A place I had only dreamt of visualising. One missed flight from Thailand, and a 24 hour flight delay later, I started my journey in the famous capital, New Delhi. The first feeling was bewilderness, a feeling of a new age. The chaotic roads filled with at least six lanes of traffic on either side, jam packed with tuk tuks, cars and motorcycles racing to their daily destinations.
The first surreal experience was the greeting of a young child at my car window, knocking on the windows to ask for food whilst his family gazed. This striked my first expectation of India, overpopulation causing mass poverty for many.
Accommodation in India is cheap, averaging around £4 per person per night. Food lives up to its relentless reputation with a huge range of authentic curry and rice dishes. Street food I have learnt through experience is best to avoid for a British stomach like mine. Instead, for a slightly higher price a reputable restaurant or hotel kitchen can satify both your taste buds and your stomach.
To travel short distance the best way is to order off the app, OLA. This will give the best rates for your journey.
I spent my first days in New Delhi visiting tourist destinations such as the India Gate and the Lotus Temple. At the India Gate we were ambushed by crowds of people amazed at the sight of foreigners. These people generally are all friendly, and want nothing more than to talk and have a photo with you. However this can make your day much longer than you intended. Taking us about 1 hour just to see the India gate. Both destinations are well worth a visit and can be followed by a trip to a traditional New Delhi clothes market (where I purchased a sari outfit to put to use in Agra).
I stayed in one of my favourite hostels called Amigoos India. These people are so welcoming, plus everyone is a traveller so you can go out together and hang out whilst more experienced people show you the local markets etc. The hidden gems.
Next, I travelled 211.9km by public bus to Agra. Fortress to the notorious World Wonder, the Taj Mahal.Public buses are the best way forward for travellers at a cheap price of about 550-600 rupees (approx £6.50 each way). These buses can be air conditioned or fanned and are for a better phrase ‘cheap and cheerful’ offering tolerable hours of travel at a low budget cost. These are also brilliant ways to meet locals as well as other travellers embarking on a similarly journey.From the bus station a tuk tuk is required (at a bartered price of course) to the Taj Mahal and Fortress. I shared a tuk tuk with 2 Polish girls and a Spanish traveller so cost was kept minimal.
Agra Arrival. Agra felt of a somewhat similar vibe to New Delhi, having adapted by this point to the cows on the roads, the poorly choreographed songs of vehicle horns and even the occasional elephant on the bypass. The purpose of this travel for me was to inhale the extraudinary Taj Mahal, situated on the west side of the Yamuna river in Agra, Uttar Pardesh.
Due to the time of year I visited (Late July), the weather was temperamental with frequent thunderstorms and flooding. We had to embrace the rain in the end and accept soaking wet Sari’s.
The Taj Mahal, weather aside, lives up to its iconic reputation of beauty. Entry fee for tourists costs 1000 rupees (£11.21), and for a minimal charge of 200-300 rupees you can make the most of this once in a lifetime experience by hiring a tour guide (and a bodyguard to keep the cameras away it turns out). My guide was very informative about the history of the Taj Mahal, and got us through the rain to ensure we had a clear vision of every corner of the the iconic monument. The weather is not to be worried about when wanting to explore the Taj Mahal, for the white light absorbing marble ensures that your photos will look dazzling whatever the weather.
After indulging the roof views of the Taj and the fantastic food for a few days, we continued our journey with a flight to Mumbai.
Mumbai offers a wide range of culture with huge business buildings which can be viewed from Marine For, somewhat reminding me of the Manhatten view from Liberty Island.
This can sharply contrast other parts of Mumbai when venturing out of the city centre centre with slum life including the famous Dharavi slums as featured in the film, Slumdog Millionaire, housing over 1 million people. We reached out to a great guy who was born and raised in Dharavi slum and he showed us around starting with the business side first full of successful producers of pottery, clothes, leather based products and more. These often use recycled materials such as plastics from the city waste, which are then turned into new products to sell on the market.
After this, we were shown the residential area of the slums including two schools giving free education to the children. I wasn’t unable to take photos of these areas due to privacy. They consisted of small narrow pathways filled with residences of basic
shelters and areas to sleep. Everybody I came across was friendly and welcoming and not once did I feel unsafe or uninvited.
The next destination on my list was the popular holiday destination, heading South to Goa. Goa was like stepping into Jurassic Park. Within minutes of leaving the airport we were driving on freshly paved roads, with the ocean spread around us decorated with palm trees and small islands. This was not the India I was already familiar with and I couldn’t wait to explore further in daylight.
I visited during off peak season, therefore there were minimal tourists and prices were cheaper for food, tours and transport. Hostels were also cheaper to stay, still securely within my budget of £5 per night. The weather consisted of refreshingly wonderful tropical storms whilst boasting bursts of raging sunshine. I stayed in Calangute, a great location on the beaches with plenty of bars and places to dine.
**WARNING** during this humidity I tried to hand wash my clothes, which resulted in taking a total of 6 days for them to dry outside. It is an impossible task, so if you can wait to wash them elsewhere I would recommend doing so. The locals informed me that everybody experiences this problem and laundry services for tourists are extreme averaging 70 rupees (nearly £1) per ITEM of clothing.
In every country I would recommend a day trip to the main attractions. My chosen tour was the South Goa tour costing only 350 rupees (£3.93) with a company I found online called goatoursplanner.com. This gave an insight to the cities oldest architectural designs including 17th century Old Goa churches which you can then contrast to the Hindu temples you visit afterwards. For an extra 300 rupees I took the boat tour, this was beautiful with the jungles on either side of you, as well as a unique Indian dancing experience- these guys LOVE to dance!
The main tour packages available are the North Goa and South Goa tours. These are both accessible for hotel drop off and pickup in Calangute. The North Goa side consists of mainly beaches, one better for the summer season. In tourist season the prices average around 1500 rupees.