Travel is the art of movement and for anyone in search of a way from A to B, this is one hell of a way to get there.
As I sit poised over my laptop in the comfort of my Cotswold cottage, images of my rickety ride through Delhi come rushing back. With the vivid colours, foreign smells and hectic way of life nothing but fond and distant memories, it seemed only fitting that an account of my two-week Indian adventure become the stuff of envy. Taking notes from Hemingway and the exotic ponderings of Theroux, I had planned, as so many travel writers do, to construct a tale of wonder. Fast forward to some rather humorous familial recollections, a read of my trusty travel journal and a sudden wake up call, and I have had a change of heart.
Now, I could tell you that squeezing three-and-a-half fully grown human beings onto the back of a gold-toothed Indian man’s tuk-tuk was nothing but fun and games, but you’re not stupid. Don’t get me wrong, our time with India’s very own formula one rickshaw driver was pretty remarkable and there really is something to be said for a little rose tinted hindsight, but, with the devil of authenticity on my shoulder, I’ve settled on a slightly different approach. With monsoon season in full effect, roads resembling rivers and some incredibly close contact in 1000-degree heat, this experience was more f*ck-move-up than eat-pray-love. So, before we delve into the twists and turns of a one-man tour through darkest Delhi, let me set the scene…
‘I bloody knew it. If I could go back and slap myself right now then I’d do it.’
The cries of a broken man as he treks, composure crumbling and feet aching, towards the mirage of India gate. My dad, our family’s very own Karl Pilkington, had succumbed. He, like so many before him, had failed to heed the warnings that came with a flight ticket to Asia’s most intense location and he was paying the price. As the bickering persisted and the possibility of that slap became increasingly high (moans, monsoons and flip-flops made for a very tense mother), it seemed we were out of luck. With my little brother’s face a disturbing shade of red, tears in my father’s eyes and the scars of a hundred battles with taxi drivers, locals and selfie-stick sellers alike still fresh, the beeping horn of an approaching tuk-tuk was the final straw. Little did we know that this racing machine and its bleeding-gummed driver would single handedly rescue our holiday from a swift descent into misery…
It all sounds rather dramatic, doesn’t it? With the dusty roads, dehydration and emotional turmoil even the most rugged of adventurers would be forgiven for a moment of weakness. In reality, things weren’t exactly as they seem. Just a metro ride away from this scene of distress, our luggage sat safely within the confines of a 5* hotel. Having enjoyed a buffet breakfast, a dip in the pool and a friendly chat with a tip hankering bellboy, our family of four felt more than ready to take on the trials and tribulations of New Delhi. Hoping for a light and care-free kick start to our journey we hopped on an underground train to one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions. This was our first mistake.
Travel is not supposed to be comfortable. If visiting new places brought with it nothing but repose and serenity, there would be little point in venturing beyond the borders of your bedroom. For those who have read my blog before (if not, click here to read more) my endorsement for embracing challenging opportunity should come as no surprise. I remain an advocate for pushing personal boundaries and relishing new experiences. Having said this, it is when we choose to ignore our senses that problems arise. If something just doesn’t feel quite right or if that niggling voice in the back of your mind refuses to be silenced, listen to it. With our short-lived experiment with Metro travel sparking more than a little unease, arriving at our stop elicited a welcome sense of relief.
Whilst I remain convinced our choice was the right one, we were painfully aware of our diminishing options. With the humidity making it too hot to walk and the underground more of a ‘tried it once, never again’ situation, our ability to travel around the city was becoming precariously uncertain. It was with this defeated mindset that we found ourselves on the never-ending road to India Gate and in a chance encounter with our very own knight in shining sandals.
With the exchange rate still a little hazy and our moods moments away from fatal damage, we hopped into the tuk-tuk with little resistance. Feeling drained, drowsy and defeated, a one-way ride to the monument that remained just a little out of reach seemed like a logical idea; it was.
This two-minute journey sparked a love affair that would last a lifetime (or at the very least, the three days that we were in the Indian capital). The remainder of our time became a hop-on-hop-off tour of the city’s best and brightest sites. Our local guide and new best friend gifted us with an experience that I don’t think I’ll ever forget. Wind in my hair, heart in my mouth and sweat seeping from every pore in my body, dashing through the streets of Delhi on a metallic contraption from the dark ages was nothing short of incredible.
With my brother’s promises to sue the entire country momentarily squashed, the bruises of my mother’s altercation with a rather wicked Indian granny fading and my father’s ‘extreme’ Delhi belly slowly healing, things were looking up. It might not seem like much. I suppose all this man really did was receive a rather hefty fee for carting around too many English tourists, but to us, his help was a blessing in disguise.
If you ever get to read this Sikander, I’d like to say thank you. Without you and your little yellow tuk-tuk, I would never have given India the chance it so greatly deserved.