So, it’s finally time for me to get round to writing about my trip to India this past Christmas. It’s only been six months, after all. I always prefer to write about a place while the memories are fresh in my mind, whilst I’m on the road or when I’ve just returned and although I do often procrastinate from this plan and take a while to actually publish my posts, there’s something more to what made me so delayed in writing about India. I don’t know whether it was a refusal to actually accept that my trip was over or not wanting to publish memories that have become so special. Either way, for a while I was a lot more affected by India than I expected to be, or even knew. I knew I loved and hated India at the same time but I didn’t realise how much it really moved me until the months afterwards.
Being there, I felt like I was in a completely disconnected world, with my love, exploring and adventuring a land so different and far away. Seeing pictures of other people in the same places made me realise, it’s not disconnected, it’s just a country, a popular tourist destination, that anyone can explore and connect with and have the same experience of, and that upset me. It was like seeing pictures of your boyfriend doing the same things with another girl. Like… I thought what we had was special, India, how could you?
Anyway, it’s been long enough for me to realise that I can cherish memories of a place and give it a special place in my heart without owning it. Here’s a rundown of my whole India itinerary from 14th December to 13th January, travelling around the states of Rajasthan and Uttarakhand.
Where did I go on my India itinerary?
Delhi: 1 and a half days
I landed in Delhi around midday on the 14th December after travelling overnight from Paris. I find it ironic that most people’s first glimpses of India start in Delhi because it really is like getting thrown in the deep end. Delhi is pretty crazy and crazy busy and not really that pretty.
Delhi is also extremely loud: of the thousands of tuk tuks on the road at any given moment, all of them will be using their horns every five seconds. They use their horns instead of indicators and instead of mirrors and to tell pedestrians, dogs and cows to get the hell out of the way. Vendors will be hollering the names of their products and prices in a fast-paced high-pitched voice over and over until you wonder how they still have working voices.
We stayed in Paharganj main bazaar in a little hostel for two days, right in the middle of the gaggle (though I don’t know if it is possible to get away from the gaggle in Delhi) and although we didn’t really get to see any of the things that I planned to see at all as we spent our one full day on a wild goose chase round and around Connaught Place looking to buy train tickets, I did enjoy just being there, swept up by the noises and movement, the millions of suggestions by deceptive Indian men who looked all too friendly at the time. On the morning of the 16th, I left Delhi and boarded my first Indian train ride to Bikaner in Rajasthan, which was an experience in itself.
If I were to go back again, I’d spend a couple of extra days in Delhi in order to really explore some more of the architecture and history there. I mean, your first day there could quite easily turn into a wasted day in an desperate attempt to find your feet so planning at least two or three days in the capital so that you can find your feet and then see some of Delhi, would probably be useful.
How many days would I spend on a future India itinerary? 2 or 3
Rajasthan is generally most people’s first port of call when getting a taste of India and for good reason; it’s really a perfect hub of Indian culture and history. Often called the Land of Legends and home to multiple royal cities, Rajasthan is the place to go to for palaces, havelis, fortresses, art, markets and incredible food. It was a given to me that Rajasthan would be on my India itinerary. What was less clear was what cities and towns in Rajasthan we wanted to see, and how long we wanted to see each one. We were pretty clear from the get go that we wanted to see Udaipur and Jaisalmer, but we’d heard not so great things about Jodhpur and Jaipur so we weren’t sure if we would put these on the list. And then we found out about how great Bundi was and we were even more confused. However, we eventually figured it out and here’s the route that we eventually took around Rajasthan:
Rangmahal: 3 days
We went to Rangmahal because Josh’s NGO were hosting their quarterlies there for a couple of days and they were obligatory for him to attend. This basically put our travels to a halt before they’d even really started. Rangmahal is a tiny rural village near the border of Pakistan and not a place you should put on your list because honestly, there’s absolutely nothing there other than one tiny local shop selling tobacco and sweets.
Despite the heartbreak of being separated as soon as we were reunited, as Josh was in meetings all day long, I was actually quite thankful to have these few days to rest because I came down with a bad cold and diarrhoea the day we arrived in Rangmahal (it didn’t take me long to get Delhi Belly that’s for sure). The Rangmahal NGO centre was basically a large dirt courtyard surrounded by brick walls with four separate rooms- a kitchen, bathroom and two bedrooms. The courtyard in the middle had no roof but the connecting rooms each had a tin roof to protect from rain. Josh’s work mates gave up one of their rooms so that we could have some privacy, and I spent most of the days lying in bed sleeping and recovering from my sudden illness.
I slowly recovered and spent the last day taking a walk around the village in the sand, stalking cows and being waved at by locals. At various times a local would stop what they were doing in a field about 100 metres away and come all the way over to smile and say hello, stare for a bit and then leave. At one point, a group of children that were on their way home from school all stopped and shouted ‘hello’ and jumped about, seeming scared and excited at the same time. The woman next door kept offering for me to sit down on a chair in her front yard and when I retreated back into the centre, she knocked on the bolted metal doors to give me a cup of chai. I felt quite intimidated by all the interest and kindness being shown towards me by the locals and unsure of how exactly to react.
Eventually, we left Rangmahal, and the real adventures began.
How many days would I spend on a future India itinerary? 0
Jaisalmer: 3 days
When I think of Jaisalmer, the Golden City, I think of sand. It seemed like everything there was made from sand, it rose out out the desert, a sand city with sand houses and a gigantic sandcastle standing over it all. Jaisalmer is an essential on anyone’s trip around Rajasthan, it’s desert location sets it quite apart from other cities and a night in the desert under the starts is a must. Jaisalmer Fort is amazing to wander around, we spent hours getting lost within its walls. Past the intimidating ramparts, inside there’s what seems like a little town; there’s narrow alleyways, markets, tiny shops and houses tangled up amongst telephone lines, havelis and jain temples. We spent three days in Jaisalmer, two days exploring the city and one out in the Thar desert upon our camels and this seemed like the perfect amount of time for us. We also got free accommodation in a hotel through couchsurfing, which was an awesome experience.
How many days would I spend on a future India itinerary? 3
Jodhpur: 1 day
The Blue City of Jodhpur was a place that divided Josh and I during our planning period. He’d heard that Jodhpur wasn’t that impressive, way too busy and just overall a disappointment. I, on the other hand, was excited to see Jodhpur, its curious blue-washed streets and incredible fort. So, we compromised and decided that we would spend a full day in Jodhpur but we wouldn’t stay there. We arrived early in the morning, way before 5am and left around 10pm that same night, storing our backpacks away at the train station for the duration of the day. This was quite a long and full-on day, having slept a few fitful hours on the train the previous night and walking around all day, knowing that we had no soft bed again that night but yet another hard leather bunk. However, we made the most of our full day in Jodhpur and I actually really enjoyed it.
Mehrangarh Fort was impressive, though very unlike Jaisalmer’s as entry was restricted to ticket-holders and you also had to buy permission to take photos. Rather than being a casual, fortified city, Mehrangarh fort is completely tourist-based with multiple galleries and exhibitions to wander around and learn more about Rajasthani history. Though I preferred the ambiance of Jaisalmer fort, it was still an amazing experience and the views from the fort over the blue city are incredible. I also had one of my favourite meals in Jodhpur (details to come) and the textile markets are fabulous. Other than that (and some cool stairwells), there wasn’t much else that I wanted to see in Jodhpur, so one full-on, mega long day was certainly enough for me. Though, maybe consider two if you want to go at a slower pace.
How many days would I spend on a future India itinerary? 1, maybe 2.
Udaipur: 4 days
The Venice of India, the City of Lakes, the City of Romance, whatever you call it, you have to admit, Udapiur, is a damn beautiful place. Udaipur was almost definitely my favourite place on the whole of my trip (I say almost because I keep internally battling over my top three). I spent Christmas Day and my birthday in Udaipur and despite it being really strange for me to be away from my family for the first time over the holidays, they are some of my fondest memories today.
Udaipur Palace was so busy, especially considering it was a bank holiday for Indians, yet it was definitely worth almost suffocating at times- the architecture and views were second to none. The hike up to Monsoon Palace was quiet and nice, with beautiful views of the palace as we approached it, perched up on the hill. The palace itself was underwhelming, but still nice to visit, especially due to all the monkeys hanging around!
The palaces, the lakes, the gardens, the havelis, all of it was beautiful. It also felt a lot cleaner than the other cities and less flat, surrounded by a beautiful hilly backdrop. Do not miss out on Udaipur, lest you shall regret it for the rest of your days.
How many days would I spend on a future India itinerary? 4
Bundi: 2 days
Bundi is another one of my top three places from my India itinerary. Bundi isn’t always featured on people’s recommendations for Rajasthan and honestly, I hope it stays that way because one of the best parts about it was that it was way less touristic than everywhere else in Rajasthan. The city centre was still full of restaurants and bars like other Rajasthani cities, but they were much less jam-packed.
The gems of Bundi, however are Taragarh Fort and Bundi Palace, situated adjacent to each other. Both the fort and the palace are abandoned and overgrown. We crawled into the back entrance of the fort after climbing up a rather prickly wooded hill. Upon entering the fort, you immediately have the sense that you’ve entered a scene of Indiana Jones, as everything seems to have been left to grow and decay for centuries. You can walk along the overgrown ramparts of the fort for miles, explore a multitude of disused stepwells and cautiously climb up into the decrepit but still beautiful havelis and towers for views over the Rajasthani hills.
We spent hours upon hours in the fort and only came across one other human the whole duration. In fact, you’ll probably have more run-ins with aggressive monkeys than other tourists, as some of the pesky creatures seemed perturbed that we’d crossed into their territory. We descended the fort via the front entrance, which granted us some stunning golden-hour views over the palace. Upon exiting the fort, it came to my attention that there was actually an entrance fee if you entered through that gateway, so to avoid that, go via the back entrance like we did.
Bundi is also relatively close to a couple of lovely natural spots and we spent one day travelling to and exploring Bhimlat Mahadev, a waterfall about an hour away. It was a beautiful spot and absolutely crawling with monkeys (who stole our packed lunch within minutes of us arriving) however if you do want to visit, I 100% recommend renting a moped for a day to get there. Our guesthouse owner recommended that we get a tuktuk there rather than a moped and it was a great error, taking way longer than it had to and being an extremely uncomfortable ride with no suspension over a plethora of rough roads and potholes.
How many days would I spend on a future India itinerary? 2 or 3
Choosing what state to explore after Rajasthan was quite a challenge for Josh and I. We initially struggled between whether we should head North to Himachal Pradesh or South to Kerala. I was excited to delve into Kerala, to see its rice paddies and gorgeous backwaters but knowing how unreliable and outdated Indian transport can be, we were concerned that it would take us a long time to get down that far south and then back again in time for my flight from Delhi, taking out valuable time from our short one month schedule.
I was also enticed by Shimla and its snowy hill backdrops, but had read a lot about how it could get extremely, unbearably cold during the time we planned to visit. Thus, we decided against both these initial ideas and thought about travelling to Gujarat instead, due to its close proximity to Rajasthan.
However, after some research, I suggested Uttarakhand and we were won over by the idea of visiting the Ganges and its holy cities as well its himalayan location- yay for mountain walks!
Here’s where we visited in Uttarakhand and what we thought of each city:
Haridwar: 1 day
After a long night on a sleeper bus from Rajasthan, our first stop in Uttarakhand was Haridwar, one of India’s holiest cities. Considering how famous Haridwar is and how it’s lauded as a spiritual centre of India, I was surprised by how downright awful I found it. Rather than spiritual it just felt like the city was made up of people making money out of the spiritual. It was pretty sad how many people were commodifying their religion as a tourist attraction, but then I guess maybe it’s sadder that people are forced to do this in the first place. We observed the Ganga Aarti twice, once in the evening and once at sunrise and the latter was much nicer and quieter, so if you do want to tick off Haridwar, I recommend seeing the Ganga Aarti in the morning at least once. Otherwise, the Ganga Aarti in Rishikesh was so much more peaceful and beautiful than the one in Haridwar.
How many days would I spend on a future India itinerary? 0!
Rishikesh: 4 days
As my favourite place in Uttarakhand and one of my favourite places in India, Rishikesh was everything I wanted and more. After being completely disappointed by Haridwar, Rishikesh was the perfect place to recover my love for India.
The first evening we went down to the bank of the Ganges to observe the Ganga Aarti, being unsure of what to expect after two strange non-events in Haridwar. However, watching the ceremony this time round was a beautiful and peaceful experience, despite a couple of pushy tourists next to us trying to take pictures. Rishikesh is much more elevated than Haridwar, and I loved being surrounded by the lush green hills that promised days of adventure to come. I also really enjoyed the layout of Rishikesh, being stretched out along the Ganges, the two banks being connected by large colourful suspension bridges that became ridiculously busy throughout the day. Rishikesh is pretty famous for its ashrams, yoga and meditation, so that’s where you should head if you’re looking into taking up the yogi lifestyle.
Rishikesh was also the main place in India where we could explore more of India’s wild side. On one day, we rented a moped to explore the nearby Neer Garh Waterfall, riding down the long lanes through the valleys and climbing up a rocky cliff to reach the beautiful falls and swimming pools. On another day, we undertook the Kunjapuri trek, getting up before dawn to start the day by watching an incredible sunrise over the Himalayas from the Kunjapuri temple before making our way down through Rishikesh valley, through small villages and rice paddies with exquisite views the whole while. As both a thriving spiritual city and a gateway into the mountains, you definitely get the sense of having the best of both worlds in Rishikesh.
How many days would I spend on a future India itinerary? 4
Dehradun: Half a day
Dehradun was a stopover city for us between Rishikesh and the satellite town of Mussoorie, as you can only get into the mountains via …
The main thing we saw in Dehradun was the Mindrolling Monastery, which is really the only reason I wanted to go and I’m not sure what else there actually is in Dehradun despite it. However, the monastery is pretty cool and considering Dehradun is a good spot for transport links into the mountains, it’s worth it to stop over just for a couple of hours to check out the monastery before moving on. This is where you’ll find one of the biggest stupas in the world, one of the biggest Buddhist statues in the world and some rather pretty gardens too. According to a sign as you enter the Mindrolling Monastery, just hearing about the place means that you are granted a blessing in life, so here’s your blessing, you’re welcome.
How many days would I spend on a future India itinerary? Half a day.
Mussoorie: 4 days
Mussoorie in Janurary is cold. And before you make the same mistake as me and think, oh Indian cold isn’t cold, I’m from North Europe I know what real cold is like, I’m just going to stop you right there: it is cold, it will probably snow and your hotel or hostel will not have central heating. The only time I was warm in Mussoorie was when I was huddling under the three thick duvets with my boyfriend. The rest of the time, I was permanently cold.
However, that being said, it was January and that means it’s likely that Mussoorie in summer has a pretty mild climate compared to the rest of India. If you’re brave (or stupid) enough to go to India in the thick of summer, maybe think about visiting some mountain satellite towns to break away from constant coat of sweat that you’ll be dragging around. Though, I still don’t know if I’d recommend Mussoorie even if it wasn’t so cold. It just didn’t impress me all that much. Despite being surrounded by hills, there wasn’t amazing access to nature like I’d imagined, which I found to be the case in most places in India. A lot of the time you have to pay admission into woodlands, parks or hiking paths and sometimes its obligatory to be part of a trekking group, which just didn’t feel that… free. It didn’t feel like we could just hit the road and find a path to get lost and explore the mountains, it felt like a town suffocated by hills that should rather be equivocal to freedom.
How many days would I spend on a future India itinerary? 0
What would I add to my route?
Josh was pretty adamant from the start that he didn’t want to see Jaipur as he’d heard it was underwhelming and overrun with tourists as it’s on the Golden Triangle route. I was unsure as I knew that there was a lot to see in Jaipur but like Josh, I was wary of how busy it would be. We eventually decided to use Jaipur as a stopover on the way to Uttarakhand, intending to potentially spend half a day in the capital of Rajasthan. However, due to delayed trains and connecting coaches, we only really had time for one meal in Jaipur and looking back, seeing other traveller’s tales and pictures of Jaipur, I do regret not seeing any of its stunning landmarks and monuments.
Of course, I have so much more of india to explore, from the Southern states of Kerala and Karnataka to the paradisal beaches of Goa to the mountainous regions of Leh Ladakh and Kashmir. This month long trip was really only a taster of future adventures. To be honest, India isn’t somewhere that I wanted to explore for a month or two, with a rigid plan and an imminent flight home looming. The main reason I did go to India was to be with my boyfriend over Christmas, and I probably would have gone anywhere in order to be with him.
The way I want to explore India (and elsewhere) in future is with the freedom to really just be there. I’m really into the idea of slow travel, spending weeks at a time in one spot and choosing when to stay and when to go according to what I feel that day. I think this method of travel would suit India best, with its massive scale, slow transport, inevitable delays and lack of any sense of time.
However, I am so grateful for the time that I did have in India and for what I did get to see and do there. My time spent in this crazy country has definitely made its mark on me and I’m excited to return in the future.
If you only had a month or two to explore, what would you put on your India itinerary?
Much love <3