All photos courtesy of Polkadot Passport.
India is irresistible one moment and exasperating the next. But even after two weeks of the country’s turbulent behaviour, I was left wanting more. It was both the highs and lows that make travelling India an adventure I could never forget. Here’s a city-by-city look at the beautifully chaotic Asian country, the way I saw it.
My first point of call in India was the relaxed beach state of Goa, and after spending two weeks lapping up the sunshine and inhaling cocktails by the sea, arriving in Delhi was a tremendous wake up call. The gentle sound of crashing waves was dramatically replaced with the incessant honking of car horns, and I was swiftly reminded that northern India could not be more different from the south.
When I arrived at the Delhi airport, I was promptly picked up from the airport by a woman who is a part of G Adventures’ Women on Wheels Planeterra project (click here to learn more).
We spent the next hour weaving through the bedlam that is Delhi’s notorious traffic. When we arrived at my hotel, I quickly dumped my bags in the room and stepped out onto the street — at which point, I was hit with a serious whack of culture shock. As I moved through the manic streets of Delhi, dodging motorbikes and cars, weaving through crowds of hundreds of local, feeling every gaze fall on me as I appeared to be the only foreigner — and woman — in sight. It felt liberating to be completely out of my comfort zone — though, having said that, after a few hours of walking the streets in a desperate attempt to locate a supermarket, I retreated back to my room and sheepishly ordered room service for dinner.
The next day, I hired a driver, who became my personal tour guide. The day passed by quickly as we navigated the city, exploring the main sights of Delhi and taking a million selfies with school kids (tip: once you say yes to one kid, you have to say yes to them all). I connected with my tour group later that day, all of us eager to travel the country together.
After a two-hour train ride from Delhi — and a 4 a.m. wake-up call — my tour group and I arrived at Agra. Our first stop was Agra Fort, and it didn’t take long for me to become completely infatuated with Indian architecture. Every building appeared to be so grand from afar, yet so intricate in its details once you drew closer. And seeing the Taj Mahal in person was an experience that words cannot express.
Nicknamed the Pink City, Jaipur is characterized by its endless array of terracotta facades. We checked into a quaint family run hotel and headed straight to the Old Town. A colourful hub of extreme hustle and bustle, the streets were riddled with vendors and market stalls, and tuk tuks galore. We hopped on cycle rickshaws and dodged our way through the colourful, lively streets toward one of the best lassis in the city. Next, we headed to a very grand cinema, where I watched my very first Bollywood film. The best part about the experience was not the movie itself, but the reactions of the audience: a loud whoop if any characters shared affection, a round of applause after songs, and a shout of objection for any unhappy outcomes.
The next day, we woke up bright and early and headed to the Amber Fort. This fort, perched on a hill next to a glistening lake, was equally impressive looking from afar as it was up close. After a busy day of exploration, the evening arrived and brought with it one of the most extraordinary spectacles of my life. As I was making my way to bed, I heard loud live music drifting from the street through my window. Curiosity got the better of me: I skipped across the street, where I stumbled upon what I thought was an elaborate festival, which turned out to be an Indian wedding! There was a parade and marching band, horse-drawn carriages, massive light displays followed by generators — and that was just the beginning of it. When I woke up in the morning, I was genuinely questioning if all I had witnessed was just a dream after all.
We hopped on board a local bus from Jaipur to the little village of Tordi Sagar as we finally made our way to rural India; more than 80 percent of the population of India lives in these rural areas.
After hours of getting jolted around in 4x4s, we arrived at the village. As soon as we started exploring, smiling locals flooded out of their houses to come and greet us. The friendliness expressed to us by the locals made my heart grow so full. Once the sun began to descend, we headed to the nearby sand dunes. After a speedy ascent, we sat in the sand, sipping on warm chai and watching the sky fade into a million pastel shades. In that moment, I was thankful to be experiencing a taste of rural India, away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Home to more than 400 temples and a lake full of holy waters, Pushkar is considered to be the holiest city in India. In fact, many people across India aim to do a pilgrimage to the city at least once in their lives. As I sat by the glistening lake, staring out at blue skies and white-washed houses, I did not feel like I was in an Indian city. In fact, I almost convinced myself that I was in the Mediterranean.
After a busy day of exploring the city and trying our hands at bartering for handicrafts at local markets, we mounted camels and rode through the desert as the sun began to descend below the horizon. It took a us an hour and a half to reach our camp for the night. On arrival, we were welcomed to the camp with a warm mug of chai. As the sky faded from pink into a sparkling blanket of stars, we spent the rest of the night sitting by a fire, drinking spiced rum and dancing to Bollywood tunes. We slept under the stars and woke up to the sun rising over the mountains.
After visiting the holiest city in the country, our next stop was the country’s most romantic. Udaipur is a stunning city perched on Lake Pichola, filled with bridges, canals, and grand hotels.
Beyond its beauty, Udaipur also turned out to be pretty cool. On our first day there, I took an art class to learn some traditional painting skills, explored the city palace, and went on a sunset cruise on the lake. The next day, I hung out at one of the many cute cafés around the city. That evening, as the sun began setting over the horizon, I met up with the group to take a cooking class on the rooftop of the Janick Art Centre, where we learned to make chai, samosas, three types of curry, and chapati.
The last stop on the trip was Mumbai, where I finally got a taste of modern India. As well as being steeped in modernity, Mumbai is a city of extremes. Here, you’ll find the richest of rich and the poorest of poor.
The rest of the trip ended their trip in Goa, but I bid farewell to India from Mumbai. Leaving the country was bittersweet. It was hectic and at times uncomfortable but, deep down, I knew I would return in a heartbeat.