The Amazing Race: India, CMS Style
We arrived in Delhi late Friday, May 20th. The next day, we were originally supposed to do a city tour of Delhi and then head to Agra in the afternoon. Wanting to explore more of India and to take advantage of a having an Indian (Ryno) on our team, we decided to deviate and detour to Jaipur, a city famous for its palaces and the Amber fort. The Amazing Race: India, CMS style, we called it.
We traveled to Jaipur by train from Delhi. We set off at 5 am without any sleep. The Delhi train station was one of the many eye-opening, mind-boggling, unbelievable scenes we witnessed that day. We “knew” that there was abject poverty everywhere in India but it was an entirely another thing to see it, breathe it and feel it. There were mounds of people everywhere, even that early in the morning, and you had to wonder how many had a train to catch and how many actually lived there. The 5–hour train ride to Jaipur took us through extremely poor areas and we saw many places with piles and piles of trash, people living in shacks without access to toilets… conditions that you just don’t expect to see on such scale. Imagine the absolutely worst and poorest neighborhood you have ever seen…then imagine a whole city like that. Then multiply that tens and hundreds of times.
In Jaipur, after getting through another horrid train station and after our driver fought through the traffic (which included cars, bicycles, pedestrians, rickshaws and the occasional farm animal), we finally got to see the beautiful Jaipur sights that make this city a must-see.
We visited the Amber fort, the Hawa Mahal Palace of the Wind (its windows are specifically designed to keep the palace cool by letting in the breezes), Jaipur City Palace and Jantar Mantar, the largest stone observatory in the world, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. We even got to ride an elephant in a little neighborhood below Amber fort.
But by early afternoon, we were exhausted by the 120+ temperatures, being constantly swarmed by seas of street merchants at every stop, and by the all-engulfing poverty around us.
We caught the 5 pm train to Agra, where we were to catch up with the rest of the group. It was one of those trips where you feel as if the universe knows you are anxious to get somewhere and keeps throwing little obstacles in your way, just to exasperate you. First, Ryno had to get into a lengthy discussion with a group of people who had decided to occupy our reserved seats. Then, the train had to wait at just about every station for the oncoming train to pass, and some of those stops were 20 minutes long or more. Finally, when we finally reached Agra and our hotel was oh so very close, the driver of one of the cabs we hired got into a fist fight with someone else (a by-product of the amount of people everywhere and the fact that nobody moves out of the way, even if you honk at them for 30 seconds). When we finally reached our hotel, it was as if we had reached a sanctuary and we felt as if we could never, ever leave again.
But the feeling passes. As overwhelming as that trip was, it was amazing to experience India this way. The Amazing Race: India, CMS Style will remain as one of the most incredible experiences I have ever had. And I hadn’t even seen the Taj Mahal yet.