In 2011, I travelled to Delhi, Jaipur, Agra, Orchha, and Varanasi, India. Then it was on to Lumbini, Chitwan, Pokhara and Kathmandu, Nepal. It was a 15-day G Adventures tour – amazingly, it still sells for only $1,399! This is a seriously good price for travel to India.
I won’t go into the details of the trip itself. For that, just click on the link above. Instead, this post will cover some unique insights that I experienced and a few tips if you are planning a similar trip. Here are a few things your should know before you travel to India:
Does India smell like sh**? Sort of. When I first stepped off the plane in New Delhi, there was a definite smell to the air. To me, it smelled more like incense than sh**. It didn’t bother me at all. A couple of people on our tour kept a kerchief over their nose because they were bothered by the smell.
The pollution in New Delhi is thick, and the sky is always hazy. You can dwell on this, or get over it and be amazed at the gorgeous orange and pink sunrises the pollution creates. It really is amazing.
Once you leave Delhi and head into the the less populated areas, you will notice a much improved quality to the air.
The Truth About Sleeper Trains in India
Yes there are squat toilets on the train. Squat toilets are preferred by the locals. Rest assured however that there are also “western” toilets on these trains. The lineups for the western toilets are small because only the tourists use them.
There are plenty of night thieves. If you are travelling on a sleeper train, lock your luggage to your seat. We caught an old lady sticking her hand into our compartment looking to grab the first thing she could feel.
Our compartment consisted of 6 beds – two 3-high bunks. Since we were travelling as a group, we all knew each other, so it was a lot of fun. The bedding was clean and the beds were hard. You’ll have to get used to hard beds when you travel to India, they’re everywhere.
The One Thing I Wish I Packed
About half way into my trip I cursed myself for failing to pack a nail brush. The streets of India are dirty. You’ll wear sandals almost every day. Your feet will be disgusting at the end of the trip. Pack a nail brush if you plan to travel to India.
I’d also like to mention that buying sunglasses in India is next to impossible. I lost my sunglasses in Agra. The best I could do is buy a pair out of the lost-and-found at a local gift shop. I purchased big white sunglasses, obviously once owned by a 70-year-old Italian lady. Pack an extra pair of sunglasses.
Be Sure to Catch a Bollywood Film
We went to a movie theatre in Jaipur. Most movies are in “Hinglish” a cross between Hindi and English. You’ll understand the basic plot even if you can’t speak Hindi. Bollywood movies are a lot of fun (especially if you see a romantic comedy). Being a part of the audience makes the experience even better. Indians don’t just sit quietly munching on popcorn during a movie. They get involved! When the villain comes on screen, they boo, and when the guy finally gets the girl, they cheer.
Begging in the Streets
Very little. Some people harassed us when we were at the train station in Agra, but other than that, I didn’t see beggars or starving children.
The Best Part of India – It’s People!
If I could make a generalization about travel to India, it’s this: Indians are the friendliest people on earth. If you look through my photographs of India, you’ll see the locals posing very proudly for me. I would venture to say they are also very good looking – and they know it 🙂
Subways in Delhi
You’ll have to undergo a pat down before you get to the ultra modern Bombardier cars (I kid you not, they are very nice). Men to the right, women to the left. You walk into a curtained area and a same-sex officer will pat you down before you go into the subway station. This is not random, every single passenger is subjected to a pat down before entering. I’m not sure if this is a normal thing, or perhaps there was a threat during my time there.
Women can choose to ride in a regular car, or they may opt to ride in a female-only car.
Don’t Miss Varanasi, it Will Change You
No matter where you decide to travel in India, be sure your itinerary includes Varanasi. It’s a crazy place where people march down a busy street with dead relatives in tow, and white painted naked priests could bump into you around the next corner.
Buy a fresh coconut on the street while you wait for the cow to walk away so traffic can flow again.
Take a sunrise boat ride in the Ganges and send lighted candles on the water. Watch as the locals bathe in the river, and listen to your guide who will talk about the rituals and beliefs surrounding this amazing place.
Stand speechless and respectful as you see bodies being burned on the beach.
Varanasi is easily the most fascinating place I have ever visited.
Orchha, a Little paradise in the Middle of all the Craziness
Have you ever experienced sitting in a quiet place by the river, enjoying a picnic, when a deer walks up to you slowly and literally eats gently from the palm of your hand? Sounds like a Disney movie right? This happened to me in Orchha. This small town is surrounded by abandoned 17th century temples. You will feel the tension melt away when you wander through this charming place.
Preparation and smart choices is the key here. I proudly boast that I was the only person on my tour who did not get Delhi Belly at any point in our trip. I don’t know if this is why, but I like to think it is: I took daily probiotics in pill form about a month before my travel to India. Once there, I started every morning with a fresh mango lassie (a smoothie made with yoghurt and fruit). I believe the good flora in my tummy is what kept me healthy.
Drink only sealed bottled water. We were warned that some vendors sell tap water to tourists, so make sure your lid is sealed when you purchase it.
For those less fortunate than me, the only piece of advice I can offer is to see your doctor before going to India, and have him/her prescribe a good anti-diarrhea medicine just in case. Also, pack wet wipes…nuff said.
Travel to India isn’t for everyone. The streets are loud and dirty, the air and the water are polluted, and you can’t get a hamburger to save your life. BUT…if you are willing to open your mind and your heart, you will fall in love with this amazing place. You will learn about a culture so different from our western norms, and meet more smiles than any place on earth.
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