India – Part 3

India – Part 3

India Gate

India is a 3 part blog. Last week in – Part 2 – I spoke of food, shopping and the Golden Triangle and the week before in – Part 1 – I spoke about north vs south, climate, the people

Holy cows roaming the streets

One of the things I found quite a head twister was going into temples and seeing carvings and pictures of karma sutra activities around me. My Western upbringing doesn’t allow me to think of sex and religious space mixing together. Yet, despite graphic images of people in flagrante delicto in holy places, Indians are surprisingly conservative. We had to cover our shoulders and heads when we entered a temple. Woman are advised to cover up when out and about anyway. And flashing the soles of the feet is offensive as is using the left had to point or touch anything. Apparently the left hand is used for toilet functions and is considered unclean. It’s quite hard to remember to keep one’s feet flat and the left hand inactive.

These Sikhs let me take a pic and then got really angry

We also visited Karni Mata Temple where the devotees worship rats. The temple was full of rats and they have free reign of the place. Read more here. Most temples require that you remove your shoes. I just couldn’t do it. The thought of stepping in rat droppings and having rats all over my feet was not for me. Apparently the group saw an albino rat which is supposed to be highly auspicious so sadly I missed out.

Here’s another thing I wasn’t expecting. I knew cows were considered holy in India but I somehow thought they would be in sanctuaries. Not so. They roam the streets eating grass on the side of the road or rummaging through garbage piles all the while leaving cow dung behind. Often the cows were in ill health as were dogs that roam the streets.

Going for a camel ride in the Thar Desert

I thoroughly enjoyed a visit to a Jain temple. We had a platter of delicious vegetarian food prepared by their devotees. Jain people only eat during daylight. They wear white clothes that have not been stitched. I found the sheer amount of religions and practices in India mind boggling. As we went from temple to temple, we were

Locals come to chat and make friends
Porters with traditonal turba

allowed to partake in some of the ceremonies. Usually for a fee. In fact even taking photos of most places involved a fee. There was a camera tax at most entrances.

People hang around when you’re taking photos and actually ask you to take a picture of them, then promptly demand money. My pics were photo bombed all the time.

And then there are those who absolutely do not want you taking their photo. I very nearly got lynched by two Sikh blokes who looked fabulous complete with fancy swords. I had no idea they would take exception to a photo. I was saved by the swift intervention of our tour guide.

Another highlight for me was sleeping in a tented camp in the Thar Desert. The owner of this place was quite charismatic and regaled us with tales of his visitors and famous friends. Our group took an obligatory camel ride out into the desert. The staff and owners at some of the places we stayed were so much fun. Indian people are warm, friendly, proud of their country and love to interact. Men shared stories and anecdotes while the ladies ensured we were well fed. Gender roles are traditional.

Covering our heads to go into Golden Temple

There is so much to do and see that a list of absolute must-sees is impossible. Ideally you want to see both north and south India to get a full idea of what India is like. Trying out curries and taking in temples or ashrams should be high on anyone’s list as they are unique to India. Visiting the markets and taking a rickshaw ride there and back are also easily done and add authenticity to your trip. For more ideas check out – Lonely Planet Guide.

The educated people and those from higher castes all spoke perfect English. The poorer people and lower castes could not. The caste system although abolished is still heavily entrenched in the minds of people. You see untouchables living on the streets. I found it so hard that these people accept this as their lot and see death as the only way out. Read more – here

Tented accommodation in the Thar Desert

India is a riot to the senses. Whether it’s the people themselves in bright twisted turbans and rich beaded saris, or their spicy foods and sticky sweets, loud bustling cities filled buskers and traders or hypnotic dancers and prayer rituals. You can’t help but be mesmerised by such a deep culture that binds it’s people together in layers of abject poverty and regal opulence.

Go to – My Holidays and Trips – at the top of this page to read about other places we have visited. Or just click on – this link.

India – Part 2

India – Part 2

Friendly locals gather around me to chat

This blog is written in 3 parts. Last week in – Part 1 – I talked about north vs south India, the climate and the people.

I want to talk about the things I loved about India. Firstly the food. There are apparently more vegetarians in India alone than the rest of the world combined. Forty percent of the population is vegetarian. You saw the population figures in the last post. That’s a lot of vegetarians. India is heaven for vegetarians.

Raj Ghat for Ghandi

As it happens I love curry and I got to eat curry for breakfast, lunch and supper. As you do in India. Most Indian menus have a tiny section with ‘non-vegetarian’ food. It’s normally the other way round in Western countries. I’ve never had it so good. One word of warning. Do not under any circumstances eat street food. Our tour guide told us exactly where we could and couldn’t eat. After three weeks, I got brave and tried a place he hadn’t suggested and I got – Delhi Belly. I won’t elaborate but you do NOT want this to happen to you.

The face says it all – Greenie about to tuck into a curry

The same applies to bottled water that the locals sell on the streets. We were told it’s not always clean pure water so don’t even think about buying it. Indian curries come with lots of accompaniments and trying out various vegetables and masala (spice) combinations was great fun. Not to missed either is Masala Chai (spiced tea), Lassi (smoothie) and Indian. They have so many sweets to choose from and are unlike anything in the west.

One little piece of advice. Indians eat their curries fire hot. If you get asked how you like your curry, there is a big difference between an English hot curry and an Indian hot curry. Start with a mild curry and work up to your preferred heat from there.

Heritage accommodation

India is a shoppers paradise. Pack light because you are sure to do quite a bit of shopping. You can’t help it. Prices are good and you find things unlike anything anywhere else. I bought embroidered pashminas, Kerela towels (great for traveling), hand-made leather shoes, gorgeous fabrics, jewelery made with silver and semi precious stones, books and cotton bohemian style clothing. There are also table cloths, bed linen, teas, hand carved wooden items, cloth bags and much, much more. If I could have, I would have bought more.

Visiting a local villager to taste chickpea dumplings

The best prices are to be found on the streets at the markets. Locals will try and push their prices up on seeing you are a foreigner so first walk around going from stall to stall. Check prices between vendors. It won’t take long before sellers run after you dropping their prices and hustling, trying to score a sale. If it all gets too much, and it can, it’s easier to shop at the tourist shops. Prices are higher but you still get good deals and you will be safe from over pushy traders. One thing I can promise, if the street traders spot a buyer, they will hound and harass you, even after you have bought bags of goods, they will go on and on trying to sell to you. If you can tough it out you will get excellent bargains.

I visited – The Golden Triangle – which is where most new visitors to India go and India’s most popular destination. The triangle is between Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. Our tour took in lots of temples and historical places. Key attractions in the big cities such as the Taj Mahal and Raj Ghat are included but we also got to stay in places like the Venice of the east – Udaipur.

Venice of the East – Udaipur

Our accommodation at night was mostly in old palaces, castles and forts. India has an affirmative action policy whereby people from lower castes are being given opportunities to move up the ladder. Royal and land owning families are exempt from these programmes. As a result many are turning their land, palaces and castles into tourist accommodation to make a living. We took turns to sleep in the royal quarters which are historical rooms decorated in heritage style. Accommodation on the tour was interesting and varied. Our tour guide told us he was a prince. His father was apparently a Maharajah and his mum a Maharani.

Local ladies washing clothes in the lake

Breakfast was included. Sometimes our evening meal plus entertainment by local musicians and dancers was in-house. Or we went out to a restaurant for our evening meal. I like a glass of wine with my supper but in India I took to drinking one of their local beers – Kingfisher with our meals.

Next week in the final – Part 3 – I will be discussing temples, holy animals, castes  

Go to – My Holidays and Trips – at the top of this page to read about other places we have visited. Or just click on – this link.



Travel in India in 2006

The ubiquitous Tuk Tuk

India blog is a 3 part series. Next week I will post Part 2 and the week after Part 3.

Heritage accommodation

I visited India in 2006. Although it could have been 1706. Almost every place I have visited has been somewhat affected by modern trends. People wear jeans, eat McDonald’s and watch American programmes on TV. Not in India. Despite many years of British occupation and rule, and Indians have taken on some English customs to be sure, India is still a country wrapped up in it’s own culture and ancient rituals. Women continue to dress in traditional clothing, curries are eaten by Indians every single day and Bollywood sagas are preferred to American box office movies.

Indigo coloured buildings in Jodhpur
Snake charmers

India is the seventh largest country in the world and has over a billion people, the second largest population after China. I was warned before I went to India that I would be captivated by the colourful people and rich history – but –  that I must also be prepared for poverty on a scale I would not be able to anticipate. Hey, I come from South Africa, please, I’ve seen poverty. Well actually I hadn’t seen anything like I saw in India. And it is hard to take in. On arrival at Delhi airport I saw squatter settlements right next to the airport. I stepped over rows of women sleeping next to each other on pieces of cardboard in the toilets. I talk about my arrival and departure in – this – blog post and you may want to read it before heading for India.

India is pretty much divided into the north and the south. The northern people are fairer, have straighter hair, eat red tomato based curries and meat. North Indian women wear salwaar and kameez. In the south, people are darker, have curlier hair, eat yellow curries with coconut and rice. They are predominantly vegetarian, but they do eat some seafood. South Indian women wear saris.

Frescoed building

India is a hellava hot country. In summer, average temperatures are between 30’C and 40’C, but can nudge up well into the forties. The best time to visit is during the cooler months from November to March. Make sure you avoid the monsoon which arrives late May. I travelled mid season and I found it hot and humid. Big Indian cities are polluted and the combination of muggy heat and smog made me feel grubby. All I wanted was to wash and wash. My tip is to pack light cotton clothing and make sure you have wet wipes and toilet paper with you at all times. Many of the toilets are a hole in the ground and toilet paper is not always provided. You get used to it after a while.

Local pharmacy
Sikh Temple

I did the trip with a tour group – Imaginative Traveller – and I would recommend that anyone visiting India for the first time do the same. Con artists and pick pockets are everywhere. Beggars can surround and overwhelm you in a flash and make venturing out unbearable. Forty four percent of the population live on less that $1 a day so it’s to be expected. On top of that, Indian people are inquisitive and super friendly. They love to speak English. At times I felt like an A list celebrity as people flocked around me to ask my name and hang on to me. For more statistics on India hit – this link.

Doing the tour with a group meant we had a guide who looked after us and knew the dodgy areas or people. Our group was safe for the most part but we did have a woman who lost her bag on a train. One of the porters brought her luggage onto our train and she turned her back to find a locker. Within seconds the porter had nicked her bag complete with passport, cash, medication, the lot.

And a week after we boarded that train there were bomb blasts right where we had been. Read more here.

Next week in – Part 2 – I will discuss food, shopping and the Golden Triangle and the following week in – Part 3 – I talk about temples, holy animals and the caste system.

Go to – My Holidays and Trips – at the top of this page to read about other places we have visited. Or just click on – this link.

One of these porters stole this woman’s bag minutes after I took this pic


Holiday horror stories – Wrong airport in India

Holiday horror stories – Wrong airport in India

Myself on the right and room-mate on the left

I went to India at a time in my life when I needed to make big changes. It was a time to reflect and reassess. I booked a three week package tour with Imaginative Traveller which covered the Golden Triangle. An area that includes famous cities such as Delhi, Udaipur, Jaipur, etc . .

Indian sweets on sale for Diwali – highly addictive and sublime

I arrived in India, did the usual immigration routine on disembarking and went to collect my luggage. The conveyor belt went round and people collected their luggage. 

One quirk about Indians is they wrap their possessions in a blanket and tie it with rope. Plenty of those went past, but not my luggage. Eventually there was no-one left in the hall but me. The conveyor belt was going round and round with the last few bags, but my bag wasn’t on it.

Imaginative Traveler had arranged a collection for me at the airport. So much time had lapsed I was worried the shuttle bus would go without me. I made enquiries about my bag and the next thing my bag appeared. I remain suspicious about why my bag took so long to come out – especially after what happened on my last day in India.

Beautiful old buildings

When I finally got out the airport, of course, there was no shuttle bus. Fortunately most people in the cities in India speak English. I went back into the airport to the information desk. They arranged with Imaginative Traveller that a taxi would collect me. I missed the welcome and briefing but at least I was with the tour group.

Someone told me to be prepared for great beauty and harsh poverty in India. They were right. I always thought we had poverty in South Africa but India was truly shocking. However, the rich culture and history make India an absolutely fascinating and enchanting destination.
The Indians are friendly to fault and will follow you

One couple in the tour group had real rubbish luck. They were robbed and she broke her foot on a walkabout. Yip, $#!t happens even on holiday. I managed to avoid the dreaded Delhi Belly for all but the last three days of the tour. I got brave and ate away from the recommended places one night. Big mistake. It’s one way to lose weight.

When the time came to go home, my room-mate and I agreed to share a trip to the airport. She arranged the deal and was I happy to pay half. A really young boy collected us. He asked if I was flying Indian Air and it sounded about right so I said yes. I was flying to South Africa and my room-mate was flying to Australia. Turned out we were going to different airports. Did I question why we were taking international flights from different airports? No, I didn’t.

Colonial legacy – hunting trophies on the wall.

I should have taken out my ticket and had a look. My ticket was actually for Air India. Indian Air. Air India. They sound similar but as I was to find out, they are very different. I thought this guy knew what he was doing.

It soon became apparent this guy wasn’t authorised to drive us. I have no idea how my room-mate found him. At the very first check point there was a hellava argument between our driver and the authorities. I suspect our driver bribed the officer. At every check point after that we went through the same palaver.

Exquisite historic buildings were our accommodation 

After he dropped my room-mate this boy was anxious to get rid of me. He disposed of me at the “airport” and was gone for dust. 

I quickly discovered this “airport” was closed. There was no-one there except for a guard. Much later I realised that it must be an air force base. What was this kid thinking dropping me there? I don’t think he thought anything and I doubt he was old enough to drive. Who knows if it was even his vehicle? He saw a gap to make money off me. And the officers at the check points were making money off him.

Tourist travel option

Meanwhile I was alone in the middle of nowhere with a flight to catch. I approached the guard to help me. He saw a lost foreign woman alone and a chance to make money. He would only help me if I paid him. Then I saw a tuk-tuk coming along the road and raced toward it with my bags. I asked the driver to take me to the airport. This guy wanted some outrageous sum of money. I opened my purse and showed him what money I had. All of a sudden that amount was fine.

A welcome flower necklace at one of the castles

While we putted along in this tuk-tuk I was having a major panic. I feared we would be late and I feared this tuk-tuk would never even get there. I had no idea where I was or where I was going.

I got to the airport with the minimum time in hand. At check-in they demanded airport taxes. This had not been mentioned by Imaginative Traveller or the travel agent. Both had given me detailed information about India and the trip. I don’t believe that airport tax was actually due. But these guys were adamant they wanted money and if I wanted to go home I had to pay up. It’s not like I had a lot of time to argue. They knew I had no more money and pointed me to forex to change money so I could pay them off. So much for the country that invented karma?

Once on the plane I was relieved to be going home. One other quirk about Indians soon emerged. Apparently it’s not necessary to use the toilet bowl to relieve oneself. The entire room is good enough. Half way through the flight, the toilets were un-usable. No food or drink for me.

Sacred cows roaming the streets

India was a special place where I did a lot of thinking and decision making. Many positive changes in my life came from my time there. But my memories are tainted by the last people I had dealings with, who so blatantly ripped me off. Those dashing, chivalrous, Indian heroes that we read about? Some villainous Indians too I’m afraid. 

My advice is only travel India with a well known tour operator. I was fine the entire time I was with the group. Its was my trips at the start and finish where I encountered problems.

For more Holiday Horror Stories you can  go to – My Holidays and Trips – at the top of this page to read about other places we have visited. 

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