india was an impromptu stop so we decided to join another gadventures group as we had done very little of our own research. our original plan was to head to sri lanka and putz around the beaches, or maybe a safari, then see what all this tea nonsense was about, but ultimately decided 16 days with strangers would be way more fun. grabbed visas about a week prior to landing and headed to the motherland. the flight in was fairly uneventful with the exception of this older, very kind, india-born american we sat next to who more or less re-enacted the seinfeld scene where the in-laws of elaine’s archenemies warn her never to go to india. expectations are now super high…
we landed late in new delhi and took a cab to a dumpy hotel (trip advisor gives it a WAY better review than we ever would) in not the best neighborhood to meet our new friends. another hodgepodge of europeans including three germans, two brits, one australian, one canasian (a canadian born asian) and our guide giri. giri is under 30, doesn’t drink, fluent in a few languages and overall one of the nicest folks we met on the road. it was late and we were booked for the first train out in the AM, so quick dinner then off to bed early.
woke at 545a and took a train to agra. our first stop was the agra fort which has some crazy history but (cliff notes) was home to Akbar and his family and they did two very important things – made agra the capital and built the taj mahal. the agra fort is pretty ridiculous, not only is it chock-full of interesting engineering feats – plumbing, air conditioned rooms – but it’s as beautiful as it is fortified. after the fort we went back to the hotel and were given an hour to get ready for our visit the taj mahal. dressing-up is encouraged because if you’re non-indian it’s basically the equivalent of going to your own red-carpet movie premier. for me it’s hard to describe what visiting the taj is like. i’m not so cynical to not have been blown away by it, hands down one of the most beautiful man-made creations in the world, but it’s hard to appreciate the care in which it’s given considering what india looks like outside those gates. for the other 99.999% of human beings it’s probably awe-inspiring to see love transformed into this massive and beautiful physical thing. beyond learning about the unique architectural history there are lots of things that will happen while on the grounds. first and foremost, you’re going to take LOTS of pictures with strangers. how many? each group generally requests one “group photo” and then ideally their each going to get a solo shot. if you show up in a sari expect to take twice as many pics and hold babies. our highlight was caroline getting felt up by a 12 yr old (yolo) who quickly ran off and i got followed around by some guy who wanted ALL of my contact info. seriously all of it…oh and then i got shat on by two birds. that night, high on love, we were introduced to indian BBQ which was amazing and we never found again.
:10 IN THE AGRA FORT
next morning we took a bus to jaipur, the pink city, about 4 hours away and checked in for 2 nights at an amazing homestay and our favorite stay in all of india, jaipur inn. culturally speaking jaipur has tons to offer and we’d recommend doing it all as we did…via tuk-tuk. in our 2 days there we went to the amer fort, experienced real-life snake charmers, saw the floating palace and 300 yr old sundials, visited their city palace, took in an action film at one of the oldest bollywood theaters, Rajmandir, and truly began our love affair with indian food. indian food…holy cow (pun intended). paneer, mutton, masala, biryani, lassi, dal, etc. this could go on for days, but trust me when we say it’s delicious. i don’t know what part of the world that lunatic basic bitch julia roberts ate her way thru but if it wasn’t india than the jokes on her. closed out jaipur with a fully attended “party” in our room and caroline woke early for yoga, i slept in.
CUTTING THRU AN ALLEY IN JAIPUR
AMER FORT FROM THE OUTSIDE
AMER FORT FROM THE INSIDE
THIS IS HOW THE SAUCE IS MADE
next day we jumped in jeeps and drove to tordigarh for one night. technically we stayed at a hotel but it was more of a homestay as it was run by a family. tordigarh gave us an opportunity to see what life in india is like outside the major cities and tourist destinations. we visited a few local farms and one local village where people survive on the basic resources of the land and in very communal fashion. in the village we visited they still live in mud houses and the responsibility is determined very early on in childhood and once old or big enough for your given job you go to work…so, think like, 10 in most cases but sometimes earlier. the indian government is doing what i would say is an ok effort at trying to modernize and educate by building schools within these communities and incentivizing parents to send their kids by literally paying them. unfortunately though, with little infrastructure and even less free resources at their avail (clean water, transportation, etc) the need for manual labor outweighs the need for education. very humbling experience. we watched the sun set over a lake then had a big group dinner/party on the roof of our hotel.
JOURNEY TO TORDIGARH
THE IRONING MAN
CAROLINE WORKS THE CLAY
FINAL DAY VILLAGE WALK
back in the jeeps we headed on to pushkar for 3 nights in what is one of the most holy cities in india. the city is built around pushkar lake, is host to more than 400 temples and is considered one of a few pilgrimage sites for the hindu. as a holy city it’s completely dry, no booze and “street drugs” all over india are a big no-no, but you wouldn’t know it walking around. pushkar has the market cornered on those weird homeless-grungy-tatted-hippy-vagabonds things that adopt dogs and sit outside music festivals asking for change pretending to play instruments. however, unlike the american versions, these hippies appear to have very little plans of actually going anywhere. honestly i don’t even get how they all got there, it’s not like we’re in panama city beach and they could all just split an enterprise rental car. worst of it is most of them walk around barefoot everywhere. in their defense its mandatory around pushkar lake, but it’s just downright disgusting anywhere else. anyway, our first day we kind of just walked around the city checking out different temples and markets and getting a lay of the land. day two we were all supposed to do a sunrise hike that ended up getting canceled because of bad weather, which was fine by me since i woke up sick. caroline headed into town with the group and discovered muesli and that night they went on an excursion into the desert via camel from the hotel for a night of dinner, magic and dancing and the next morning a quick hike. from what caroline says it was an amazing experience..on the other hand i found it comforting that we had a clean bathroom.
THE DRIVE INTO PUSHKAR
CAMEL RIDE IN PUSHKAR
next day i was feeling good enough to shave in a new mustache and head into town with the group to nosh on muesli (agree that it’s awesome) and do a little market shopping before the 8hr train to udaipur. said train ride was nothing if not interesting. we started out with a clear misunderstanding of where we should be sitting that ended an hour later with giri asking me to bribe someone so we could all get seats together in a different car. the regional non-sleeper trains in india are amazing. it’s basically one big game of musical chairs and seriously anything goes. smoking, live animals, sleeping on the floor, live music, etc. our guide had french fries delivered at one of the stops which was basically a dude running next to the train and throwing in bags of somewhat recently fried potato balls. at one point i got asked by a stranger if i like to “take care of my body” bc he thought i was “nice and fit”. just some really bizarre stuff.
anyway, udaipur was probably my favorite city and we would highly recommend a stop if you find yourself in india and bored. the city sits along lake pachouli, which is one of a few HUGE lakes in the area, and is host to my favorite city palace of all the one’s we visited. udaipur is a fairly popular tourist destination because, beyond the architecture and topography, there’s a ton of culturally interesting things to see and do. our first day in town we met the owner of Janak Arts which is an art center for 22 local artists and a homestay for tourists that offers yoga, art classes, cooking classes, etc. there we set-up different activities, met a few local artists and bought some sweet art we framed and shipped home immediately. the place is run by Sanju who, as way of introduction, paints miniature paintings on your fingernails. sounds weird bc it is and also amazing. that day also included a sunset boat cruise around lake pichola to check out jag mandir, leela palace hotel and the taj lake palace as well as a cultural show at bagore ki haveli. post show we had dinner then all partied (see; played heads up) with giri in his hotel room. next morning we did yoga back at janaks which was hands down the weirdest yoga experience ever. guy took a phone call while leading a yoga class. bizarre. rest of the day was at our leisure so we had lunch with friends, caroline did a henna class, i met some random indian guy while having tea who wanted to talk shop but then never followed up. that night we all did a cooking class which was awesome and redeemed janak for the most awkward yoga instructor of all time. the next day we headed for mumbai and i’ve wanted to go back ever since…
the major cities of india are interesting. there is the infrastructure to be first world but due to poverty and population most things come off feeling more third world. on top of that you have clearly visible class lines which cause, in my opinion, frustration. for example, there’s a single family 22-story billion dollar high-rise downtown then down the street you’ve got an open-air laundry bazaar, dohbi ghat, where a kilo of clothes maybe costs pennies on the dollar. our first day in mumbai was a little strange. holi festival was the next day and giri wanted us to wear our holi outfits in the off-chance we could be convinced to party the day before. anyhow, we hired drivers and saw the entire city; gateway of india, gandhi’s house, hanging gardens, dhobi ghat, haji ali dargah, kamala nehru and cross maidan (my favorite) parks and so much more. we ended the day walking around the dharavi slums which, dressed in all white, was about as real as it gets. it’s a little hard to explain what it’s like…best i can do is; poverty makes strong communities. the next day was holi which is their celebration of spring and also known as the festival of colors. we spent most of the day walking around the beach throwing powdered color at one another as well as strangers and cows and kids all yelling “happy holi”. there are lots of parties that take place but giri was skeptical to let us wander bc swine flu was a fairly big problem at the time. we made friends with some random westerners and all got together later that night for drinks before taking the 12-hour overnight train to goa.
KIDS PLAYING CRICKET IN CROSS MAIDEN
BIRDSEYE FROM ABOVE THE LAUNDRY BAZAAR
goa in my opinion is a skip but take that with the grain of salt that we spent the previous 2+ months poking around se asia. it’s a cool beach town and there’s lots of your typical beach town offerings – russians, markets, bars, more russians, reserved beach space, a few more russians, etc – but it’s all done in an indian way. so, for example, lots of requests for pictures while laying out. our first night we went to the saturday night market and fully engrossed ourselves in the 100 food vendors and then danced it all off with what i can only imagine is a local celebrity/rapper/singer just going nuts – it was a ton of fun. next day we opted out of a group activity to see the spice plantations (which we heard was cool) to sleep in, go to the beach, sit at the pool, drink – typical beach time stuff. that night we had our last dinner on the roof of a mini-club then went out dancing until i gave up. next day everyone took off their own way and we flew back to delhi with giri where we spend about a day and a half sleeping in a real hotel (meridian) and loading up on indian natural health products, brand himilaya.
THE BEACH AT SUNSET
DANCING IN THE GOA NIGHT MARKET