My career as a journalist has afforded me the chance to travel to several countries and when an opportunity to experience incredible India came along last month, I quickly grabbed it.
The notice to travel was short but the lure of going to see the sprawling and diverse land of about 1.25 billion people that the famous Mahatma Gandhi helped to liberate from British rule was simply irresistible.
I was one of the African journalists to cover the 3rd India-Africa Forum Summit in New Delhi and I was determined to see what I could of India, away from the official conference proceedings.
New Delhi Airport
On arrival at New Delhi Airport, I noticed that the immigration formalities were slow. A striking feature at the airport, however, was the presence of many armed security personnel.
Well, one could appreciate that in the wake of growing terrorism and the fact that the Indian government was preparing to receive scores of African heads of state and government.
If I had a problem with the heavy security presence at the airport, the situation was going to be more complex in the city.
Two other colleagues and I were met by a guide at the airport to be conveyed to our hotel, the Eros Hotel, located on Nehru's Place. I was struck by the road network and also filth in certain parts caused by polythene bags.
Normally, anybody who breezes into a new culture faces a cultural shock. But I had none as India is made up of the poor and the rich.
Though the sharp contrast in status was obvious, there appeared to be some contentment in the faces of the people in the execution of their daily endeavours.
Law of Karma
I got a better understanding of the society when one of our guides told us that in India, the people believed in destiny and that they believed in the law of Karma.
Another guide, who took us on a tour of New Delhi also said Indians have many beliefs that guide them in their daily endeavours in building ‘Incredible India’.
“Though cows and buffaloes are like bedfellows here, we do not eat beef. The cow is a sacred animal. We have the belief that any animal with milk must be worshipped like a mother," he said.
Indeed, India is not the most peaceful country but the most stable with the biggest democracy.
There are interesting facilities there that reduce the tendency for ordinary people to harbour ill-feelings against perceived well-to-do in society.
Our version of Okada
When it comes to transportation, all the means are available, including our version of Okada that they call ‘tuk tuk,’ a three-wheel motorcycle that is a symbol of movement by many Indians.
Whereas we banned Okada in a very hypocritical fashion as they still operate in the full glare of the police, India has upgraded motorbikes into tricycles that are used to convey people to their destinations.
And the authorities of that country do not have any excuse for not promoting tourism, as attractions abound, including the Taj Mahal, one of the Seven Wonders of the world.
The city of Agra hosts millions of people who visit the Taj Mahal. Agra has nothing to offer apart from the Taj Mahal and the display of traditional ways of life by the people.
The common spectacle of cows, dogs, buffaloes, filth, shanty communities and narrow alleys greet you during the one hour or so journey from the outskirts of the town to the Taj Mahal.
The tourist attraction offers a big market for all kinds of merchandise including scores of photographers who want to capture tourists as they visit this historic site.
Traders in Agra most of the time fleece the tourists, as we got to know later that when prices are given in open market, one must bargain from a quarter of the price.
That served as useful lessons during our shopping sessions back in New Delhi.
In Agra and similar rural communities, the ‘tuk tuk’ carries about eight people in addition to the rider, making the reckless Okada riders here a child's play.
The name ‘tuk tuk’ comes from the original engine sound of the tricycle. ‘Tuk tuk’ is commonly used for taxi, shuttle, events, retails, advertising, weddings and sightseeing tours.
It is exciting to have the ‘tuk tuk’ experience in New Delhi, especially where, besides hotel shuttle, there are taxis and metro facilities around. That must be the reason for the adage "travel and see" and ye shall have new experience.
On the last day of our visit, I had to make a quick dash for a shopping centre and our colleague from Guinea, Celestine Camara offered to assist.
He had during our trip installed himself president and made me his security advisor.
But I led a group to overthrow him as leader albeit unsuccessfully, because he had danced at a dinner at the Taj Mahal Hotel with a lady and attempted to kiss her.
“Tetteh!” he shouted on the phone in my room and asked that I meet him in the lobby for the shopping centre. Unknown to me, he had arranged a ‘tuk tuk’ in the vicinity of the hotel.
We jumped in and in about 20 minutes, we were there. ‘Tuk tuk’ is the economical way to cover distances not serviced by taxis and buses.
These nimble motorised devices can manoeuvre the tightest spots, running through alleys or one lane countryside roads. It is an essential part of life in India.
Wind, rain, smog, dust
With a speed averaging 35 kilometres per hour, ‘tuk tuk’ is overtaken by most of the traffic and with no doors and windows, the passenger is at the mercy of the wind, rain, smog, dust and whatever else India can stir up.
But that is part of the fun. In contrast with buses and taxis, it offers close-up vantage point to daily life in India.
As you whizz past the markets, you will be able to smell the fresh roasted peanuts or hear the women bargaining prices for their food items, especially spices.
Of equal interest are the monuments in New Delhi including the tallest tower in India, Qutab Minar and the Bahai Temple famously known as Lotus Temple due its resemblance to the lotus flower which add to the history of the city.