India. What a country. This is not a place for the faint-hearted! Your senses are constantly overwhelmed, there are so many sights, smells and sounds to take in. Traveling India is hard, you’re not just worn out by the heat and humidity, but you’re also mentally exhausted – as lovely as the majority of people are, there are always the ones trying to scam you (tourists are extremely easy to spot!). I went with my boyfriend Lewis and even though I am a firm believer in girl power and ‘you don’t need no man’, my blonde hair and white skin got a lot of attention. It was nice to have a guy there, as a deterrent more than anything else. I didn’t have any issues and I doubt I would have if I’d been there with a group of girls but I don’t know if I’d like to travel there by myself – but that’s just me!
Despite these negatives, it’s a place you have to visit at least once in your life. It’s like nowhere else in the world – so rich in culture and spirituality. Its vibrancy is breathtaking and the food is fantastic (as long as it’s made with filtered water!)
We only had just over 3 weeks in India, way too short of a time to go everywhere. We decided to focus on Rajasthan, it’s the largest state in India, located in the north west of the country. What drew us to this particular state was the multitude of cities and towns all drastically different – from the scorching deserts of Jaisalmer to the serenity of Pushkar. It also hosts one point in the ‘Golden Triangle‘ – the so-called ‘Pink City’ of Jaipur. The other two points are Delhi, the capital, and Agra, the home of the Taj Mahal. We also wanted a couple beach days at the end of our trip so went to Goa, with a stop off in Mumbai for a couple of days.
If we’d had longer, we would have gone to East to Varanasi to see the thousands of people cremated on the banks of the Ganges, North to Shimla to escape the heat and bask in its rich history, and south to the luscious greenery of Kerala.
Now we can get to the juicy stuff – what we actually got up to!
Edinburgh to Delhi
In step with my recent traveling luck, we nearly missed our connection at Heathrow. Our flight from Edinburgh was so delayed that they had a guy rushing us between terminals to get us on the flight! Despite the tight connection, I knew we wouldn’t miss our flight – I’ve never missed a flight in my life (touch wood), and I was not about to start now.
On the flight, I somehow ended up quite drunk. The air hostesses liked us for some reason (probably because we were a young British couple in a sea of Indian families) and just kept giving us more and more wine!
When we arrived in Delhi I was actually a tiny bit nervous going through passport control. I may or may not have lied on my e-visa application. In my defense, it was on the advice of the visa helpline! Basically, I came to India to work in a hospital in Jodhpur when I was 17 and I thought I was going to be a doctor (lol). When you apply for the e-visa you have to state whether you’ve been to India before and give all the visa details which I obviously didn’t still have. Anyways, I got through absolutely fine. Tip: the Indian e-visa application is an absolute nightmare, give yourself 2 weeks to complete it so you can go away, have a bottle of wine, recover from the hangover, rest and complete it later on.
Naturally, our bags didn’t make it with the tight connection and after a long process of being directed to and fro from numerous airport staff we finally got our details down and we stepped out into the wall of water that is the 100% humidity of Delhi.
It was permanently overcast the entire time we were in Delhi, not that I’m complaining, I can only imagine the heat if there was actual sunshine! Our transfer to the hostel was this beat up truck with no AC and a mental driver who spoke no English. You’ve probably heard about Indian roads but you don’t really know until you experience them first hand. We’re talking dodging cows, people, bikes, tuk-tuks, let alone other cars! There are basically no rules, just beep when you’re behind another car to let them know you’re there and don’t hit anything. The car was roasting and even through the chaos, I slept the whole way there.
When our diver dropped us off at the hostel (Backpackers heaven @ Kuldeep Friends) I could have killed Lewis. It was down the dirtiest, smelliest and darkest lane I have ever been in my entire life. There was an open-air public toilet just at the side of this 2-meter wide lane and you had to walk through a cloud of flies to get to the hostel. I tried to just breathe through my mouth to limit the smell but you’d just get a mouthful of flies instead so it was a lose-lose situation.
The lanes to the hostel and then the corridor inside the hostel (not much better)
We walked into the hostel and were rushed into this room about 4 floors up without even a ‘hello’ first. We were dumped in this room consisting of a bunk bed and a fan which just pushed around the stifling air already in the room. It was safe to say that this wasn’t the room Lewis had booked, I could see the panic on his face rising, I was not happy. We had no bags, couldn’t shower, dirty hostel and a dirty room and no AC. He basically sprinted downstairs and managed to get us to change room – thank god. It wasn’t ready yet but I was so tired I passed out on the bunk bed. Once I’d woken up we headed out to get some essentials. I bought a sari to wear the next day – mistake. I definitely got ripped off and it was about a million times too small, it didn’t even fit the circumference of my arms! We also bought soap (washing your hair with soap is not fun by the way), and some pants – again, wearing pants bought off the streets of Delhi is not really something I ever thought I’d do in my life. At least they were comfy? Very elasticated and came in a number of bright colours. Lewis bought a Ganesha t-shirt and all the locals starting laughing at him – serves him right really.
By the time we’d done all that it was 5pm and we were starting to get hungry. We went to a rooftop restaurant called Exotic cafe. The food was really great and it was nice to be able to sit high above the chaos and next to a fan. Once we’d eaten it was bedtime. Thankfully our new room had AC! I’ll admit when Lewis said he was packing a double sheet I laughed in his face, but I am SO SO glad he did, no bed we slept in looked particularly clean. I say that, but on our first night we didn’t have bags (and therefore the sheet) – we slept under our jumpers. The big blanket thing on the end of the bed was coming nowhere near me.
Now, this is the first time I’ve ever traveled with Lewis and we learned a lot about each other on this trip, like the fact he is SO SLOW IN THE MORNINGS. Once Lewis had faffed about for an hour we ran to get some breakfast before a car was picking us up for a city tour of Delhi. We found this omelette stall on the side of the road. The guy mixed up some eggs with vegetables and spices and then threw it on a hot plate, he then proceeded to place two bits of bread on top of the eggs and then folded it up into an omelette sandwich thing. It was actually really tasty and only cost IDR 30 (around 30p).
Thankfully, our car doing the city tour had AC because it was boiling. The first stop on our tour was to Old Delhi. When we arrived our driver instructed us to get on a Rickshaw which then took us to a (his pals) spice shop, we stood our ground and didn’t buy anything.
The rickshaw then took us to the Jama Masjid, the biggest mosque in Delhi – it can hold up to 2 million people!
They gave us some sexy outfits and once inside the Rickshaw man promptly took my phone off me and instructed us to stand in certain places for pictures – at least he got some good ones!
After Old Delhi, we went to the Red Fort but it was shut and we didn’t really feel like waiting in the heat for an hour and a half – we’d been told it’s basically the same as the one in Agra so we’d just see that one instead.
Next, we were taken to Gandi’s cremation site. It was basically a small black marble slab surrounded by a vast garden but still pretty spectacular to see.
Raj Ghat, Mahatma Gandhi’s cremation site
Next to his cremation site is an eternal flame. I didn’t even know Gandi was assassinated before visiting which is pretty poor from me. After that, we went to the India Gate – a memorial for all the Indians who gave their lives in WW1.
The last stop on our tour was to the Laxmi Narayan Temple. It was a beautiful place made of marble. Lewis was shocked to see all the swastikas all over it – queue the eye roll. (In case you didn’t know, Hitler took the symbol from the Hindus in the first place, before it became a symbol of the Nazi regime, it was a symbol of divinity and spirituality – still is.) Once we’d finished that temple we were definitely done for the day. Delhi is intense and I could only do it in short, sharp burst.
When we got back to the hostel our bags still hadn’t arrived but Raj from our hostel was on the case. Raj also helped us sort a car and our route through Rajasthan. I know a lot of you will think this is cheating but the price worked out pretty much the same and at the end of the day, why does backpacking have to mean doing everything the hard way!? India is hard enough without spending hours waiting in boiling train stations for delayed trains. Lewis really wanted to do the trains but he was shiny and new while I’ve been on the move for the past year! (also he’s just generally more patient than me). Once we’d finalised that our bags arrived! We were so happy to shower and be in clean clothes (I was still in the clothes I traveled in due to the sari disaster). A load of stuff was stolen out the top of my bag, nothing that couldn’t be replaced but was just annoying – back to the stalls I went to find shampoo and a hairbrush. They also took my sleeping bag liner which would have been really useful, thank god for the double sheet!
We decided to celebrate how clean we felt by going out for a few beers. We ended up in this dive called Gem bar. I was the only girl in there the whole night. It was a bit grimy but the beers were good (Kingfisher being the Indian beer of choice) so it suited us just fine.
As we ended our first full day in India there was one thing I had really noticed: EVERYONE stops you to take a selfie with you. I’m probably in about 200 million Indian’s facebooks by now but at least Lewis is still buzzing off the comparison he got to Pierce Brosnan (I don’t think I’d like being compared to a 65-year-old man but each to their own).