Wanderlust Chronicles - Ep. 3 India
Wanderlust Chronicles - Ep. 3 India
From the snow-capped Himalayan peaks to the palm-fringed beaches of the tropical south. The landscapes are as diverse as the cultural, religious, architectural and culinary traditions.
India touched my soul and heart and surpassed anything I ever dared to dream.
Despite all the wonders, India has also overwhelmed me at certain moments. There is appalling poverty, the bureaucracy can be quite nerve wracking and the confusing chaos and the crowds can be quite overwhelming and frustrating.
One should always be ready to accept surprises and discover the unexpected.
It takes a great deal of serenity to engage with this opulent mix of traditions, spirituality, landscapes and contrasts.
Due to the infinite variety, it is not so easy to limit oneself to the most important and beautiful things. Each region of India offers many beautiful places that want to be visited and discovered.
In this blog I would like to present some of my highlights and a few insider tips.
Before the trip
I recommend a consultation at the Travel Clinic at the University of Zurich. Your entire vaccination history should be checked and refreshed, if necessary. In addition, there are travel-specific vaccinations for India, such as the typhoid oral vaccination or the rabies vaccination. In addition, other health aspects such as mosquito-borne diseases or altitude sickness, depending on the type of trip, can be addressed in the consultation.
🇮🇳 Dress respectfully, no tight or see-through clothing. Instead wear long, loose clothing.
🇮🇳 Use hand sanitizer.
🇮🇳 Do not drink tap water.
🇮🇳 Greetings: with hands in prayer position and the words: Namaste.
🇮🇳 Use only the right hand for eating and shaking hands. The left hand is considered unclean.
🇮🇳 Make an itinerary, but always leave time and space for changes.
🇮🇳 Get involved with the crowds, the noise, the dirt, take your time. Book an oasis such as a nice, pretty, clean hotel/hostel where you can always retreat if it gets too much.
🇮🇳 Be open, treat people respectfully. For example, ask before photographing people and sacred sites.
🇮🇳 Travel light: Don't take too much with you, traveling with heavy, big luggage can be quite exhausting in India.
🇮🇳 For simple accommodations, I recommend taking a thin cotton or silk sleeping bag.
Highlights (a handful)
Traveling through India by train
Traveling by train is, for me, the most beautiful and memorable way to travel and explore India. Trains snake throughout India and run at almost any time. Almost every destination can be reached by train or in combination with train and bus.
A train ride in India is an attraction in itself and just as breathtaking as the Taj- Mahal - just in a different way....
There are several ways to buy train tickets or make reservations. In general, it is recommended to book tickets as early as possible.
There are several online providers, so you can book the ticket in advance at home. However, the process is not always easy.
I have heard a lot of good things about the provider 12Go.asia. But I have never used this platform myself.
Booking on the spot
I have always made my bookings locally at the train station or through a local travel agency. Buying tickets at the train station can turn into a hurdle race and take a whole day. It is an advantage to know the train number of the chosen route in advance. The Internet site "Trains at a Glance" of the Indian National Railway Company (IRCTC) can be helpful here. Certain travel guides (Lonely Planet) also list the most important train routes and their numbers.
There are different classes.
For long distances, where you often travel at night, I recommend the Air-Conditioned 3-Tier (3AC) class. These are three-tier bunks in groups of six. There are no partitioned compartments and no curtains. For me, this was the perfect blend of comfort and intensity of experience typical of an Indian train journey.
For those who want more comfort, there is still 1AC or 2AC. Each with more space and more privacy. Sleeper Class is the most basic class. There is no air conditioning, open windows and often the compartments are overcrowded. On short trips it is a wonderful experience, but not recommended for night travel if you can afford it.
This is the fabulous land of the Maharajas with unique forts and palaces. Nowhere else can you find such wonderful buildings as here. Fabulous, enchanting palaces and forts, glittering jewels, colorful saris, vast desert landscapes, vibrant culture. All this and much more can be found in Rajasthan.
Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan. It is the gateway to this extravagant state. Jaipur is also called "Pink City". The majority of the houses in the old city are painted rust red or built of red sandstone. Depending on the light, everything glows wonderfully pink. Jaipur is a lively city, a mixture of old and new. Here you can lose yourself in the chaos of the various bazaars between honking rickshaws and swaying camels. Here you can find everything that makes your Indian heart beat faster. Fabric stores filled to the ceiling with colorful, glittering fabrics, numerous jewelry stores lined up next to each other, or a whole street with fragrant perfumes.
The most beautiful sights:
City Palace: impressive palace in the center of the old town. Be sure to visit the beautiful Pitam Niwas Chowk, an enchanting courtyard.
Hawa Mahal (Palace of the Winds): Fairy-tale, five-story palace made of pink sandstone. Built in 1799, it is the landmark of Jaipur and is truly marvelous. The facade is dotted with small balconies and from the top there is a breathtaking view over the city. There is also a small museum.
Jantar Mantar: this observatory built in 1728 served to measure the sky. Even if you don't understand exactly how these measuring instruments work, this arrangement of huge bizarre sculptures is unique.
Nahargarh: This small fort rises north of the city. Smaller but no less pretty than Amber Fort.
Amber Fort: 11km outside of Jaipur lies this magnificent fort. Very spacious and well preserved considering that construction began around 1592.
Raj Mandir Cinema: The cinema looks like a huge pink wedding cake. Pastel colors, glitter and walls curved like meringue as far as the eye can see. Very nice to look at, even without a Hindi movie.
Jas Vilas: Very pretty, clean and nice.
Pushkar is a charming town with pastel colored buildings. It is an important Hindu pilgrimage site and is situated around a sacred lake. Everywhere you go you hear and see pujas (prayers), religious chanting and drumming. The city is also very popular with travelers. A fun mix of devout Hindus and travelers gives this city a special charm.
The most beautiful sights:
Pushkar Kamelmarkt: In October/November, the spectacular camel market takes place. Pushkar turns into a huge, colorful fair at this time. Besides the trade with the animals (cows, camels, horses) there are also numerous musicians, snake charmers, acrobats etc. to see. A colorful spectacle, mystical and unique.
Walk by the lake and through the main bazaar, visit the numerous Hindu temples.
Inn Seventh Heaven: I loved it and yes, you feel like you are in seventh heaven. Lovingly converted traditional home (Haveli). Beautiful courtyard, great restaurant on the roof.
Jodhpur is the blue city of Rajasthan. Many houses in the old city are painted blue. The color keeps cool when it is very hot in summer.
Blue houses, narrow winding streets and pretty little markets. Jodhpur is beautiful.
The most beautiful sights:
City walk: You can walk for hours through the narrow streets here and lose yourself in the clutter. Be sure to allow enough time to stroll through this enchanting city and soak up all the impressions. It is wild, colorful India at its best.
Mehrangarh Fort: It is said to be one of the most impressive forts in all of India. The Mehrangarh Fort is huge and towers mightily above the sea of blue houses.
Shri Mishrilal Hotel: a sort of snack bar that serves the best lassi (yogurt drink) in all of Rajasthan. Definitely try it.
Agra: Taj Mahal
The Taj Mahal: wonder of the world, landmark and masterpiece of architecture. The Taj Mahal rises majestically into the sky. The Great Mogul Shah Jahan built this fantastic structure in memory of his beloved (third) wife Mumtaz Mahal, who died giving birth to their 14th child. The mausoleum is made of white marble, which shines at you even in hazy weather. The harmony of proportions seems perfect: the enormous dome is surrounded by four minarets - probably one of the most famous silhouettes. Even the crowds can't harm the magic of this building.
Undoubtedly, the best time to visit is sunrise. The first sight of the golden shimmering Taj Mahal at dawn will remain unforgettable for a lifetime. It doesn't get any more beautiful than this.
The Coral Court Homestay
Varanasi is one of the holiest cities of Hinduism. Pilgrims come here to the Ganges to wash away their sins, to burn their deceased relatives or to die here.
Varanasi is a magical place, but it can also be very challenging and sometimes difficult. Various rituals take place in public. Life and death are very close to each other.
Lots of people, lots of traffic in the streets, lots of noise. So far nothing new. However, somehow everything seems more intense here than in other cities. The many impressions of the labyrinth-like old city and the colorful hustle and bustle on the banks of the Ganges can sometimes overwhelm the senses. Nevertheless, or just because of this, Varanasi is for me one of the most fascinating places in all of India.
The most beautiful sights:
Walk through the Ghats: Ghats are the steps leading down to the river Ganges. About 80 ghats line the river Ganges in Varanasi. The best place to start is at the Assi ghat. Most of the ghats are used for bathing. But there are also some that are only for cremating the dead. For example, the Manikarnika ghat. Often one sees funeral processions in the side streets making their way to the cremation ghats.
There is much to see on the banks of the Ganges at any time of day. But especially early in the morning, the atmosphere is unique. There are people taking their ritual bath, people performing their puja (prayers), people washing their clothes, or doing yoga. Others are selling flowers or making offerings. A colorful, unforgettable spectacle.
At sunset, at the Dashashwamedh Ghat, there is the ganga aarti, an impressive ceremony that serves to pay homage to the holy river Ganges.
Boat trip on the Ganges: During a boat trip (best at sunrise) you are right in the middle of the hustle and bustle on the river and can also observe the shore. A nice addition to the walk.
Hotel Ganges View at the Assi Ghat. Clean, has a nice terrace.
Open Hand Café at the Assi Ghat.
Along the palm-lined streets and beaches, India shows a different side in the tropical south.
There is an infinite amount to discover: The luminous backwaters in Kerala, impressive tea plantations, dreamlike beaches.
The most beautiful sights:
Backwaters of Kerala: A network of rivers, lakes, canals and lagoons, lined with palm trees and picturesque villages.
The area is especially beautiful to explore by canoe or public ferry. The trip with the backwater ferry from Alleppey to Kollam is especially beautiful and highly recommended.
Very relaxing is the trip through the backwaters by canoe. You can book these tours in every hostel, homestay or hotel.
The tea plantations of Munnar: Here lies South India's largest tea growing area. Here you can walk through the green, seemingly endless tea plantations. It is best to do this with a local guide.
Pondicherry/Puducherry: Pretty little town south of Chennai in the state of Tamil Nadu. It is also affectionately known as Pondy. The city was under French colonial power until 1954. The older, French part of town is characterized by European architecture (colonial townhouses), there are quiet, clean streets, fancy restaurants and pretty shopping.
The newer part shows the typical hustle and bustle of India. All in all, an exciting mixture of colonial flair and lively Indian life, as you know and love it. Here churches stand next to Hindu temples and from somewhere you can hear the muezzin calling for morning prayers.
It is especially nice to stroll through the streets and admire the kolams made of rice flour. These are beautiful mandala-like works of art that are drawn on the floor in front of the entrances of the houses in South India. They are made exclusively by women. Every morning they sprinkle the rice flour and use it to decorate the entrances with unique works of art. The kolam has a blessing, protective and auspicious function.
Sri Minakschi Tempel in Madurai: Imposing, colorful Hindu temple in the state of Tamil Nadu.
Other beautiful places and insider tips - briefly summarized
High in the north, the air becomes fresher and the landscape more rugged and barren.
Culturally, scenically and culinary Ladakh is closer to Buddhist Tibet than to Hindu India. Centuries-old monasteries lie in the midst of the impressive valleys. It is worth spending several weeks here to discover the numerous monasteries in and around Leh, the capital. The nature is indescribably beautiful and it is a unique experience to explore this breathtaking landscape and the many small, very original villages, on a trekking tour of several days. It is recommended to go with a local guide.
The main season is summer/early autumn. In winter there is snow.
About this fantastic region one could write an own travel blog - no, a whole book. It is another world, another India. The endless expanses, the snow-capped mountains, the imposing Köster and the beauty of this Buddhist culture have touched me deeply. The numerous encounters with the extremely kind people remain unforgettable.
If you are in Rajasthan and have enough time, you should definitely visit this pretty town. It is much less touristy than the well-known cities of Rajasthan. But it is also more authentic. When I visited the place, there were hardly any tourists. Maybe this has changed in the meantime.
Narrow streets full of blue and white houses, temples on every corner, colorful bazaars and a fantastic palace decorated with many small onion domes that rises in the hills behind the city. Worth seeing.
Small Orchha in the state of Madhya Pradesh has more to offer than many cities many times larger. There are numerous palaces and temples from the time of the Rajputs and Mughals. One truly feels transported back to another time here. The surrounding area is also beautiful for hiking or biking. Orchha is a place away from the main tourist attractions and that is exactly why this place radiates something very special.
Hotel Tip: Hotel Sheesh Mahal
Kanyakumari in the state of Tamil Nadu is the southernmost point of India. Three seas meet here: the Bay of Bengal, the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. Kanyakumari is a place of pilgrimage where devout Hindus visit the Kumari Amman temple. The crowd of tourists is rather small. It is a pretty, unspoiled place by the sea and walking along the seafront you can feel and experience the real India.
The Golden Temple of Amritsar is the holiest Sikh shrine. In the middle of a pond stands this gold-clad chapel. The structure is very impressive and one gets an insight into the Sikh religion here.
The confusion, the cows on the street, the colorful saris, the spicy food, the magnificent buildings, the explosion of colors, sounds, smells and feelings...
India surprised and enchanted me again and again.
Have a great journey!