Traveling to India is interesting. I’m not sure if I’d say that this is my favorite country, but I am extremely glad I spent time exploring India. Our friend Luke, who we met on our Ha Long Bay trip came to join and travel with us around India for the month. We were a bit scattered when we first arrived and if we were to do it over, I think we could have definitely streamlined our northern route.
From the moment we arrived in Delhi, we stood out like sore thumbs and everyone we met seemed fascinated with us. On our first day, we set out to explore the city and visit the Lotus Temple and I think I took pictures with at least 30-40 people, guys and girls. I’d love to think that perhaps I made a few Facebook profile pics.
“Foreigners were stared at in India. Somewhere in the five or more millennia of its history, the culture had decided to dispense with the casual, nonchalant glance. By the time I came to Bombay, the eye contact ranged from an ogling gaze to a gawping, google-eyed glare. There was nothing malicious in it. The staring eyes that found and followed me everywhere I went were innocent, curious, and almost always friendly.” Shantaram, Gregory David Roberts
If you haven’t read Shantaram – read it! I started reading it a month or so before we came to India and finished it while we were there. I enjoyed the book so much more because we were living out some of the same experiences. Even if you aren’t planning to travel to India, it’s a great read. The book is based in Bombay (Mumbai) and I was excited to go visit some spots frequently mentioned in the book, namely the slums and Leopold’s, but when we arrived in Mumbai, Bal Thackeray, the Indian politician who founded the Shiv Sena, the Marathi ethnocentric party, passed away and people were advised to stay off the streets. So our plans of exploration were foiled and we made the most of our Westin stay (read: bathrobes & room service).
I did however venture out early on our first morning to the Mumbai Nikon service center to get my lens fixed, and it only cost $20 (the same thing I got fixed in Sydney for $100). Score for India!
India is geographically a 1/3 of the size of the United States but is approximately four times the population; the second most populous country in the world.
India leads the world in banana production.
The Taj Mahal was built by Emperor Shah Jahan in commemoration for his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. This wonder of the world took 22,000 workmen 22 years to complete.
Cows roam the streets (and beaches) freely in India and are considered sacred.
1. Palolem Beach – Palolem is probably one of the prettiest beaches in Goa. It’s not pretty in the crystal clear blue waters, white sandy beach kind of way, but in the thick, lush palms surrounding the crescent shaped stretch of beach lined with colorful buildings. Pair that with fun nightlife, a silent disco, cheery, colorful beach huts and you have yourself a pretty fun five days.
2. Kerala Backwaters – the backwaters of Kerala are a lot of rivers, lakes and canals that lay parallel to the Arabian Sea. Most people take a tour on an overnight houseboat to take in the beauty of the backwaters. Based on a few fellow travelers recommendations, we opted for a home stay at Green Palm Homes. The entire family was lovely and we even got a cooking lesson from the matriarch head of house on Kerala cuisine. We biked around the island, ate family-style, authentic Indian meals, lounged around and read and went on a walking tour of the neighboring villages.
We arrived in the backwaters via Alleppey, where we took the local bus from Ft. Cochin. It was super cheap and easy! Once we arrived in Alleppey, we hopped on the public ferry (for a $.10 fare!!) and headed to our home stay. As we passed the houseboats, we were actually quite glad we opted for the home stay. The houseboats were more expensive and the public ferry took an hour and a half, so we got a fabulous tour of the backwaters. Plus, the way the tours are set up, you need to arrange for a group in advance. In our case, it would have just been me and Danielle starring at each other on a houseboat down the river.
3. Taj Mahal – a UNESCO World Heritage Site and wonder of the world and one of the things not to be missed on a trip to India. It is widely recognized as the jewel of Muslim art in India. The Taj is pretty amazing to see in person.
4. Varkala – a beach town in Kerala situated on a cliff which runs alongside the Arabian Sea. Lots of yoga, massages and restaurants with patios that overlook the water and gorgeous nightly sunsets. Plus, the guesthouse we stayed in (about a 100 yards back from the beach) was on $12/night ($6 each), and included a hammock on the patio!
5. Anjuna Beach – the beach isn’t all that pretty in Anjuna, but this cute, hippy beach town made the list based on the Wednesday flea market and ladies night at Club Cubana. We spent the afternoon strolling the market before getting ready and heading out to ladies night. Free entry, free drinks and dancing till sunrise = heck of a night.
6. Maldives – and India’s proximity to the Maldives couldn’t be left off the list. I never thought I would book a trip to the Maldives on Saturday and fly there on Sunday. But we did! We found a cheap, RT flight on Air India out of Trivandrum that only took an hour to get to Male. You can choose to visit the more local islands, like Thulusdhoo or splash out at a fancy resort (using points). We did both. It was the best decision I made during my month in India; the Maldives are spectacular!
7. Varanasi – it’s dirty, crowded, chaotic and push you to the point of insanity loud, but it’s definitely worth including on your itinerary when planning a trip to India. Located on the Ganges, Varanasi is the oldest and most holy city in India and it’s filled with tons of history and religion. One or two nights would be plenty of time to explore and experience Varanasi.
What locations in India have I missed?