I heard many travel stories from people I met from various parts of the world in the last 4-5 years. The ones that made me think a lot were the North India travel stories. I lived in North India for more than 22 years. Although I did not travel to many of the places people talked about, I could recollect my vivid memories when they shared their experiences about the places I had also visited.
A melting pot of cultures for centuries, North India portrays history, diversity and modernity of one of the most diverse nations on earth. My North India diary is a collection of random experiences as I grew up with a desire to travel and explore the world. Every page of the diary from historic monument visits to mountain hiking to wildlife safari is a collection of countless moments I witnessed over the period of two decades.
Born in a small town of Uttar Pradesh, the state known for the Taj Mahal, I moved to New Delhi at an early age. I called the capital city my home for 14 years while exploring its noisy streets, popular hang-out spots and historic structures. I may not have information about every single place in the city, but I have a fair idea of must-see places if someone wants to explore the city. Red Fort, Lotus Temple, India Gate and Jantar Mantar were among the many places I was fortunate to tour during my school years. Millions of tourists visit these architecture marvels every year including the iconic Qutub Minar, which I never had time to see even though it was hardly 10 miles from where I lived.
Life was cool riding public transport buses and motor-bike. Traffic was bad then and is still bad even though the city now has an upgraded public transport and a modern subway system. Nonetheless, these were not the concerns back then. I learned about the city better in the last four years of my stay while I was staying in the college dorms – called hostels in India. It was an ugly combination of things: too much energy, lack of experience, newly gained freedom, fair amount of time and no money, a phase many college students experience around the world. Getting through this interesting phase while exploring cool places with friends taught me some important life lessons, increasing my appetite to learn about the world more.
Famous for its cafes, restaurants and nightlife, South Delhi was our favorite hangout area, an expensive affair though and bad for the monthly budget. Connaught Place, heart of Delhi, and Old Delhi area known for food carts, sweets shops and spice stalls are among so many affordable and happening spots in the city that offer a unique eating and nightlife experience. I spent a large chunk of my free time doing things that college students usually do: sleeping, drinking, partying, traveling and worrying about the future. Worrying was a unique time-pass though. Traveling in and around the city was always a good investment. There are many historic buildings, cultural spots and breathtaking landscapes within the 300 mile radius. Internet was slowly picking up in India during early 2000’s, and mobile phones were only for the super-rich. Economy was doing well, as far as I knew; my definition of economy doing well then was seeing Japanese and Korean cars on the city roads. Flying was very expensive; trains and buses were the most common modes of transport to connect cities and towns. Eating out was uncommon, and most people did not prefer to spend a lot of money on traveling.
A lot has changed in the last 15 years. When I travel to New Delhi now, I see a different city. The city has transformed itself from a crawling yet promising city to a chaotic yet futuristic city. The city infrastructure is one of the challenging areas, but citizens are hopeful and know that it is an opportunity for them. Safety has been a concern for the city, especially for women and visitors. Roads are choked with vehicles all the time, and the city joined the list of most polluted cities in the world. But the city also joined one more list: mega cities with highest number of mobile phone users. Like many other multinational companies, Uber understands that the city could be one of the biggest markets for them. Hundreds of international flights land every day, and the city is always ready to host hundreds of thousands of tourists every year. Among many things that have not changed over time, taste of authentic food one of them even though many international food chains are trying to allure people who have traditionally been very taste centric. If you love North Indian food, you are in the right city. One more thing has not changed is my relationship with this city. I always feel home when I visit New Delhi to see my family. I know this city more than any other city in the world. When people ask if they should keep New Delhi in their bucket-list, I feel proud to tell them many positive things and some negatives too about this historic as well as cosmopolitan city.
Beyond the fast-paced life of the metropolitan city spans a diverse North India with multitudinous shades of cultures, spirituality and geography. Although the money was tight, I could manage to travel to many of the North Indian states and cities with family and friends. During my internship, I spent weeks in Mathura and Agra, culturally and historically significant cities. These small cities may not have things that big cities offer, but they present a different perspective of India. Exploring Taj Mahal and Fatehpur Sikri, a fort town, was an awe-inspiring experience for me and is a must-do thing if you travel to this part of India.
Road trips to the emerging cities like Chandigarh, Jaipur, Pune, Lucknow and Ahmadabad broadened my idea of diverse and developing India. These tier-2 cities have been instrumental in propelling the economic growth of India while appreciating their cultural inheritance.
Long train journeys passing through rural India to witness traditions and rituals of spiritual cities such as Haridwar, Allahabad, Varanasi, Gaya, Puri etc., were also the opportunities to meet mystical India. Walking on the shores of the Ganges was nothing less than a meditative feel.
Majestic landscapes of Rajasthan, the state of palaces, forts and deserts is mesmerizing in its own way. Land of Kings, Rajasthan is one of the most tourist friendly states in India and home to some of most visited cities by international tourists. Whether it’s the Pink City of Jaipur, the Desert Town of Jaisalmer or the Blue City of Jodhpur, each city I visited enriched my in-country travel experience. From stunning architectural work in the forts to blissful camel ride in the desert watching sunset, all made my North India diary more vivid.
If I were to re-live some of the pages of the diary, they had to be mountain climbing in the Himalayan foothills, river rafting in the majestic Ganges and wildlife safari in the Jim Corbett National Park. Whether it was sipping whiskey on the chilly Nainital streets or feeding animals soda in the wild Uttarakhand forests, the moments were incredible and worth re-living.
Time flew by fast. I was ready to move from the campus to the corporate world. South India, a different yet inseparable India, was waiting for me.