Looking back through nearly 5,000 photos, writing several dozen blogs, and 100 or so Instagram posts, we’ve had a lot of time to reflect on our fifteen-day journey across India.
Over 50 Travelers
Okay, shortly, we’ll have to stop saying that as I’m looking at my sixtieth birthday approach, and Chuck celebrated that milestone a few years back.
Regardless, we’re not twentysomethings. And, sleeping in hostels, cramming onto public busses, and general seating tickets on jam-packed trains aren’t really our style.
While we travel on our own in many countries, we know that we sometimes need to book a tour package to see beyond bigger cities. For us, this was the best option to see what we wanted to see on our first visit to India.
To be completely honest, when we initially talked about India, I had these horrible visions of me being the guy hanging off the back of a bus with a backpack on my shoulder.
A Love-Hate Relationship With Indian Food
We love Indian food! We actually cook a considerable amount of it at home and shop at several local Indian grocers. But, much like we experienced on our trip to China several years ago, we learned quickly that Indian food varied considerably by region. But also, it is not quite the same as Indian food in the US.
I’ve yet to find Butter Chicken in the states prepared this way, and was this tasty.
However, we also learned that we’re not ready for Indian food breakfast, lunch, and dinner, every day for over two weeks. The volume of spices and smells was often overwhelming.
I found myself opting for Western breakfast options at breakfast at our hotels. This is something we never do when we travel. But, I also found myself grabbing a cheese sandwich for lunch and a pizza for dinner on occasion.
India Is All They Say
When people hear you are traveling to India, they voluntarily tell you all kinds of odd things.
Beyond ‘don’t drink the water’ and ‘don’t eat street food,’ we also heard that it would be loud, dirty, crowded, smelly and that there are cows EVERYWHERE running wherever they choose.
First and foremost – we didn’t drink the water. Bottled water is readily available in our hotels, on our bus, in restaurants, and at stores everywhere. But, we also don’t drink anything but bottled water a lot of places we travel to.
We ate street food. We do this in almost every place we travel to. We’re not fans of eating all our meals in hotels and like eating where the locals eat.
We are beyond thrilled that we choose to do a street food tour in Delhi with Delhi Food Walks. They took us places we would never have gone on our own, and they curate a wide variety of safe, delicious food. Our guide, Virat, and the owner Anubhav were AMAZING! It was one of the highlights of our vacation.
Yes, it’s dirty, and it’s loud, and it’s crowded – just like major cities in every country we have ever traveled to. You get used to the horns honking. You absolutely DO NOT want to get caught in the dirt streets of Old Delhi in driving rain. It’s crowned, and the streets flood and turn to mud, and you have no idea what you might be walking through.
India is also beautiful and green and hilly and quiet, and there are places in the country we saw no one for miles and miles. So, if you go get out of the cities, go out to the country and see tigers in the wild!
We saw cows, and yes, they seem to wander wherever they choose. But mostly they lay there and watch the world go by. And by no means did I ever feel like we were being swarmed by herds of stampeding cows.
Smelly is an interesting concept. The smell of spices and incense seems to be everywhere. They are overwhelming at times. One of our least favorite things was the overpowering smell of room deodorizers the hotels use, mostly in public spaces.
The volume of people, dirt roads weaving their way between buildings that are hundreds of years old creates an interesting experience for the senses.
Our Favorite Things
We focused on this northern region of India specifically to see the Taj Mahal. If you’ve followed our blogs, you know we are working our way through the Seven Modern Wonders. The Taj Mahal was spectacular. Its everything you expect it to be and more. The fact that tourism was slowing as the world started dealing with COVID-19 kept it virtually empty.
Tigers were top of Chuck’s buck list items. There are currently nearly 3,000 tigers in the wild in India, up about 700 from just a few years back.
We were told that you have a 50/50 chance of seeing a tiger in Ranthambore Tiger Reserve. We have friends who traveled there about four months before us and saw ZERO. So, seeing three tigers up close and personal on our two game drives was pretty amazing.
The diversity of India’s landscape is incredible! You absolutely want to get out of the city and explore. We went from the hustle and bustle of smaller towns to the remote jungle of Ranthambore. We crossed flat, dry desert-like areas and ate lunch in the middle of some of the hilliest terrain surrounded by lush greenery.
And, lastly, the people. The people of India are as diverse as the landscape. They are some of the friendliest, warmest people we have encountered. From the local artisans’ skills to the stunning colors of the women’s clothing, the people are just so fascinating to watch and engage with.
First World Problems
As much as we’ve traveled, we still had some first world challenges when we traveled throughout India.
It’s no secret that India has a large population of people living in poverty. Touring India, especially near major monuments, you will encounter people begging. You can’t avoid this, but unfortunately, giving them money just encourages more begging.
It was also the first place we’ve traveled where people asked for money when you tried to photograph them. So, we found ourselves shooting long-range photos with a zoom lens.
We made sure to support locals selling crafts and souvenirs wherever possible. Additionally, some of the major markets are food stalls where you can sponsor meals for people in need.
Bones in food makes us crazy. I guess we’ve been spoiled by Americanized Indian food. Ordering dishes like Chicken Saagwala in the states is typically made with boneless chicken thighs. We always experienced chicken chopped up, on the bone, whether in a sauce or in biryani.
Will You Go Back To India?
Despite the questions of what life was like at home and what was happening around the world with COVID-19, we had a great time. Southern India is entirely different than what we experienced in Delhi, Jaipur, or Udaipur.
While we are continually adding new places to our bucket list, we know that experiencing more of India is down the road.
Be sure to keep checking back on our travel blogs as we’ll be sharing posts from our quarantine life and local staycations in and around our home of St Petersburg, Florida!