Introduction: Incredible India. A phrase heard worldwide and quite rightly too, why? Because ultimately it is just that, incredible. I have lived here now for just over a year and a half and to be honest it hasn’t been all adventures and excitement. However, in the case of holidays or long weekends, it transforms from ordinary, to colourful, extravagant, full of unsolved mysteries and exciting adventures. So join me as we examine India: the ups and downs, the best of the best, in terms of holiday locations, and my personal experiences. Let’s go on an adventure!
What was great? First and foremost, the atmosphere. Now, I’m not simply referring to glorious sunrises, with sweet native music playing in the background, all of which, of course is here, but also, simply walking out into the street and being greeted with the sight of colourful attire and an incredibly diverse range of people. Monks, Sikhs, Muslims, Catholics, Rich (and yes, a lot of poor) people, artistic youth, traditional natives, Caucasians, Asians, Africans, (whew!) and pretty much anything else you can think of. Also, the list all the activities and things to do, is actually quite astounding. There is actually something here for everyone. For the adventurous travellers, with small budgets: elephant washing and riding, excursions to dance villages and temples, rock climbing, trekking and of course sightseeing. For the not-so-adventurous, action-loving crowd: paintballing, amusement parks, water parks and of course countless malls and cinemas. For the artsy soul, like myself: pottery, dance and yoga classes, and THE BEST FLEA MARKETS EVER. There really is so much more to say, those are just a selected few. Some of the other things include the fabulous, rich food, the constantly perfect climate (In Bangalore at least), the fact that so many things can be made for you cheaply and much more.
What was a let down? Despite all of the glory, there are always two sides of the same coin. The main issue is the poverty. Especially in the first couple of days, seeing children with no clothes living under sheets of plastic held up by sticks, women and children walking amongst cars in the street, begging for money, it’s really hard to bear. After that point, no matter how hard it is to admit, people do tend to become complacent and seem to notice it less. Yes it is a horrible thing to say out loud, but it is, sadly, true. Another thing is the cleanliness, or rather the lack of it. There is A LOT of rubbish, everywhere. It’s a nuisance and it looks bad, but there’s really not much that can be done about it. Finally, avoid public transport, its crowded and stuffy and not what one would call clean or particularly safe. Just steer clear. Getting a taxi or renting a driver for the length of your trip is the best way to go.
How to survive on bare bones/comfortably/like a king: One of the best things about this country is you can live off very little money, if you know how. If you avoid ritzy hotels, glamourous restaurants and big clothing brands, and instead choose to stay local, you could save so much money. There are lots of restaurants everywhere, and if you hire a driver they’ll be able to recommend certain ones to you. In terms of clothes it’s so much cheaper to buy fabric and get what you want made, so look for specialists in ‘Western Wear’ if you want foreign clothes. The best thing is, here it is possible to live on bare bones, and be comfortable! Even living like a king doesn’t mean you have to dish out money like one. The best ritzy hotels, the Mercure, the Movenpick and the big clothing brands, they’re all here if you’re willing to dish out the cash.
Tips for travel:
Barter: At markets or small shops, often see that you’re foreign and they’ll automatically charge you a higher price. Start by asking for the price you want to pay, and then try and find middle ground. If you fell that the price they are offering is still too much, stand your ground, say that you only have the amount of money that you want to pay and bring it out so they can see it, it’ll be more tempting for them to accept if they see the money in front of them.
Curious eyes: You don’t look like the other people ‘around there’ so, naturally, they are going to stare. It might be in your car, or when you’re out and about, you will always have multiple pairs of eyes following you. Of you feel particularly self conscious, you can wear a scarf around you head and sunglasses, but otherwise you can just ignore them, you’ll get used to it after a while, I would know being a tall, blonde, blue eyed, white girl who has lived here for 1 ½ years.
Dress Conservatively: There are a lot of Muslims in India so I suggest you wear conservative clothes. I don’t mean that you have to be covered from head to toe or that you’ll get stoned to death if you don’t, just cover your shoulders and avoid shorts when out and about unless you’re in say, Pondicherry or Goa, especially if you want to avoid prying eyes.
Public Transport: As I mentioned before, it is best to avoid this particular aspect of the country. They are often stuffy and crowded and you have no idea what you’re touching. Try to book a cab and pay to hire them for an entire day (8-10 hours) or book a certain driver for your entire trip, which I highly recommend. Rickshaws are fun, if you have an adventurous spirit, but don’t get in unless they turn on the meter, they will 100% charge you twice and often three times the price, so ‘No meter, No ride’.
Street food: This is one of the things that India is most famous for, but be wary of where you choose to eat. India is also famous for people defecating at the sides of the street and wiping with their left hand. So, if you want street food, simply ask your [taxi] driver. He will have driven many foreigners around before and chances are, he knows the best places, so give him a shot. If not look it up on the internet and if that still doesn’t work, look and try to decide for yourself, it is quite often clear which one is a ‘No’ and which one is a ‘Go’. Try to buy food that is made fresh, rather than likely to have been sitting out for a while…
Reviews of certain places: Mysore: This was the first place I went in India (outside of Bangalore that is). It is about a 3 ½ hour drive and it’s pretty great. There are plenty of exceptional hotels to suit any budget, exciting markets and of course, the famous Mysore Palace, definitely a must see. I stayed at the Mysore Royal Orchid and it is the best hotel I’ve stayed in in my life, actually. Also, about 2 ½ hours away there is a little place called Dubare where you can wash and ride elephants and it’s got a really cute hotel there too! I really recommend it, brilliant food, super peaceful, bliss.
Amritsar/Dalhousie: I went on a trip here with my best friend and her mum and it was fabulous. I stayed at the AVAAS luxury hotel that was great and for a reasonable price! There were lots of markets and THE. BEST. INDIAN. FOOD. Butter chicken, naan, my mouth is watering at the thought of it. I definitely recommend visiting the Indian and Pakistani border. What happens is India is on one side saying ‘Go India’ and same thing with Pakistan except, the opposite. There a bunch of high kicking guys and a lot of yelling and cheering and it was great! Also, about 6 hours away and up in the Himalayas is a little place called Dalhousie. While the drive was terrifying, it was worth it. There were markets and cozy hotels (we stayed in Hotel Moonga, it was decent) and a big open field with horse riding and lots more that looked like Switzerland. SWITZERLAND. It was awesome.
Pondicherry: This is the last place I went on holiday and it was quite unexpected. I stayed in a lovely French hotel with the best French food, a large warm pool and the cutest rooms, with big bathtubs etc. Going out however, we were met by huge numbers of people, all out for the Sunday markets and it was a bit mad. It was very exciting, but not for my exhausted parents after the 8 hour trip (The trip is normally 6 ½ hours, but we took some wrong turns). The next day, Monday, was much more peaceful. I went to the beach and while Indian beaches do not have the best reputation, I swam anyway, you can too, but only if you want. Then we went to the French part of town, which was lovely, and bright with so many eccentric shops, I could’ve stayed there for hours. Pondicherry is great place to go to relax and get away from it all, just don’t come on a Sunday night.
Bangalore: Bangalore, my residential city. I must say that this has to be the least interesting place on my list. There are markets to see, as well a huge number of cows, dogs and sometimes camels(!) walking around, lots of hotels, (Royal Orchid, Movenpick, Lalit Ashok, Mercure…) and plenty to see and do. My favourite streets are Brigade Road and Commercial Street; they’re the best for cheap fabric, tailors, cheap clothes and hangouts. The whole city is quite clean (For an Indian city) and modern with a lot of malls, bars etc., but the sense of adventure just isn’t felt here.
Other: Other popular destinations that I haven’t personally been to are: Goa, Kerala, Calcutta and Mumbai (Bombay). I felt like I couldn’t write about them without actually going there, but thought I should mention them anyway.
Conclusion: In conclusion, I really recommend coming here if you’re looking for an experience of a lifetime and wonderful memories to carry with you for the rest of your life. No matter what religion, race or personality you may be, India has something for you, and you will love it.