I recently embarked on a little adventure through Northern India. It took a little while to find someone who was like “YES, let’s go!”, but when I did I was certain it was going to be a trip full of adventure and exploration. A lot of girls are afraid to visit India due to many reports on attacks and general safety over there. These concerns aren’t unwarranted as there have been instances that are horrific, but these instances should also not stop you from visiting.
I didn’t feel threatened once while I was there and if you’re sensible and exert a reasonable level of caution, the likelihood is you’re going to be absolutely fine. Hopefully, by the end of this post you’ll be inspired to grab a friend and go to India! Enjoy.
Travelling as girls in India
Expect to be stared at. You will be looked at like you’re a different species by both men and women. This we soon realised wasn’t because we were girls but because we’re white, and the friend I travelled with was very blonde! You may well be asked for “1 photo” – when this first happened a family were trying to get us to hold their baby for a picture but we thought they were asking if we wanted a picture with the baby for ourselves so we said no but soon realised what they meant!
You’re well within your rights to say no to photos, we were told the Hindi for this (I’m going to spell it how it sounds so you’ll know how to pronounce it!) – “Mat lay photo.” A little word of advice given by our guide: if a family approaches you, that’s fine. However if a single man or a group of men approaches then I would highly recommend you think twice about it… I’m going to let you figure out why for yourself. I think you’re probably along the right tracks?! Ok, great, I’ll move on.
The north is very conservative. It’s not like Goa where wearing a revealing dress or strolling around in a bikini are common. Whether you like it or not you should cover up and respect the culture. We tended to wear floor length floaty skirts with a loose cotton shirt or if we were wearing a tank top we’d be sure to have a scarf to wrap around our shoulders. It’s not worth the attention or risk of going out wearing more revealing clothing. As long as you’re respectful and modestly dressed there’s no reason that you’ll be targeted, you may feel a little uncomfortable from all the staring, but I didn’t once feel threatened. Be sensible and cautious of your surroundings and you should be fine.
Delhi is completely mad, it’s a crazy city with too many things to look at and comprehend. But that’s also what adds to its charm. Delhi is a great place to visit first, it throws you into the deep-end of Indian city life and gives you your first insight into what Northern India will be like.
Grab a tuk-tuk driver and hire him for an afternoon (usually around 350 rupees). Tell him all the sights you want to see and he’ll take you to all of them and wait while you snap photos. I’d hold off on the shopping till you get into Rajasthan because that’s where all the clothes you’ll be seeing are made and like any capital city they’re more expensive in Delhi!
A couple of spots to see and photograph are; India Gate, Gandhi’s home for the last part of his life, the Presidents residence, Old Delhi and Jama Mosque, Guru Drwara Bangla Sahib Temple and the Lotus Temple. If you want an amazing lunch or dinner then head to the Bukhara, it’s incredible.
Where to go in Rajasthan
We hopped on an overnight train from Delhi into the depths of Rajasthan. An overnight train is definitely an experience you won’t find anywhere else, bring your hand sanitiser, leave your tiara at the door and prepare to get around like the locals do! Rajasthan really is beautiful, it’s still crazy and completely chaotic but there’re elements of beauty which are totally unique to this area. Also if, like me, you’re a total sucker for all things sparkly, floaty and bright, then the shops and market stalls you’ll come across will be a dream come true.
My favourite places in Rajasthan were Pushkar, Udaipur and Jaipur so here’s a little guide to what to expect in each of these locations.
This is a very holy city, so holy that no meat, eggs or alcohol are allowed inside it. It’s the location of the worlds only Brahman temple. It’s not a very big city, however they have enough market stalls to fuel the economy of a number of surrounding cities. (Not literally but it feels like that!) You’ll find so many little treasure troves off of the main street here. Also while you’re here you’ll experience people trying to give you a flower, do NOT take the flower, as soon as you take it they’ll pressurise you to be blessed by the lake and often then expect you to pay a huge amount of money for carrying out the blessing.
If you do want to be blessed, ask a guide if you’re with one or the place you’re staying and they’ll contact an actual priest. Afterwards you’ll be asked for a donation but you only give what you want to, no pressure. I gave 100 rupees. It’s a pretty great thing to do. I’m not religious but I felt a huge sense of clarity after taking part, it gives you time to think about what you want and who you care about before offering to the gods.
Afterwards you’ll have a red and yellow string tied around your wrist, this is also known as a “Pushkar Passport” which means no one will bother you if they see it!
Udaipur was my favourite place on the whole trip. It was amazing, the air is fresh, the streets are clean and it’s a little cooler due to the fact it’s next to the water. Udaipur is known as the Lake City, it’s also where they filmed Octopussy all those years ago. The whole city is beautiful. You must visit the City Palace and also the Lake Palace. The Lake Palace can be reached via boats leaving on the hour from 10-6pm.
It costs 400 INR + 30 INR to get into the City Palace walls, from where the boats leave. There’s a hotel in the Lake Palace which is located in the middle of Lake Piccholo which has a great restaurant which if you’re there early morning serve a fantastic, unlimited breakfast. They also have a spa which we may or may not have decided to indulge ourselves in. But in all seriousness, if someone’s offering a massage for £15, I’m going to take it. The Old Town in Udaipur is where you’ll find the best shopping, it’s known for it’s miniature paintings so be sure to pick one up if you want something to remember it by!
I adored Jaipur, I don’t know whether it was because it was the first time in the trip I felt completed settled or whether it was the city itself but I really enjoyed my time here. It’s crazy, sure, but it is the capital of Rajasthan and it has a huge amount to offer. Definitely visit the Amber Fort, it’s gorgeous and be sure to get a guide to take you around, it’s worth every penny as they’ll explain the history of the king and his twelve wives that used to live there. However, I have to advise against not getting an elephant up to the top, as you’ll see many doing, because they control the elephants with daggers and it’s not all that ethical. While you may get great Instagram photos on one, it’s not worth it!
Pick up a tuk-tuk driver and arrange an afternoon rate with him. We decided that we’d had a little bit of an overload of forts and palaces by this point and wanted to spend the afternoon experiencing a different type of cultural activity… shopping. (Shopping is totally cultural if you’re in a different country right?!)
We asked our tuk-tuk driver to take us to all manner of places and he patiently waited outside, we were very lucky with whom we picked as often they just take you to places where they’ll be getting commission but aren’t all that great. However, this one was fantastic. We ended the afternoon with bags full of goodies and gifts for friends back home. Also, you definitely need to get anything and everything tailor-made here, it’s very cheap but you can choose your fabrics, design your clothes and they’ll be delivered to your hotel the same night.
As they say in India “everything is possible”!
Visiting the 7th Wonder of the World
I was both excited and also a little dubious about our visit here. I’d heard mixed reviews that it wasn’t that great anymore but those doubts went straight out the window when we placed our eyes on it at 6.10am, lit with a pale pink sunrise. Most definitely get there for when it opens. I got up at 4.30am and we were the first in the queue for when it opened. By around 7 or 8 a.m. it was already packed and we didn’t even go in peak season!
The building itself is completely exquisite. We dressed for the occasion in beautifully bright colours… No we weren’t just thinking about the Instagram shots… okay, we totally were but it was so worth it!
There’s not a whole load to do in Agra aside from the Red Fort and Baby Taj, so I wouldn’t recommend spending longer than a day here. Arrive in an afternoon see the Taj and Baby Taj at sunset and then get up at the crack of dawn for a sunrise Taj visit and leave after breakfast. The Taj Mahal will probably be one of the most exquisite buildings I ever see and I urge you all to visit it too.
The craziest place you will ever visit
I think the one thing I learnt from India is their acceptance of death as a part of life. Whilst we all know it’s coming at some point in the future, I feel that in the west there’s less acceptance of that, perhaps because of a lack of belief in the afterlife makes it a more daunting prospect. Varanasi is the holiest city in India. This city on the banks of the Ganges is where people come to die, they come to cremate their families and they come on pilgrimages.
Varanasi was our last destination in India and I was so glad that it was. I felt like it was a culmination of the very best of what we’d seen on our journey through northern India. The streets were an exhaustion of your senses, you didn’t know where to look. Life and death were so intricately linked here that it almost felt a bit surreal. You’ll be sat slurping a lassi (visit Blue Lassi, the best in town) with disco music and conversation flowing when all of a sudden you’ll spot a cow walking down the side street followed promptly by a clamour of noise and a dead person wrapped in orange, gold and adorned in flowers being carried through on a stretcher, with a scooter coming at it the other way. If you’re struggling to comprehend part of that sentence then imagine it happening in front of you. Madness.
You must make a trip down to the burning ghats, it’s something everyone has to see. Don’t give donations to people hassling you – you don’t need to. The burning ghats are where, after the body was been washed in the Ganges, it’s burned. Now, not to get all spiritual on you, but it wasn’t until I actually saw the body of a young man that I realised how closely linked life and death are, the only difference is the beating of a muscle pumping blood round the body.
You may be thinking “er.. well obviously…”. But until you actually see it two metres in front of you, I don’t think it actually registers. You won’t remember the body, you remember all that person had to offer. Something I don’t think I’ll ever forget experiencing the burning ghats, bleary eyed at 5am before a sunrise boat trip on the Ganges. It’s an experience I urge everyone to go and see if you’re in India. Incredible, crazy place.
I have so many more stories from our adventure, I’m so glad I had someone to share the whole experience with. It is a really fun place to go with one of your best friends. You’ll laugh, you’ll probably want to cry and you’ll be awe of everything around you. There’s no where like India, it’s magical, exhausting and truly one of a kind. Don’t let safety put you off – go and grab a friend and go to India! I promise you, you won’t regret it.