Our flight took off as thousands (millions?) of fireworks were being set off.
About a year ago, Tim and I were planning to take a vacation. We had the money, we had 3 weeks of vacation to use, but we didn’t know where to go. Should we go to Argentina or maybe to Ecuador and see the Galapagos Islands? After much time and consideration an afternoon, we settled on India. I had set my hopes on spending New Year’s Eve in Goa. So from Dec 26th 2011– Jan 15th 2012 we traveled through south Western India.
Let’s talk about New Year’s Eve in Goa. Every forum, blog, and article I read said that you needed to reserve a room in advance or you’ll be sleeping on the beach. While I do agree that it is high season and you can’t expect cheap rates, we totally just showed up on 30 Dec straight off a 15 hour bus ride from Mumbai and found a taxi driver to help us find a place around Baga Beach. The cheapest rate we found was $75/night and we stayed in a really nice bungalow right off the beach. This was not a surprise as we fully were aware the prices would be inflated and we were willing to pay.
In my mind, I was expecting some sort of beach party rave full of hippies. I can tell you it was exactly the opposite of that scenario. Baga Beach/Calagunte Beach during New Year’s was basically a very large gathering of Indian Men hoping to let loose for a couple of days. At first I was bit off put by this, but did I really travel to India to hang out with a bunch of hippies? Or was I there to experience Indian culture? To this day, Tim and I still refer to it as “Indian’s Gone Wild” and I can without a doubt claim it to be the most memorable New Year’s eves of my life. Hardly a letdown.
After spending New Year’s Day in a vegetative state, we hired a cab and spent a couple days in a more chilled out atmosphere in Palolem beach in a nice beach hut for $12/night. The beach was beautiful and we were finally surrounded by other backpackers and like-minded people, but after 2–3 days we forgot we were even in India, so it was time to move on.
The rest of the trip was great; with some really awe-inspiring moments and few I wish I was home moments. My favourite thing about our trip was actually something that most people dislike. Every 5 minutes someone comes up to you and wants to shake your hand and meet you. I can’t even tell you how many grade school class photos I am in. While most people find it annoying and stop allowing people to take their photo, we embraced it. We really enjoyed chatting with people. One night we ended off the beaten path at a busy local restaurant in Mysore that I am pretty sure very few foreigners have ever seen. One by one every single staff member came to meet us and say hello and take photos of us with their phones. A few minutes after we left, one of the busboys came running after us down the street. Apparently he had not had a chance to say good bye to us and had wanted to shake our hands goodbye. It was a really endearing moment, and it really left a lasting impression on me.
Immediately the first question people ask us, when they hear we went to India, is “Did you see the Taj Mahal?” The answer is no. The Taj Mahal is in Agra, and would have involved at least a 3 day commitment from us. We were also trying to escape the cold Canadian winter, so the idea of going anywhere even remotely cold did not interest us.
Would I suggest a trip to India for everyone? Definitely not! Nothing runs smoothly in India, everything takes a lot longer than it should. If you are a control freak, you’ll likely have a breakdown at some point. The garbage and pollution is tolerable at best. At night before bed I would blow my nose and it would come out black. There are animals everywhere. When I saw my first cow on the beach my mind was officially blown. And let’s just not even mention the various smells.
But once you get past all of that, there are some incredible things to be seen, and the food was outstanding. I wish somebody had told me about Indian Chinese food sooner. After 3 weeks we barely even scratched the surface. I’d love to go back one day and explore the rest of the country. Maybe even see the Taj Mahal!
- Riding a bike through ancient ruins in Hampi
- Seeing the Mysore Palace light up and hearing the crowd all gasp in awe at the same time
- Long discussions with Ajish on the rooftop terrace of our guesthouse in Kochi
- Coining the term “Indians gone wild”
- Looking out the window and seeing all sorts of new things during our various long bus rides
- Going through a haunted house and then watching a 3D Indian action flick in a Bangalore shopping mall
- Some frightening rest stop “bathrooms”
- 20 hour long bus rides with no idea when the next bathroom break is
- Coining the term “shit alley”
- The feeling that you are constantly being scammed out of money (albeit never much money)
Here’s a video we made with a compilation of all of our pictures from the trip:
Some people love India. Others hate it. Close friends warned us that the food would make us sick. Family cautioned about safety. And almost everyone agreed that the country is met with extremes: extreme weather, extreme poverty, extreme wealth, extreme joy and extreme frustration.
Personally, there were times I loved India and times I hated it. Above all, though, I found the country to be quite lovely and an absolute must for those looking for new experiences in a completely different country.
Before you leave, there are a few things you really should do before you hit the road:
- Use India Mike, an invaluable resource, to plan your route. The community can tell you if your planned route is realistic, answer virtually any question and get you really excited about the trip.
- Book all your buses and trains in advance. India is a busy place. Trains will be sold out if you show up last minute, unless you want to pay top dollar or change routes. Most last minute bus and train cancellations only cost 2–3 dollars. These are the sites we used for the bus and train.
- In Canada we have a Cholera and travelers diarrhea vaccine marketed as Dukorol, but it may have a different name in your country. I’m certain this vaccine prevented us from getting into a nasty situation ;).
- Get informed about Malaria. It isn’t everywhere in India, but Malaria is something you should know about before you leave. We ended up taking malaria pills for about a week, but I ended up having an adverse reaction. The side effects were not worth the trouble. A couple things we did to help lower the risk of catching malaria were:
- slept with mosquito nets;
- stayed indoors at dusk;
- made sure there weren’t any mosquitoes in the room at bed time;
- used repellent with deet;
- Google the incidents of people catching malaria in the region we visited.
- Try to eat in restaurants that look busy and avoid restaurants that do not have a high influx of people.
- Try to avoid street meat. Avoiding street meat is probably one of the more contentious pieces of advice, given that street meat could be both the best and the worst part of a trip to India. I think the main concern is that a lot of street vendors are using local water that may contain bacteria that we are not immune to.Just use your judgment and make sure the water bottle seal is not broken.
And one bonus tip:
- Embrace the frustrating moments. Thinking back, the frustrating moments were among the highlights. My favourite — getting dropped off in the middle of a busy five lane highway and literally screaming over being scammed out of a dollar. One dollar!