Four weeks in India passed by so fast that I can’t believe it is already march. The pace of traveling is indeed a reason for the loss of time and we definitely covered quite a lot of the different facets of India within the last 28 days.
I flew in to Mumbai to meet my two travel mates here – Krupa, an Indian girl and Cam, a guy from New Zealand. We first met in Bangkok at the end of my Thailand trip and I spent 2 days with them discovering Ayutthaya and the nightlife of Bangkok. A joke about traveling through India together turned out to become reality and so we planned to travel through the north-west of India for about 5 weeks.
We just stayed for two days in Mumbai to acclimatize in India. The only really touristy point we visited in Mumbai was the Gateway of India. Quite impressive though. After sunset Mumbai presents it’s pure beauty. Wandering around the city watching all the alighted buildings was really nice.
The Great Rann of Kutch – The white desert
Honestly I’ve never heard of this desert until my friend asked to join her for this trip. As soon as I started my research about it I knew it’s definitely a unique experience and despite the fact it was a pretty pricy adventure I am so happy I came here. Okay, the journey from Mumbai to Bhuj (the camp for the Rann of Kutch) has been a real pain – around 21 hours in 3 different buses: not funny. But as soon as I got off the camel cart (yes I know it’s an animal abuse and I really feel guilty about it) and walked into the width of the giant white salt desert all of the hassle were forgotten. As the whole area is set up as a festival there was an evening program as well with some show acts, dances, music, star gazing and even free henna. I’ve got my first henna tattoo!
Heading north to Rajasthan
Udaipur – The City of Lakes
I felt so comfortable in Udaipur right away and this feeling even grew stronger during our stay there. We visited the famous Monsoon temple (known from the James Bond Movie ‚Octopussy‘) and the giant City Palace, went on a nice boat trip to the magical Jagmandir Palace Island, enjoyed the sunset at the Lake Pichola and watched the Traditional Dance Show at Bagore-ki-Haweli Museum. A perfect start for our time in Rajasthan.
We decided to book a private car to get from Udaipur to Jodhpur so we could stop by at Kumbhalgarh Fort and the Ranakpur Temple on the way with our carrying around our backpacks (and everyone who knows me and my backpack might totally understand the importance of this fact). We planned to spent around an hour at the fort but ended up discovering the huuuuge fort for 2,5 hours. It’s so impressive and the view is just amazing. We could have easily spent a whole day there.
Jodhpur – The Blue City
Jodhpur has been more like a Stopover for one day before continuing further north. We were lucky to stay at a friends place (obviously Krupas friend) and enjoyed super delicious homemade food there. Especially as I’ve been quite sick during these days I was happy to skip the spicy food for a while. We walked around the city center in the rush of the clock tower and spent some time at Merhrangarh Fort.
Jaipur – The Pink City
I really enjoyed the 4 days we spent in Jaipur. Again we had some time to relax while just visiting one or two tourist spots at a time and floated on the pleasant vibes of the Pink City. We got lost in the maze of Hawa Mahal Palace, skipped the biggest fort (Amer Fort) to make our way to the Jaigahr Fort instead to have a great view on Amer Fort. On our last evening we hiked up a mountain close to our hostel to enjoy the view and watch the sunset from a temple up there.
Getting closer to the border in Punjab
Some places charm you within just a few moments and you know right away you’ll have a great time staying there. That’s exactly what happened to me in Amritsar. Our hostel was just amazing, free Chai, great people, a lot of activities and it was clean. Most people come to Amritsar to visit the Wagah Border Ceremony – a daily military practice at the India-Pakistan border to signifies the countries rivalry as well as their brotherhood.
I felt like in a stadium watching a big game, everyone around me cheering, shouting and freaking out. I didn’t really know what to think about it…just super crazy and crowded.
Besides the obligatory visit of the Golden Temple I loved our half-day trip to a small village close to the Attari Border. We took part in the farm life for the morning – just a wonderful getaway from the rush in the city. Milking a cow, playing Kabaddi on the fields, riding Albert the bull, cutting some hay, dressing up in traditional clothes, learning some nice dance moves and filling ourselves up with great homemade food – a perfect day!
Although most people advised against doing it we decided to try hitchhiking in India. We picked Punjab state for it as the people there are supposed to be one of the friendliest in India. We had to cover a distance of around 500 km to Delhi within 12 hours to catch a nightbus to Varanasi. So we started in the direction of the highway, painted some nice signs with a lipstick on two pieces of paper and hoped for some mercy. Along the road so many people advised us to just take a bus or the train. It was difficult for them to understand that it wasn’t about money but about the experience. We earned the funniest glances for that. After a while we changed our signs from Delhi to Jalandhar (which is closer to Amritsar) and within 5 minutes a car stopped and two very nice and polite business man (lawyers) gave us a ride down to Ambala. Even after having a breakfast stop on the way we made it halfway to Delhi within only 3 hours. As soon as they dropped us off next to a petrol station it took us only 3 minutes to stop another car. A father-son-duo got off their car and started to squeeze the cabinet they were having on their back seats in their trunk. After spoiling the cabinet all over as well as the car they admitted it won’t fit and so we ended up fitting all their other stuff as well as our backpacks miraculously in the trunk and putting the cabinet on our laps for the 3 hours drive. The amazing playlist (it felt like a mix of the best of 90’s combined with the Top 10 hits of the last year) made the time just flying by. All the three of us were more than thrilled how well this day worked out. Made our way to Delhi well before our bus left to Varanasi, enjoyed a nice dinner in a great Café and were 100% convinced to take another chance on hitchhiking as soon as possible.
Let’s go east to UP -Uttar Pradesh
My first impression of Varanasi wasn’t too good. But probably it’s hard to enjoy any place after traveling for around 24 hours and my feeling changed after resting for a while.
Our hostel was located quite close to the significant Ghats of Varanasi – stairs along the river offering the locals a great spot to wash themselves as well as doing their laundry and a good possibility to jump on a boat for a nice river tour. We spent 4 relaxed days in Varanasi. Went on a boat ride to watch the traditional cremation ceremonies as well as the Ganga Aarti – the daily spiritual rituals at the Ghats, wandered around the city, done some shopping for Holi, had really good food (again) and I used my time going to the gym a couple of times. The best part about Varanasi was the time I’ve spent at the Ghats. Especially early in the morning its just so nice to wander around the Ghats, watching the locals fulfilling their daily duties and rituals.
First of all: Failed! The whole journey of around 600 km should have taken us around 10-11 hours but basically it took us that long to get halfway to Kanpur.
It started quite good when we found a truck giving us a lift only within 15 minutes. We thought: greeeeat! Until we realized that the maximum speed for this vehicle seemed to be 50 km/h and additionally we got stuck in traffic for a long time. All right…after 6 hours we made it to Allahabad (usually it is a trip of 3 hours) and walked from one highway to the other to catch a lift along NH19 to get at least to Kanpur on time to catch the last (good) nightbus to Agra. Again we were lucky to get a lift within a couple of minutes. BUT again a truck, again a maximum speed of 50 km/h. While we stopped around 100 times to look for the drivers favorite cigarette brand we missed the nightbus in Kanpur and finally had to take one of the governmental buses. After traveling already for 12 hours it was more than annoying to sit in this bus for another 6 hours but we finally made it to Agra.
Lessons of that day:
1. Better just go for short distances while hitchhiking.
2. At least in India avoid trucks or bring loads of time.
Coming to Agra meant to accomplish 3/7 – another Wonder of the world on my checklist: the Taj Mahal. I’ve seen so many pictures of this huge mausoleum but none of them could slightly embody its giant and impressive appearance. Even while standing right next to this huge white building it still seemed to be a painting on the wall – an absolutely perfect one. And yes, the crowds (even in the early morning for sunrise) is a pain but there is a reason that loads of people flocking to see this wonder.
Holi – Mathura
On top of this I experienced the charm of the original Holi in India – the festival of colors. I knew about Holi because of all the imitations in Germany but it hasn’t been until starting this trip that I discovered the real story behind this colorful event and therefore it was out of question where to celebrate this festival for the very first time. Spending a day throwing colors, shouting ‚Happy Holi‘ all day long has been one of the craziest experience ever. As much fun as it was, I have absolutely no idea how the locals keep celebrating Holi for DAYS.
It has to be mentioned…
The Indian traffic is marked with self-centeredness. Doubtlessly you wouldn’t survive this crazy traffic without a sense of egoism but the locals prove every day what this means. I can’t even count the amounts of almost-heartattacks I suffered while sitting in a Rickshaw. Especially in cities with small alleys and narrow streets I don’t see any point in racing with their motorbikes. They just shrug off the fact they might hit pedestrians or other vehicles possibly need to stand on the breaks to avoid an accident. Not to mention the honking on the streets. I’ve been kind of used to this already from so many other asian countries but India is definitely the top of it so far. It’s not like a short ‚Excuse me, I would like to pass, would you mind getting out of my way‘-honking. Nooooo. More like a ‚Get the hell out of my way or I will get you out of my way‘ super long and intense permanent honking. It literally makes me so sick that every time I am reaching a street with traffic (so basically every street) I instantly have the desire to either run away or to shout at everyone who is honking.
On the other hand it’s so funny and entertaining how the Indians deal with all the animals on the streets. Of course they would never crash into a cow as they are holy but even goats, dogs, donkeys and horses – no matter if they are wandering around small alleys or highways – are considered to be normal.
Are you sure this is India?
India keeps overwhelming and surprising me over and over again with scenic moments. I’ve seen landscapes I would have never expected in this country, views I would never have considered to see here.
Basically I don’t know yet how much longer I am going to stay in this country. My visa expires in 4 weeks and there is still so much to see. There are so many options and ideas in my head that I can’t decide yet where to head after the travel-trio will split up in 6 days. Going north, we will spend the last week together in Himachal. It’s getting colder now – that’s for sure!