Category Archives: India

Our New Year’s Eve 2012 trip to India

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!

High­lights:

  • 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

Low­lights:

  • 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:

6 Tips to Plan Your Trip to India

Another School day in Kochi, Kerala

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:
    1. slept with mos­quito nets;
    2. stayed indoors at dusk;
    3. made sure there weren’t any mos­qui­toes in the room at bed time;
    4. used repel­lent with deet;
    5. 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!