Seeing as it’s been six months since we left India we figured it was about time to write a little bit about our overall experience in India. But first, lets watch our video as a good primer.
India is a country of contrasts. You either love it or you hate it, often times only minutes apart. But the good news is that India is a big country with lots to offer. You don’t like the grime and bustle of Varanasi? Take a short train to Khajuraho. You can’t stomach the scams and the persistent requests for money? Go to Ladakh or southern India.
I could go on and on about the experience that is India but that could take another six months so point form will have to do.
- Northern India (north of Mumbai but south of Ladakh) was dirty and poor with a new scam around every corner. After adjusting to the culture shock it was great… until it wasn’t. Lots of interesting things were here to be seen and experienced. Other travellers we talked to said the same thing. The grime, scams, and crowds were very difficult but every one of us went in expecting it to be bad so we’d be disappointed if it wasn’t… it’s just the extent of it that caught everyone off guard.
- Southern India (south of Mumbai) was waaaaaay more relaxed, clean, and scam free. There are lots of neat natural sites to see and outdoor adventures to be had but it seemed to be lacking on the cool cultural stuff (eg. Bodhgaya, Khajuraho, Agra, etc.).
- Ladakh. What’s not to love. Johnny and I would go back there in a heartbeat.
- The food all over India is amazing! By far the yummiest and most flavorful of any country we’ve been to. And it is so cheap! The only problem is a lot of the food was very heavy and sometimes you want to give your tastebuds a break from the strong spices even if it is wonderfully delicious. For this reason Vietnam still reigns supreme for overall best food.
- Street food looked on the dicey side so we didn’t have any of that like we did throughout Southeast Asia.
- Compared to Southeast Asia, the value of hotels are pretty bad. In India it was easy to find very cheap hotels and 5 years ago I’d be delighted by the selection. Now I’m a little more high maintenance and I want clean sheets, air conditioning, TV and internet. For that you have to pay a premium.
- That said it appears the selection of high end hotels in India was also great. India would be fabulous on a high budget!
- I loved travelling by train! They were comfortable, you could travel a good distance by the time you woke up, and there was always something interesting happening in the train station.
- If you want to be in the nicer cars you need to book your tickets early. No joking on this one. It takes some of the spontaneity out of the trip but it’s also kind of nice to have an itinerary.
- India is a difficult country to travel on a budget. You can see and eat lots for cheap but India can be exhausting! If you want a comfortable hotel and train you’re going to be paying a premium… it’s worth it though.
- Rickshaws were a hassle but also an adventure! You never know where you’ll end up or how much they’ll try to increase the price after its already been agreed upon.
- A lot of people speak English in India… and a lot don’t. In some instances speaking English increases the difficulty because it makes the scammers much more effective and persuasive. Being in a country where a lot of people speak English also means a lot of people just want to chat. It’s important to remember not everyone is after your rupees.
- It’s worth it!!! As difficult as India is it’s a great place to visit. So many cool and interesting things to see and do and so many flavors to eat.
View India in a larger map
August 8 to 12
San Francisco wasn't what we expected it to be. For weeks Johnny and I have been planning what we'd do in San Francisco, or more specifically what'd we eat. In Kuala Lumpur after going out for more delicious satay and shaved ice dessert, we got back to the hotel and I told Johnny that I think I'm going to be sick. Like Dalat sick. A minute later I was throwing up. Food poisoning is bad enough but it was made all the worst knowing the next day I was going to be trapped on a plane flying across the Pacific Ocean.
Evil cold buffet that should be hot. This isn't the buffet I'm blaming for making us sick but this is an example of a cold, day old buffet that Johnny and I constantly came across in Malaysia. It looks yummy but they're best to be avoided. What was I thinking having salad from one of these places
August 12 to 17 & 24 to 26 – Independence, Missouri
August 18 to 23 – Marshall and Port Austin, Michigan
Back in Agra, India when we decided to cut the trip short of China we thought it’d be fun to add on a trip to visit my family in Missouri and Michigan. You wouldn’t imagine most people would be excited to visit Missouri but Johnny was just as excited to visit Missouri as he was any place else. I think he was excited to have some BBQ. I was excited because of BBQ and because I haven’t been to Missouri for years and have never been to Michigan. Also I always have lots of fun with my uncle, aunt and cousins who live there.
Johnny and my cousin Joy battle it out with a game of checkers. This one ended in a draw
August 4 & 5 – Trichy
August 6 to 8 – Kuala Lumpur
It felt kind of surreal to arrive in Trichy. This would be the place where Johnny and I fly out of India. I can't lie and say I wasn't excited. India has so much to offer but it can be very difficult to travel. It was early morning as we stepped off the train at the small unfrequented station in Trichy. Surprisingly no rickshaw drivers were fighting over us and the roads were nearly deserted the short walk to the hotel. It felt completely unlike India. That would change later in the day when Johnny and I walked around town. The place was PACKED! Like Kolkata night bazaar or Old Town New Delhi packed. We were in the market area of Trichy and with it being Sunday everyone was walking the streets looking for a good deal as cars and motos squeezed through the narrow road forcing everyone to squish together. In Trichy we checked out a church or two and made our way to a large complex of temples in India, Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple. It was kind of like a living working version of Angkor Wat with shops lining the lanes inside the complex with several temples in the centre of the complex. There was even an elephant!
After leaving India we won't be seeing any more holy cows. That's kind of sad, actually
July 28 to August 3
After Lovely Leh, Kochi and Munnar rank as our favorite places in India. The farther south we get in India the nicer it is to be a tourist. We were told things got easier in the south but it was hard to believe after the constant scamming we endured in the north. When we arrived in Kochi we were surprised to find the city relatively clean with almost no signs of cow poo or the accompanying odor, there was very little garbage, the traffic was light, and hardly anyone pestered us to buy something from them. In so many ways it reminded me of Lovely Leh.
One of the reasons we decided to come to Kochi was because it was close to Munnar which is where you'll find tea fields (after China, India is the world's largest exporter of tea). We took an overnight tour up to Munnar which included a great driver in a fancy SUV for the 5 hour drive, meals and a home stay. We made lots of stops along the way to see elephants, waterfalls, spice plantations, museums and more. We were very happy we decided to go with the tour instead of taking the public bus which was our original plan. Munnar sits at 1500m and even in the cloudy midsts and rain it was a beautiful little place with tea plants covering the mountain sides. It would have been easy to spend several days up in Munnar sitting on the terrace looking across the tea fields in the mountains. Next time.
Fog hiding the misty mountains of Munnar
July 23 to July 27
As we approach further south, it is getting much greener. The first thing I noticed once we arrived in Panaji were the clean and open streets. It was much more humid and tropical in this region with a lot more palm trees. On the down side we are in the middle of monsoon season and it pretty well rained non stop for 3 days. The last time we encountered this much rain in our travels were the first couple days of cycling in Malaysia. Actually the scenery reminded me a lot of Malaysia with how green it was along with the nice hills.
It rained a lot everyday we were in Panaji, the streets were starting to flood here.
July 4 & 16 to 18 – Delhi
July 18 to 22 – Mumbai
Combined New Delhi and Mumbai have a population greater than that of Canada. What that means is these are two very dense and crowded cities. There's not a whole lot to say about Delhi that I can't say in the pictures so I'll let them tell the story.
On the train way back in the day going to Delhi from Agra. We didn't get to Delhi until late afternoon and we were staying by the airport for our 5AM flight to Leh so besides signing up for an Indian cell phone number we didn't do much.
July 5 to 16 (July 10 & 11 at Pangong Lake)
We ended up spending more time in Leh than anywhere else on our entire trip. We thought since we were flying and spending the money to get up this far north we may as well spend some time here, we were able to hang out and relax in the small town 3500 meters high, tucked away in the Himalayas. It was a true vacation away from our vacation.
Leh is not like the rest of India, it actually felt like a completely different country. As soon as we arrived one of the first things we noticed was all the military and police all around. The state borders Pakistan in the northwest and China in the east which probably explains the high security. The locals were predominantly buddhist, many of them coming from Tibet as refugees. The Dali Lama lives in a town not far from Leh and has a house here as well. He is planning a visit at the end of this month, too bad we’ll be gone by then. The Leh locals are extremely friendly, always saying julee (hello, goodbye, good day etc…) as we walk by and we don’t feel like we are getting taken advantage of or ripped off at every given chance.
July 10 & 11
Pangong Lake (aka Pangong Tso). I've known for years that I've wanted to come here. Years ago, before Johnny and I were a couple, we heard about this Bollywood movie from our friend at work. At the end of the movie, Three Idiots, the cast go to the most picturest lake ever high up in the Himalayan mountains. It was stunning and I knew I wanted to go there (Johnny is now telling me we were dating when we heard about the movie from his colleague when we were not working together but I like my version better so lets stick with that). In fact, Pangong Lake had some influence as to why we're not in China right now. The road passes (several above 5000m/16,400feet) are blocked by snow in the winter so the only time to visit is in the summer months of July to early September. If we went to China before going to India we'd be pushing it really close if we'd make the window before the roads became blocked by snow.
The lake is about 5 hours from Leh up rocky roads over a 5300m pass (17,300 feet) in the middle of nowhere at a dead end road next to China. The only way to get there is to hire a car and driver to take you. Luckily Leh is filled with travel agents all selling a “jeep” ride up and they'll find other travellers to fill the jeep to share the cost. Every travel agent had the same tour to sell so we went with the agent that seemed to be the most honest and the most forthcoming with information about the trip. It all went so smoothly until we actually got in the car and then we were in for the ride of our life.
Spoiler... we made it to Pangong Lake
July 1 to July 3
There really isn't much to say about Agra so I'll let the photos do most of the talking. We ended up spending 2 full days here when 1 day would have been plenty. It was actually nice getting the extra day, our hotel was the nicest to date in India and it was situated away from the chaotic streets. The one downfall from being away from the action were the clueless tuk tuk drivers having no idea where our hotel was and driving us to the other end of the city instead of asking for directions. Our hotel was called the Taj Homestay so he automatically assumed it was beside the Taj Mahal. We showed him the map on the hotel card which he ignored and instead we got a ride all around the city for a dollar. This happened 3 times in Agra, good thing we negotiate a price before entering the tuk tuk.
Of course there's only one reason to go to Agra and that's to see the Taj Mahal. It was truly stunning and a must if you are in India and I see why it is listed as one of the 7 wonders of the world.
The beautiful Taj Mahal