Laura’s First Time in India
India for a first-timer, solo woman traveller!
India has always been on my wish list of countries to visit, but I’ve never felt 100% comfortable about travelling there as a female on my own. Twenty years ago, when I was backpacking solo around the world for just over 2 years, I met many people who had been to India and they seemed to either love it or hate it. I wasn’t ready for it at the time – but now that I’ve finally visited, I wonder why I waited so long. I can say that I definitely love India – and I can’t wait to go back!!!!
Most international flights arrive late at night and my flight to Delhi was no exception. I was met at the airport by my pre-arranged driver/guide and taken to my 4-star hotel near Connaught Place. The new airport in Delhi is clean and modern, which was a pleasant surprise. I was very glad to see someone waiting for me with a sign having my name on it. There are some countries where you just need that added comfort of having a transfer pre-arranged and for me, India is one of them.
Old and New Delhi
Waking up the next day I spent time with one of our local partners exploring Delhi. This gave me a chance to recover from jetlag as well as spend a bit more time in the city with a local. India is a country that hits you full force with all your senses; the colours, sounds and smells as well as the heat were a lot to take in all at once. By the end of the first day I had a screaming headache from all the horns blasting, but I’d also had some of the best Indian vegetarian food I’ve ever tasted, seen the contrast between Old and New Delhi (chaos of the streets of Old Delhi vs the relative calm of the wide tree-lined boulevards in New Delhi) and decided that I couldn’t wait to see more!
Sightseeing in India
There are many different ways to see India: everything from do it yourself backpacking to the opposite end of the scale, flying from city to city and staying in luxury 5-star accommodations. I actually started my time in Delhi staying at a 4-star property and spent time visiting a number of higher end hotels just to see the difference in service and comfort. I’m so glad I did as it’s given me a much better idea of the different levels of service available. If it’s in the budget, splurging on a nicer place (especially at the beginning and/or end of your trip) is a great option. Having a beautiful garden with a clean, quiet pool area was a nice break from the chaos, noise, and general buzz of Delhi.
Group Tour Travel
For my actual travel time I was fortunate to take part in a G Adventures comfort small group trip. This meant private transfers between cities; small, basic but comfortable 3 star properties; and having a fantastic guide to assist us all through the 8 day trip. For me this was the perfect introduction to India and all it has to offer.
Our first full day on the tour was spent with an introduction to Delhi, including a visit to Jama Masjid Mosque, a walking tour of Chandni Chowk market area of Old Delhi, and a stop at the Gurduwara Sikh Temple. We also visited the temple’s huge volunteer kitchens which feed thousands every day. After a delicious lunch we headed to Agra and took an early night so we would be well rested for our early wake-up call to visit the Taj the next day.
The Taj Mahal
Arriving at the Taj Mahal before sunrise meant that we were first in line, though the line quickly filled up. I’ve seen thousands of pictures of the Taj Mahal over the years but being there in person is a truly incredible experience. Pictures just don’t do it justice – you’ve got to visit and experience it yourself!
Our leader gave us lots of time for photo opportunities. He spent time giving us the full history and we even had time to sit in the shade, people watching and seeing the colours change as the sun rose higher in the sky – truly a memorable experience. It was then time to head back to the hotel for a late breakfast and a bit of free time to relax during the mid-day heat. Our afternoon was spent visiting the Agra Fort and the Baby Taj with an evening dinner of more great Indian food.
Our fourth full day on the tour, we headed south west from Agra to the ‘pink city’ of Jaipur. En route we stopped at the desert Moghul city of Fatehpur Sikri and the village of Abhaneri to visit one of India’s oldest, largest and deepest stepwells. Riding in the comfort of our air conditioned 22 passenger vehicle – with our group of 9 – I couldn’t help but notice the contrasts as I watched the countryside go by and all the different forms of vehicles -many of them hugely overcrowded!
Gazing out the window you never know what you will see drive by – horse/camel/cow drawn carts, overloaded bikes (both motorized and non), buses overloaded with people sitting on the roof, trucks packed with all kinds of goods…And every one of them honking loudly as they pass (often heading in the wrong direction, on the wrong side of the road). It definitely made for an interesting drive as the rules of the road just don’t seem to apply here!
For our full day of sightseeing in Jaipur we visited the Amber Fort, the City Palace and Hawa Mahal. The sights were amazing; beautiful historic forts, shrines and the old centre of town. It was an extra busy day with many locals also out for the day as it was a holiday – which made for some great people watching! I think we were asked to have our photo taken even more than we took pictures of others. One of the highlights of the day for many was our evening visit to a local cinema to watch a Bollywood movie.
Driving in tuk-tuks or auto-rickshaws we careened through the streets, horns blasting to arrive at the movie theatre. Our guide Manu explained that it “isn’t about understanding the movie, it’s about the experience” – and he was right! Absolutely something I recommend as the audience is as amusing as the pictures – shouting out, booing, cheering, babies crying – better than a 3D movie here at home!
The itinerary that I was on with G Adventures includes spending the night in the small rural village of Sawarda, sleeping in a heritage home. Getting into a smaller place and being able to interact with the locals is always a great experience. Our afternoon included a walk through the village with the opportunity to visit some of the homes, see how they cook, collect water, use a potter’s wheel, and avoid the cows that seem to be everywhere! It was so quiet (no horns), the people were so friendly, and the children followed us as we strolled through town. A great place to relax and reflect on everything that we’d seen and experienced on this great introductory trip to Northern India.
In My Opinion
Watching the sun set in a blaze of red over the small lake while enjoying a drink was a great way to end the day. India is a huge country and can be overwhelming at times – but I highly recommend it as a place to visit. The people are beautiful and friendly, the food was fantastic, and there are so many different options as far as levels of comfort go that there’s an option for every budget and comfort level! This was a quick visit and I feel like I’ve just scratched the surface, but being part of a small group tour meant that we packed a lot into a short amount of time and I’m so glad that I’ve finally visited India. I will be back!!!
November 8, 2014