What we wish we knew before: India.

5 weeks is not enough

I suppose that this is a personal feeling, but India stole my heart and I was not ready to leave when the time came. We had chosen 5 weeks based on many things: friends who had done a month and felt that was enough, other blogs and reviews but mainly due to our desire to keep moving through south east asia before our set arrival date for China in April.

In 5 weeks we did get to see a vast majority of the well known areas of India at a relatively comfortable pace, however we left ourselves no time to head to the less touristy destinations further north and to the east and this is something we would love to return to do.

I suppose, just expect to fall in love with the place and be ready for a tearful farewell.

 

Goa is massive

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Goa is not a place, its a province and as such it takes over four hours to get from the top to the bottom of Goa. Each area in Goa has its own vibe, so its well worth deciding whether you want to party, relax or have a blend of both and research before booking. Many people head to Anjuna for the music scene there, and for good reason. There is anything from cytrance to r’n’b and clubs have themed nights, world class DJ’s and good live music most nights. It’s also the place where the party never seems to stop, so staying in the heart of it may not be a relaxing beach getaway. Further south, the vibe seems to unwind a little and good live music, clean beaches and waterfront huts await. We chose Palolem as it had been recommended to us and it didn’t disappoint.

 

Street food is generally ok.

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For the first week or so, Stu and I avoided the street food as we weren’t ready to risk it. But once we started eating it we didn’t want to stop! Some of the best dishes we had in our whole time in india were thanks to street food, but here are a few tips on how to get delicious street food that won’t end with you wrapped around the toilet!

1.Pick the stalls where you can see there prep area. If it’s clean, you’re on to a winner.

2. Vegetarian is always safer. Street vendors don’t have anyway of cooling their meats, so unless its early in the day, vegetarian is safest.

3. Know your spice level. Foods here are rich, and often people can also get sick as they get a spice overload. Most vendors speak some English, so you can ask to taste a sauce first if you’re a little worried.

 

Litter

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If you are like me and find it hard to resist picking up others litter and launching into a lecture about the harm it can do, India is going to test your patience. It seems that due in parts to the engrained caste system (where it is the lowest classes job to clean up the rubbish) and relatively new nature of plastics being used for every food item that India looks like a rubbish dump.

Indian’s will not think twice before unwrapping their food and casually tossing the rubbish wherever they happen to be. I have had to pretend not to be furious as people lent over me on the train to throw out wrapper after wrapper from their food.

The cities seem to be getting better with their waste management, however anywhere else is still bad.

 

Embrace the Chai

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Masala chai is the life blood of this place. Its spicy, sweet flavour will have you addicted in no time. Embrace it, you will end up drinking it at breakfast, everytime you are greeted at new accomodation, as dessert etc etc. It’s awesome, so go with it.

 

There are some beautiful beaches

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Don’t just think of India as hot and dirty, it possesses beautiful beaches to rival any of those we have seen in our travels… white sands, palm trees and beach front huts for the fraction of a cost of Thailand or Bali. There’s also a pretty good night life if you want it. See our Palolem post.

 

Bargaining 

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This was our first country where we really needed to barter. It took us a while to find our feet but what we found was they would start at a cost that was double what they would sell for, so we would either hear their price and think about what we thought was fair (usually a little more than the lowest price they would go) and state that number and not budge, or go for half what they quoted and be willing to move up from that number by a small margin.

Starting to walk away is also helpful, as we found that if we had tried bargaining and they would only move the price a little, walking away proved if they were just hoping we would buy it anyway, or if they wouldn’t budge because selling lower wasn’t worth it for them. Usually as we moved away one of two things occurred: they would relent and give a far better price closer to what you had asked, or shake their head sadly and let you go.

 

Trains v buses

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We cannot objectively give you the best advice here as despite all our plans to take the train, we never got to take one! What we can say is that people we met who travelled via train said it was great because:

  • you could lay down comfortably
  • you were able to get up whenever you needed
  • each ride is only around 4 – 10 dollars

Some things they found a little harder was:

  • being able to get a sleeper ticket before date of travel was hard, you had to go to the station and buy a foreigner ticket (there is a certain number on each train dedicated to this) so sometimes (not often) you could be without a train.
  • The trains don’t stop for long at each place, so you need to be ready to get off when the train stops or your riding it one stop further!

Buses:

We liked them because:

  • The price was often the same or only a dollar more than the sleeper train.
  • We could book them before our travel dates.
  • Most sleepers had a single or double bed option, so you could lay down comfortably.

What we found challenging:

  • The amount of sleep you get is very dependent on the quality of the roads. We did wake up as we were getting air a few times.
  • You can only get up when the bus makes a stop. The bus usually stops 2 times during the ride, one time around 10pm for food and beverages, another in a early hours which is purely for a quick toilet break.

 

Taj tickets

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Oh, how we wish we had known this one before we went. YOU DONT BUY YOUR TAJ TICKETS AT THE TAJ ENTRY GATES! Nope, instead, you have to line up at a small office, which, on the day we went was only manned by 1 person for foreign tickets. We had arrived at the Taj 10minutes before it opened at 6am, only to be told the tickets were 1km behind us on the road leading to the south gate. We ran back to the ticket office to find we were joining a line 100 people deep, as only 1 person was manning the foreign ticket line! Over 40 minutes later, we finally had tickets only to race back to find the lines at the gate were now 100 people long, with men and women separated for checking. This meant I took another hour, while poor Stu, who got in ages before me, had to wait half hour inside. All this meant we missed the sunrise, but thankfully we were still early enough that the sky had a misty quality and our photos came out looking alright.

To avoid this hassle, go and join the ticket queue the evening before (we have been told this is possible, but no guarantees), around 430 is probably best as not many people are buying ticket that late. Ask for a ticket for the next day, and head there before 6am to line up. That way you will pretty much have the Taj to yourself.

 

Holi stains

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Holi stains, it’s part of the fun. However, when you’re blonde, or not a fan of your face being purple of green for a week afterwards, there are some ways to avoid the staining.

The main way to avoid the stains is through using coconut oil on both your hair and your skin. If you put enough of it on, you essentially create a barrier between yourself and the paint. Ask locals the best places to buy the Holiday colour too. Many places selling the very cheap holi use dyes that may hurt your eyes/skin, so go for a little pricier if you have sensitive skin and try not to let kids rub it into you, just throw it on you.

And overall remember it’s holi, you will not look good, you will get wet and anything your wearing will never be ok again! But in the end its an amazingly fun day where you get to see the joy of the Indian people in full force as they become naughty little kids regardless of age.

 

Camels in Jaisalmer.

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Don’t expect the Sahara desert. A camel ride here is essentially taking all tourists to the same set of sand dunes an hour camel ride from the highway. Is got its own charm, but it is not some big adventure into the wilderness. Also shop around, pretty much every hotel in town also has a branch doing camel rides. For us, the one we chose in the end was no where near what we expected. We had had another man that morning try to get us to do his camel ride, and all the reviews in his little book talked about the fun around the campfire, the delicious food and the home made whiskey that they all drank before bed. We had declined, as the place we were staying ran their own camel rides and we wanted to check that out first.

It sounded the same in the brochure our hostel showed us, so we went with his. We should have asked to see the review book… we rode for an hour on the camels before we stopped. We thought it was for a break only, but then saw our camel leaders unpacking the camels. Our leaders didn’t interact with us at all, there was no campfire and no drinks or stories from the camel riders about their lives in the desert. While sleeping on the dunes under the stars was impressive, we still left feeling a little underwhelmed. So shop around and make sure the package you buy suits you!

 

Bring pens

The desert kids don’t usually ask for money, but if they spot you they are hoping for some stationary for school. The kids we ran into were walking home from school and were super disappointed when we didn’t have pens or other stationary for them.

 

You’ll want to adopt so many kids and puppies.

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Seeing so many kids unwashed, desperately trying to get money off you is sad, tragic really. But giving them money is also often not the answer, as if they make money for the family, the family is less likely to want to send them to school. I wish I could say there is a perfect solution to this where you can help them, but as yet there is not. Finding a local, Indian ran charity that is trusted in India and donating what you would want to give to the children you see is probably the best way to know your money is going towards helping them get better food and education.

If you’re an animal lover like me it will also be quite hard to turn away from all the stray animals. As dogs are also important in Hinduism, they normally are given food by families each day, however they often still look sick and the very people who feed them seem to feel nothing when they kick them or push them away as they walk. There are also charities doing good work with these animals, but it varies city to city, so if you want to help out or donate, ask around the town you are in at the time.

 

Always ask to see the room!

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Pre booking in India can be a little dangerous. While nearly everywhere we stayed was to a pretty high standard and for a good price, the few times we pre booked and didn’t see the room first we were left paying a high price for very little.

 

Costs:

Food: anywhere between 50 rupees to 350 rupees per dish. on average we spent 10aud for two on each meal.

Drinks: water should always be 20 rupees. soft drinks etc are around 30 – 80 and beers 100 to 250.

Accommodation: really depends on where you are. We never really paid over 20aud and in some places like Jaipur it was maybe 3aud each per night.

Sightseeing: average of 5 – 15aud, though the Taj came in at about 20aud each.

Transport:

Night buses: 400 – 1000 (8 – 20aud)

Sleeper class trains: 200 – 1000 (4 – 20aud)

PT (around each town): 20 – 60

Tuk Tuk: 50rupees per km MAX. (try and get them to use their metre, remind them it is illegal not to or don’t get in until they agree on the price.)

Uber: In bigger towns this is the cheapest way to get around (ex. PT)

Average spend daily: 40 – 80aud (big difference depending on accomodation costs and food/drink pricing versus city to country.)

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