26 Highlights from 26 Days in Incredible India

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Highlights of India - Lily Leung Jumping Taj Mahal

Me, jumping at Taj Mahal. More photos on Facebook.

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Desert camping in the Thar Desert in Jaisalmer. Kate & Lily on a camel, Thar Desert, IndiaRiding 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.
  9. Rescued by our sweet tour guide from getting stuck (and potentially arrested) at unauthorized alcohol dealer after hours.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.)
  14. Indian Wedding, PushkarDressing 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.
  15. 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.
  16. 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.)
  17. 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).
  18. 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.
  19. Sunrise boat ride, VaranasiFeeding 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).
  20. 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.
  21. Visiting Sarnath, where Buddha gave his first sermon after being enlightened.
  22. 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.
  23. 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.
  24. 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.
  25. Varanasi - Lily LeungFinishing 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 (having an internet connection almost everywhere, making calls to India and from India was very easy.)
  26. 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.

What’s next?

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

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).
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  • Kunal Singh

    I have been inspired by this …I have always thought of doing this but always was stuck due to may be fear….I am sure this time I am going to make it…..thank you so much for sharing this :)

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  • http://twitter.com/BreatheDreamGo Mariellen Ward

    So glad you had such a great time in India and learned what many of us have discovered: it’s a great place to travel! I’ve spent about 14 months altogether traveling India and it just gets better and better.

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  • Priyanka

    Hi, I came across your blog recently. I work as a content writer in a firm based in one of the major cities of India(Kolkata). I am so glad that you loved my country so much and had only kind words to say……thank you…In fact, few years back I have taken major decisions related to personal and professional life and could relate with you completely. Looking forward to more of your posts. 

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Hi Priyanka,

      Thanks for stopping by! I have very fond memories of my trip to northern India. There was so much happening and so many things to understand. I would gladly visit a second time (I didn’t visit Kolkata on this trip) and would also love to see the southern area of the country. I can’t even describe how much I loved the food, the meat dishes were delicious and the vegetarian food was amazing even though I’m not a vegetarian.

      Warmest regards,
      - Lily

  • http://nomadicsamuel.com Nomadic Samuel

    Lily, you had an amazing journey in India!  I recently spent 2 months in India & I swear more events (both positive & negative) took place than about 2-3 years of regular life :P  It’s cool that you enjoyed the train rides – definitely a highlight of my journey as well.

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  • Anonymous

    Sounds like you had a wonderful trip! Love that you shared all the wonderful memories you had there on this post! Thanks for introducing Gap Adventures to us! We’ll definitely try them out for our next trip (TBD this november!)

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Hi Idelish,

      Good luck with your (potential) Gap Adventures trip. This India trip was my 4th booking with them, so you can see I’ve become fan. Most of my friends who’ve tried Gap have also gone back later to do subsequent Gap trips. If you’re looking for adventure tour operators, Intrepid Travel and Imaginative Traveller are two other ones I’ve heard a lot about (but haven’t tried, yet).

      - Lily

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Philip-Crawford/100001869717456 Philip Crawford

    Well it makes a difference if you have the money or it also depends if you are still living with your parents or not, because if you are married and have children you can not go out and travel like other people and if you are single with children you still can not do it either. The only way you can do it is you start young after collage then work awhile save some of your money, that is if you were not born with a silver spoon in your hand. The person that has too work and is single it takes a little longer too travel the way they want to do, unless you go too the UNITED STATES NAVY then you can get too travel with the fleet.

  • http://www.youngandthrifty.ca Youngandthrifty

    I went to Sarnath too! I loved it there. I love India! You made it alive traveling alone as a single girl! :)

    I love that picture with the birds in Varanasi- definitely a picture deserving to be framed!

  • http://www.regardsfromthebalcony.com Tony

    I would truly love to visit India, and was interested in the GAP tour, but the age limit is 39, so old fossils like me (I’m 48) need not apply! :( Still, it looks like you had a fantastic time, and I think you made a wise decision to get an organized tour in this case.

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Hi Tony,

      It’s interesting that GAP has age limits on certain tours. Maybe so that they can charge the ‘older’ travellers a higher price compared to the younger (and less wealthy) travellers? I’ve taken other trips with GAP that didn’t have age limits, and it was just as much fun toa a wide age range among the travellers (for example 19 to 65).

      I am glad I went with a group tour and not by myself. It was stressful sometimes even in a group with a tour leader taking care of us, so I can only imagine the intensity if I was travelling alone.

      - Lily

  • Coachdougbowers

    The door has opened – the road is endless – a good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.
    See where life leads you next…and keep that happiness thing going!

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Hi Doug,

      Thank you! And big, big thanks for the Thailand trip planning tips. You’ve helped make my first Christmas away from home, feel like home. I’m off to Hanoi next week!

      - Lily

  • http://twitter.com/mukuba2002 zablon mukuba

    am glad you had a great time in india, where did you spend christmas and new year?

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Hi Zablon,

      I flew to Thailand after India and spent Christmas and New Years in Chiang Mai (northern Thailand). I went to a temple up in the mountains with a friend for Christmas Day, then camped at a national park with a ton of fireworks and lanterns for New Years. It was my first Christmas away from home, but I had a great time making new traditions :)

      Hope you had a great holiday and happy new year!

      - Lily

  • Darryl Roggeveen

    SOunds like you are having a great time – I did a similar trip through Europe although only 6-7 weeks in comparison – This will be a life changing experience. Very happy for you!@

    Darryl

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Hi Darryl,

      Happy New Year! A 6-7 week trip in Europe sounds amazing. I haven’t travelled much in Europe, so something for me to look forward to – I may come to you for tips on that in the future :)

      Thanks so much for stopping by to say hi!

      - Lily

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  • http://www.donteverlookback.com Amy & Kieron

    Sounds like you’ve having a great time Lily and making the most of your travels with plenty of unbelievable experiences!

    Looking forward to reading more of your adventures.

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Hi Amy & Kieron,

      Happy New Year! It’s great to hear from you. I’ve been following your travel-prep updates and I’m really excited for you guys. Hope the Canadian working permit works out for you – let me know if you need any info about Canada, especially Toronto :)

      - Lily

      • http://www.donteverlookback.com Amy & Kieron

        I’ve got a feeling we’ll be spending a lot of time around Toronto. The only thing that will stop us is if we think the winter chill is a bit too cold for us!

      • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

        Good luck adjusting to the winter temps – I’ve lived in Canada for the last 21 years and I still haven’t adjusted to the winters :) (Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll manage :) Snow is kind of a novelty at first!) There’s a huge underground path downtown Toronto that connects many of the subway stops and major buildings :)

  • http://www.youtube.com/OmarOnTech omar of youtube.com/OmarOnTech

    Awesome!

  • http://www.1yearsabbatical.com Matt

    This is so inspiring Lily! Posts of adventures like this should be a great motivation for anyone sitting on the fence about taking time off and traveling the world. It doesn’t matter your age, your place in life or whether you have a family. Anyone can get out there and experience in their own way what you have. Looking forward to learning from the rest of your journey.

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Hi Matt,

      I couldn’t agree more about getting out to travel, even if you’re new at planning a trip, there so many small group tour companies you can use to get you started.

      I’m looking forward to your updates on your 1 year sabbatical as well, I’m so excited for you!

      - Lily

  • Ted Nelson

    Sounds like an incredible experience. Sucks your camera died, but in a way that has to be kind of liberating especially since so many nice people offered to send you pictures. Congrats on getting published.

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Hi Ted,

      I was pretty lucky to be around such kind travellers – it was touching that everyone took photos of me and for me and offered to share them. Luckily, I had my iPhone too for videos and quick shots too. Once I thought about it, it didn’t seem like a crisis at all anymore :)

      - Lily

  • http://dho.ca Dan H

    I was a lil worried for you when you tweeted about the lost passport but glad to know you found it! Keep us updated on your trip!

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Hi Dan, thanks for saying hi – I’m glad I found my passport too. I think that was the 2nd closest time on my trip to losing my zen. I’ll definitely keep everyone updated on my adventures, but if you see any mysterious updates, do send out a search team for me :)

  • http://www.lifesgreatescape.net Alyx Falkner

    Well Lily it sounds like you had a wonderful time. I’m so happy for you. Best of wishes as you continue to travel. Have fun and keep us updated.

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Thanks Alyx for your kind wishes. I’m really excited about your upcoming travels as well – can’t wait to hear more about your preparations!