Whereas Nepal was all about recovering after haven fallen ill after doing the Annapurna Circuit, India was all about regaining my strength and exploring, photographing and immersing myself into a new culture.
India was a shock to the system. I think it’s either a country many love or hate. However, I found myself to be right in between. There are some aspects about India that I did not enjoy at all: being harassed constantly, the ulterior motives of people, the constant sensory overload. But then, in hindsight, India was one of the most spectacular countries we travelled to for a whole load of reasons:
If you are passionate about photography, India is the place to travel to. Almost every photo I have taken in India is beautiful – not because of my skills (i’m a beginner after all), but because the bustling colours paired with chaos all around provide for endless hours of eye-candy spotting. Everything around you is a beautiful mess.
I also loved the genuine souls we met during this trip. Nowhere else have I met more fascinating people than during my time in India. India is not just for travel – for touristic ventures. India is to open your mind and heart and to learn from people around you. I met Reetha, the Brahmin, Arvind the ex-military officer who is now an avid Yoga practitioner, Guddu who will marry who his father chooses for him, Hemlatha the first lady-driver in Jaipur – and the list goes on.
Here is my Bliss Report for Month 2.
Ok. I think it becomes apparent that we suck at budgeting. The £30 per day for a couple idea we had for this RTW trip is not entirely realistic. Don’t get me wrong. It IS possible, but this involves way more discipline than we were prepared to foster during this trip. The reason why we struggled to keep within budget, is simple: we love to eat!
We love trying all these new dishes and go to a different restaurant almost every day. We never cooked for ourselves and only a few times ate some self-bought groceries, such as fruits etc. We did, however eat streetfood more than once but it was not enough to save enough money to stay within budget.
As for accommodation, we did stay in cheap places, but not £2 hostel bed – cheap. We found that as a couple or as friends, for that matter, booking a double room in a guesthouse is sometimes cheaper than booking two hostel beds. To be honest, we thought hostel beds are increasingly becoming more and more expensive as many hostel owners revamp the places to look like mini-boutique hotels in order to stand out from the competition – making a bed in a hostel really expensive.
Transportation in India is incredibly cheap and wonderful. If I was to travel to India again, I would make sure to be a bit better organised and book trains far in advance as travelling by train within India is incredibly comfortable and cheap. But, because we did a lot of last-minute decision-making when it came to our routes, we ended up having to book busses. They are cheap. But dangerous. Drivers speed like crazy and the roads are so bumpy – you don’t get to sleep properly.
I added a new category called ‘Conectivity’. This is how much I spent for a SIM card in India with credit. Incredible, isn’t? Mind you, in India i solely relied on WIFI connections instead of 3G connectivity – I had not yet unlocked my phone and thus the costs do reflect a simple Sim card just to stay connected with family back at home, in case of emergency – nothing more.
- 2 days in Delhi
- 4 days in Agra
- 3 weeks in Rajahstan (Jaipur, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Udaipur)
- 1 week in Goa (Panjim, Agonda Beach)
- 1 night in Chennai
Yoga with Arvind
I mainly write about travel encounters. Why? Because I believe everyone we meet is meant to have crossed our paths for a reason and the reason usually being: to learn something. I very much believe in fortunate accidents. I also believe that those serendipity moments are meant to happen. And India was full of those unexpected encounters. You just need to keep an open mind in order to receive them into your life.
My most favourite memory of travelling through India, was to stay at the Explorer’s Nest. The Nest is run by Arvind, an ex-army officer who is now retired and practises Yoga on his rooftop every day. I was looking for accommodation and instead gained so much more of my stay with him. We spent almost a week in Jaipur, as I had some serious blog post writing to catch up on (thanks to being ill throughout the entirety of our month in Nepal) and these days were filled with spiritual realisations about myself. I compiled a series of doing Yoga with Arvind on the rooftop – that is how much I have learnt during my time at the Nest. I learnt the very basics of Yoga which I had not known about.
I had always been a passive Yoga apprentice and relied on the instructors to teach me what Yoga was all about. But no one managed to break Yo-ga apart in a way that Arvind did. He explained the reason why we do Yoga and why it is closely linked to meditation. On the next day, we talked about Chakras, Kundalini and did some Pranyama exercises. I learnt that I have an under-active throat and Heart Chakra – and that silly poses like the Lion pose are good for me. On the last few days, I learnt about Yin & Yan and some more about the value of breathing exercises. All in all, with each day that had passed at the Nest, I learnt more about myself. How much more valuable can a guesthouse stay be?
Learning about Brahmins in Jodhpur
I still can’t quite believe how many fortunate encounters I had in India. Having spent a month in Thailand thereafter with literally no encounter stories to write about, I also realised something about India: No other place has stirred so many emotions within me. No other place had me meet people with such intense and fascinating stories to remember for a life-time – and personally, that is what travelling is all about.
I yearn to meet locals to learn from them and to grow through the storied they tell me. Jodhpur, for that reason, is one of my most favourite cities ever. It’s not only incredibly beautiful and one of the most picturesque places I have ever visited (photography lovers eat your heart out!), but it left with so many stories to write – I’m struggling to decide which ones to tell and which ones to skip.
One of these stories, was the raw account of what it means to be a Brahmin – from the perspective of a young man, Guddu, and through the eyes of a mother, Reetha. I learnt that not everyone is as lucky when it comes to being allowed to choose who to marry. The caste system is still very much ingrained in Indian society – even though it was abolished long time ago. But not only that – even if two people from the same caste happen to fall in love with each other – the ultimate say lies with the head of the family: the husband and father. Such as in Guddu’s case. His father will pick a wife for him – one day he will wake up and find a photo of his future bride on his phone. End of story. His brother was allowed to marry out of love – but that was only because he has got polio and he’s got a bad leg (!).
Reetha considers herself to be very lucky. Her husband’s Spice business is booming because she leads successful cooking classes. A business woman in Rajahstan is rather a rarity. A business woman with two daughters, even more so. Trip Advisor has changed her life – if it wasn’t for us tourists, this little Spice shop and cooking class venture would have never become the Nr.1 attraction in Jodhpur. Not only were we treated like royalty in her own home – we also had the best time of our lives, cooking for five hours (some of her delicious recipes can be accessed here) whilst listening to Reetha’s touching stories of her daughters makes us all weep silently.
Spending Christmas in the desert with camels
In hindsight, I would have not booked a Camel Safari. Or at least not until thoroughly researching about the various companies out there. I felt everything was rather artificial (of course it was – what did I expect?) and what I didn’t like: to see wounds on the camel’s flesh of being hit into obedience for a tourist attraction, essentially. I didn’t like how these camels were treated and I would forever refuse to take part in any sort of activity that could in the slightest indicate to me that animals are being abused.
Animals, unfortunately, are not treated with dignity and respect everywhere in the world. I wish they were. But, I think as tourists and travellers, we can help raise awareness and speak up about these observations – sometimes, it just takes one person to say something and a company might just change how things are conducted out of fear of not loosing their customers. This realisation prompted me to research into this more closely and look into organisations for the protection of camels in India, in particular.
Why am I listing this under the ‘what I liked’ section? Well, because I loved spending time with those camels. I realised that I love camels. Apart from cats, camels are another most favourite animal of mine and spending Christmas with them was amazing – yes, I do get excited about something as simple as that: spending time with a desert animal. I loved sleeping under the stars and being greeted by desert dogs in the morning. I loved drinking freshly hot Chai tea with strangers. Particularly this one girl caught my attention – Kathrin, the famous encounter – a Swiss politician. Jumping on dunes and drinking beer, snuggling up to Ben under our many blankets – it was a magical Christmas.
Travelling by train
I loved travelling through India by train – once I figured out how to book. Something as seemingly easy as booking trains, turned out to be quite a challenge. But once I got it all figured out, it was a easy and cheap way to travel through the country with being able to actually catch up on some sleep.
Not so on Indian buses. Indian buses are not as comfortable and the driving style of the drivers is horrendous. I feared for my life more than once. Yet, it is a faster way to do the lengthy distances, as buses don’t stop as often as trains. Personally, I would always try to travel by train – but we left our plans to the last minute quite often, which meant travelling by bus was what we did the most in India. The good thing about having travelled to India and within India by bus is this: 30 hours by bus seem strangely short and I will never in my life complain about commuting to London.
Transport within India rattled me out of my comfort zone. I learnt to be more patient, more understanding and a pro at not peeing in my pants (buses in India don’t always stop for you to have a toilet break – meaning: keep your drinking consumption under control – anything else could lead to some really uncomfortable hours).
Cheap & Good Vegetarian Food
I’ve never been a vegetarian, but I had already included a fair amount of greens and fruits into my diet, since my health deteriorated back in 2011. India made it easy to be a vegetarian – in the north 90% of restaurants serve only Vegetarian options. I was actually happy not to touch meat in India – it is expensive, unhygienic and taking the risk was just too big. And because the meals are quite heavy – Ben and I ended up sharing most of our meals with one huge side-effect: we lost a lot of weight.
Yes, we lost weight eating curry every single day – sometimes three times per day. My most favourite meal of our time in India, was the Rajahstani Rabodi which is made entirely out of yoghurt. I loved it so much, that I enquired about the way to cook it and published the recipe on my blog. Simply served with Naan bread – it is truly a taste sensation. Other foodie highlights were: Rice Biryani, Saffron Makhania Lassi and Aloo Parantha.
While Ben travelled to the south and explored Kerala, I stayed in Goa for a week to catch up on some work and just enjoy some beach time. Agonda, was my own little Paradise. I loved how I could just walk across the street and buy a fresh Coconut for next to nothing from the fruit lady. I loved going for a swim, doze in the afternoon sun on the picture perfect beach, read and just relax in the amazing breeze of the Goan climate.
I loved my Tibetan cafe which served the most incredible tea, called Yogi tea which was the first thing I drank when I arrived there in the early morning hours, ready for another day of work. Lucky you guys, I enquired about how to prepare the tea and published it here. Tess’ Yoga Tea is a wonderful blend of warming lemon, honey, cardamom and cinnamon (and a few more delicious ingredients) perfect to start your day in a healthy way…
Being harassed constantly
As India was one of the first countries I visited, I did not quite realise how bad it actually was. I realised this when I arrived in Thailand the month after. Having spent a month in Thailand – I can tell you: even with Ben around – the constant staring, both from men and women, gets to you at some point. It was exhausting. I got annoyed with men giving me this intense look of wanting to eat me alive when I was sitting in the train station or just buying a postcard.
Luckily, I was only touched and physically harassed once by a boy (which Ben told off) – oh scrape that…there was also the incident with Prick Yogi who touched my Throat Chakra…, but I can imagine that, had Ben not been with me, I would have experienced much more cat calling or ‘Eve Teasing’ as they call it. The best advice I can give you: don’t reciprocate a stare. Just ignore it. And if someone comes too close, remove your left shoe, wiggle it in his face and worst case: hit the person. As bad as it sounds: this is what Indian women do to protect themselves. I would always carry a safety whistle and a pepper spray with you – especially if you travel as a female alone. And if you travel by train, make sure to travel in the women only or family compartments or invest in a 2AC or 3AC ticket. I would not advise travelling in Sleeper as a woman alone.
Being struck by food poisoning in Goa
So, Ben and I were struck by food poisoning at the same time the moment we travelled apart – it made us realised that we are rubbish solo travellers. I imagined that eating fish in Goa, of all places in India, was going to be safe. Well, it obviously wasn’t. It also inspired me to write a post about it, because I found out, that I was terrible at vomiting. I did not possess the skill. My pain threshold had always been very low. I joke with my girlfriends that should I ever be pregnant, I would have an elective Caesarian under anaesthetics. I also take pain killers before waxing. I’m a wimp. Naturally, puking my lungs out was not an easy task for me neither. I was suffering. Oh hell, was I poorly. This is a photo moments before I ordered the fatal meal. Look at the grin on my face. I was really looking forward to my fish- and seafood platter, you know?
The apprehension my brain created about India
I did not like how apprehensive I was when I arrived in Delhi. Ben and I had psyched ourselves up by reading negative accounts of India (the rape stories) in the guidebook and on the Internet – so much so, that when we arrived, we were frightened. However, Delhi is a scary place and very very intense. I would not recommend staying there more than 2 days. I never felt as unsafe anywhere else in India. The shock experience of Delhi made us not visit Mumbai, which I really regret as I only heard great things about Mumbai.
If I was ever going to go back to India – Mumbai & Kerala were going to be very high on the list. As for the apprehension: after a few days, we learnt to relax about the situation and realised that our mind was creating a lot of the inner unrest we felt. At the end of the day, we have a good and bad wolf inside of ourselves – the one we feed, is the one that rules over our lives in any given moment. This is also one of my favourite posts I have ever written. It’s astonishing how our minds can create the reality around us. Lesson learnt.
Too much Curry
I loved the variety in curry dishes to choose from – especially after spending a month in Nepal where Daal Bhaat was the predominant dish consumed. But, after five weeks in India, we were happy not having to eat any curries anymore. We craved some Western foods and were dying to have a tasty Pizza or something else that reminded us of home. Strangely enough – despite the heavy curry dishes: we lost a lot of weight. Ben and I ended up sharing all of our meals, because one curry dish was simply too much for one person – we lost weight and saved a lot of money. And yet we still did not manage to stay within budget. How on earth did we do this?
Not enough activities
India is great for photography and tourist attractions – but I missed being able to rent a mountain-bike or go snorkelling or do something active. Even going for a jog is an impossibility as the streets are always busy (unless you get up really early…and why would you wanna do that?), making it impossible to have an hour of undisturbed work-out. You constantly have to be on the look-out for things: cows, cars, kids etc.
I craved swimming in the sea. I craved moving my body. And I regret not having done Yoga more – despite my negative experience with Prick Yogi. Prick Yogi dulled my Yoga spark – but it wasn’t an excuse to just not do any Yoga anymore. But I also noticed that I’m not disciplined enough to do Yoga all by myself in a guesthouse’s room. I really need to join a class to benefit from a Yoga class, such as when I did Yoga with a real Guru in Udaipur – which was a very challenging class, but I reaped a lot of benefits from this one time of Yoga bliss.
Luckily I landed in Goa for the remainder of our time in India and this is where I managed to move more than the previous weeks. I swam in the ocean, I walked a lot, I cycled.