Our trip to India came about in a bit of an abstract way, the Easter holidays were coming up and we fancied a break, we had a set budget and took a trip to the travel agents. Our brief was simple, to get as far away as possible for as little money as possible. A few weeks later we were jumping on a plane to India, an interesting choice for a Michael who really doesn’t like curry…
Delhi > Jaipur > Pushkar > Ranthambore> Agra > Varanasi > Delhi
I feel we didn’t have the best start to our India adventure, despite notifying banks we were going abroad, they still blocked our cards, nightmare (this seems to be a reoccurring theme for us! No amount of pre-notification seems to sort it out, thankfully we can now put the details in online for ourselves.) Our first few hours in Delhi felt like they were just filled with scams and lots of noise, beeping, shouting, chaos, not great for those with jetlag. After a bit of rest we awoke to amazing smells and bright colours as we ventured out of the hostel.
First up was Jaipur and the Monkey Palace, an old derelict beautiful palace and ground filled with monkeys and cows. Always cows. This was a great first experience of India, however it was at this early point of the trip that even a monkey managed to scam me. I was happily feeding the wee guy a single monkey nut. He quickly clocked my bigger bag of monkey nuts and went for them instead, ripping the bag and spilling them everywhere. Dora 0 – Monkey 1. Needless to say I’ve learnt from this and now don’t feed the monkeys. Only joking, I’m just a little smarter now.
The Amber Palace in Jaipur was an incredible experience, the grandeur of the building is just phenomenal. It’s a decent walk up to the palace from the bottom of the hill, many people choose to take advantage of the elephant ride up, but I wasn’t convinced they were happy elephants so decided to opt for a long walk myself in the sweltering heat. Views from the top were just stunning, there is a huge wall from the palace that goes on and on along the hillsides, much like the Great Wall of China. Amber Palace was particularly lovely because it was quiet (for India) and we were left to our own devices to walk around, later that day we went to the Tiger Fort and whist it had great views from the top over the city below, we weren’t left alone. A guide forced himself upon us and we couldn’t shake him, it was just a terribly awkward experience and seems to be the way they try and make money from tourists.
Onto Pushkar which was a quiet haven amongst the hustle and bustle of the bigger cities. Such a different world, so quiet and even the landscape has changed dramatically – very dry and desert like. Definite highlight was the camel safari which took us out into the desert for sunset – absolutely beautiful! For the record – camels are massive, like really really massive! Riding them through the dessert felt like I was on the set of a Star Wars film! Our guides were dead nice and we felt totally at ease, despite them being strangers who spoke very little/no English and leading us out into the desert.
From Pushkar we had an exhausting 6 ½ hour drive to Ranthambore, where we were going on a Tiger Safari. Now this turned out to be a safari like I’d have never expected. A safari to me is a quiet affair, very respectful of the animals’ wellbeing, it’s their space we’re intruding on and need to be mindful of that. NOT HERE! No, Ranthambore National Park is a dry landscape with vegetation desperate for the rains to come. The park filled with exhaust fumes from lousy jeeps trying to intrude on each animal, beeping horns and shouting people pointing. The polar opposite from what I was expecting. Needless to say, with all the chaos we didn’t see a tiger, a leopard was spotted as we (and everyone else) was leaving the park but with all the crowds and festival noise level it didn’t stick around for long. In hindsight we would never have paid money for a trip like this. There are much better organisations out there that pay attention and understand the importance of animal welfare without exploiting the animals.
We couldn’t go all the way to India without visiting the Taj Mahal, such an impressive building, smaller than I was lead to believe, but mighty impressive non the less! It’s hard to spend a good amount of time here with it being so popular and busy. For me it was more special to see the Taj Mahal from the back, there’s a road that loops around the back on the other side of the river, from there is a clear opening and you get a stunning view over the river and up to the Taj. A little less well known but worth the drive in my opinion.
To get to Varanasi we decided we were going to brave the trains! We’d been smart and bought ourselves a decent ticket so we’re have bunk beds and some privacy for the long journey. The trains themselves weren’t too awful, they weren’t clean, they were noisy, it wasn’t the best experience of my life but we survived! The train station in Agra on the other hand *yuck* we’d heard stories about train delays etc so knew to expect that. It was more the actual station that was not pleasant in the slightest. Got to love those cows, but they poo and pee, everywhere. Everywhere. All throughout the waiting rooms to train platforms, there was no escaping the smell coupled with the heat, no, not for me. All 8 hours of train delay were spent in filth. I can’t even mention the toilet situation, just, not, good. Thankfully I can say that the return journey was a walk in the park compared!
Varanasi on the other hand, when we got there is this beautiful, enchanting, captivating city on the river Ganges. There are 24/7 cremations happening along the river, it’s an incredibly spiritual place. Come the evening thousands of flowers are put out into the river to float down, it’s such a beautiful thing to see.
If you’re ever in Varanasi, and you’ve been suffering a bit with Delhi belly, be sure to check out the Megu Café sushi bar in the Godaulia area. Best Decision Ever, this little sushi place was incredible, so tasty and with our dodgy hungry tummies, we were seriously craving food we actually wanted to eat! Definitely perked us up!
India was a challenging experience, we weren’t kind to ourselves and didn’t stop and give ourselves a break for the time we were there. Between us we lost 9.5kg which thinking about it now is just crazy. India is an extraordinary country when you get out of Delhi, there is so much colour, smell and beauty to take in all around you, all the time. If I went back I’d love to explore the Himalayan foothills or check out the south of the country. It’s a big place and will take a lot of time to do it justice.