Two weeks of traveling in India – My first visit to Asia
In 2009 I was studying at the University in Lund. One day when we were sitting in the cellar of the physics department eating lunch the subject of traveling came up. One friend said “I want to go to India!”. Another one responded with “Yes, me too!”. I remember feeling both “Yes!” and “What, India?!” at the same time, mostly because I hadn’t traveled that much before, and never outside Europe, so India was a pretty big step. But I wanted to travel so what the heck, it will be fun. Another friend was sitting with us and I think she had the same feelings as me and was in too. And so, it was decided. The following days we managed to get a fifth traveler with us as well.
I remember we spent some time sitting by the computers deciding where to go. After discussing Calcutta, Goa, Mumbai and other places we had to cut those off cause we only had two weeks. We decided we would have time for New Delhi (1), Jaipur (2), Agra (4), Varanasi (5) and a safari (3). We did this trip the two first weeks of November.
Before continuing… I just have to make a disclaimer. I don’t like blurry photos, but this post will contain some of that sort because that’s the only ones I have and they will fit in to the story.
1. Delhi (Day 1)
We landed in New Delhi, the capital of India, in the morning and we had ordered a taxi to take us to the hotel. The shock was instant. We rode in an old car through the city of New Delhi. It was a sight I had never seen and wasn’t prepared for. There were so many cars, so much trash on the road, animals and people. I remember we were joking and saying that what if he would just stop here right in the middle of this. And then that’s just what he did…
After breakfast at the hotel on the rooftop we took a walk in the town. There were people everywhere, cables hanging out everywhere. And the dirt in the air. The paper was black when you had blown your nose. And there were cows, tuk-tuks, bicycle rickshaws, it was SO busy. Another thing we noticed was that the majority of the people outside were men, we almost didn’t see any women. And another common sight here was that many of the men were holding hands. Not something we expected to see, but so nice!
We visited the Red Fort which I believe is the main tourist attraction in the city. When the emperor of Shah Jahan decided to move the capital from Agra to Delhi he wanted a fort in the city!
Everywhere we went, and this goes for the whole trip, people were looking at us. Staring actually. It’s something that’s a bit hard to get used to and not care about.
After we had visited the fort we continued walking around. We bought some indian pants and scarves. We were looking for a tourist office so we could plan the next part of the trip. When we arrived in Delhi we didn’t have anything more than the first nights booked. We found a tourist office and ended up booking a package deal with a car and a driver, hotels and safaris. So our private driver would take us to Jaipur, Ranthambore national park and then drop us off in Agra some days later. We also went to the crazy train station and bought tickets for some train rides later on the trip.
I’m gonna be honest. Already after the first meal in India I was regretting everything. What was I doing here? The most picky eater in the world, in India. I was feeling weird after the first day already, but I had to hang in there and maybe I could blame some things on the jetlag? But for the whole trip I was feeling a little sick everyday. My stomach didn’t handle the bacterias here. We were really careful and took all the precautions possible, only bottled water, no salad, only fruit that can be peeled, medicine for traveler’s diarrhea and used hand sanitizer ALL the time. But at least I didn’t have to stay in bed, so that’s something I guess.
2. The road to, and Jaipur (Day 2-3)
The next day the driver came and picked us up. It was a big car, but still not really big enough for all five of us. One of us had to sit on the seat in the trunk with all our luggage. Nothing I would approve of today… The driver was, what can I say, not like anyone I have met before… He was mostly nice of course but immediately chose the tallest in our group as the “head of the group”. Some strange things that he said I think is derivable from the huge culture difference though.
He took us around good enough and was pretty service minded and helped us to buy water and food. A good and fun memory we all have from this trip is that the driver would drive straight up to the food stands and we would pull down the window and buy water and bananas from there. Very efficient, hehe. All the bottles were just tossed in the car, because it had to be done quickly!
When we were driving around the doors of the car were locked. It was a bit unsettling cause there were people walking around on the streets, even on the bigger roads. People would come up to the window and look in and beg for money. Some looked really scary.
It was overall very interesting to see the landscape and countryside from the car. We saw all kinds of things and animals like elephants and camels…
Looking at the time stamp on my photos the car trip from Delhi to Jaipur seems to have taken about five hours, including a lunch stop. When we arrived we settled in at a good hotel with a very good rooftop. I have written more about what we did in Jaipur here. Since we didn’t stroll around in the town of Jaipur by ourselves it was very nice that the hotel had such a good rooftop where we could hang out. We ate and played some cards here in the evenings.
The most popular sight of Jaipur is the Amber Fort. We visited that and some of the other famous sights in Jaipur. But I think Amber Fort was the coolest of them. Overall, Jaipur wasn’t my favorite part of the trip though.
Except for visiting the biggest sights in Jaipur, we also visited a textile factory. The driver wanted to take us to all kinds of places but we managed to avvert some of them.
3. Ranthambore (Day 4-5)
The road to Ranthambore was just as interesting as the road to Jaipur. We drove through the countryside and everywhere there were people and animals. It is located about 120 km southeast of Jaipur, and for us it took about 3 hours to drive here.
Ranthambore national park is a big tourist destination and somewhere people go for safaris. There are tigers in the park so that’s of course the main attraction. Here we were staying at a hotel called Raj Palace Resort. This was gonna be our base and where we would hang out between the safaris. It was really nice that it had a pool so we could chill out here all day.
Some nights they have entertainment with musicians and fire shows on this hotel. I don’t recommend sitting too close if you’re tired and have a headache, the sound is really loud…
We did two safaris during our time here. One early in the morning and one in the evening. Unfortunately we didn’t see any tigers, only alleged traces of them. In my opinion we didn’t see that many other interesting animals either. We saw some birds and some kind of deer. We also saw many peacocks that is the national bird of India. But, in my home town in Sweden (Trelleborg) we actually have them running around in a central park, so I wasn’t that impressed, hehe. The landscape in the park was nice though. The safaris were done with a jeep that had a driver and a guide. Of course it didn’t have a roof either so we could have a free view of the landscape.
Fatehpur Sikri (Day 6)
After a couple of days in Ranthambore it was time to go again. This time we were going to Agra. On the way there we took a short stop at Fatehpur Sikri. It is just outside Agra and is since 1986 a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is another popular tourist spot in India.
4. Agra (Day 6-7)
When we arrived in Agra we said goodbye to the driver and were now on our own. It was really hard to know on the trip how to do with tipping. But we discussed it a lot and figured we would give the driver a good tip. I remember the driver had talked about money and how much he earned earlier on the trip so we thought we gave him a pretty good tip when it was about the size of his monthly salary (according to what he had said). But he actually got angry at us and said it was too little. It was really hard to know how to handle that. I didn’t take the lead on that discussion, my friends handled it well. Yes, we were traveling and from a “rich” country, but still, we were students traveling on a budget, and it was already a costly trip for us. Well well…
And Agra, this is where Taj Mahal is, THE most famous attraction in all of India. We were gonna stay here for two nights and planned the visit to Taj Mahal the day after. So the time that was left of this day we spent on the hostel relaxing and recharging for the next day. On this hostel, like all the others during the trip, we had a roof terrace. It was really nice to have a nice place to chill out at and plan, play cards and eat.
I skipped breakfast the next day cause I didn’t feel too good, and breakfast isn’t my favorite meal, hence I don’t have first hand information about this. But, my friends were sitting on the terrace eating breakfast when a monkey all of a sudden jumps down on the table and steals the bananas! Such a rude monkey!
After breakfast we started the day with walking around town buying some water and bananas. Bananas was the thing we ate the most on this trip, it was relatively kind for the belly. We also walked to a park nearby. The park itself wasn’t that special, but it wasn’t so crowded and it was okey to stroll around here. As we walked there minding our own business and chatting a monkey suddenly comes out of nowhere and attacks my friend – the one carrying all the bananas. So it is true, monkeys love bananas! My friend only got a small scratch on her leg, but we lost all of our bananas.
I have written more about our visit to the Taj Mahal here. We had bought tickets to enter the Taj Mahal area in the afternoon, so before that we had to kill some time. First we went to the backside of Taj Mahal so see it from there. Then we had lunch at a terrace with a view over the big building. We also saw a parking place for tuk-tuks. :)
5. Varanasi (Day 8-12)
Next on the trip it was time for another exciting Indian experience; traveling with train! We thought it would be a good idea to take the night train from Agra to Varanasi. Before we had read some things about the different train classes and didn’t want to ride in the lowest, but I think that’s where we ended up? We were told at the ticket office that we could book four bunks instead of five since the train wouldn’t be full the whole time. I don’t think there were five bunks together? However we had to share bunks because of this, and not until some time during the night we all had one each. We didn’t get any sheets or anything in this class. On top of that the carriage was freezing the whole night because of a window that wouldn’t close, so not at all the best night of our lives. But yeah, exciting…
But, then we finally arrived in Varanasi. A place we would spend almost 5 whole days. It was nice to stay in one place for a little longer after traveling around so much and packing and unpacking almost every day. Here we took a boat tour on the ringer Ganges, went on an adventure on the countryside, ate pizza, went to the movies and wandered the never ending small streets. I have written more about Varanasi here. It was really a very special place and not like anywhere in the world I’ve been before or after.
This guy was just sitting there on the street and stapled papers. When he had stapled them he litterary threw them to the side. It looked so funny, and it’s not really clear to me why he disorganized his papers all over again like that.
Back to Delhi (Day 13)
It was time to end the trip. We would fly home the next evening from Delhi and wanted to be there one day ahead. So we booked another night train to Delhi and would have one day there before going home. The train ride to Delhi was much more comfortable than the first one. Now we got sheets and had a bunk each. Just look how happy I am? Haha.
During the day in Delhi we had planned to shop scarves and other stuff, but unfortunately almost everything was closed on that day. Some of the malls were open and we tried to take a tuk-tuk there. We had learned that you have to have some idea on where you are going and not completely trust the driver. So, like many times before we huddled together in a tuk-tuk and said we wanted to go to a specific mall. But on the way there it didn’t feel right. He dropped us off at a completely different place and tried to make us go somewhere else than we wanted. This is something that is very common, some drive tourists to other places where their friends/family work to give them customers. We got mad and just walked away. Something that is much easier to do when you are a bigger group like we were than alone or only a few.
We finally got to the underground mall we were looking for. But it wasn’t a very good experience. They didn’t sell the things we wanted either.
The rest of the day we powernaped and chilled out at a hotel room we had booked… For convenience the same we had stayed at the first night in India. It’s safe to say we were all pretty tired after the trip.
One last dinner at the hotel and then later that night, we were going home! Goodbye India!