I had no idea what to expect when I was coming to India.
Travellers told me that I’d either love it or hate it. As the first stop of my round-the-world after leaving my day job months before, I prayed I wouldn’t be culture shocked and more importantly, I hoped I wouldn’t be lonely or homesick on my first attempt to travel alone.
In the end, I enjoyed everything from the chaotic streets, majestic temples and forts, massive crowds, delicious food, near-death street crossings, Bollywood movies and travelling with a great group of new friends.
I even surprised myself by keeping my zen through stressful events like being lost on my first night in Delhi, constantly approached or grabbed by women/men/children, my DSLR camera breaking at the start of my trip with nowhere to fix it, not having internet/wifi (the only expectation I had coming to India) and even almost losing my passport at end of my trip.
Everyday in India was a new adventure. After almost a month in Delhi, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Udaipur, Pushkar, Jaipur, Agra, Varanasi, here are some of my memorable moments.
- Making it alive to my hotel on the first night after they forget to pick me up at 3am from the airport. A 45 min ride turned to a 1.5 hour ride as the cabbie got lost and drove through unlit alleys with people sleeping on the ground and on street vending carts. Being warned not to be alone as a female traveller in India, I held my iPhone the entire time hoping the situation wouldn’t resort to me having to make an emergency call/text/tweet with the cab’s license plate number (I took a photo before I got in the car). Luckily, it really was a case of the cab driver getting lost, as opposed to trying to kidnap me.
- Walking around and taking the Delhi metro alone on my first day. Surviving lots of men trying to sell things, armless beggars poking me with their stumps, packed crowds on the subway, and crossing what seemed like a 20 lane street with honking cars, rickshaws, autorickshaws and horses (it was much more stressful than it sounds).
- Finding out my article on selling all my belongings to travel was posted in the Toronto Star’s Moneyville, a news site on Canadian personal finance (my first “published” article!). It was a great end to my second day in India.
- Meeting 14 new friends on my Gap Adventures Roam India tour. I would never imagine I’d have so much fun with a group of strangers (4 Swedes, 2 Argentinians, 6 Brits, 1 German, 1 Australian, 1 Canadian (me), average age was early 20’s) – not to mention our wonderful Mr. India 2009 finalist tour guide who took great care of us through the 20 days of northern India.
- The joy and serenity of walking barefeet in the many beautiful and spiritual temples, including Akshardham, Sikh and Muslim temples, Lord Krishna and Brahma temples, Taj Mahal and more.
- Making bread in a kitchen at a Sikh temple in Delhi, where people volunteer to cook and serve free food for the community and eating on the ground with local people.
- Being cranky after my DSLR spontaneously broke at the start of the trip, only to be happy later at the kindness of everyone in my tour group who offered to share their photos and to take photos of me on their cameras.
- Desert camping in the Thar Desert in Jaisalmer. Riding a camel for the first time and initially holding on for dear life, watching the sunset on a horizon of golden sand, seeing thousands of stars in the pitch black night.
- Rescued by our sweet tour guide from getting stuck (and potentially arrested) at unauthorized alcohol dealer after hours.
- Eating a super spicy & delicious samosa (street food) that cost 8 rupees (5 cents) in Jodhpur town square while a cow looked on. I couldn’t finish my spicy samosa, but the cow was kind enough to help.
- Delicious home cooked dinner of lentil soup, spicy vegetables and rice at our guide’s family’s home. Drinking homemade masala chai and cheering while we watched his Mr. India 2009 TV appearance.
- Three overnight train rides that flew by as we played word games, laughed at snoring locals, ate Oreos, watched Outsourced (a funny show about an American sent to Mumbai to run a call centre) and How I Met Your Mother.
- Episodes of uncontrollable laughter while reading phrases in LingoPal (an iPhone translator) for Hindi pick-up lines (“I’m a dolphin trainer,” “Growl for me”) and insults (“Eat the peanuts out of my $&!#”). Seeing the shock of our guide’s face when we played him phrases. Daring each other to play them to local people (we actually used a phrase, but it was to ask “when the ferry was arriving” after being stranded at a palace in the middle of Lake Udaipur, but really we could have just asked in English.)
- Dressing up and crashing our tour guide’s cousin-in-law’s wedding. Seeing colourful turbans, sarees and the procession of the groom entering on an elephant. Laughing at the number of wedding guests who stared at us and asked for photos and autographs.
- Watching a Bollywood movie on TV at the “Middle of Nowhere” restaurant in Pushkar, while eating outside on the ground and cuddled up with wool blankets. It was also our other guide-in-training’s birthday and treated us to a cake for dessert.
- Daily adventures of road crossing, including running across seemingly 20 lane streets, having car and rickshaw tires an inch away from your feet, seeing animals on every road and alley including camels, cows, monkeys, and last but not least, almost running into a herd of 7 elephants as we frantically ran across a big street in Jaipur to get to the famous Raj Mandir cinema. (Much more stressful than it sounds or looks in the video below. (See another crazy street crossing video on Facebook.)
- Visiting the majestic Taj Mahal – twice. Taking fantastic postcard-like photos and a laughable haunted house tour inside on the second visit after arriving near near closing time after sunset (see 30 sec video on Facebook).
- Beautiful, quiet, ride along the Varanasi in the Ganges river, seeing the burning of the deceased at the “Manikarnika Ghat.” Seeing the site of the bombings just a week before, and saying our own small prayers as we watched the holy ceremony on shore in the evening.
- Feeding migrating seagulls during a sunrise boat ride in Varanasi, virtually getting attacked by hundreds of seagulls and listening to ourselves make funny “bird” sounds to attract them closer. Best entertainment we had for 10 rupees ($0.25) for the bird food (noodles).
- Worrying I’d have bad luck after having the flame of my candle went out twice in the holy city of Varanasi when I was making a wish for happiness. Then later bumping into one of the “happiest people in the world”, monk/author/photographer Matthieu Ricard who serves the Dalai Lama. I recognized him from his TED Talk about, you guessed it, happiness.
- Visiting Sarnath, where Buddha gave his first sermon after being enlightened.
- Learning to go with the flow. I had planned to work, write and learn basic programming during my trip. I was disappointed with the lack of reliable internet/WiFi, but decided to just let it go instead of fighting it.
- Gaining 2+ inches by the 2nd week of my visit and not caring one bit. Happy to say that I only ate Indian food everyday for the entire trip, except for a few meals towards the end of my stay.
- Lazing around after early mornings or busy days. Sitting by a cool pool in Jaislamer and Pushkar eating ice cream, in a coffee shop in Delhi, chatting about books, personal stories, or what we plan on doing with our lives.
- Finishing 26 days in incredible India without any of the worse case scenarios I expected like: getting stomach/bowel problems, being pickpocketed, bitten by stray dogs, my laptop breaking or stolen, and most of all, being lonely or homesick.
- Learning the small prayer of “Om Nama Shiva” and giving gratitude for the opportunity to see the world, abundant access to privileges like education and the great adventure I shared with the new friends I otherwise wouldn’t have met.
Next destinations in Southeast Asia: Bangkok and Chiang Mai (Thailand), Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, back to Bangkok before heading south to the famous Thai beaches, then Malaysia and Singapore.
Keep in touch
- View my Facebook photos
- Follow me on twitter.com/lilyleung
- Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to say hi or for a post card!
India Trip Resources
- Gap Adventures has many tours in India which can be used as inspiration for your own trip. Also check out Intrepid Travel and National Geographic‘s list of other adventure tour operators
- Gap Adventures Roam India was the 20 day tour I took through northern India (highly recommended). It was $1,199 Canadian (incl. $150 discount for showing my SPC credit card at Flight Centre – you don’t have to be a student to get the card)
- Lonely Planet, Frommer’s, and TripAdvisor for online guides and India Mike for forums.
- Globetrooper, lets you find travel companions by posting your itinerary or joining someone else’s for travels to anywhere in the world.
- Outsourced, a funny show about an American sent to India to run a call centre. Touches on many cultural topics, like sideways head bobbing, sacred cows, Delhi belly, arranged marriage and more. Watch episodes online at TV-Dome (free).