31 Aug 2016Last updated

The Columnists

No more excuses. I’m off to India.

The best part of a decade in Dubai and our columnist still hasn’t set foot in India. But he’s finally ready to embrace the sub-continental giant. Here’s what’s taken him so long

Craig Hawes
Added 00:00 | 3 March 2016

When I tell Irish people I’m from Wales and they ask whether I’ve been to their country, I’m embarrassed to say no, such is the ease with which you can get from one place to the other.

Separated by a stretch of the Irish Sea that would be eminently swimmable if the water wasn’t so cold (and full of jellyfish, according to the last person who unsuccessfully attempted the feat a couple of years ago), Wales and Ireland each have several ports with regular coast-to-coast ferry trips. A flight between the capital cities, Dublin and Cardiff, takes little more than an hour.

Although I’ve always been keen to visit, I think two things have subconsciously tempered by desire to go there. One: its proximity means you take it for granted and are forever thinking about a trip without actually doing anything about it – “oh, Ireland will always be there. I’ll get round to it eventually”. And two: the countries are so similar topographically (green valleys abound) and meteorologically (it rains buckets in both countries), that it almost makes you question the point of going.

I haven’t yet visited India for similar reasons. Many of my work colleagues are from India. I spent a number of years living in Bur Dubai where the sound of Hindi and sundry other Indian languages can be heard on every street corner and the Diwali lights festoon nearly every apartment balcony like barnacles on a boat.

Every Friday I watched groups of Indian adults and children play cricket using makeshift stumps in half-empty car parks.

In this city a restaurant serving my favourite ghee pongal* is never more than five minutes away. I can watch Bollywood films at the cinema, listen to the twang of sitars on the radio when in a taxi.

With the stream of Indian culture flowing into every part of Dubai life, you sometimes think: why venture to the source itself?

Then there’s the age-old procrastinator’s refrain: I’ll go one day. When I’ve got more time, perhaps, or money, or the patience to stand and queue for a visa at the Indian consul.

There’s also the monumental problem of choosing which part of India to visit. A country so vast requires, ideally, an extensive, meticulously planned back-packing trip. Enough time to acclimatize, use the various methods of transport -- from elephant to high-speed train to tuck-tuck -- to go from north to south, east to west, Rajasthan desert to the dense jungles of Kerala. But I’m not a 19-year-old gap-year student with zero responsibilities anymore. Realistically I can only sample India for a week.

So do I try and see the Taj Mahal? Party on the beaches of Goa? Or head for the madness of Mumbai and do the Shantaram tour? Jaipur sounds quite nice. Choices, choices… It’s as overwhelming and enticing as picking out sweets in Chhappan Bhog.

I’ve consulted Indian friends about this dilemma, done a bit of research and finally settled on the great city of Kolkata, swayed by its historical ties to Britain and the game of rugby, a sport I love, as well as the Bengalis’ well-documented passion for all things literary. (The writer Jhumpa Lahiri’s parents are from Calcutta so there must be something magical in the water.)

I know I’ll only be getting a tiny glimpse of India, much the same way someone who visits London could only form a blurry picture of Britain as a whole, but it will do for the time being.

There’s no backing out now. No more putting it off. It’s here in writing. I’ve committed myself. Finally, after years of procrastination and feeble excuses I will be going to India.

And who knows, maybe I’ll finally get to cross the Irish Sea too. One day...

Craig Hawes

Craig Hawes

* Ghee pongal is the only thing Craig recognises on many vegetarian Indian menus, hence a certain reluctance to try anything else.