Traveling in India for a month is one thing, living in India for eight months is another. The difference is you HAVE to learn to accept if you want to keep your sanity and happiness intact during your time in this magical land. And needless to say India is the craziest place I have been to, where the most unexpected things can happen anywhere and any time. So I had to learn to go along with it after a few week adjustment period in order to get the best out of this trip.
A lot of people call India Mother India and she’s been a tough mother for me in that sense but I think we managed to love each other after all the hardship:)
I have been hearing stories about India for quite a long time but never thought my time for India would come in this phase of my life. While I was loving my new life in Thailand that consisted of teaching yoga, living in my beautiful beach bungalow and being grateful about every moment of it, I found the unexpected offer that came from my boyfriend tempting. Where else in the world could I get the chance to do more yoga with the people who invented it?? So we decided to buy a motorbike when we arrive in India and load our stuff in the back to travel around this vast land expanding from the Himalayan peaks to the Indian Ocean coastline and that’s home to 1.2 billion people.
I will write about the first 4 months in this post and continue with the rest on a second post as we go along. Our trip started in Nepal with getting our visas since Bangkok had mysteriously stopped giving visas to foreigners at that time.
Babas or Sadhus (holy person) of India that you can see all around India
After getting our 3 month single entry tourist visas in Kathmandu (info in the previous blog post), we booked our one-way flights with Indigo Airlines for $100 that got us directly to Delhi in a few hours. The quality of service and our overall flight experience was beyond my expectations.
Before jumping to details of each city we have visited during this trip, I would like to mention a few general observations about India.
First of all, based on my conversations with the people I have met along the way, I learned that no matter how many times you’d been in India, it was perfectly normal that you would have many up and downs. During the first 3 months, I had a handful of breakdowns during which I simply demanded my easy, clean, orderly life back. I’d been to underdeveloped places in South America several times, including the Amazon where tribes lived with minimal contact to civilization, I stayed with no electricity or running water among wild animals in the jungle but I must say India shook me real hard in the beginning and the after shocks continued in the following months.
Especially after the pace of New York, I had to hit the breaks hard to adjust to India’s pace, which was one of my resolutions before starting to travel. People were slow, service was slow, cows were slow, internet was slow, however motorbikes and cars were fast and they were beeping in my ears non-stop. I had to watch my step all the time to avoid stepping on shit or twisting my ankle on a broken pavement. The constant noise and pollution in the background, extreme poverty, and men staring women kept me alert all the time, let alone a few food poisoning instances and various flea attacks.
As we drove our bike outside the city centers, men and women looked like time-traveled to an earlier era with their traditional colorful outfits. Women wore jewelry from head to toe; their feet decorated with anklets and bells and toe rings, their arms with lots of shiny bangles and other accessories hanging from their noses and earlobes.
Streets were crowded with dogs, cows, giant buffalos, goats, chickens, pigs, children clinging on their moms, and not forget babas and saddhus.. Shops and stalls selling all kinds of stuff from fried potatoes to clothing and flood of motorbikes honking their horns constantly were usual parts of the daily life.
I think we solved a big problem when we realized and treated Indians as big kids who found fun in everything and enjoyed dealing with us foreigners. Every time we stopped to ask something, a crowd of curious Indian men gathered around us. They said “yes” to everything and wobbled their heads even though they led us to completely wrong places. They also took the liberty of clicking their phones/cameras on our faces to take our pictures while eating, talking, walking, sunbathing, coming out of the sea… without even hiding 🙂
In the early days of our trip, we learned to say absolutely no sugar and no spicy in the restaurants and checked again and again before our foods/drinks arrived since they are programmed to add these automatically to dishes. Spicy and ulcer are not good friends! Since the Indian cuisine is super rich and the food names are confusing, I saved this link to my phone to crosscheck everything before ordering food.
Another useful info is that ATMs can get tricky in India as they sometimes end up not dispensing money after making all the right noises and the money disappears magically from your bank! Be careful with the amount you are getting (10,000 rs is max in most ATMs) and watch the people who are using the ATM before you to make sure they got their money.
Another lesson I learnt is that Apple products are not made for India. My i-phone’s battery and Macbook’s power cable died around the 4th month and it was not possible to replace them locally. So I got along with the system and bought a Samsung phone and ordered a new cable from Amazon for my laptop.
Also to note, air pollution is unfortunately a big inconvenience in India. Especially if you are coming from a western country where cars are not allowed in traffic if they generate dirty exhaust gases or trash is no longer burnt on streets, you need to be mindful about not inhaling various poisonous gases all day long. Since we were on the road on our motorbike most of the trip, I tried all kinds of masks to block pollution but haven’t been very successful.
Lastly, I would like to recommend the following books that made my 8 month trip much better! Since I was filtering everything from a western POV, I had a lot of resistance and rejection in the beginning but these books helped me see India and the Indians from a different, a much more positive angle and I can’t recommend them enough:
- Shantaram- don’t be afraid since it’s long. It’s an amazing book!
- White tiger
- Delicate balance
- Holy Cow
- God of the little things
Needless to say India has fascinated me with its natural flow that followed the world from 20 years behind, it made me step out of my comfort zone that helped me grow tremendously. Here is our four month story on a motorbike conquering Rishikesh, Delhi, Jaipur, Pushkar, and Udaipur.
Arrival in Delhi
After talking to a few drivers who jumped on us as soon as we stepped out of the airport in Delhi, we agreed with a taxi driver to get us to the Main Bazaar for 400 rs. We later found out, there is also a prepaid taxi service for 320 rs.
If you get to Delhi outside of the rush hour, taking the metro is the cheapest and shortest way to get to your destination. The distance from the airport to the hotel was short (like 30 mins) but with the car traffic it took us around 1.5 hrs.
Delhi’s temples and the Sikh men hanging outside the temple
We checked into our room at Vivek Hotel located in the heart of the crazy main bazaar. Our room with A/C cost us 1000 rs/ night. I had the chance to jump straight into the authentic Indian life within the first minutes of my arrival in this busy market. The neighborhood called Paharganj was lined with shops and stalls selling everything from incense and hippy leather belts/ sandals to religious items, musical instruments, traditional clothing and of course food! My senses were dazzled on all fronts with intense odors, colors, noises, people, animals, cars, rickshaws, and motorbikes.
In other short visits to Delhi on our way from/to Rishikesh, we stayed at the Tibetan Colony, which I highly recommend if you want to avoid the market’s madness. We stayed at Wongden House for 800 rs/night. It was an OK room with a hot shower and fan.
Another option is Hotel Kings Inn in Karol Bagh which was way better than Vivek and for 1500 rs a night, we got a pretty comfortable and modern room including breakfast, A/C and satellite TV. Spending a couple of days with Bollywood and Hollywood movies was super fun 🙂
The Tibetan Colony which gave us the serenity of Tibet for a short time
On our first day in Delhi we paid 100 rs to a rickshaw driver to take us us around. One thing I wasn’t able to do due to limited time was the walking tour in the old town/main bazaar given by former street kids, that’s organized by Salaam Baalak, a non-profit that saved homeless children from streets by employing them in their organization as guides. Kudos to this amazing initiative!
We didn’t want to spend too much time in a busy city hence we left as soon as we got our overnight sleeper bus tickets to Rishikesh. This was my first and hopefully last time on a sleeper bus and it was a really interesting experience. The trip was mostly uncomfortable with the bad suspension, uneven road conditions topped with the driver’s honking his long melodic horn every 5 minutes. We could sleep maybe 2 hours in total which we owed to exhaustion. We had to choose this way since all the trains were booked due to a major holiday and it cost us 700 rs and 8 hours.
If you want to try this unique bus trip make sure you have warm clothes and socks with you as the A/C blows directly onto your face. Also take soft things with you to use as a pillow and blanket. Oh also, if you are alone, buy two tickets unless you want to spoon with another passenger! 🙂
Rishikesh is located in the northern part of India at the Himalayan foothills beside the Ganges River. It is said that ever since the Beatles stayed at the ashram of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the late ‘60s, Rishikesh has been a magnet for spiritual seekers. It is considered as the ‘Yoga Capital of the World’, with masses of ashrams and all kinds of yoga and meditation classes available to Westerners as well as Indian soul seekers.
The Holy Ganges River (or the Ganga) divides Rishikesh into two parts and its temples and ashrams (centers for spiritual studies) line alongside.
Ganga Aarti at Parmarth Niketan: the daily sunset ceremony that gathers hundreds of people from different religions and ethnicities, to leave diyas (oil lamps) and pujas (flowers) to Ganga river along with songs and prayers. The essence of the Aarti ceremony is that all day long God offers us light – the light of the sun, the light of life, and the light of His (Her) blessings. Aarti is a time when we say, “Thank You,” and we offer back the light of our thanks, the light of our love and the light of our devotion. Ganga is not only a river but a Divine Mother, nectar of life and liberation! 🙏💐
You can catch a beautiful view especially during the sunset at a river side cafe
In one of our visits, we stayed in a double room at Bhandari Swiss Cottage for 400 rs/night. This place was located a bit outside of the market, up on a hill in a small town called Tapovan. We preferred here because it was more quiet and we needed to see less people and find peace surrounding us with trees. There are also waterfalls in the surroundings where you can reach by hiking in an hour or so.
In another visit, we preferred to rent a place with a kitchen and found a nice homestay at Panditji’s guesthouse named Manas Kunj. You can reach him on his facebook page, which I gladly helped him to make.
YOGA in Rishikesh:
Rishikesh is one of the most popular destinations for yoga in India. There are numerous ashrams and styles of yoga and meditation to choose from. Hence, it’s important to investigate which one best meets your needs. I have tried several well known Iyengar masters during my visit and I have learned so much from them about alignment and how to do yoga correctly. Besides these, many Ashtanga classes and TTCs were available but I wasn’t able to find hatha yoga classes so I gladly stuck to Iyengar yoga with , Usha Devi (at Omkarananda Ashram in Ram Jhula), Asish Sharma (at Green Hotel in Ram Jhula/near Parmath Niketan Ashram) and Rudra (a bit of a drive for the 7 am class outside the Rishikesh town).
This link might be useful in choosing a TTC course among hundreds of them: http://www.yogattc.info/best-yoga-teacher-training-courses-ttc-in-rishikesh/
The places I enjoyed most in Rishikesh:
- Freedom cafe – popular cafe on Ganges. There are good jam sessions on some evenings
- Ramana’s Garden– an oprhanage with a beautiful view where you can eat yummy food while spending time with kids. They accept volunteers year round for one or three month commitments
- Sunset watching at Ganga Beach Cafe or Beatles Cafe
- Nirvana for good international and indian food
- Parmarth Nitekan Ashram and artee every evening at sunset with infamous Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswati, the President and spiritual head of the infamous ashram
- A Tavola Conte– If you miss authentic Italian food (pizza/pasta), in Tapovan
- Ayurpak- Ayurvedic restaurant in Tapovan
- German Bakery (below Babylon Cafe) in Laksman Jhula (near Freedom Cafe)
- Hungry Yogi in Ram Jhula
- Hike to the waterfalls in Tapovan and a bit outside of the town
- The Beatles Ashram: pics below
I made the video below of Rishikesh in 3 minutes in one of our many motorbike crossings of Ram Jhula Bridge to go to the evening yoga class. Bonus: Don’t miss the short sighting of Swami Chidanand Saraswati in front of the Parmarth Niketan Ashram before the sunset aarti 🙂
Festivals in India are endless. Every week there’s some important celebration that make people pray, dance, and cherish the life.
Diwali– The festival of lights! Indians decorate their streets and buildings with lights and flowers during this week long holiday. In addition they paint and dress stray dogs and cows, which creates an adorable view. The worst part for me was the fire crackers that blew up in our ears for days which also agitated the monkeys. We have a funny ‘monkey attack prevented with a punch’ story that developed too fast to record on my camera unfortunately! But you can use your imagination to fill in the blanks 🙂
And we bought a motorbike in India!
Towards the end of our stay in Rishikesh, we were able to purchase a 2013 model second hand Bajaj Avenger for 65,000 rs, which we love so much traveling with!
What we learned from this one week long slow transaction is: Apparently foreigners cannot buy a brand new bike since India doesn’t allow the transfer of the title to someone with a temporary tourist visa. Therefore, after seeing a few bikes in several dealers, we decided to go with a second hand bike. If you buy a second hand bike, you should to make sure to get the original registration form (title) from the owner and have him sign Form 29 and 30. With these papers along with the original title, you can prove that you didn’t steal the bike and travel freely.
In order to sell the bike to a foreigner, you should sign the same forms with the new buyer. To sell to an Indian buyer, the previous owner should transfer the registration so you need to track him down.
Besides the amazing Google Map app that works thru satellite without depending on wifi connection, I found this link very helpful while planning our trips.
And with the purchase of our new bike, the motorcycle diaries road trip developed like this:
Rishikesh to Delhi
Distance: 270 km in 8 hours with a few food and chai stops. We left at 8:00 am and arrived at 4:00 pm and took Route 58 all the way down. We passed through a few tolls that were free for motorcycles.
Fuel: 500 rs for a full tank (8 lt)
The road was mostly comfortable. There was traffic in villages mainly because of lack of traffic lights. We stopped at the infamous roadside restaurant Cheetali in Khatauli for clean bathrooms and hygienic, delicious Indian thalis and dosas.
Delhi to Jaipur
Distance: 300 km in 8 hours. We left at 8:00 am and arrived at 4:00 pm by choosing a longer way (route 10 instead of route 8) to avoid an accident (thanks to google map!)
We stopped at Hans Resort for lunch (on route 8 close to Rewarion, on the left side of the highway) that had a Subway, Cafe Coffee Day and a fancy Indian fast food restaurant all together in one place. I’d like to mention that the bathrooms were in excellent condition!
We decided to take a break from riding everyday and stay in this magnificent city for a few days. Being in Jaipur was like being in a fairy tale. This capital of Rajhastan is a historical city that reminded me the book Alchemist with its camels we started spotting on roadside as soon as we entered this magical state. The pink and orange hued buildings with their ancient domes and beautifully decorated ceilings telling the tales of kings and queens of the old times were fantastic to witness.
The ginormous Amber Fort, which was built over 1000 yrs ago with red sandstones and marbles for the maharajas and their families. Impossible to see the entire palace even on elephants! The third picture is Hawa Mahal, the Palace of Winds.
We stayed at Vinayak Guesthouse in Bani Park for 700 rs/night. Jaipur didn’t have a touristic area with shops and restaurants unlike the other cities we’ve been to. MI Road is their fancy hood and on two instances, we ate at Surya Mahal and Dasaprakash Vegetarian Restaurant and they were both good and clean.
Jaipur to Pushkar
Distance: 148 km in 3.5 hours. We left at 7:30 am and arrived in Pushkar at 11:00 am via Route 8 all the way down. The roads were super modern, at some point becoming a 6 lane highway.
We only stopped for chai since we couldn’t spot any clean dhabas on the roadside. I saw signs for Café Coffee Day twice but the actual cafes were nowhere to be found.
Pushkar is one of the most ancient cities in India. It is situated around a holly lake which is believed to be formed by the tears of Lord Shiva after the death of his wife, Sati. Shiva cried so much and for so long, that his tears created two holy ponds – one at Pushkara in Ajmer in India and the other at Ketaksha, which literally means raining eyes, in Sanskrit.
We planned our trip to be in Pushkar during the Camel Mela (Festival) . This is an annual five-day camel and livestock fair that attracts 50,000 camels and 200,000 additional people to this holy city for 5 days of the year where Rajasthani farmers gather to buy and sell their camels, cattle and horses.
The experience was unique at one hand and not so easy to handle on the other with the cocktail of all kinds of smells in 40 C heat, human and animal crowd, noise and dust 24 hours of the day. I had a mini panic attack on day 3 or so after a camel ride and I broke down in the middle of this madness. A cold beer served under the table, in a quieter modernish cafe helped me relax and prepare for our departure for the beaches of Goa a bit faster than originally planned 🙂
We stayed at Everest Hotel for 1000 rs/night and it was a good deal for the duration of the festival since we heard during the fair, accommodation prices in Pushkar could be up to 10 times the normal rate.
Some cafes/restaurants I liked are:
- Seventh heaven, 6th sense (MUST)- beautiful hotel and its rooftop restaurant
- Sunset cafe by the lake is very popular for sunsets
- Out of the blue
- Small Italian coffee shack across from Out of the blue
Pushkar to Udaipur
Distance: 289 km completed in 6 hours mostly on NH 8 highway.
We stayed at Nukkad Guesthouse for 900 rs/night, which had a central location, steps from the lake. The owner Raju was very nice to his guests, however we found the place quite noisy and felt very clustered with rooms next to and on top of each other.
We celebrated our first night in this romantic city watching the sunset on a beautiful rooftop overlooking Lake Pichola. I enjoyed my first glass of wine after over a month in here so I was delighted. At first glance this city sort of reminded me of south of France or Monte Carlo with its old architecture, palaces and fancy boutiques aligned around the lake. Also the cult James Bond movie Octopus was filmed here in the 80’s and the city carried the pride of it to this day (and several bars were showing the movie every night on their screens 🙂 ).
I recommend the boat ride (300 rs) on the beautiful lake which leaves every hour or so and the picturesque sunset ride we took was pretty awesome.
The boat goes around a couple of fancy islands that house mansions of nobles, the City Palace, and the extraordinary Taj Lake Palace, the icon of Udaipur with its open-air courtyards, lotus ponds and a small, mango-tree-shaded pool.
The access to the hotel had been banned other than to its guests due to terroristic attack fears. The boat also passes by Jagmandir Island Palace, another glamorous mini-island where Katy Perry got married (and after the celebrations all the guests stayed at the Taj).
One of the other highlights of Udaipur was its modern rooftop and lakeside restaurants. I highly recommend the beautiful, peaceful Harigarh Restaurant perched right by Pichola Lake.
Another place not to miss is Jheel’s café with good internet and seating 2 feet away from the lake. They have sandwiches and pastry and a real Italian coffee selection.
Udaipur to Ahmadabad
Distance: 250 km completed in 5 hours.
This was another trip during which we didn’t stop at any dhabas and drove straight to the train station to ship our bike and ourselves to Goa.
Here is what you need to do to send your motorbike on the same train with you:
First of all you need to buy your train ticket and take it with you to the PARCEL desk at least 5 hours before the train’s scheduled departure time. This can vary in different stations so it’s best to confirm with them prior to your trip. They won’t accept the bike unless you have a seat on the train.
After filling out a few forms they provide, you need to give them a copy of the bike’s registration, your passport and visa copies. Then they take the gas out of your bike and wrap it to get ready for loading (they basically saw a dress around your bike with fabric) Someone was there to help us through this process and got a 500 rs tip from us, which was the smartest thing to do as everything went smoothly.
Then make sure you see which car they load your bike onto since upon arrival, we ran to that car and asked them to unload our bike before the train departed to its next station.
Ahmadabad to Goa
We paid 5700 rs for 2 train tickets that could be bought only one day in advance at 10:00 am at a travel agency or at the train station. The train system in India is pretty confusing unless you buy your ticket online about 1 month advance. Otherwise you can buy Tatkal tickets like we did (from the emergency tourist quota).
The train left Ahmadabad at 7:55 pm and arrived to Margao, Goa at 1:00 pm the following day.
It was a smooth ride on the AC Tier 2 sleeper class. We had 4 beds in our compartment that was separated with a curtain from the rest of the beds on the train. There also was an electric plug to recharge our stuff.
I dozed off right away to wake up at 7:00 am with phone rings and high pitch voices of the food and drink sellers walking on the train offering several breakfast options. I was happy that the rest of the 20 hrs flew by by watching movies on our tablet and chatting with our Indian neighbor.