In December I was given the chance to spend one week in India; not very long but it was an opportunity and I jumped at it.
In my mind, India was this magical place of cows, spices and heat that I was sure would speak deeply to my heart and that I would fall in love with.
My trip was the Golden Triangle – the quintessential India for dummies itinerary that checks off all the must see places for a first timer including Delhi, Jaipur and of course, the Taj Mahal. I went with Intrepid Travel on one of their small groups.
Group trips aren’t really my thing. I prefer to travel on my own with the freedom to do whatever I want on a whim, but I only had a week and this program seemed like a good way to dip my toes into India – the country renowned for being the biggest culture shock destination in the world.
I didn’t actually feel the culture shock level was that high (though it was my 5th time to Asia) but was certainly happy with my choice to go with a group. India is not a place I would like to travel alone as a solo female traveler – and this is the first time I’ve ever felt this way about any destination. While I was never explicitly threatened I didn’t feel particularily safe in India and had the unfortunate experience of being groped by more men in a row while crossing a crowded street in Delhi than I think I’ve ever been in my whole life. Next time I go to India I’ll bring a man with me. Any man will do – friend, boyfriend, strong man? Perhaps I’ll hold auditions…
I arrived into Delhi at 6 AM. Not being one to waste a day I started a whirlwind tour of pretty much as soon as I arrived. At one point on the drive into the city my guide Anu (who was amazing) told me something interesting to which I replied “Holy cow.” A moment later we passed a cow on the side of the street and my mind screamed “Holy cow! Holy COW” as the true meaning of this expression really hit me in the face for the first time. Gotta love a good Aha! moment.
The first stop was Qutab Minar, an striking 5 tiered minaret left over from an ancient mosque. It was gorgeous; an architectural masterpiece in intricately carved sandstone and white marble, designed in such a way that it looks like a lotus flower from an aerial view. I really liked this complex and highly recommend it as a must see place in Delhi.
After this we went to Gurudwara Bangla Sahib – a Sikh Temple. What really stood out for me here was the incredible generosity of the Sikh people. The temple runs a community kitchen which is fully staffed by volunteers. Every day it prepares a massive vegetarian lunch which it serves for free to anyone who is in need of a meal, regardless of religion. Witnessing this was a truly remarkable and humbling experience.
Afterwards, it was off to Humayun’s Tomb, which had been closed all day because a foreign minister was visiting. They were just opening the gates when we arrived but hadn’t opened the admission booth yet. Luckily, Anu had bought our tickets that morning so we were able to jump the queue and go straight in. Talk about perfect timing! We had the entire complex completely to ourselves – for all of about 6 minutes – but still! When do you ever get private tour of such a popular attraction? Especially in India? I’m pretty sure the answer to this is never and this knowledge was not lost on me was I walked along the paths to the tomb all by myself.
I departed Delhi for Jaipur by train with my Intrepid Group – a really lovely mix of individuals from Canada, Australia and South Africa. Jaipur is really lively and vibrant place and wish I’d had more time to explore it better. As it was, we had a photo opp at Hawa Mahal (the Palace of the Wind) and then it was off to the Amber Fort which I thought was brilliant. The imagery of the place is stunning and one of my favourite places we visited!
The next morning I went for a 6 AM yoga class – which was one of the highlights of my trip. Our guru was this tiny, little old man who was so stiff he could hardly do any of the poses. I just adored him. The practice was very soothing and relaxing comprising of some breathing and meditation as well as light stretching and sun salutations. Our teacher’s favourite phrase was “slowly slowly” and “relaaaax.” We finished the practice with what is now my favourite thing – a shower of laughing.
He looked at me and asked “you know a shower of laughing?”
I shook my head.
“You know shower?” and he imitated falling rain with his fingers.
“You know laughing?” and he imitated belly laughter.
I nodded again.
He nodded back concisely “shower of laughing.”
He lead us in great rounds of deep laughter, raising his hands high above his head – his face the picture of happiness. It was infectious and by the end of it I was laughing in genuine. What an amazing way to start the day!
After Jaipur, we spent one night in a tiny rural Rajasthani village of Karouli. This was a highlight for me. We stayed at Bhanwar Vilas Palace which is the residence of the local royal family and also a hotel. We got to visit with the family while we were there. It’s the only real part of the tour where I felt like I was able to see the country like I wanted – authentic India. The little village was covered in cows, pigs and goats just roaming freely. All the locals were very excited by our presence, especially the children. At one point we stopped and ordered some masala chai from a street vendor. We drank it in super tiny cups, and it was perfect.
Our final destination was Agra. The Taj Mahal is magnificent. The workmanship is just spectacular – it is so intricate and grandiose in its beauty that words and photos fail to do it justice. I walked into the complex and immediately all of my expectations were blown away! We also went to Agra’s Red Fort (much more impressive than Delhi’s) which is also outstanding and well worth a visit!
So, overall I enjoyed India, but it wasn’t what I expected. I mean, it was, but it wasn’t. Sure, there were the cows, and the crowds and spices and delicious food, but it wasn’t the love affair I’d been anticipating. The country didn’t speak to my soul quite like I’d believed it would. This may have been a side effect of my very short stint there – I do feel that I didn’t get to quite see India the way I would have liked to, but rather only saw its tourist facade. I’m certainly willing to give it another try and look forward to coming back (with my freshly interviewed man), and getting the chance to explore some of the more remote areas it has to offer!
1. India Gets Cold
Or at least northern India does. I’ve always really thought of India as a country with temperatures that range from extremely hot to mildly hot but never cold, but in December it was cool and down right chilly at times during the evenings! For a country where it’s customary to have your legs and shouldered covered it was pretty fantastic to be able wander around in jeans and a sweater and not have to worry about getting heat stroke
2. Check out a Bollywood Film
We did this while were were in Jaipur and it was a real experience – especially without subtitles! It was inexpensive and the movie theater we went to (The Raj Mandir) was very grand. They start the film by first raising the lavish red curtains to expose the screen and half way through (they’re usually about 3 hours) they have an intermission which is the opportune time to find yourself a bilingual Hindi/English friend who might be willing to fill you in on some of the more complicated subtleties of the plot which you might have missed.
2. Don’t be Surprised if People Want Your Photo
I’ve had people in Asia ask to take photos with/of me in the past but never to this extent! I was suddenly the mythical red-headed unicorn of India – I was constantly being asked to pose in photos and when I said no those I rejected still took sneaky photos of me on their phones.
Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this post please feel free to like and share or leave me a comment (scroll all the way to the bottom). I’d love to hear your thoughts on the post or about your own experience in India!