I thought the best way to recount the adventure we had in India was to split these posts into four, one for each week we were there and then a final one about my birthday! We did so much in such a short space of time and there are so many tales to retell so I'm going to try and minimise it to the best of the best! India came about in the midst of mine and my friend Emma's final push to graduate university. I was bored revising for exams and she was bored writing her dissertation... Cue hours of fantasising the craziest, most exciting, vibrant, colourful, intense travel experience we could. Cue book a flight to New Delhi and hope for the best. After a number of weeks trying to figure out where we wanted to go, how to get from A to B and how to come back in one piece we decided the best and easiest option was to book onto a tour with G Adventures. I'm not usually a fan of group tours or backpacking. So what part of me decided both of these things together were a good idea, I still to this day have no idea. However, thankfully it actually turned out to be a really fun trip, we had a really small group, two amazing guides and each other - the key component in making this trip fantastic. Sure, there were moments we both most definitely wanted to be at home but then we'd laugh, go shopping or go and indulge in yet another curry and soon those thoughts were nothing but a distant memory. I hope you enjoy the next couple of posts and that it inspires you to go and explore the incredible country of India.
On the 23rd of August, Emma and I embarked on an adventure into the depths of Northern India. India, Rajasthan in particular, is somewhere I'd been wanting to explore for a long time now. I've visited Kerala in the south however I had never been to the North. I finally found someone who wanted to go and explore with me and before we knew it we were boarding an Ethiad flight to New Delhi, via Abu Dhabi.
I thought here would be an appropriate time to answer any queries you may have about safety as girls travelling in India. We had two guides with us the majority of the time, which I have to say was a god send because I was not in the right state of mind to figure out how to get from A to B by myself, after a summer of travelling I just kind of wanted someone to tell me where to go, which is exactly what they did. Safety wise, I didn't feel threatened once, even when we went out exploring on our own, which was most days. However, a must is dressing respectfully, the North of India is very conservative and if you don't want to draw even more attention to yourself, then as a girl, you need to cover up. You'll already be stared at for your white skin, or blonde hair if you happen to be blonde, so I cannot stress enough how important it is to wear clothing that doesn't expose you. We tended to wear floaty floor length skirts or trousers with either a loose shirt or a tank top. When we wore tank tops, unless our guides said it was fine we also wrapped a scarf around our shoulders. As long as you're cautious and sensible there's no good reason why you won't be just fine!
Once we arrived we headed out to meet the pre-booked taxi driver whom actually ended up taking us to completely the wrong hotel. Our first experience of Indian organisation! Week one was to be spent exploring Delhi, Bikaner, Jaisalmer and Jodphur.
Delhi... Where on earth do I even begin. Definitely go to Delhi first, it throws you straight into the madness of Indian city life. Old Delhi especially, I've travelled a fair bit to Asia but nothing quite compares to or prepares you for Old Delhi. Much like the majority of India, it's a complete sensory overload. It's hard to comprehend what is actually going on around you most of the time, my coping mechanism was to just get from A to B whilst trying not to gawp at everything around you or you just will not end up where you wanted to be. Immerse yourself but also restrict that immersion or it'll all get a little overwhelming.
You should visit New Delhi for a little breath of more Western air, after a day of exploring. Definitely grab a tuk tuk for the afternoon and get the driver to take you to all the sights you want to see. It's the easiest way to see the city, we picked out a selection of places we wanted to visit and he took us to all of them and waited while we got out to take photos. You should go and see all the classic Delhi sights while you're there because they're all really beautiful!
I'd recommend: India Gate, The Red Fort, the Presidential House, Ghandi's House and the spot he was murdered, Guru Dwara Bangla Sahib Temple, Jama Mosque and wandering the streets of Old Delhi.
FOODIE TIP: try out Tempting Restaurant for a cheap and delicious lunch or the Bhukara in the ITC Maruya Hotel for a meal you'll never forget (a recommendation post for this will be coming soon!)
Onwards to Bikaner
We caught an overnight train from Delhi to Bikaner. An overnight train is an experience in itself. Prepare to leave all princess ways at the door and get down to it, we weren't in first class, we were in third. Thankfully, we had the bottom bunks so we could keep an eye on our bags however I was mildly concerned by the size of the man sleeping a mere 1/2 metre above me and the consequent strength of the fold up bunk. Morning rolled around without incident and I can confirm that the bunk was far sturdier that it's appearance as I wasn't crushed by it's collapse in my sleep.
There's not really much in Bikaner... At all. Apart from the Old Fort, there's also a rat temple near by which we decided we couldn't think of many things worse than rats running over our feet so we didn't go. However, we were predominantly here to partake on a camel ride into the desert to camp overnight. I can't say I'm particularly fond of camping or riding camels however it was actually really fun. We were on the camel for about 4 hours, stopping part way for a delicious cooked vegetarian lunch. I can never get enough of dahl, I think I ate it twice a day at the very least for the duration of our trip.
Anyway, back to the camping. Once we arrived at our designated camp spot for the night we saw the camp beds set up in the open air. Ah joy... Mosquitoes will be nibbling away all night. After chatting under the stars it was time for bed. Sleeping under the moon is actually quite hard, it's really very bright. However, come 3am when I was awoken by a passing herd of cows the moon had disappeared and above me was the most incredible view of the Milky Way, I've never seen it as clearly as I did that night. So thank you Mr Cows for waking me, I would have missed out on that otherwise. I'd definitely recommend a camel safari to everyone, despite the fact I felt like I'd spent the day on a spin bike the morning after, it was actually quite an enjoyable experience. We were also advised that doing a camel safari here is a much better idea than doing one in Jaisalmer because that's apparently become very touristy now.
To the Golden City
Jaisalmer is also known as the Golden City, this is due to the colour of the stone buildings and the reflection of the sun on them at sunset. It really does turn gold. I really liked Jaisalmer, it was the first experience of the Rajasthan I'd been fantasising about. One thing you must make sure you do while you're in India is accept chai, it's literally the most delicious thing you'll ever drink, the best ones are from the most unassuming stands on the side of the road. Like the little hut pictured below, it usually costs a maximum of about 10 INR which equates to about 10p - bargain.
We spent one morning with a guide to take us round the Old Fort which is the largest inhabited fort in Rajasthan, our guide was called Narayan Puri and he seemed to know not only everything about Jaisalmer but also everyone in Jaisalmer. I'd highly recommend him if you're looking for a guide, he was great. Jaisalmer is known for it's textiles so naturally that meant we had to buy some... Everything was so incredibly beautiful and sparkly it made the decision making process near impossible. Eventually I decided on a bed spread and matching pillow cases.
We went to visit the Gadsisar Lake at golden hour which was stunning and then went on a short tuk tuk ride to the cenotaphs of the royal family for sunset. We even spotted a cobra there, which although exciting was also a little terrifying! Definitely go see both these places, they're absolutely beautiful and incredibly peaceful to wander around.
Good Afternoon Jodhpur
I'd been wanting to visit Jodhpur for a long time, it's such a vibrant city with so much colour and so much going on. It's also known as the Blue City. As you may be able to tell from the photo above, so many buildings are painted that incredible blue that it all sort of blurs into one.
We visited the Mehrangarh fort while we were there, definitely get the audio guide, you'll have a very well spoken man bellowing into your ears and it's really quite enjoyable. This fort is where part of Batman was filmed and it's gorgeous. I have to say by the end of the trip we were a little Fort-ed out but every time we entered a new one I was transfixed by their beauty. It's also worth having a little wander round the Sadar Bazaar. Jodhpur's known for the traditional camel leather slippers... which I ended up buying quite a few pairs of. The guy we bought from was called Mohd Khalil, his shoes are award winning and he apparently even makes them for the royal family, so if they're good enough for a King then they're most definitely good enough for me.
Our first week past in a bit of a blur, before we knew it it was Sunday and we were rolling into our second week in India... but you'll have to wait for the next post to hear all about that.
All imagery: Minolta X-700, Kodak Portra 160 Film