I told myself that since I had a serious case of travel fatigue, I would slow things down in India and maybe just visit 3 or 4 cities instead of the 8 cities that I had planned.
Unfortunately, I’m not very good at listening to my own, very logical, advice. Every couple of days, I was hopping on an overnight bus or train (they all seemed to be 14-16 hours plus a few hours of delays) to the next city.
I actually really enjoy traveling by overnight buses and trains because it seems like I get the best night’s sleep on them. The only thing that keeps me awake is the incessant honking of the bus. And it’s not the normal “beep beep” sound that buses make back in the States. It’s like a crazy clattering of sounds all jumbled together… like a party bus or a recording of a child who is given free reign in a room full of horns. It was really entertaining at first, but not so much at 3am when the bus driver would honk the horn over and over and over again. And then once again for good measure.
My sincere apologies for not posting for a few weeks. I like to blame it on the terrible Internet connection and the fact that I’ve been on the road so frequently. In fact, just today, I visited 7 different coffee shops, 4 restaurants, 2 McDonald’s, and 3 bars, to find a place with unlimited, free, functional, wi-fi. I am now in a night club/bar, sitting alone in the corner with my laptop and sad little chicken burger.
So settle in, fix yourself a nice cup of coffee, and brace yourself for a not-so-quick rundown of everywhere that I’ve gone since I left Mumbai (March 1 – March 4).
Udaipur (March 5 – March 8)
This was probably one of the calmest and most peaceful cities that I visited in India. Perhaps it was a combination of the spacious and relatively empty hostel where I stayed, mixed with the sheer joy I had since escaping the craziness of Mumbai.
I stayed next to one of the two man-made lakes in the city. Someone told me that you could swim in the one near my hostel, but I didn’t dare get in for fear of coming out with an extra limb or giardia… or both.
The Internet at Backpacker Panda Udaipur was unbelievably fast (that’s the most important thing for me when booking hostels). You know, so that I can get some quality work done and regularly post in my blog.
Just kidding. I like it so that I can use Facebook and Instagram.
My time in Udaipur was leisurely, 100% unplanned, and relaxing. I walked everywhere, ate every single meal on whatever rooftop restaurant that caught my eye, and watched the sunset each night. Udaipur was probably my favorite city in India and I would love to return one day.
Jaisalmer (March 9 – March 11)
Just about everyone that I spoke to said that Jaisalmer is a must-see city in India because of the camel safaris in the desert. It’s called the “Yellow City” because it’s surrounded by desert and all of the buildings are made of the same yellowish color.
After visiting a handful of different safari agencies, I booked with Trotters International because I met a really nice French couple who highly recommended it (above all other companies). Being the naïve, trusting person that I am, I went with that company. After all, these weren’t locals who were trying to get a commission or scam me; they were other tourists just like myself who experienced something amazing. I later found out that they worked for that company, so their intentions were not so pure.
I paid 2250 rupee, which is about $37 USD (this was the most expensive of the places that I looked at). The price included transportation, camel riding, all meals and food, and overnight accommodation in the desert.
I had these grand ideas that I would be like Lawrence of Arabia, trekking through the wind-swept desert on my majestic camel, who was colorfully decorated in the most beautiful of Indian tapestries. I would look out across the horizon and see nothing but sand and sun, and I would feel peaceful.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite like that.
We met at 6am and were taken by jeep about 10 minutes outside of the city. We pulled over next to the highway for our sunrise breakfast next to the road.
We rode our camels for 5 hours on the first day. It wasn’t quite the desert; instead, it was more like dusty plains where you can see the wind turbines and lots of brush. It was neither picturesque, nor serene.
By the end of the first day, everyone in our group was sore. Our butts and legs were hurting. Riding a camel is much less comfortable than riding a horse, and riding a horse for 5 hours doesn’t sound like much fun.
I slept on the sand dunes on a pad under a thick blanket. That was a lovely experience because when I looked up, I saw nothing but stars.
Overall, I had a great time because the group that I was traveling with was amazing. My camel, Lalu, was the oldest and crankiest camel of the bunch and I loved it.
During my time in the city, I visited an Ayurvedic shop and the owner was extremely friendly. When he found out what I do for a living (working in web development and digital marketing for Peaceful Media), he asked me to look at his website and give some suggestions.
I was happy to give him a few pointers and then he asked if we could connect on Skype. I agreed, but soon realized that I made a terrible decision. Take a look at our conversation below before I blocked him (note: he’s married):
Then he proceeded to call me three times in a row, each time where I declined the call. I know that I should have blocked him sooner, but I was giving him the benefit of the doubt and assuming that maybe the English translation seemed a bit more intense than he was intending.
Jaipur (March 12 – March 15)
I believe that “hate” is a strong word for anything. But I hated this city. This is where I had one of the worst experiences in India, and while it’s not the fault of the city, I will forever associate Jaipur with being very inappropriately touched and having my face grabbed by a pervert who tried force a kiss.
It was hard for me because I tried to not let that horrible experience tarnish the rest of my time in Jaipur and India. But it was hard. I felt dirty, embarrassed, and worst of all, I felt like it was my fault.
But it’s not my fault that some guy is a sick pervert and it’s not my fault that I was his victim.
I suppose that if I didn’t get sexually assaulted, Jaipur would’ve been a totally different experience for me. Alas, it happened, I’ve dealt with it, and I’ve moved on.
Agra (March 16 – March 17)
Two words: Taj Mahal. It was beautiful, romantic, and a lot bigger than I expected. Other than the Taj, there’s not much else to do in Agra. If you go, I would recommend only staying for one day because you can do the Taj in less than 3 hours. I stayed for two nights because I had a work meeting and needed to have access to the Internet.
Varanasi (March 18 – March 21)
Varanasi is one of the world’s oldest living cities and the spiritual capital of India. The holy Ganges River runs through here and there are 87 ghats (stairs leading down to the river) in it. There are also two burning ghats where people are cremated.
I thought that Varanasi would be a calm and peaceful city. But I was so wrong.
The honking never stopped.
Navigating down the road was like this carefully choreographed dance where the cars are on the right, auto rickshaws to their left, bicycle rickshaws to their left, people walking on the far left, and motorbikes are weaving in and out of traffic. They say that you can tell when an Indian person is drunk driving when they drive in a straight line.
Sometimes it was just faster to walk 3 or 4 kilometers than to sit in traffic (albeit a bit more dangerous!).
It was in Varanasi that I saw my first procession in the streets of people carrying a body down to the ghats to be burned. The body was wrapped and beautifully decorated; the people were chanting and walking with the body as they carried it on a stretcher on their shoulders.
The first cremation that I saw was of a child or young teenager. The family members of the body were wearing white. It was incredibly beautiful and sad at the same time. I was struck with sadness when I saw the fragile arm that was visible through the flames slowly engulfing the body. I held back my tears (women aren’t allowed at the cremation because they are prone to crying and that’s bad luck) but I couldn’t hold back my feelings of anger towards the other tourists who were smoking and being loud and disrespectful.
I read that to burn a full-sized body, it can take up to 1,100 pounds of firewood. Some families cannot afford to buy all of the wood needed, so they end up throwing the partially burned remains of the body into the river. If you ever visit Varanasi, don’t be surprised if you see a dead body floating down the Ganges.
Mathura (March 22 – March 24)
I came to Mathura because I read that it’s one of the best places to celebrate Holi, the festival of colors. I also read that it’s very unsafe for women, especially women traveling alone. I’m incredibly grateful that I was able to meet up with Cody, a friend that I had met in Varanasi, as well as his 17-year-old sister, Sarah, who was visiting him from the United States.
So, what is Holi? The story that I was told is that Lord Krishna was sad that Radha was fair-skinned and that his skin was so dark. His mother recommended that he put colored powder on Radha’s face, and that’s why people celebrate today with colored powder.
I planned for the worst and hoped for the best. I covered my camera in plastic to protect against the colored powder and water, wore clothes that I was ready to throw away, and met up with Cody and Sarah.
We trekked out to this Sri Krishna Janma Bhoomi Mandir, the temple where they say is the birthplace of Krishna. Immediately upon getting out of the tuktuk, we were surrounded by smiling people saying “happy Holi!” and putting color on our faces. They were sweet and gentle, and this woman really loved getting pictures with us.
That was a nice way to ease into the madness that was about to ensue.
We couldn’t walk further than a few feet without people approaching us to ask for selfies (it’s funny how that’s a universal word) or trying to take our picture. As we got closer to the temple, the crowd got rowdier and powdered colors (gulag) were thrown into our face, onto our hair, and down our shirts. This is very standard for Holi and they say that nobody is off limits—including elderly people and children. It’s all in good fun and people all over the city are “playing Holi.”
However, I wasn’t prepared for the fact that because we were foreigners, we were targeted more than any of the locals who were celebrating. It started to feel like an excuse for locals to be mean and really rough with us, all while shouting “happy Holi!”
The experience is akin to a snowball fight: at first, it’s fun for everyone. You throw a few snowballs, they throw some snowballs, sometimes you get hit, and everyone is fine. But then everyone playing gangs up on you at the same time and you start getting snowballs down your shirt, snowballs with rocks and ice in them, snowballs in your face, snowballs shoved into your mouth, ears, nose, and eyes, and before you know it, there are 8 people surrounding you in a flurry of laughter and snowballs, while you’re cowering in the corner, trying to hold back tears and rage.
That was our experience. It was fun and then very quickly, it wasn’t fun.
It certainly wasn’t fun to get groped by men in the crowded streets. Some tried to be subtle about it and some blatantly grabbed whatever they felt like grabbing. It was even more disturbing to get groped by little boys who clearly were doing it as part of a game that they didn’t fully understand.
When we finally pushed through the mass of people, we arrived at the temple just as it was closing. Cody used his very impressive convincing skills to get them to let us into the temple because “we traveled all the way from America just for this and we came by boat, train, plane, and we even swam to get here.”
By the end of the day, we were exhausted. Sarah and I were especially tired because it takes a lot of energy to constantly be on guard. It’s never just “walking down the street.” It’s “walking down the street, darting my eyes back and forth, evaluating every man and child to assess if they could be a potential threat, covering your body, veering off to the side if someone passes to close to you, wondering who and when your next assailant will be, and yelling out and making a scene if someone does touch you inappropriately.”
And this feeling was constant.
It’s really sad because of course, not everyone in India is a threat. In fact, I’ve found that the majority of the Indian people that I’ve interacted with are unbelievably helpful, kind, and compassionate.
I did not take many pictures during Holi for fear of ruining my camera and phone. And somehow, during the festival, even though my camera was covered, some of the colored powder got into the lens and now my faithful camera does not work. Sigh.
Taking a break from “playing Holi” in an alley
Delhi (March 24 – March 28)
I am currently in New Delhi, where I plan on getting some quality work done before I leave the jungle that is India. On Monday, I fly out to beautiful Chiang Mai, Thailand. I am excited to eat the delicious northern Thai cuisine and I will try to find my favorite smoothie stall that I loved to visit more than 4 years ago.
After that, I will travel up to Chiang Rai to see the White Temple, then take the 2-day slow boat into Laos.
India has been absolutely exhausting for me and now I feel ready for the next part of my grand adventure.
Whew, you made it to the end! Thanks so much for reading. Please subscribe to get updates sent directly to your inbox whenever I post something new!