India Trip in Review

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India Trip in Review

What a great trip!  We just returned this past week from our trip to India.  I meant to write a post from India but Wifi was really spotty while I was there and after a few failed attempts to connect, I gave up.  It was my first vacation in 10 years and I thought I’d earned the right to just not do anything.  It was such a luxury to be able to not worry about anything other than what we were going to do or eat that day.

Getting There

My partner left for India a week earlier than I did.  My flight was on March 2nd.  I flew on Emirates, which had the best ratings on Trip Advisor as far as comfort and service.  Comfort was important to me because the first leg of the trip was a 14 hour flight to Dubai.  I’ve never flown that long before and I was anticipating a little anxiety for being on a plane that long.

I found Emirates very comfortable.  The seat space was adequate.  It helped a lot that the flight wasn’t full, so I had a free seat next to me.  The entertainment was fantastic with my very own tv on the seat in front of me.  The entertainment center had a ton of movies, music, TV shows, and games.  Meals are plentiful with two main meals and a snack in between.

One major hiccup on the flight was that someone in first class became sick and we had to do an emergency landing in Kazakhstan.  According to the flight attendant, a doctor came on the plane, addressed the issue and the passenger stayed on the flight.  This took a little over three hours.  This made a 14 hour flight turn into close to an 18 hour flight.  Ouch.  Luckily, that happened when it was around 1 AM Seattle time so I was pretty wiped out and almost slept through the whole thing.

I arrived in New Delhi after connecting in Dubai.  The connecting flight was a short 2.5 hour flight.  Temperatures were in the eighties, and it felt really good to be in warm weather.

Goa, India

After one night in New Delhi, we left for Goa early Thursday morning.  We used IndiGo to get to Goa.  IndiGo is one of India’s national airlines, similar to Southwest Airlines in the states.

Our destination in Goa, was Satsanga Retreat, a yoga retreat chosen one of the world’s best yoga centers by the World’  Satsanga was a beautiful place to stay.  Yoga was secondary to me as I was mainly going along for the ride.  My main goal was to just take a break and enjoy the warm weather and culture of India.  Nevertheless, doing yoga twice a day for 10 days really opened my eyes to the health benefits of regular yoga practice.

Yoga practice was at 7 AM and 5 PM everyday so there was a lot of time to do other activities in between.  We took these opportunities to explore the various beaches that Goa had to offer, take in a lot of relaxation time, and take in other services offered at Satsanga Retreat.  I had my first acupuncture in my life with mixed reviews.  I know a lot of people love acupuncture.  After one treatment, I didn’t feel any noticeable change in my body.  I also didn’t have any real issues so that probably played a large part.

Another great aspect of Satsanga in addition to the beautiful, peaceful space was the food.  We were provided with three square meals a day.  The meals were vegetarian and Ayurvedic, which is a traditional Indian medicinal system.  I’m not sure what the specifics of the Ayurvedic diet are other than being Indian and vegetarian.  I do know that the meals were flavorful and delicious.  I didn’t know meals without meat could be so filling and delicious.

I attended a cooking class from the main chef.  It was a little difficult because her English skills were limited.  But it was fascinating seeing all the spices used during cooking, as well as the fresh vegetables.

My favorite meal of the day was definitely breakfast.  Every day we had fresh sliced mango, papaya, banana, watermelon, coconut, pomegranate seeds, oranges, grapes, dates.  Fantastic!

Goa is definitely a tourist beach town.  It’s pretty rural so although there are the busy areas dominated with shops selling to tourists, there are also areas that are quiet, quaint, and peaceful.  Among the many beaches that surround Goa, we visited Mapusa and Anjuna.  The beaches were beautiful with clear, warm water.  The water was also shallow and calm while we were there which made for great swimming and relaxation.

New Delhi, India

After our ten days in Goa, we had 4 days left in India.  We took the advice from other traveler’s gained from Nomad Wallet’s piece on helping us with our India trip, and checked into Downtown Hotel in Paharganj.  Our intention at that point was to also take advice from our Nomad Wallet exchange and book a train to go to Agra, and visit the Taj Mahal.

After talking to a few locals including the hotel manager, we decided against taking the train as last weekend was India’s festival of colors, Holi.  The trains would be very busy.  Luckily, we ran into a little shop advertising bus tours.  For 700 Rupies ($11.50 US) per person, we booked two seats on a bus tour that took us to Agra to visit several famous sites including the Taj Mahal.

At that point, of the trip we were pretty seasoned in the art of bartering.  Everything you pay for other than established restaurants are up for bartering.  In fact, if you don’t barter, you’ll likely end up paying ten times or more the price that locals pay.  Some people are ok with this as the prices are still affordable.  I didn’t like getting ripped off at every turn so I got pretty good at bartering.  All I can say is don’t be afraid to barter.  The locals know that this is normal in everyday buying and selling and may look offended at your price offers.  This is just part of the act.

We relied on our hotel to help us determine proper pricing for taxi cabs.  But we didn’t let them find us the cabs.  That way they couldn’t take a commission for finding the cab for us.  So we used the hotel’s advice in pricing for cab rides to help us determine appropriate fares.  Of course, we always paid more than what the cab ride was worth.  Most of the time, this was a difference of less than a dollar.

Agra, India

Our trip to Agra was a whirlwind of a day beginning at 6 AM.  Our bus picked us up outside of our hotel in Delhi.  We then went on to pick up several other passengers for the next hour and a half, filling up the bus to capacity.  At that point, we proceeded to leave Delhi.  When the bus filled up, we found out that we were the only foreign passengers.  This was exciting to me because I felt that we were really going to get an authentic Indian experience.

It took 6 hours to get to Agra.  The traffic was terrible.  I guess at least part of that could be attributed to Holi.  The bus was comfortable, had air conditioning, and we had stops for bathroom breaks and lunch.  Traffic in India is pretty crazy compared to the US.  I would not want to drive a car there.  Luckily our bus driver seemed experienced and navigated the chaos pretty well.

We arrived in Agra and a funny thing happened.  A guy came on the bus and asked us if we wanted to take our own tour private tour of Agra.  He spoke English well and he promised to return us to the bus later on in the day after we’ve visited several landmarks like the Taj Mahal.  He said that the benefit would be that we could avoid some of the other religious places that the bus tour intended to visit and that we could spend more time at the Taj Mahal and not be limited to what the tour would do.  We felt a little weird about it but he made sense and wasn’t going to charge us a cent.

So we go along with this guy.  The first place we went to was a restaurant as we were pretty hungry at that point.  The restaurant was great with a typical Indian menu.  Our next stop was the Taj Mahal.  Taj Mahal lived up to its name as a wonder of the world.  The whole complex was beautiful with buildings at each end of the Taj Mahl.  Within the outer buildings was a huge beautiful garden with the main building at the center.

The outer buildings were beautiful in their own right.  They were made of a red brick.  The Taj Mahal itself was made of white marble which was a nice contrast to the red brick of the outer buildings.

Our next stop was Agra Fort, an actual fort originally built in the 11th century.  The fort is more like a walled-up small city that has been added on to over the years.  In some ways, it’s just as beautiful as the Taj Mahal.  The stonework and carvings are beautiful and extensive.

Our tour guide took us to a couple of clothing and jewelry shops after that.  These were opportunities for him to make some side cash.  If we bought something, which we did, he’d make a commission, which he did.  This is a common occurrence I’ve seen in other countries like Vietnam.  Basically the tour driver or taxi driver will take you, for free, to a little shop that looks almost designed to sell you anything – from clothing to jewelry to little buddha trinkets.

At that point we were ready to return to the bus.  It was early evening.  We ended up tipping our tour guide about 700 rupees or a little over $10 US.

Back on the bus, we learned that our fellow passengers basically did the same things we did.  I thought that it still was worth it because we got to take a break from the bus.  It was a lot of sitting on the bus and I wanted out after such a long journey from Delhi.  At that point I thought we were going back to Delhi.  But we still had a couple more places to visit.

We ended up visiting a couple more temples.  One was a temple that was thought to be the birthplace of Krishna, one of the main Hindu gods.  The other temple was more elaborate and was thought to be where Krishna achieved enlightenment.  One of our fellow passengers spoke a little English so were able to get a little instruction about our visits.  Otherwise we would’ve been totally in the dark.

As we returned to the bus for the final leg home, it must’ve been around midnight.  We finally returned to Delhi around 3 am.  The whole trip to Agra took about 21 hours, a whirlwind of a day.  It was pretty exhausting.  I don’t know if I’d recommend that way of visiting Agra to anyone but I was really glad we did it that way.  It was interesting to travel with Indians.  Once we were on the bus with them, they kind of looked after us by trying their best to help us understand what we were doing.  They helped us order food at the roadside restaurants.  I don’t think we would’ve had the same type of experience if we took the train or a taxi cab.  It was a nice experience to finish out our India trip.

Happy Holi!

Our last full day in India also happened to be the first day of Holi, India’s national holiday and festival of color.  Holi celebrates the triumph of good over bad, and is celebrated with color, lots’s of color.  Every where you go outside during Holi, people are covered with color.  You can buy colored powder and Indians use these powdered colors to put them on friends and even strangers.  So you see people with pink, orange, blue, green, purple, and red all over their body, face, and hair.  It’s an interesting and fun way to celebrate, although you do hear and even see on TV stories of people abusing the opportunity to apply colored powder on others.

Anyway, we definitely partook in the festival of color.  It was a fun experience.  At a certain point, after being doused with tons of colored powder, we had enough and retreated back to the hotel.

In conclusion, India was fantastic!  I loved every minute of the trip.  I really enjoy learning about a new culture through food, meeting new people, and visiting a new place.  It’s the best way to learn in my opinion.  Travel is something that has gotten away from me for a long time.  I need to continue that aspect of my life.  It refreshes me and helps put my life in perspective.  I would love to visit India again someday.  India is a beautiful place with an amazing culture full of people fighting for a better way of life.  What more could you ask for?

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2 Responses

  1. Your pictures look awesome! I was wondering where you disappeared to… I hadn’t realized you were away for the better part of March. Must have missed that update :)

    The Taj Mahal is on my to-do list, but I likely won’t get there for many more years.

    • SBB says:

      It seems like I’m taking the whole month off. It’s been hard to get back in gear. I’m looking at it like a re-charge.

      Taj Mahal was amazing. It’s hard to believe that humans built that centuries ago.

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