When we arrived in India at the end of September, we weren’t sure what to expect, or whether we’d enjoy it. After five amazing weeks, we can hardly believe we doubted the place – utterly inspiringly incredible, although certainly not blemish free – but who’d want something that pristine and artificial anyway?
Sitting here in a hostel in Saigon, there’s much to think back to and miss. People sleeping absolutely everywhere in the heat of the day – conventionally in the shade, but more entertainingly on tables in busy offices, on pavements, and even on the central reservation of thundering dual carriageways. Down these roads hurtle the colourful Tata lorries at breakneck speed, alongside tankers with ‘edible oil’ (for cooking?), rickety buses lurching round corners, and of course the yellow and black of rickshaws, all of which use their horns continually to announce their presence. And that’s without touching on the amazing train system, the rusting ferries, and of course houseboats – occasionally with furry stowaways.
I think above all India invades every one of your senses and tests your ability to contrast: the sight of brightly coloured turbans in the north against the white Mundu skirts that men wear in the south; the smells of rich masala sauces wafting from the kitchen and the stench of rotting rubbish; the eternal screech of the horns in the road, and the absolute silence of the desert. These contrasts seem to pervade India itself – most obviously through the difference in landscape and climate between the harsh desert of Rajasthan and the mangrove swamps of Kerala, and in the face whitening creams sold endlessly on TV while westerners are on the beach trying to go from white to brown. I think the juxtaposition goes deeper than just the surface though, to an emotional level – for India is a country whose soul is so religious and moralistic, but yet lets the horrors of caste, corruption and poverty happen – indeed religion endorsing it in the case of caste, even if there is now movement to see both caste and corruption confined to the days of the past – in the end.
Leaving India was also the end of our long journey overland from Beijing, with a flight to Vietnam for the next leg of our trip. We’ve apparently travelled 6420 miles by train (almost exactly as far as we are away from home right now), plus another 940 by road. With almost 7500 miles travelled the old fashioned way over 11 weeks, it’s sad to be taking to the air instead!
So, we bid a final farewell to a land of stunning forts, palaces and natural landscape, of friendly people, the tastiest food (which some of you back home will get to experience) and harsh weather (which hopefully you won’t!). Each of these things we’ve at times had too much of – but that doesn’t mean we won’t be back for more sometime soon! Anyone care to join us for a second lap?