Tag Archive for: India

We’ve heard all kinds of things about India long before deciding to explore it by ourselves. We listened to the stories of our Indian friends during the time that we spent on cruise ships and we spoke to travelers who visited India and who felt in love with it after traveling in the country long enough to understand it well. But we met also people that left India with negative impressions, people that could not adapt to the local habits and who described their visit as a “cultural shock”.

India is obviously not just another country in Asia, it has so many particularities that clearly separate it from any other country on the continent.

We can say now that India felt different while walking on its crowded streets than what we imagined before we arrived in Bangalore. And, with every new place that we traveled to, it seemed like there were more traffic, more garbage and more people trying to scam tourists. The picture that a traveler leaves with after a journey through India is definitely different than the one described by any travel agent or shown in any travel magazine.



But perhaps “different” is not the right word to be used and “incomplete” is the one describing better the expectations of a first-time traveler in the country. People might tell you about the garbage and the smell, about the heavy traffic and the usually dirty surroundings. India is far from being a perfect country but it is for sure a beautiful destination. The diversity of landscapes that change dramatically while traveling from one side of the country to another, the mixed and strong traditions that survived for millenniums, the fascinating history and its rich culture make India a unique place to be.



Unfortunately, beauty comes many times together with ugliness. We felt in love with India at the beginning but happily planned our escape at the end of our stay. When traveling in such a big country, one’s perception can vary very much from another’s, depending on where and how someone wants to experience India. We slept in luxurious rooms but we had also very simple accommodations… even spent a night out in the desert, with no roof above our heads, just the stars.



We ate in top-rated restaurants but always happily tried the street food whenever we got the chance to taste something new. We met amazing people that made our trip unforgettable but got in contact with many more that wanted to scam us.

We left India with a confusing mix of emotions, with the need to disconnect from it but also with regrets and the promise to return in the future.

We enjoyed some of its traditions that we took part in, the natural beauty, the energy of its people, the diversity of experiences, the amazing food and we’ve been surprised by the apparently chaotic but still functional social system.

India will probably break your heart if you have eyes to see the poverty around you, might disgust you and, eventually, convince you to leave with the wish to never return. But it might also steal your heart and make you fall in love with the things that define it as a truly incredible place.

More incredible pictures of India you will find in our Gallery.

New Delhi impressed us since the moment we got close to the city while traveling by bus from Agra, with its modern buildings and the complex infrastructure. But the closer we got to the old streets and the touristic areas, the less charm we found.

New Delhi is the capital of India and its second-largest city. We spent here our last three days in the country, before flying home. After 8 months of being constantly on the roads, we decided it was time for a break, mostly after India consumed our last energy reserves.

Moving around in New Delhi

Delhi’s well-organized infrastructure allows locals and tourists to easily move around. One of the most convenient transportation options is the subway, which can bring you faster than other transportation methods to the far placed attractions. Ola Cabs and Uber services are available in the city, but finding a driver always took a very long time so we tried to negotiate directly with the tuk-tuk drivers. Still, we used the apps to understand what the fair prices were, as most tuk-tuk drivers try to rip-off tourists more than in any other place that we visited in India. Another transportation option is the cycle rickshaw, for those who want more of local experience.


Food, drinks and entertainment in New Delhi

Like most big cities, New Delhi does not disappoint with its large selections of restaurants and coffee shops, local and western style. We opted for the local food, as we knew that once we leave the country we would miss it very much, but we frequently went also to western-style bars and coffee shops, where we knew we could always find a good cappuccino.



The time in Delhi was short, so we tried to see some of the main attractions, which are many but relatively far from each other. The interest for India’s more recent history brought us to the Gandhi Park, named after the leader of the Indian independence movement against the British rule.


Later that day we visited the Lotus Temple, one of Delhi’s main attractions. But behind its architectural beauty, there are other meanings that make it beautiful. It is a place of worship for all religions, everyone is welcome to enter and pray. But even if praying is not what you search for, it is still a nice place to hide from the hot sun and find a moment of silence, away from the tumult of the surrounding streets.



Loosing ourselves on the crowded streets near the Meena Bazar, close to the Jama Masjid Mosque, felt like another “time-travel” experience, where we forgot about the skyscrapers and the modernity of the new part of the city and where we could once again experience India in an authentic way.



But the most authentic experience we had while walking in the oldest and probably busiest market in India, Chandni Chowk. It is chaotic, congested, dirty and dusty, but beautiful to witness. There we witnessed a captivating show, in which tuk-tuks, cycle rickshaws, cars, pedestrians and cows and dogs competed for space.


At the end of our stay in New Delhi, we took a flight back to Europe, where we happily met our families and friends again.

Coming back home at the end of any of our travels always felt nice, but going away again has always been an exciting thing to do. We planned to stay for one month at home and soon after travel back to Southeast Asia, choosing as a starting point Thailand.

For more pictures from New Delhi follow this link.

Ever since we arrived in Jaipur, we could feel that we were traveling on a more touristic route. We took the train from Jaipur to Agra, arriving late in the evening in a crowded station and soon after at our hostel, somewhere in the vicinity of Agra’s and India’s most famous landmark, the Taj Mahal.

While most people recommend staying in the city for less than two days, we stopped there for five days. As we could notice from the first morning when we went for a walk to explore the neighborhood, there is little going on in this city and the points of interest are few. But we decided to stop for a longer time due to our work and because we also wanted to have some proper time to rest. Traveling through India can be a very tiring experience and, with so much to see and do, it is advised to travel slowly.

The city of Agra

The Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort are beautiful landmarks to visit, but the rest of the city disappoints with its more than crowded streets (which is not something unusual in India) and the extremely pushy drivers and vendors that constantly try to sell you something, without accepting any form of refusal. They can be very stressful and the closer you get to the touristic areas, the more they manage to lower your enthusiasm. The heavy traffic is another big problem here. We found out from our host that the administration of Agra did not allow people anymore to register tuk tuks in the city, because of the high number of such vehicles on the streets.



We went through a series of new experience during our stay in Agra, from verbally fighting with people because of their aggressive behavior towards tourists, to seeing a cow entering the restaurant where we were eating and almost joining us for lunch or observing a monkey stealing bananas from the kitchen of the place where we usually had our afternoon coffee. Things were definitely different and we experienced India in a more intense way by the time we got closer to the end of our trip.

The Taj Mahal

The main reason why people travel to Agra is the famous Taj Mahal, probably the most known landmark in India and one of its symbols.

We visited the mausoleum during our third day in Agra. It took us just 15 minutes to walk from our hostel to the entrance gate. It can take longer or less time if you walk, according to how well you manage to respond to the presence of the many people approaching you. If you want to avoid the “friendly locals”, you should know that inside the touristic area you can benefit from free transfers to the entrance gate, in small electric cars.



It was still dark outside when we left the hostel, as we planned to be there during sunrise, because of the cooler air in the morning, the lower number of people inside and for the more beautiful atmosphere that surrounded the monument under the morning light. Foreigners are required to pay an entry fee of 1250 rupees (1200 if you pay by credit card) while local people are allowed to enter for free (which probably explains best why the area is always crowded).



The city disappointed us in many ways, but the Taj Mahal didn’t. It isn’t just an overrated destination, but a truly beautiful one, that deserves all its fame. We passed the giant gate at the entrance and walked towards the garden, where we stood speechless in front of the beautiful mausoleum.



Tons of white marble and precious materials were used for its construction, brought mainly from India, but also from the surrounding countries. The plinth and tomb took approximately 12 years to complete, while another 10 years were necessary for finishing the whole complex, including the large garden, the minarets, the mosque and other architectural details. Nowadays it is considered one of the new wonders of the world.

The story behind the construction of the Taj Mahal is a love story with an unhappy ending. The project was initiated by the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan in honor of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died giving birth to one of their children. Nowadays, their deceased bodies rest together inside the large tomb of the mausoleum.

As the sun got hotter and the crowds bigger, we decided to leave the area and looked for a place to have breakfast. On the way back we found a restaurant with a terrace overlooking the Taj Mahal.



For a better view from outside, we recommend walking around it to the riverside. The viewpoint is indicated on both Google Maps and Maps.Me, the two mobile apps that we are usually using.



For a different perspective, a tuk-tuk ride could bring you to the other side of the river, from where you can get a good picture without the crowds.

Five days later we were almost at the end of our journey through India. We went to the railway station in Agra to catch the train to New Delhi.



As if Agra didn’t want to let us go, we were informed that the train had a big delay, which brought us to the decision to take a bus, in the hope that we would save some time. The idea seemed good when we arrived at the bus station and instantly boarded the bus that was leaving to Delhi, just to have our expectations lowered by seeing the bus breaking down shortly before we even left the city. Half an hour later another bus came to pick us up.

It took around 4 hours to arrive in Delhi, with a bus whose driver did not even consider making a stop in between for people to use the toilet and who dropped us outside the city at the arrival in New Delhi. We already knew then that the capital city if India would not feel like one of the most welcoming of our destinations.

Check out more pictures of Agra here.

After visiting “The Golden City” Jaisalmer and “The Blue City” Jodhpur, we couldn’t have left the Thar Desert without stopping in the “Pink City”, Jaipur, the capital city of Rajasthan and one of India’s largest cities. It is also one of the three destinations forming the famous Golden Triangle touristic circuit, along with Agra and New Delhi.

The name “Pink City” comes from the dominant color of the buildings on the main avenues, which were painted pink in 1876 to welcome H.R.H. Albert Edward, Prince of Wales.

Things to see in Jaipur

While the city is big and has plenty to offer, we enjoyed it less than the previous two destinations in Rajasthan. Unfortunately, the city gets so crowded with tourists that the locals who work in the tourism industry are more busy trying to scam the visitors than offering them a positive authentic experience. They are less friendly and pushier, some of them even slightly aggressive while trying to convince you to accept their service or to buy their products. But these should not be reasons to avoid visiting the city. There is plenty to see and do. Some of the most important landmarks are beautiful examples of the architectural development in the last centuries, including the Hawa Mahal, the Jal Mahal, the City Palace, the impressive Amer Fort, the Jantar Mantar, the Nahargarh Fort and the Jaigarh Fort.

We managed to see everything we wanted to visit in just one day, by taking a tour with a local tuk-tuk driver. If you don’t feel like taking a tour, it is easy (and probably cheaper) to just book individual rides from one destination to another, as most landmarks are located on a straight line from the city center to the Amer Fort. If you book your accommodation online, most probably you will receive, together with your booking confirmation, a complimentary free tuk-tuk ride to your hotel. The offer usually comes from drivers that only collaborate with different hotels and hostels, hoping to be the first ones to offer tours to the travelers arriving in the city.

The Amer Fort in Jaipur

The Amer Fort was our favorite stop during the tour. It is a massive and impressive construction, made of red sandstone and marble, composed of the main palace and the Jaigarh Fort. The structure is enclosed with walls built on the peaks of the surrounding hills.



The most beautiful part of it is probably the Amer Palace, which we admired only as we rushed to the top of the Jaigarh Fort, from where we could see the entire valley. The entry ticket was way cheaper than the one for the palace, only 100 Rupees per person.



It took us more than two hours to explore the Fort and later in the afternoon we continued our tour towards the Jal Mahal and the Albert Hall Museum, where we had only short stops to take pictures.

Later we arrived at the Monkey Temple, which we don’t necessarily recommend visiting. Apart from the panoramic view from the top, we didn’t find much entertainment in dealing with the terrible smell and seeing badly maintained structures.



We explored more of the Pink City on our last day while walking on its busy streets, enjoying local coffee and reserving some time to visit the Hawa Mahal.


There is much more to see in the city, but as our time in India was getting shorter and shorter, we decided to reserve more days for the last two destinations in the country, Agra and New Delhi.

Check our gallery for more pictures.

It was early in the morning when we left our beautiful room at Fifu Hotel, where we spent an incredible time during our Workaway project in India.

Soda, the driver with whom we did also the safari in the desert, dropped us with the jeep at the train station. It was our first train ride in India. When we boarded the train we thought that we were in the wrong one, as our carriage was totally empty. The train was supposed to leave at 07.00 am. We knew already that Indian clocks function according to a different rhythm, but 15 minutes later after the scheduled departure, the train was still in the station, when someone came to check our tickets. We asked him if we were on the right train and about the time when we were supposed to leave. The friendly man nodded and told us that the train leaves at 07.00 am. We smiled at his answer, feeling better knowing that at least we were on the right train.



A few minutes later the train started to move when we had a last glimpse at the fort of Jaisalmer.



It was a really sad goodbye. Jaisalmer conquered our hearts, not only with the beautiful landscapes and the impressing structures but also with its people. One of the things that impressed us more was the silence of the place, while soon after Jodhpur managed to remind us what India was all about.

Arriving in Jodhpur

The train got more crowded in a very short time. It was quite entertaining to see all the people in their beautiful and colorful clothes. Even if we departed late from Jaisalmer, we reached our destination 20 minutes earlier. Upon our arrival, we bargained for the price of a tuk-tuk ride and later in the afternoon we could already check-in at our “home” for the following few days.

From the terrace of the hostel, we could admire the imposing Mehrangarh Fort, located on a hill in the middle of the city. We went out to explore the area and, while looking for a place to eat, realized once again that finding a local restaurant with decent prices in India is not always an easy task. Street food stalls can be usually found during breakfast, lunch and dinner time but while looking in the late afternoon, when many sellers take a break in order to hide from the heat, it seemed a bit challenging to find any.


The Blue City Jodhpur

Jodhpur is the 2nd biggest city in the state of Rajasthan and, compared to Jaisalmer, it felt incredibly busy with rushing tuk-tuks, lots of noise and dirt.



The “Blue City” is located at the eastern border of the Thar Desert. Many of the houses here are colored in blue, for different reasons. First, blue is considered a color that absorbs less heat. It is also known as a good mosquito repellent. Another reason refers to ancient times when the priests of the higher cast were coloring their houses in blue.



We were strolling around on the busy streets of the city and ended our walk at the famous Ghanta Ghar (clock tower), located in the middle of a large bazaar. That evening we enjoyed a light dinner with fruits and vegetables that we bought from the vendors there.


What to see

The following morning we started early with the wish to discover some of the attractions that the city had to offer. We visited first the Jaswant Thada cenotaph, built by Maharaja Sardar Singh in memory of his father. From the mausoleum, we could admire a beautiful view overlooking the fort and the city.



The price for the entrance was only 50 Rupees (ca. 0,58 Euro) and no additional charge for the camera. The place is surrounded by an ancient wall and a small lake. Visiting the area covered by the wall costs an additional 100 Indian Rupee per person + 200 Rupee for a guide, as it is not allowed to enter the area without guidance.



While leaving the area, we were approached by many tuk-tuk drivers and, as our plan was to go towards the Fort, which was only 800m far, we did not pay attention to them at first. Some were actually offering tours and since the weather was hot and made it difficult to walk around, we took the option of a tour into consideration. So, after a quick negotiation of the price, we agreed with one of the men to bring us to the Fort for a photo stop and then to the Mandore Garden, followed by a visit at the Umaid-Bhavan Palace and later to return to the Clock Tower. Neither I nor Alex are very good at bargaining, but we knew it was the most normal thing to do in India and we happily negotiated a price of 500 Rupee for the entire afternoon.

We decided not to go inside the fort as the entry price of 600 Rupees per person was a bit too high for us, but we felt lucky to get another amazing view of the blue city from the entrance of the fort.



Our tour continued towards the Mandore Garden. At that time of the day, the streets of Jodhpur were much more crowded, offering a typical picture that visitors usually get when they arrive in India. Cows, tuk-tuks, dogs, dust, people in colorful clothes, loud music announcing an upcoming festival and traders that were selling everything you can imagine. We enjoyed a lot the flair of the city but we also understood that for others it could feel quite overwhelming and disturbing.

The entrance at the Mandore Garden was free, which we found very surprising, as in India tourists usually pay for most attractions. The garden felt nice to visit, but it didn’t seem to be very well taken care of. We admired the Temples and Chhatris and the wall of the 330 million gods.



While this place has been recommended to us by many locals, we believe Jodhpur has more interesting highlights to offer, that’s why we kept our visit to the garden short and rushed to the Umaid-Bhavan Palace, one of the biggest and most impressive palaces in Rajasthan. We were told that it is the biggest privately owned building in the world, home of the family of Maharaja Gaj Singh II, incorporating also the most expensive hotel in Jodhpur and a museum, where tourists can admire the old architecture and art items. Nowadays, the Maharajas carry their titles but do not have any political implications anymore.



From here we drove back to the city center and spent the afternoon walking around, returning shortly after at our accommodation.

The following day we spent our time around the blue city, located on the other side of the fort. Here we also got to know about the Ganesha Festival that took place during our stay. In India, you can be sure that every day there is a traditional ceremony or festival going on somewhere, which are celebrated in a quite loud and colorful way.

The time in Jodhpur passed fast, bringing us closer to our visit to Jaipur, the biggest city in Rajasthan.

Every day of our stay in Jaisalmer was a great experience, for the food, for the people and for the chance to discover always something new and exciting in this beautiful city. But the most exciting experience of all was spending the night in the silence of the desert, under a sky full of stars.

We joined a tour organized by the hotel where we did our third Workaway volunteer project, Hotel Fifu, together with two other travelers. The tour also included visiting some of the important landmarks around Jaisalmer.

Historical places around Jaisalmer

We started our tour early, after breakfast at the hotel, when a jeep picked us up from the reception. We drove for some time through the tall dunes covered by vegetation (yes, the Thar Desert is mostly a green desert) arriving at our first stop, the cenotaphs of Bada Bagh. None of the places that we visited that day felt touristy and we were left to explore the areas undisturbed.



Other stops on our route included the Amar Sagar Jain Temple and the abandoned town of Kuldhara, arriving in the end at a local village.


The locals weren’t surprised by our visit, as they probably see tourists quite often around, but their children (their many children) came running to play with us. The most exciting thing to play with was the camera and they happily took a few pictures with it.


The golden dunes

It was shortly before sunset when the villagers finished preparing the necessary things for the trip and we left on camel’s back into the wilderness of the desert.



The camels were owned by our guide from the village and were good taken care of and treated well. The camels are part of the life of the people in the desert, in the same way, goats and cows are. But yes, there are also camels used mainly for tourism, that probably don’t enjoy a good treatment like the ones owned by local families.

We left the village behind and rode for almost one hour through sand dunes and agricultural fields until we could see only sand around us, little vegetation and no people. At this point, the desert looked more like the one we were used with from our previous destinations: Morocco and the countries of the Arabian Peninsula.



Some of our guides cooked dinner and boiled tea for us, while we helped the others prepare the camp for the night. We opted for the tour that included wild camping, which meant sleeping on a simple bed right under the stars. Of course, you can choose a tour with a tent and even entertainment, but we were more excited about experiencing the desert as locals did for centuries.


After witnessing a perfect sunset we could enjoy a delicious dinner while the sky got filled with starts. There was silence and beauty in the darkness that surrounded us.



We woke up the next day partially covered in sand, as the wind blew quite strong during the night and, after the breakfast, we left the guide walk back with the camels to the village while we drove back to the city with the jeep.

We arrived back at the hotel sweaty and dusty but overwhelmed with excitement and happiness for experiencing something so beautiful.

Discover more about Jaisalmer or visit our gallery.

As we planned a longer stay in India, we decided to dedicate some of our time to volunteering in the northwestern Indian state of Rajasthan, choosing as destination the closest city to the wilderness of the desert, Jaisalmer.

We didn’t find just a beautiful city there, but also the silence, which was completely absent in the other places that we visited in India, and some of the most friendly people we met in the country, including our host Fifu, the owner of Fifu Hotel, that made us feel like at home in every single day of our stay.

After helping with the renovation of an old Japanese house in Hadano and learning about permaculture at a family-owned farm in Kathmandu during previous volunteering projects, this time we used less our physical capabilities. I was asked to help with maintaining and updating Fifu’s websites for the hotel and Miriam was responsible for translating them into German.

We found pleasure in being part of this project, as the work was pleasant and we could organize the free time to our liking. We enjoyed morning walks in the city, when the air was less hot, delicious meals and drinks at the hotel and probably one of the best views of the city and its fort from the rooftop terrace.



Fifu has always been careful and attentive, making sure that we had everything we needed, and he even gave us the chance to take part in one of the tours in the desert (read more about it here).



It felt pleasant to be surrounded by such extraordinary and friendly people, the crew and Fifu’s family members. Fifu always had interesting stories to tell, mostly about his love for life in the desert. We never got a chance to feel like guests in his hotel, but more like friends, which made it harder to say goodbye at the end of the 10 days that we spent in Jaisalmer.

Jaisalmer was not just another place on our list of visited places, but a destination that we will most likely come back to in the future. Read more about the city here.