So we only had two months in India…yes we know…two months sounds like a lot of time but really it wasn’t at all – especially in a country as vast as India. Most backpackers spend at least 3 – 6 months exploring but we had already lost a month on our 3 month visa as were in Hong Kong at the time (where we had applied for a visa) and were unaware that the visa started as soon as it had been approved rather than start when you enter the country. Nevertheless, we felt like we saw a lot and experienced a lot – some fantastic and some not so great. Here are our India highlights and lowlights.
Our India highlights
Our absolute favourite memory was drifting through the sleepy yet stunning backwaters of Kerala in Southern India on our private houseboat. It was so tranquil…floating past all of the coconut palms brushing the water side, watching the sunset, it was relaxation at it’s best (having our own private chef on board also helped things a bit). People in South India also seemed more laid back and friendly than the chaotic Northern cities! We will always remember the kindness of random passerby’s who tried to help us when our scooter broke down, and the kind tuk tuk driver who didn’t want any money but just wanted to help take the bike back, and the kind shop owner who lent us his mobile phone so we could contact our guesthouse. There was a lot of sunshine and smiles down south. Varkala beach, although very much a tourist haven was wonderful. The atmosphere was so laid back, the place was so chilled, it was a great place to unwind, soak up some sun, drink some ice cold beers and do a lot of yoga! There were some brilliant yoga teachers at Varkala beach, my favourite was Dr. Kamaraj’s Vinyasa Flow classes – they really worked you up a sweat! Goa of course was also a tourist haven but to us that didn’t matter as it was in these tourist areas that the guesthouses were a better standard and very clean, and with more hygienic food preparation meant we could pig out on salad, fresh fruit, ice cream and have ice cubes in our drinks! Huge no-nos in other parts of India!
Of course a huge part of what makes India so popular is the cuisine. We gorged on so many different things! And of course there were many bouts of ‘Delhi belly’ as hygiene will always be a factor in India, however with medication being so cheap (generic Imodium cost only 20p for 6 tablets and a huge sachet of re-hydration salts were only 10p) and pharmacies almost around every corner we could easily get what we needed to recover! The food was fabulous, Neil being the curry-fiend that he is was in curry heaven! And with our high chilli tolerance, spiciness was not an issue. A huge highlight was learning to cook different Indian dishes – we learnt the correct way to prepare curries, masala chai, samosas (my favourite) and biriyani.
We were wowed by the historical sites of India, particularly in Jaipur – the Amber Fort, the aptly named ‘Monkey Temple’ and Hawa Mahal. In Agra obviously the Taj Mahal but also the Agra Fort. We enjoyed the holy town of Pushkar and the fantastic views from the guesthouse rooftop overlooking the town and it’s famous lake. We loved the colourful saris and traditional dress, the markets, the sites and sounds and chaos of Old Delhi. The beautigul emerald green Ganges river running through Rishikesh was stunning, it was my favourite meditation spot.
Also another huge plus was that India was incredibly cheap (apart from Mumbai where accommodation and restaurants were extortionate!) we easily halved our daily spend compared to Asia.
India was well and truly a big cultural minefield but we soaked it all up like a sponge! We can’t wait to return.
Our India lowlights
The biggest lowlight were the hygiene and rubbish issues…
It’s not as horrendous as some people make out – that India is the world’s toilet drowning in sewage and waste is a huge exaggeration, though there clearly are raw sewage and rubbish problems. Everywhere we went were piles of rubbish on the street, stray dogs and cows eating plastic and looking for scraps. It was shocking to say the least, to see open landfills and people rummaging through the litter. It didn’t matter where you went, it was part of the scenes of everyday life.
Getting ill frequently with food poisoning and Delhi belly was rather inconvenient and annoying (Neil had more of an iron stomach than me) and through most of India I felt exhausted and drained (of course the searing heat didn’t help either). This was a place where everything we experienced was new, so it was inevitable that we were going to get sick. It also didn’t help that many local people did not use soap after wiping their bottoms with their hands (they do not use toilet paper just water and their hands) so you can imagine the amount of fecal bacteria spreading around. We stayed for three nights couchsurfing with a lovely family in Jaipur, they were so accommodating and sweet but their home was absolutely filthy and dusty and sadly marred our experience greatly. Cleanliness just seemed like an educational problem, not because people didn’t like cleaning their homes.
Scams were rife in India, everywhere we went we had to look online first to check what to look out for. We wrote a section about scams in India already here. In Alleppey/Alappuzha it less about scamming but more about overpricing the houseboat trips so we did a great deal of research before choosing which company to go with (we also wrote a blog about that too here). In Varkala and Goa was the first time we encountered the overly friendly Indian’s trying to lure us into the ‘Gem scam’. All around the places we visited I went into local jewellery shops looking for some well-priced gems, but everything I was shown were cut crystal being passed off as emeralds and rubies etc. It was also in Varkala that we had bought the fake Banana Boat suntan lotion – something you really need to really be careful of in India! We only bought the Indian brand CarePlus after that experience. When we reached the cities of Jaipur, Mumbai and Agra the hassle from touts escalated tenfold – we were inundated! The most aggressive scamming tactics were from the rude Muslims guarding the entrance of the famous Jama Masjid Mosque in Old Delhi who demanded an entrance fee if you were foreign and whether you had a camera or not (it’s free to enter but you were meant to pay if you take in a camera). They wanted to charge both Neil and myself even though we didn’t have a camera with us! The entrance fee was meant to go to the upkeep of the mosque but I just saw the guys split the money and pocket it. So to avoid having to pay anything Neil and I went in separately as the other person looked after the shoes and bags outside. It was also in Old Delhi that a couple of men tried stealing Neil’s wallet – one groped me and expected me to be the diversion by panicking or something which didn’t happen of course – I turned around, gave him a massive evil and smacked his hand away so hard he was sure to feel it! Neil was then able to brush away the other guy’s roaming hands on his pockets.
Anyway, not every place we visit will tick all the boxes! But one major lowlight was not having enough time to visit India longer and explore more areas! It’s definitely a country worth visiting again!
Where we visited: Fort Cochin, Kuzuphilly, Alleppey, Varkala, Palolem, Mumbai, Jaipur, Pushkar, Rishikesh, Delhi, Agra