of the north’s top sights, including one of the seven wonders of the world. The monuments, food and people were certainly a highlight and the Taj Mahal took my breathe away.
The Taj Mahal is something everyone needs to go see at least once in their life. The craftsmanship, the symmetry of it, the grandeur- I’ve never seen anything like it. Wow.
Speaking of wow- food! I’ll admit that by the last day my dresses didn’t fit quite the same. All the daals and dosas will do that to you- but one of my highlights of my trip was actually a trip to one of Delhi’s best restaurants: Bukhara. I’m still dreaming about one of their bean dishes…
Another highlight would certainly be the awesome team I work with in India. It was a privilege to spend five days in the office with them. They even taught me how to dance to Bollywood and Punjabi music, and while I hate to brag- if I had the endurance for it, I could totally have been a Bollywood star.
I’ll have to keep training for that though. Stay tuned on how that goes, but in the meantime if you get the chance to check on the Taj Mahal- go do that.