The experience we just had is really indescribable but we will try our best to put it into words. India is completely different than any place in the world. It takes all your senses to really grasp where you are. It’s colorful and dirty, it’s loud and beautiful, it’s fast and crowded, it’s hot and murky, it’s friendly and poor, it’s delicious and gross, it’s decorated and deteriorated but it is wonderful all the same.
Stepping off the plane in Delhi was like stepping into a different world. We were both overwhelmed by what we saw. The poverty was everywhere, and extreme. We expected to see poverty in India but you would think it would only be in certain areas. How wrong we were. It was everywhere. We went to our hotel, which was on Main Bazaar Road by a huge open-air bazaar (an open air street with shops and restaurants.) It was a backpacker’s paradise with cheap shops lining both sides of the street. Street food, music, cows and people crowded the streets. Seeing a cow in the street was not unusual, by the end of our trip it was normal for us to see them on the roads along with cars or scooters with 3-5 people on them. Cows are sacred in India and when a female cows get old and can’t produce milk anymore the owner just sets them loose to roam the streets. The streets of Delhi were dirty and crowded. You would see people living in makeshift tents on the side of the road, or taking showers with buckets of water right next to you.
That first night we took an auto rickshaw to the famous Red Fort and then cruised the street market on Chandni Chowk. This was not a touristy zone by any means, we were defiantly the only white people around, and it got dark quicker than expected. Right off the airplane into this situation was a crazy experience. We just went with it and had a great time. We were hungry and had some street food that was rather interesting. We kept seeing people getting these little hollow fried bread bowls that they punched their thumb into, filled with potatoes and other veggies and then scooped into a big pot of hot broth. We kept seeing people eating these so we figured we had to try them out. We saw a group of people eating them so we hopped in line, and when its your turn the guy makes them for a few people at a time until you are finished and then he charges you. They serve them to you as fast as you can eat them and they hand them over until you say stop. So we are up and we get two handed to us. They are about the size of a golf ball and because they are filled with liquid you just pop the whole thing into your mouth. Well turns out that the water is dead cold, and the broth is a sour weird juice, they tasted so unusual, kind of good, and kind of terrible at the same time, but you have to choke it down because a crowd of Indian men are watching you. So we did and before we could laugh about what just happened two more get handed to us! Round two went down the same as the first and that was it for us. And after all of that we did not even get sick! Day one of India was a success!
The next day we visited some temples in Delhi. We went to the Baha’I Lotus temple, which is a giant temple shaped like a huge lotus flower, which is the national flower of India because it is beautiful and will survive through the harshest of conditions. More impressive than these huge buildings were the people. The people of India caught our eye more than any of the monuments we visited. The women wear bright colored saris with beautiful designs and shiny beads; they wear bindis and have jingling anklets and bracelets so you can hear them as they walk past. We would sit and watch the women walk by. The people of India are so friendly compared to some Europeans we have met. Seeing a white person is a rarity for them and many would come up and want to just touch our hand. Some would want to take pictures of us or take pictures of them. We would sometimes ask beautifully decorated women, children and men if we could take their pictures. Afterwards they all loved to look at the picture on the little screen of our cameras.
After our temple hopping it was time to get a move on. We rented a driver named Raj for 5 days and we drove around India in an air-conditioned little car with our own personal tour guide. This was the best thing we did. It saved us money and we could tell Raj to pull over or stop anytime. Raj is from Delhi and has been a driver for tourists like us for 15 years, and he is just over 30 years old! He has a wife and 3 children who live an apartment not much bigger than my condo in Reno. He was definitely more than just our driver. He knew everything about the areas we visited and he would take us wherever we wanted. This was such a luxury, not having to haggle with rickshaw drivers over prices every time we wanted to go somewhere. There are two moments where we really fell in love with Raj. Being curious travelers we were always grilling him about things we saw while driving through the streets. “What is that temple?” or “What is that they are selling?” We always saw men with little carts squeezing fresh lime juice into cups, when we asked Raj what kind of drinks they were making he automatically pulled the car over and bought us two, but first he ran across the street and got bottled water for our drinks as the local water would do nothing but send us running to the restroom. We were ecstatic looking at the little Indian boy making our fresh lime drinks, which looked like fresh squeezed lemonade with a scoop or two of sugar. We were so thirsty and chugged our drinks, and we were very surprised to find that our “lemonade” was salty! Indians make a drink with fresh squeezed limes and add salt, not sugar; and spices to them! We never would have known that if Raj didn’t pull over and buy us some. Late in the trip in Jaipur, Raj asked us if we had tried an India lassi drink. We said no, and sure enough he pulled over and bought us two. Lassi is made of yogurt and sometimes mixed with fresh fruit. Ours was served in a clay cup on the side of the road and was the perfect breakfast. Jeff asked what to do with the clay cup when he finished, the men looked confused and said “throw it” and a look on the ground would prove that everyone in fact just throws these clay cups right on the ground. Only in India. To say the least, Raj was amazing and he became a good friend after our 5 days together. Having a cooler in the back with cold water and beer did not hurt either!
Then we got to Agra, home to the Taj Mahal. Agra is not anything like you would expect out of a city that contains one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. You would think because the Taj is a huge tourist site that Agra would be a little cleaner and more comfortable for tourists, its not at all. Agra has dirty little streets with tons of people, crazy smells, cows, shops, restaurants and little hotels. Then in the middle of all this hustle and bustle was this giant marble palace. We went to see the Taj Mahal at sunrise and sunset, it was truly breathtaking. We cannot tell you enough how amazing this place is, it’s gigantic, it was made for a one’s love and it shows. There is definitely an energy that cannot be described when you are here. It’s the Taj Mahal, a building built out of love and its one of the most incredible sights in the world.
After seeing the Taj we left Agra and were on the road to Jaipur, the “Pink City.” We stopped half way there at the Fatehpur Sikri ruins of the former imperial capital of Moghul of emperor Akbar that was built in 1569. These ruins were very beautiful and we had fun roaming around and taking pictures, as the ruins were nearly empty. In Jaipur we went to the monkey temple. You have never seen this many wild monkeys before. There were hundreds. We bought peanuts to feed the monkeys, you could hold out your hand and let them grab it with their little hands. We also saw so many animals in India it was like going to a zoo everyday. Just on the streets we would see cows, goats, monkeys, water buffalo, camels, horses, elephants, peacocks, birds, dogs, and cats. The next day we woke up early and went to the Amber Fort. Here we got to ride decorated and painted elephants to the top of the fort. This was so much fun, it made you feel Aladdin if only for a short while. The Amber Fort was massive and beautiful in the morning light. We left our driver Raj in Jaipur, he said we should come back and next time we could stay with his family and he would have his wife cook us dinner. We would love to take him up on that offer one day.
Indian food is the best and we love that you just scoop it up and eat it with your hands. It took a little adjusting to an Indian diet; have you tried eating curry three times a day? It can get old but we learned what are some of our favorite dishes. Chicken tikka masala, palak paneer, chicken korma, garlic naan, dal makahini. We had some really unforgettable meals. I know we will both miss Indian food when our time here is over.
After the hustle and bustle of Northern India we were ready to head down to the Goan beaches in Southern India. Goa is often called “The Pearl of the Orient” which makes total sense with its golden beaches and laid back life style. With miles of coastline and sounds of the ocean it made you question if you were still in India . With an interesting mix of India, Portugese, and hippie cultures Goa is a remarkable place to visit. Our first night we stayed in the little Portugese town of Panjim, which was inland and just a small fishing village. We stuffed ourselves with delicious crab zu zu (crab in a spicy coconut gravy) and chicken vindaloo (goan specialty spicy curry) and slept. in the morning we decided to take off on a hunt to find the perfect beach in Goa. We went north to Baga beach as our first stop. Baga had an enormous beach with golden sand and little beach hut cafes. There wasn’t anyone really swimming here and barely anyone was even in a swimsuit, we were a little bummed because we were super hot and looking forward to swimming in the ocean. This beach also had a lot of trash piled up on it and shanty little shacks with people living in them along the beach. We knew right away this wasn’t the paradise beach we were looking for. Although this beach let us down a little we still had the best night of our time in Goa in Baga. We were in Goa during the “off season” when there are mostly other Indians on vacation with their friends and families. Baga is the place that the Indians went to party and it was funny to be some of the only whiteys there. One of the nights in Baga our hotel had a live band and our hotel was was going off! The place was packed with Inidans dancing and drinking, which really was a sight to see since we didn’t see any Indians in Northern India drinking, let alone dancing on bars! We danced right along with them, made some friends, and had the best time. Definitely a night we will never forget.
We decided it was time to move on to another beach, next we went to Anjuna beach. In Anjuna we stayed at a nice hotel with a pool and finally got to do some swimming. There were two beaches here, one was rocky and one was absolutely gorgeous… if you don’t mind the occasionally cow cruising the beach. Anjuna was fun, we did some shopping but still didn’t feel comfortable swimming at the beach. We would always see a group of Indians wading into the ocean about up to their waist, in their clothes but never farther. We think maybe most Indians here on vacation didn’t know how to swim.
After being in Goa for awhile we kept hearing about this beach called Palolem way down in Southern Goa that was supposed to be paradise. We decided to give it a shot and drove 3 hours down the coast to Palolem beach. We knew immediately that we had arrived at the beach we were searching for. Palolem was incredible. The beautiful crescent beach was lined with colorful carved fishing boats and palm trees overhead. We walked up and down the beach until we found the perfect little bungalow to stay at. For 7$ a night we stayed in a bungalow directly on the beach with a balcony to sit in and enjoy the view. The beach and town were still very quite as it was off season but the people who were enjoying it were tourists, who were swimming and walking around in bikinis. We automatically threw on our suits and ran baywatch style into the water. To our delight the water was crystal clear and the soft sand gradually ascended into deeper water. It was hard to believe we were in India. The beach was spotless. There were still cows and dogs laying casually on the beach but that gave it some Indian flavor and the dogs were definitely the happiest ones we saw in India. A lot of the beach was closed down because it was still “off season” and it gave the beach a romantic sort of deserted beach vibe. There was only one restaurant open on the beach that served up the tastiest Indian food we had and we ate every meal there, and so did everyone else there so it was always packed with a handful of happy travelers having a drink and reading a book or writing in their journals. One morning we took a little wooden boat out into the middle of the small bay and got to see a pod of dolphins eating and playing in the water. This place really was paradise, we found it. After being lazy on the beach and letting time slip away we decided it was time to keep moving on. It was sad to say goodbye to Palolem beach but we made a promise to come back one day.