India is a vastly diverse country; socially, culturally and religiously. An enormous country, it is home to 1.34 billion people and has many languages and dialects. Three weeks exploring this amazing country could never be enough, but over these three weeks we have discovered ten cities we had never been to, encountered wonderful hospitality everywhere we stayed, and made friends for life.
For all these opportunities, I would like to thank the members of the 41 Clubs who opened their homes to us.
Our journey started in Mumbai, where we met our first hosts waiting for us to arrive at the airport. Even when flying over the city, from the window, the scale of Mumbai was astounding. I had never seen a city span so far into the distance. With 23 million inhabitants, Mumbai is a city bustling with activity. Most of our few days spent here were visiting the sites, such as the Gateway of India, and generally getting an overview of the city. It is the financial capital of India, and therefore the industry is thriving everywhere. We were taken to see Dharavi, the largest slum in the world, which is located at the heart of Mumbai and a huge part of its industry. The hosts made it feel like home for a few days and threw parties for us to welcome us into their country.
From here we travelled to Pune, famous for its university life. Here we pursued outdoor activities such as grappling through a waterfall and zip lining up in the mountains. We were then given to the care of the children of the 41ers hosting us, who took us on a night out in the city.
In Nashik, more parties were on our schedule, with traditional clothes that they provided for us to dress in. Famous as a wine region, our hosts arranged for us to travel to a vineyard for wine tasting. Nothing prepared us for the monsoon rains that we experienced in India, the worst being the following day when leaving for Surat, where the bridge had collapsed and flooded, forcing us to turn back and spend an extra night in Nashik.
When we eventually reached Surat, my wonderful host Sandhya had arranged for us to have a dancing lesson with traditional dresses. This was lots of fun considering that, as a group of Europeans, we had a range of talents when it came to Indian dancing! While staying in this city we also visited a diamond factory, as Surat is famous for its diamonds.
The next city on our itinerary was Ahmedabad. For me as an architecture student, I thoroughly enjoyed the tour through the old town, recently named a UNESCO world heritage site, as it was a change from the modern high-rise cities that we had seen already on our trip. We also visited the space centre in the city, before moving onto a new region of India: Rajasthan.
We flew to the desert; an amazing transformation to all that we had seen previously, and the first change we noticed was the wall of heat that hit us as we got off the plane, and it was not raining anymore. Jaisalmer was our first stop in Rajasthan. It was a beautiful city, really old stone buildings with an ancient golden fort on the top of the hill. We had a guided tour around the narrow streets before returning out into the desert. Located right in the middle of sand dunes, we got the opportunity while staying at the resort to take camel rides and jeeps out in the evening.
Next we visited Jodhpur. We had a guided tour arranged for us to see the beautiful old palace and then to be shown around the city. We learned about some of the history and why it is called ‘the blue city’.
Next was ‘the pink city’: Jaipur. Here, similarly, we visited the sites including another amazing huge fort on the top of a hill, and also the pink city itself. Our hosts had arranged for us to visit an elephant village where we had the opportunity to ride and feed the elephants if we wanted to. Here we went for dinner at a cultural resort nearby, which is often a getaway for local people who are looking to spend the evening out with friends.
We caught a sleeper train on our way to the city of Agra, a new experience for all of us which I am sure we will never forget! In Agra, we visited, of course, the magnificent Taj Mahal palace. It was a ‘must-see’ experience for all of us.
Our final destination in India was Delhi. We walked around the city, similar to Mumbai, to get an overall feel of the place because it is also huge. Delhi has lots of sites to offer; temples, museums and the president’s house. Being our last night together before we all went back to Europe; our hosts threw us a big party to give us a send-off as warm as our welcome was in Mumbai.
It is an amazing thing to embark on an adventure with strangers, and leave it with something resembling a family. That is what I believe this trip offers to everyone. Throwing you into the deep-end by travelling straight from Europe to Mumbai makes you bond with the people you are travelling with, being all in the same boat and experiencing everything new together. The country in itself is a wondrous place to visit, and I have had experiences that I will never forget. But the most important part of the YAP tour is having the opportunity to meet so many new people and going back after three weeks in India with friends who will remain with you for the rest of your life.
The trip was organised by a team who made us feel so welcome in India, and who arranged for all our accommodation, transported us from city to city and accompanied us throughout each day. For all of your efforts to make this trip so extraordinary, thank you.
Susanna Small – Great Britain