India

India is definitely a country I’d describe like Marmite, you either love it or hate it! India is a completely different travel experience than anything I’d come across before, but I have to admit I wasn’t a huge fan! However, we did spend a month there and travelled through the regions of Kerala, Rajasthan, Agra, and Delhi, so if you’re planning on travelling to India, hopefully this honest account will help you fully prepare before arrival!

A note on why I found travelling in India so difficult
Now before I begin, I thought I’d clarify why I found travelling in India so difficult (and often infuriating!).

  • The sheer volume of people in India is overwhelming.  India is a huge country, but you never seem to escape the masses of people everywhere you go.
  • As I also look very much like a tourist I always felt that we were disrespected either at bus stations, train stations, or restaurants, and often pushed in front of, to the point where we literally had to stand with our elbows out and push people out of the way just to avoid them jumping in front of us when trying to buy travel tickets!
  • The level of scams and deceit in India are like nothing I’ve ever experienced. I’m used to paying a ‘tourist tax’ for things like tuk tuk journeys or whilst shopping in markets, however, we often found that the price quoted for tuk tuk’s was four times the price of what the journey should actually cost. In addition, we learned that tuk tuk drivers work on a commission basis with many hotels, so if you say you would like to go to your hostel/hotel, they will tell you it has closed or burned down. They will then call your “hostel/hotel” but really call one of their friends who will lie and tell you your accommodation is closed. This is to allow the driver to take you to their choice of accommodation so that they get a commission. One way to avoid this is find a local landmark near your chosen accommodation and ask to be dropped off there instead.
  • As expected, and mentioned a lot in India, I found the continuous staring annoying and despite being forewarned that I shouldn’t stare back, I would become frustrated and try to stare people down who wouldn’t stop staring at us.
  • The frequent requests for selfies got old very fast. I always said no when asked by local people (often groups of young men) for selfies. Having asked people or googled why this is so common, we found out that young local men often ask foreign girls for selfies so that they can pretend it is their girlfriend for bragging rights. We came across lots of travellers saying yes to these selfies and literally queues of young men behind them waiting for their turn to get a selfie. So please, if travelling in India and asked for selfies, just say no. It’s not cute or endearing, and you’re not a celebrity, it’s just creepy.

Anyway, now that that’s off my chest, let’s begin the actual travel tips!

Getting there, visas, currency, etc.
Originally, we had planned to travel overland into India from Nepal. However, this isn’t possible without careful planning in advance and a visit to the Indian Embassy office in Kathmandu! Instead we ended up rearranging our plans and travelled to Sri Lanka from Nepal which meant we could fly into India instead. It is much easier to obtain a visa using the online system if you fly in, but this is not available for overland travel into the country. We flew into Cochin in Kerala from Colombo with Sri Lankan airlines.

You must have a visa for India before you arrive as you cannot buy this on arrival. A new online e-visa system makes this process much easier and can be found here. The local currency is the Indian Rupee which works out as roughly 100 Rupee’s to £1.05.

KERALA
As we spent time in different regions of India, I will split this blog post up into the areas and places visited, starting with our first stop Kerala.

Cochin- Fort Kochi
We flew into Cochin, a huge city in Kerala. We stayed in the Fort Kochi area of the City, a beautiful old colonial area where most tourists tend to stay and spend their time when in Cochin.

  • Where we stayed: We stayed in one of the Indian chain hostels called Zostel. Zostel are slightly more expensive than later hostels we found; however, they are clean, offer breakfast, and staff are very helpful at directing you or giving maps of where to go.
  • Things to do:
    – Wander the streets of Fort Kochi: The best way to explore Fort Kochi is by wandering around the narrow streets exploring the old churches, cafes, and shops. Most people tend to head for the water edge where you can see the Chinese fishing nets. These nets aren’t used for fishing anymore and are mainly a tourist attraction and photo opportunity where you can pay to have your photo taken with them.
    – Go see a Kathakali show: I would definitely recommend this activity during your time in Fort Kochi! Kathakali is an art form that dates back to the 1600’s. It uses a mixture of dance and intricate facial and hand movements to tell stories and plays.
  • Places to eat:
    – Kashi art cafe: Kashi is a beautiful art cafe with a delicious menu! We actually came back here on our return to Cochin because the food was so tasty!
    – Teapot cafe: Teapot is a cute little cafe down the cobbled streets of Fort Kochi which serves nice breakfast options with a wide range of teas available.
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Kathakali show

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Alleppey
Alleppey is the main point to start from if you want to explore the backwaters of Kerala. We used the Lonely Planet book as our guide in India, which described the backwaters as ‘one of the top things to do in India.’ However, we weren’t all that impressed! The backwaters were dirty, polluted, and overpriced to explore on a house boat! We instead opted for a kayaking morning tour which worked out as a way more affordable option.

  • How to get there: We took a local bus from Fort Cochin to Alleppey which took 1.5 hours. Be prepared, if you’re travelling in monsoon season (like we unfortunately did), the buses don’t have windows. Instead if it rains, shutters are pulled down which makes the bus completely dark apart from the driver’s window. Many a journey I spent standing in a dark, cramped, stuffy bus for a long journey with someone’s arm pit in my face!
  • Where we stayed: We stayed in a B’n’B called Carpe Diem, however I wouldn’t recommend this place to stay. Our room didn’t have mosquito nets despite being covered in mosquitoes, and the man working at the hostel didn’t speak English and was barely ever there.
  • Things to do:
    – Explore the backwaters: The main reason people tend to travel to Alleppey is to explore the backwaters on a house boat. As mentioned, this is quite expensive, so if you’re travelling on a budget like we were, you might find it a lot more affordable to take a kayaking tour of the backwaters instead.
    – Visit the lighthouse: The Alleppey light house is located down near the beach, right next to the huge flyover road they are building above the beach, not exactly the most picturesque, but a nice way to explore the town.
  • Places to eat:
    – Harbour cafe: We spent only one day in Alleppey and ate at Harbour cafe down on the beach front. A nice restaurant with a good menu choice available.
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Kayaking the backwaters

Kollam
Now as mentioned, we ended up travelling through India in the monsoon season. Being Irish, I’m used to a bit of rain, but I’ve never experienced anything like the monsoon rains in India! I’d compare it to standing in a hot shower fully clothed. The drainage system in India is so poor that the roads would often immediately flood. We’d arrive to a new place and be enroute to our hostel to find that the road had flooded. There was no choice but to roll up our trousers, take our shoes off and walk through the water filled with cow dung. If possible, find out when the monsoon season is before booking your India travels and avoid travelling in this season!

So, by the time we arrived in Kollam, the rains still hadn’t let up and we were feeling more than a bit fed up. We found a cheap 4* hotel for £13 per night and booked ourselves in for two nights!

  • How to get there: We had planned to take the train from Alleppey to Kollam, however when we got to the train station after lots of confusing conversations, we found that all trains to Kollam were cancelled for the day. Instead, we made our way to the bus station and took the 1.5-hour public bus.
  • Where we stayed: As I mentioned we found a good deal for a nice hotel called Ayurveda D’fort All Seasons. This hotel had a restaurant, spa, outdoor pool, badminton court, and gym. Rooms were beautiful and came with a jacuzzi bath, perfect for scrubbing off all the cow sh*t from wading through the flood water!
  • Things to do:
    – Being honest, it rained for the whole 2 days we were in Kollam so we ended up spending most of our time chilling in the hotel or hooking up my laptop to the TV in our room and watching stranger things! If you do venture out there’s a pretty lighthouse near the port to explore.
  • Places to eat:
    Art café: A nice café set in a garden location with an art gallery attached to it. I’d recommend their Oreo milkshakes!
    Wok and Grill: Wok and grill is a centrally located restaurant with a wide range of meat and veggie options available.
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Yet another day getting drenched in monsoon rains…

Varkala
Varkala is often described as the next up and coming resort area in India. We had planned that I would spend my birthday here and we had booked a nice hotel weeks in advance. I had images of lounging by the pool drinking cocktails with maybe a trip to the spa thrown in. As you’ve probably already guessed, this was not the case. We arrived to find a derelict hotel with a manager (who refused to speak to me as I am a woman) refusing to let us cancel our prepaid booking or offer a refund. It all got a bit heated and with threats to call the police being thrown around we decided to take our custom elsewhere!

  • How to get there: Public buses run from Kollam to Varkala and take approximately 1 hour.
  • Where we stayed: The delightful hotel I’ve mentioned above is called Ocean Cliff View, or also goes by the name Oceano Eco. Avoid staying here at all costs. We instead moved to a hotel called Prathani Cliff which is literally half the price of Ocean Cliff View, and is located nearer the town centre overlooking the cliffs.
  • Things to do:
    – Now as my original birthday plan of a pool and spa day didn’t quite work out, we found another hotel to spend the day at called Gateway hotel. I’d definitely recommend here if you fancy a day to relax, I had a lovely massage and then came back to find a surprise birthday cake organised by Tom!
    Explore the cliff top: Varkala is famous for its red cliffs. There are many shops and restaurants located along the top of the cliffs which are worth exploring, or if the weather’s holding up you can explore the beach below the cliffs.
  • Places to eat:
    Coffee Temple: Coffee temple is a really nice café/restaurant located at the beginning of the cliff path. It was also one of the best locations we found in Varkala for Wi-Fi, worth bearing in mind if planning any skype calls during your time in Varkala!
    Caffe Italia: A modern restaurant with beautiful views of the sea serving fresh fish. We ate dinner here on the evening of my birthday and even spotted dolphins swimming in the bay!

From Varkala we then took the 4-hour train back to Cochin and flew from Cochin to Udaipur in Rajasthan via Mumbai to begin the next stage of our trip!

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Birthday cake and beers!

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RAJASTHAN
Rajasthan was the next region we travelled through in India. We had heard lots about the beautiful palaces and temples to explore there, so were looking forward to learning more about the history and culture of India whilst hopefully avoiding the monsoon rains as Rajasthan is more of a desert state!

Udaipur
We began our travels through Rajasthan in Udaipur as this was the cheapest City to fly into from Cochin.

  • Where we stayed: We stayed in Moustache hostel in Udaipur. Moustache are a group of chain hostels which we ended up staying in quite a few times during our time in Rajasthan. Staff are helpful and friendly, providing lots of information and tours to explore the City. There is also a laundry service available, free Wi-Fi, and rooms are clean.
  • Things to do:
    Visit the City Palace: The City Palace in Udaipur is huge with ornately decorated rooms to marvel at and spend some time learning about the history of the Maharaja’s who ruled the City from the palace.
    Ride the cable car: The cable car of Udaipur gives a great viewpoint and panoramic view of Udaipur lake. There is also a lovely little ice cream shop at the top.
    See a Dharohar Folk Dance show: The Dharohar folk dance show is set in the beautiful Bagore Ki Haveli Museum and showcases traditional Rajasthani dance shows every evening. Make sure you arrive early to join the queue for the show and get a good seat as it tends to fill up fast!
  • Places to eat:
    Grasswood Café: Grasswood café is a cute little café located near Moustache hostel serving tasty breakfast options including pancakes, eggs, and fresh juice.
    Ambrai Restaurant: We found that some of the best restaurants in Udaipur are located in the Hanuman area of the City. These restaurants are opposite to the City Palace, so you can eat dinner whilst overlooking the Palace lit up in the evenings!

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Jodhpur
From Udaipur, we decided to head West to the ‘Blue City’ of Jodhpur.

  • How to get there: Unlike in Kerala where we could head for the bus station and jump on any available bus going to where we wanted, the journeys in Rajasthan tend to take a lot longer. However, the buses are a lot better quality, and seats can be booked in advance. We travelled with Jain bus company and the journey took 6 hours. Moustache hostel helped arrange our journey and were able to book our tickets and have them delivered to the hostel a day in advance.
  • Where we stayed: We stayed in a lovely hostel called Hostel LaVie. Similar to Moustache hostel, Hostel LaVie offer advice and tours and have a rooftop restaurant overlooked by the Jodhpur fort.
  • Things to do:
    Jodhpur fort: The fort in Jodhpur is incredible and stands on a huge cliff overlooking the City. I’d recommend purchasing an audio guide when buying tickets as this gives lots of information about the history of the fort, the Maharaja, and the concubines who would walk into the funeral fires of their Maharaja when he died.
    Wander the streets of Jodhpur: Jodhpur itself has lots to explore including the clock tower in the centre of the City, and the stepwell through the narrow streets.
    Visit the Maharaja’s Palace: We had planned to spend a morning walking from Jodhpur fort to the Maharaja’s Palace, however the monsoon rains put a stop to that as the roads flooded! If you have time and the weather holds up this is a good way to fill your time.
  • Places to eat:
    Sheesh Mahal: The Sheesh Mahal restaurant is centrally located and has a varied menu with lots of tasty curry options to choose from. They also have a breakfast menu available.
    Nirvana hotel: Nirvana Hotel and Restaurant is located near the clock tower and serves a fairly basic breakfast and lunch menu.
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Jodhpur fort

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Jaisalmer
Jaisalmer is located in the far West of Rajasthan, and is known as the desert City or Golden City. This is the best location to head to if you want to go on a camel safari.

  • How to get there: We took the 5 hour bus from Jodpur to Jaisalmer with Jain bus company.
  • Where we stayed: We stayed in Swann hostel, a nice clean hostel which offers camel safari tours. If you book a tour through them, you are allowed to keep your bed in the hostel for the night you are on safari at no extra cost. I’d recommend booking a room with air conditioning. We didn’t and this made for a horrible night’s sleep as temperatures can reach 37 degrees in Jaisalmer!
  • Things to do:
    Camel safari: The main reason people visit Jaisalmer is to head out on to the dunes on a camel safari. Most hostels offer their own tours and they tend to be fairly similar. Our tour was booked through our hostel and included transport to the dunes, dinner, and breakfast. Be prepared, when you arrive at your ‘campsite’, it’s really just an open spot in the middle of the dunes. There are no toilets or tents available, and your guide will set you up with a little steel framed cot bed for the night. It’s definitely a cool experience though and makes for amazing star gazing and sunrise watching. If you’re not a fan of bugs or dung beetles landing on you during the night though you might want to sleep with your head under the blanket!
    Visit Jaisalmer fort: Like most Cities in Rajasthan, Jaisalmer has a fort. We didn’t have time to visit the fort, but if you have an extra day to fill it might be worth exploring.
  • Places to eat:
    1st Gate Hotel: 1st Gate has a lovely air-conditioned restaurant (perfect for keeping cool after the desert heat), and serves incredible wood fired oven pizzas!
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Our camels Papou and Babaloo!

Pushkar
Now being completely honest, I don’t know why Pushkar is often recommended as a place to visit. Unless you are planning to visit the Brahma Temple and learn more about the Hindu religion, there is not much to do in Pushkar.

  • How to get there: We took our first night train in India from Jaisalmer to Ajmer. We chose 2nd class, air conditioned seats, had a bed for the night and were given pillows, blankets and sheets. We were so tired from the hot, sticky night spent in the desert the night before that the night train felt like luxury! We slept for most of the 11 hour journey! The train station for Pushkar is actually located in Ajmer which is a 30 minute journey via bus or taxi to Pushkar.
  • Where we stayed: We stayed in Moustache hostel in Pushkar, and again they offered advice on places to explore, a laundry service, and decent Wi-Fi.
  • Things to do:
    – We found wandering the streets of Pushkar quite frustrating. Cows and goats roam freely making the streets dirty and covered in dung, motorbikes constantly zoom along the narrow streets pushing you out of the way, and the streets are often crowded and busy.
    Brahma Temple: As mentioned, the main reason people tend to visit Pushkar is to see the Brahma Temple. When we tried to visit the temple on a number of occasions we found queues stretching back for miles, so we never actually made it into the temple!
    Ride the cable car: We had hoped to ride the cable car to the top of the mountain range overlooking the lake and town of Pushkar, however when we arrived we found it was closed for maintenance! Make sure to check opening times/days before planning to go on the cable car!
  • Places to eat:
    Hotel Sixth Sense: Hotel Sixth Sense is a gorgeous little oasis hotel located down the quiet back streets of Pushkar, perfect for escaping the madness! They have lots of little areas to chill out and relax in and serve tasty dishes in their restaurant.
    Pawan’s: If you do one thing in Pushkar, make sure you try Pawan’s falafel wraps! They’re incredible! Pawan’s is located right on the main street, so you can pull up a chair and eat your wrap whilst watching the hustle and bustle of the street go by.
    Honey & Spice café: Honey & Spice is a lovely little vegetarian café located on the main street of Pushkar. Great breakfast options served here.

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Jaipur
Jaipur was definitely my favourite place to visit in India. It is known as the Pink City because all of the buildings and walls of the City are painted pink. There is a lot to do and explore in Jaipur, so I’d definitely recommend spending a few days here!

  • How to get there: Travelling from Pushkar/Ajmer to Jaipur is only a short 2-hour train journey. If you are happy to travel in third class, non-air-conditioned seats for this short journey, you can simply arrive at the station and book train seats on the day of travel.
  • Where we stayed: We stayed in GoStops hostel which is located a 10 minute walk from the main sights of Jaipur.
  • Things to do:
    Hawa Mahal: The Hawa Mahal, also known as the wind palace is a beautiful pink palace, and is one of the most famous buildings in Rajasthan. It is made to resemble a honeycomb beehive with lots of intricate little windows which allowed women to look out on the streets below without being seen, therefore obeying the rules of purdah.
    City Palace: The City Palace of Jaipur is located next to the Hawa Mahal and contains impressive architecture and mosaic tile entrance ways. Both the Hawa Mahal and City Palace offer audio tour guides if you fancy learning more about the history of both.
    Amber Fort: The City of Amber is actually the original City were the inhabitants of Jaipur lived. When the population grew, the Maharaja ordered the new City of Jaipur to be built to allow the population to expand. Amber itself contains an impressive palace, and walls around the whole city which can be walked around and explored.
    Panna Meena ka Kund Stepwell: The Step well near Amber fort is worth a visit. It’s the most impressive step well I’ve seen and definitely offers a great work out if you plan to run up and down it’s many steps!
    Go on a walking tour of Jaipur City: Our hostel offered an evening walking tour of Jaipur. We had already explored a lot of Jaipur by this point, but the tour took us to many little hidden areas of Jaipur, such as local chai shops, markets for street food, and finished in the Shiva Temple.
  • Places to eat:
    – Conscious Life café: Conscious life café is possibly my favourite place to eat in the whole of India. Their breakfast and coffee options are incredible. I’d definitely recommend a visit here!
    Peacock Restaurant: Peacock restaurant serve delicious thali dishes and ice tea. They’re often quite busy, so best to get here early.
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The pink City gates in Jaipur

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Panna Meena ka Kund step well

AGRA
The main reason people travel to Agra is to see the Taj Mahal. No more than a day or two is needed in Agra itself as there isn’t much to do apart from see the Taj. It’s important to note that the Taj is closed on Fridays, so plan accordingly for this!

  • How to get there: If travelling to Agra from Jaipur, the train journey takes approximately 4 hours. This is a fairly busy route as Jaipur and Agra make up part of the ‘Golden Triangle’. Trains run regularly between the two destinations.
  • Where we stayed: We opted to stay in Moustache Hostel again in Agra, however I wouldn’t recommend Moustache here. The rooms were dirty, bathrooms wouldn’t be out of place in a war zone, staff weren’t very helpful and the food wasn’t great either! However, it was located only a short walk from the Taj, and there were lots of other hostel options available on this street too.
  • Things to do:
    Taj Mahal: It goes without saying that the main reason people visit Agra is to see the Taj Mahal. We chose to get up early to arrive at the Taj when the gates open at 6am for sunrise. Turns out most people prefer to do this option and the place was packed! There was also no sunrise as the sky was completely cloudy. Don’t believe the sunrise/sunset hype. Chances are it’ll actually be busiest at these times, and you might not even see the sunrise or sunset anyway!
    Agra fort: Agra fort is well worth a visit if like us you arrive on a Thursday evening expecting to see the Taj on a Friday morning only to find it’s closed for the day! The fort overlooks the Taj across the river and has many ornately decorated rooms to explore.
    Murtagh Bagh: Murtagh Bagh is a pretty garden located opposite the Taj. It’s recommended to visit here at sunset for a view of the Taj, however is a nice place to visit at anytime!
  • Places to eat:
    Pinch of Spice: Pinch of spice is an amazing restaurant serving huge portions of tasty curries. I would recommend the Dahl Makhani or saag paneer, both were delicious!
    Yash café: Yash café is located on the narrow streets opposite the Taj. Food is ok and makes a decent stop for breakfast after an early morning visit to the Taj.

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DELHI
Delhi was the final state we travelled through in India as we were flying from New Delhi to Yangon in Myanmar.

New Delhi
Now it’s fair to say that I wasn’t exactly excited about travelling to New Delhi. I’m not a fan of big Cities in general, and New Delhi is known for being one of the most polluted, overpopulated Cities in the world! We decided to spend one day here to round off our month in India.

  • How to get there: New Delhi is another stop on the ‘Golden Triangle’ so travelling between Agra and New Delhi is a well-travelled tourist route. The train takes 2.5 hours from Agra to New Delhi.
  • Where we stayed: We stayed in a nice hostel called Hindustan by Backpackers Heaven, located a short walk from New Delhi train station. Staff at the hostel are very friendly and helpful, and they even have a gorgeous hostel dog!
  • Things to do:
    Red Fort: We travelled around New Delhi using the Metro system, which was cheap and a lot easier to navigate than the London Underground! We took the metro to the Red Fort only to find that it was closed until Indian Independence Day 2 weeks later! The Red Fort is recommended as one of the main things to see in New Delhi, but make sure it’s open before travelling there!
    Jama Masjid Mosque: After realising the Red Fort was closed, we travelled to the Jama Masjid Mosque. The mosque is very impressive and worth a visit. Both women and men must have legs and arms fully covered before being allowed entry to the mosque, however overalls and wraps are provided if needed.
  • Places to eat:
    Naturals Ice cream parlour: If you’re an ice cream fan, you won’t want to miss a visit to Naturals! It’s a lovely little ice cream parlour located in Connaught place and is easy to get to on the metro.

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With that, our time in India had come to an end. As I’m sure you can tell by now, I found India a difficult country to travel in, and by the end of our time there, we both felt exhausted and ready to move on. However, if you are travelling to India, I would recommend either travelling as part of an organised tour, or trying to make your life as easy as possible where you can by asking hostels to book train/bus tickets or collect you when you arrive somewhere new. Most of all, remember to take a deep breath and if you love India that’s great, but if it’s not for you then you’re not the first and certainly won’t be the last to have that opinion!

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