In my previous article I told you that I am not a big fan of the Dutch winter. I prefer to escape it. In 2017 I did this by traveling through India. My boyfriend and I had 20 days to explore this gigantic country. We chose to focus on the northern province of Rajasthan combined with cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, Agra and Varanasi. The result was an amazing variety of smells, colors and landscapes. India is an overwhelming country, but it is also stunning. Today I will tell you more about our travel route.
Crazy Delhi: 2 days
We began our journey as many begin an India trip: right in the chaotic heart of the country, in the capital Delhi. Honestly, this is not the most attractive destination in India. And when I say this, I am mainly talking about the old part of Delhi. The few hours I spent there were marked by constant honking traffic of motor and bicycle rickshaws and pushing myself through crowds of people on Chadni Chowk. Why should you still go to Old Delhi, you ask? Well, this is the place where you can find some amazing sights such as the Red Fort and the Jama Masjd mosque.
Fortunately, not every place in Delhi is crowded and chaotic. The new part of Delhi offers a completely different experience. We spent an afternoon at Lodhi Colony. A lovely green neighborhood with zero honking motor rickshaws and walls full of street art. Another great place in Delhi is the Gurudwara Bangla Sahib temple, the largest Sikh temple in Delhi. Make sure that when you enter the temple, you take off your shoes and put a cloth around your head (both men and women).
Also read: Street art in Delhi: Lodhi Art District.
Golden city of Jaisalmer: 2 days
By night train we headed for the desert province of Rajasthan. Our first stop was India´s golden city Jaisalmer. In Jaisalmer, everything revolves around two things: the Golden Fort and the Thar desert. Both places are beautiful, but are also changing in a negative way because of the increase of tourism. The fort has been sinking for years, because of an outdated sewage and drainage system. The growth in hotels and souvenir shops within the fort has only made this worse. In order not to contribute to this, it is recommended to find a hotel outside the fort. In the Thar desert, nearly all desert tent camps offer a dromedary ride through the desert. I highly disapprove all animal entertainment and that includes the touristic dromedary rides. Real change starts with the tourists themselves.
Blue streets of Jodhpur: 3 days
After Jaisalmer we continued our journey to the blue city Jodhpur, my favorite city in Rajasthan. A labyrinth of lively streets, water wells (baoris) that are almost art pieces and the Meherangarh Fort high above the city on a hill. Of course you cannot skip the highlight of the city: the famous blue alleys. An entire neighbourhood where the walls of houses are painted blue, a beautiful backdrop for an afternoon stroll. There are different explanations as for the reason for the blue color. One says that the blue paint repels termites, the other says that the blue paint refers to the former inhabitants of the high-ranking brahmin caste. Whatever it may be, it is stunning!
An afternoon in Ranakpur
The journey from Jodhpur to Udaipur takes about five hours, but with the Indian road conditions it can easily take longer. Therefore we chose to schedule a little break in Ranakpur. In this small town you will undoubtedly find one of the most important Jain temples of India. Jainism is derived from Hinduism and focuses on nonviolence, inner peace and tolerance. The white marble temple in Ranakpur is beautiful to see both outside and inside. It is estimated that 144 pillars support the temple and each pillar is a work of art in itself. They are full of details and symbols. Visitors are welcome from 12 noon onwards. If you want to visit the temple, there are a couple of rules to take into consideration. For instance, you cannot bring leather belts, bags, bottles of water of food into the temple. Furthermore, you need to buy an entrance ticket for every camera device you want to take with you.
The white city of Udaipur: 2 days
Rajasthan is the province of colors and after the golden and blue cities we visit the white city of Udaipur. Udaipur was the ultimate relaxing destination for me. In my opinion, this city felt less crowded and chaotic than the other cities. We took a boat trip over the Pichola lake, wandered around at the Hindu Jagdish temple and walked around the white island hotel Lake Palace. But the best activity in Udaipur was the cooking workshop at Shashi’s place. A women with an interesting story, a wonderful personality and a talent for cooking. We have tasted here the best dishes of our entire trip through India. Our stay in Udaipur felt too short. I would have liked to have stayed a day longer.
Pink Jaipur: 3 days
The last destination of the colorful Rajasthan quartet was Jaipur. Jaipur is also called the pink city, but in reality you see more a terracotta orange color than pink. On our first morning in Jaipur we made a bike tour through the city with Cyclin ‘Jaipur. A great way to see the city in a sporty way. On our second day we visited the city palace and the Amber fort, both beautiful places you do not want to miss when visiting Jaipur. Unfortunately, at the fort we noticed that animal-friendly tourism has still a long way to go. At the bottom of the hill there were a couple of brightly painted elephants lined up to take the tourists to the top. An elephant ride sounds like a dream to many travelers, but please realize that elephant rides are the result of animal cruelty. Want to read more about? World Animal Protection tells you more about how wild animals are still used as tourist entertainers.
An afternoon at Fatehpur Sikri
On our way from Jaipur to Agra we made a quick stop at the former Mogul capital of Fatehpur Sikri. In the sixteenth century, this city was the most important city of the Islamic Mogul Empire. It only enjoyed this status for a short time, because after 14 years the city was completely abandoned. The result: a ghost town with no residents. For me, this story was really intriguing and it initially convinced me to go there. But as I told in my article about Fatehpur Sikri, I look back on this city with mixed feelings. Yes, it is a beautiful historic place to visit, but it is also a place with an awful side. Pushy salesmen, scams, fake guides. When I was in Fatehpur Sikri, I always felt I had to be on my guard.
Agra, the home of the Taj Mahal: 2 days
Besides the beauty of the Taj Mahal, the reputation of Agra is not too good. It is known as a dirty and busy city, but actually I found it not that bad. I mean Agra is a busy city, but which city in India isn’t. I was also pleasantly surprised by the modern boulevard leading to the East Gate of the Taj Mahal. Clean, neat and lit in the evening. We visited the Taj Mahal during sunrise, one of the best moments to visit this beautiful sight. Unfortunately, we were battling with a lot of fog that morning. The Taj Mahal was playing hide and seek with us. Yet the fog also had advantages, because once the sun was up there was a mystical atmosphere.
Spiritual Varanasi : 2 days 1 day
From Agra we took the train to Varanasi. A night train that changed into a night and day train. During our train ride we had 12 hours of delay, so instead of arriving at 10.00 in the morning we arrived at 22.00 in the evening. An entire day went up in smoke. We also received no updates in the train about the delay, so we had no clue when we would arrive at Varanasi. All in all, it was a special, yet exhausting experience.
Although we only had one day in Varanasi, we really enjoyed this city. We made a boat trip across the holy river Ganges, saw the burning Ghat ceremonies and watched the evening Aarti ceremony. A quick tip for travelers who like a beer or wine: in the holy city there is almost no alcohol available. Still, sometimes it is possible to drink a beer in a restaurant, but you have to do that in a closed-off room out of public sight.
Also read: a speed date with Varanasi.
Gigantic Mumbai: 3 days
From Varanasi we flew to the metropolis of Mumbai. The city that formerly went through life as Bombay. Mumbai had a couple of great neighborhoods. Visit for example the area of Fort for the colonial architecture, visit the boutique shops in Khala Goda or get scouted as a Bollywood movie star in Colaba. Want to get out of the crowds in Mumbai? Then go to Chowpatty Beach. People like to come here in the evenings to relax and eat at the street food trucks with the family. I also recommend to walk around Marine Drive to see the Art Deco architecture or go the Hanging Gardens to spot the unique collections of green animal sculptures.
And that was it: traveling in nearly three weeks time through India. It was a first introduction to this fascinating country. Would I want to go back to India again? Yes, India is such a diverse country. On my wish list the green south of India. Moreover, as a vegetarian the delicious vegetarian food is a perfect excuse to return to this exotic destination!
Final tips for traveling in India
- The Indian train system is hopelessly outdated. So please reserve a full travel day in your itinerary, because it happens regularly that trains leave too late and will stand still a few times along the way.
- We visited India in the month January and we thought India was all year round hot. We were wrong. In Rajasthan, Agra and Varanasi the maximum temperature was 16 degrees. If you plan to visit this region in winter time, bringing a few extra sweaters is a great idea.
- As a woman I recommend you to bring a couple of scarves with you. This is great for covering up your shoulders or neck or covering your mouth in case of exhaust gases or other smells.
- Earplugs are a lifesaver. In India it is never quiet, during the night there is still noise everywhere. In Rajasthan the barking dogs at night drove us crazy.
- Indian cities are not made for strolling around. The distances are quiet large, the traffic is chaotic and there are hardly any sidewalks. Make it yourself easy and take a rickshaw, taxi or order an Uber.
Is India on your wish list?