Incredible & Intoxicating India

India has the ability to inspire, challenge, frustrate, confront and excite you all at once. Indian bureaucracy is exasperating, poverty can be confronting and the concept of personal space just does not exist. However, the country will fill your senses in every way imaginable. 
 

This was my second time to India and I was excited to catch up with some old friends and also to see other parts of India that were of interest to me. May is not the best time to go to India due to the summer weather – it was tops of 35 degrees in Mumbai and tops of 45 degrees in Varanasi, Jaipur and Delhi. I personally wouldn’t recommend going at this time (unless you’re going south to the beaches or north to the mountains) because the heat can be unbearable at times and it’s just generally harder to get around. I love walking and exploring places (and can do it for hours on end) but it was a massive struggle in the heat so I mainly took auto rickshaws or the metro in Delhi to get around (which is super cheap).

I arrived to Mumbai on Thursday night (and was exhausted after a hectic start to the week due to my CA exam) and Varun picked me up at the airport. He kindly organised a place for me to stay and we headed out for some drinks with Anisha and their friends Junee and Kurang. We went to Fusions and China Place which was fun!

The next day I explored Mumbai and went to Mahesh Lunch Home in Kala Ghoda. They are known to specialise in seafood and I had an awesome prawn curry. Next, I walked down to the Gateway of India then headed to Haji Ali Dargah. It’s a mosque located on an islet and it was really fascinating walking through the market stalls lined all the way up stretching a few hundreds of metres.

                                                                    Bombay reunion
On the walk to Haji Ali Dargah
                                                                    Haji Ali Dargah

I flew to Varanasi the next morning and this was a whole other level of India that I experienced. It is known as one of Hinduism’s most holiest cities and it is one of the most unique places I’ve ever been to – it is blindingly colourful, ridiculously chaotic and probably the most indiscreet place to say the least. It’s dirty, the streets are chaotic with people, motorbikes, bicycle rickshaws, stalls, cows and other animals roaming and everyone is trying to squeeze through the narrow alleyways. It is intense and a little overwhelming so it definitely isn’t a place for the faint hearted!

                                                                      River Ganga
                                                                 Colourful Varanasi
                                                    Walking along the River Ganges

I stayed at Bhandrakali Guesthouse which was well located near Dashashwamedh Ghat (main ghat in Varanasi). I explored the ghats from there and walked all the way to Assi Ghat (most Southern ghat). Manikarnika Ghat is one of the main burning ghats in Varanasi and it was pretty surreal – seeing dead bodies being burnt is already confronting but the heat of the flames intensifies it.

The best way to see the ghats is getting a row boat along the Ganga at sunrise. It cost only 100R for an hour and it was a really nice way to start the day. During the evening, there is a daily performance at the main ghat called “agni pooja” which is essentially a light and fire show dedicated to the gods. It was packed full of people and was interesting to watch.

I also explored the ghats during sunrise to see the daily routines of the locals and also to beat the heat. By 6-7am it was already pretty hot and unbearable! From Assi Ghat, I also went to Banaras Hindu University to walk around the lush green campus. Vishwanath Temple is located here as well. The contrast between the university area and the streets just outside, is incredible. The quiet, green, leafy university had no rubbish with people walking around and exercising and only a couple of cows and animals, whereas the outside area is completely dirty and disgusting with so much rubbish, debris and animal faeces and is full of people, traffic and noise.

Sadhu (holy men) are aplenty in Varanasi
Certain ghats are used for either bathing or washing clothes
                                                                      The ghats
Sunrise boat ride on the Ganges

I took a day trip to Sarnath which is located 11 km north of Varanasi – however, although it’s close km wise, it still took 30 minutes as the roads to get there were bad. It gave a good Buddhist perspective of the city and it is where Gautama Buddha first taught the Dharma (Buddhist teaching). I visited Dhamekh Stupa and walked around the other archaeological ruins and it was nice walking around in the peace and quiet (albeit the heat!).

                                                                  Dhamekh Stupa

Funniest thing in Sarnath was when some Indian kids asked me where I was from and wanted to take pictures with me. I said “Australia” they asked me about the cricket as they love the cricket here and are cricket crazy. They asked me who my favourite player was and first player who popped up in my head was Mitchell Starc. They commented how great of a bowler he was and when I told them I was friends with his sister, they went crazy and took more photos of and with me! Hilarious!

Came back to Varanasi and went to relax. I had the best lassi’s from Bana Lassi. I ended up having at least one every day – they were that good! I also ate some good Indian food including vegetarian curries and thali (Indian set menu generally with roti, daal, curries and vegetables)

                                                    Home made thali – delicious!
Mango and pomegranate lassi

From Varanasi, I was initially going to take an overnight train to Jaipur (taking 19 hours) but decided to fly instead. Jaipur is in the state of Rajasthan and is full of forts and palaces. It is known as the “Pink City” due to its pink buildings and architecture. I found the city very spread out and hard to walk around and so I took auto rickshaws everywhere. I visited the City PalaceJantar MantarHawas MahalAlbert Hall MuseumGalta (Monkey Fort), Amer Fort and Palace, rode an elephant in the old Mughal village and ate some typical Rajasthani food at Narain Niwas Palace thanks to Sanjeev who I met on the plane on the way here. The laal maas (spicy lamb curry) is a must!

                                                                        Hawas Mahal
                                                                          Albert Hall
                 Jantar Mantar – collection of architectural astronomical instruments
                                                   Galta – monkey’s everywhere!
Front of Amer Fort
Gardens of Amer Fort
                                                                   Amer Fort garden
Elephant ride in the old Mughal village
                                                               Elephant in Jaipur 

I have been to Delhi in 2012 and it didn’t impress me so I was ready it to give it another crack! I took the train from Jaipur which took approximately 6 hours. I decided to splurge a bit and stayed at the five star, The Lalit in Connaught Place (CP) for 2 nights. The hotel was beautiful and the outdoor pool was amazing so I spent a fair bit of time poolside as it was too hot to walk around and explore.

I did spend the first day exploring Akshardham, one of the most beautiful and intricately designed temples I’ve ever seen. The security is a pain so I advise you to get there as soon as it opens at 9:30am. No electronic devices are allowed including mobile phones and cameras and you must place them in the bag deposit. It’s a shame as it would have been great to take some photos. For lunch, I went to Saravana Bhavan in CP for some Southern Indian food. The masala dosai is a must – was so flavoursome and was generous in portion. That evening I went to Khan Chacha for a quick yet tasty kebab. It’s located in CP and another outlet is in Khan Market.

                                                         Relaxing by The Lalit pool!
Akshardham (photo is not mine but from the internet)
                                                   Masala dosai at Saravana Bhavan

The next day I did a half day tour with Anju from Masterji Kee Haveli at 8am in the morning. I honestly avoid tours whenever I can but this was recommended to me and I am so glad I did it. I was able to gain a real insight into the wonders of Old Delhi and wouldn’t have seen or done what I did by myself. We walked around the chaotic streets of Old Delhi, went up the rooftops, visited temples and explored the markets including the flower, spice, fruit and vegetable ones. I tried different street food including puri with chickpeas, paratha and had a traditional lunch at a beautiful old Haveli (private mansion). The haveli was extremely impressive! After, I came back to the hotel and had a quick swim before checking out.

                                                                Delhi rooftop views
                                                                          Making puri
Hanging out in Old Delhi
Old Delhi chaos
On the haveli terrace

I had a short 13 hour stopover in Singapore which I took advantage of to have a sibling reunion. Liz and I went to Tanjong Pagar and had “breakfast” at Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice at Maxwell Food Centre – it is meant to be the best place for chicken rice! The lines waiting for it show as it was damn good! We explored the area then went for brunch at The Study where Chef Ayo treated us well! We had a cocktail each and shared the chorizo, beans, egg with saffron aioli and coconut and ricotta pancakes with mango and mint salsa as well as some hazelnut and raspberry sorbet. We did some shopping and then met David for an early dinner at East Coast Parkway. Feels as if I ate all day haha. Liz and I both headed back to the airport to fly home to Sydney. It was super short but was nice to see and catch up with David!

Liz & I in Chinatown
                                                                 Brunch is served
                                                     With Chef Ayo at The Study
It’s safe to say that I have a real love hate relationship with India. The country is demanding and difficult but also incredibly captivating. Although there were many challenges along the way (especially travelling alone as a female) it was definitely not unexpected and was an invaluable experience – I appreciate more that I’m home and realise how lucky we are living in Australia. I encourage those willing to step outside their comfort zone to visit India and experience it for what it is!

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