They say the world is like a book- and that those who do not travel read only one page.
Well, now that we’re on the subject on books and travelling- it’s fair to say perhaps I should have given my travel guide of India a read before I arrived. But I didn’t- the prospect was too daunting, over 1000 pages?! Ain’t nobody got time for that! But now, there I was, fresh off the runway without the slightest inkling of where I was going next.
Luckily, things worked out okay and things just fell into place and over the next few months, my journey was one filled with rich culture, majestic beauty and well, a lot of Dehli belly.
Looking back on my time there, I marvel at the experiences I had, the memories I made and the holes I squatted over. But above all, there are a certain few things and places I visited that stick in my mind. This is my India on a Shoestring.
JAISALMER, Rajasthan. The Golden City.
Imagine a scene from Arabian Nights and you’re almost there. With sandy coloured ramparts rising up above the city, this place is simply breathtaking. Within the old fort lies breathtaking views of the sunset and the winding streets below. This place is one I will never forget. But it didn’t make it to being my number one for no reason- the reason for me has to be the camel desert safari. That’s right, ladies and gents, horses move aside- it’s all about the camels. For anyone who’s done the same, I’m sure you will agree that it’s a once in a lifetime kind of experience- and that’s only because the pain the next day is certain to lead you to vow to never set foot anywhere near a camel again.
The camel safari takes you into the sandy dunes, across vast expanses of barren sandy horizons and sleepy villages. Camel farts and aching inner thighs aside, this is a truly mesmerising experience. After a day of trekking (well, sitting on a camel that does the trekking…) you enjoy a night on the sand dunes under a twinkling starry sky. It truly is magical.
THE TAJ MAHAL. Agra.
You saw this one coming? Well, of course! The Taj hasn’t amassed it’s fame for no reason after all.
It’s fair to say you can’t travel India without paying this landmark a visit. Prepare to be bowled over. My advice on a visit to the Tah Mahal is to get a local guide. Although there are guides available everywhere you’ll go in India, it was something I never usually did- after all, nothing beats discovering things yourself without having someone giving you a memorised spiel they’ve already said 10 times that day already. But with the Taj, the benefits are two fold. Firstly, although the Taj Mahal is simply stunning and will most certainly take your breath away, there are so many wonderful hidden secrets I wouldn’t have discovered without a guide. I had no idea that amidst that marble dome was an array of precious stones cut into floral emblems that embellish every surface. Our guide showed us that if you turn your phone torch on and shine it directly onto one of these gems, the entire thing lights up. Who knew?! And secondly, you have a photographer for the day- who can resist a good photo opportunity and sometimes a selfie-stick just isn’t appropriate…
VARANASI. Uttar Pradesh.
This Hindu city stretches along the River Ganges and is one of the oldest living cities in the world. Every daily thousands of residents and pilgrims alike flock to the river ghats for their daily ritual ablutions.
This place is like no other- some say it’s like Marmite something you either love or hate- but for me I think no judgement so extreme should be passed, I simply think it’s something you should experience. It’s shocking, beautiful, magical and overwhelming all at once.
A typical stroll along the beautiful Ganges will certainly entail seeing numerous burning bodies and perhaps even some being put into the water tied down with rocks. It’s the juxtaposition of a dream and a nightmare all at once- it’s certainly doesn’t feel real. Those Hindu’s who are lucky enough to die in Varanasi, are cremated on the banks of the Ganges, and are granted instant salvation. If the death has occurred somewhere else , salvation can be achieved by immersing the ashes into the Ganges. It is also believed that bathing in these holy water purifies the soul- and whilst on a sweltering hot day, joining in on the ritual and bathing in the cooling waters might seem tempting- I’d advise you to think twice. Beneath the surface lies thousands of bodies tied down with rocks as well as the remains of the burning bodies.
MCLEOD GANJ. Himachal Pradesh.
Home to the Dalai Lama as well as being the foothill of the Himalayas, this place is a world away from the rest of India. Spread across pine covered ridges beneath the stark rock faces, this is an irresistible destination. If, like me, you end up working your way up here, you’ll enjoy a well deserved break from the sweltering heat that will accompany the majority of your Indian adventure. Be prepared to buy a jumper.
Currently, there is a lot of political unrest in Tibet and with many Tibetans having being exiled or becoming refugees fleeing the oppression in their homeland, they seek refuge in this beautiful land where they are accepted and have freedom. It is beautiful to see the Tibetans and the Indians coinciding and embracing each others traditions and way of life- there are certainly lessons to be learnt here. In that respect, in many ways you feel as though you are no longer in India. The food, the people and even the landscape feels poles apart from the rest of India- but that’s what makes it so memorable and special.
Aside from the obvious things such as visiting the residence of the Dalai Lama (we even met him whilst we were there as he was doing an educational talk!) there is also the opportunity to try your hand at trekking. You can either do this alone or through an organised tour-although with my sense of direction, the latter was the only option if I wanted to make it back. The landscapes and views are simply out of this world and like nothing I had ever seen before. The trekking was… errr… an experience. It was hard. But luckily, there is always the option to pick the duration of your trek- and for me, 2 days was plenty.
This idyllic city encapsulates India at its most quintesentially romantic and picturesque. Spreading around the shores of Lake Pichola, this place was one of the most beautiful places I have ever ventured to. With tightly winding streets bustling with beautiful Indian shops to explore, there is much to be enjoyed here. Rajasthan is renowned for its blazing heat and beautiful sunny days and of course, it didn’t disappoint. After so many long bus and train journeys, it was time to put up our feet, soak in the sun and recover from the hustle and bustle that India brings with it. After exploring what the city has to offer, my advice here would be to spend your days by the pool immersing yourself in the relaxing way of life here. Whilst the constant beeping of horns is never far away, this place isn’t far from paradise. So sit back, relax and enjoy every moment in this magnificent city.