You either love India or you hate it, but a first time arrival in a city like Bombay, not experiencing a place like it before, can hit you right between the eyes.
Your mind desperately tries to remember the tricks and cons people and guide books have warned you to avoid, as you get pulled in every direction from rickshaw drivers to hotel touts.
In 1999, our first time in India, we felt like this!
We immersed into the Indian’s crazy way of life and culture. We fell in love with it, warts and all!
Everyday there is numerous weddings.
Attending up to 10 weddings a day is not unheard of!
A city in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. It is the spiritual capital of India. Varanasi draws Hindu pilgrims who bathe in the Ganges River’s sacred waters and perform funeral rites.
This is why people flock here for, the Ganges, hoping to feel connected to something spiritual.
It is a totally memorizing experience, watching the hive of activity, from the people bathing, to clothes washing, a barbers in the open air, thrown in a cut throat razor shave for free, there was even a man with scales to weigh you.
I think the ear cleaning was the most popular!
The most unreal part of the ganges is, off course the cremations.
It is thought that the river will purify the souls of the dead and they would come back into a better caste system.
The smoke rises in the city for 24 hours every day of the year.
Some bodies are cremated fully, and their ashes scattered into the Ganges.
Others are thrown in partially burned or not at all.
What to do:
The best way to see the Ganges in all it’s glory is a boat trip. We opted for a private boat trip at night.
The cities temples were lit up and the ghats were bustling with bathing and ceremonies, two of the ghats are kept only for cremations. The city has a whole 88 ghats. The most famous being, Dashashwamedh Ghat, which is close to Vishwanath Temple.
We set tealights on the side of the boat and sent our private blessings to our loved ones passed over. The ride took approx an hour.
There was unfortunately dead bodies floating to the top of the river.
The surrounding area
Dashashwamedh Ghat: The main and most popular ghat it is situated close to Vishwanath Temple.
Temples and shrines, it’s a great place to kick back and people watch.
Known as the golden temple, it is dedicated to Lord Shiva. The architecture of Vishwanath is a sight to behold. It is located inside Banaras Hindu University complex. Mo
Walk the streets away from the ghats
You will find some lovely cafes / restaurants. Treat yourself to one of the delicious banana lassi’s to cool you down.
The Ramnagar Fort: Made with sandstone this structure was built in 1750. The Ramnagar Fort has not been well maintained and is now a crumbling building, but has an interesting museum.
Chaukhandi Stupa: A large Buddhist monument. It is said that this is the place where the Buddha first met a group of five ascetics (who were later to become his first disciples). Chaukhandi Stupa can be found at, Address: Rishpattan Rd, Near, Sarnath, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh 221007, India
The pink city of Jaipur is charming!
What to see?
The Hawa Mahal, Palace of the Winds
Beautifully built with its façade being its most prominent feature. Intricate arched windows of brick lattice screening and balcony’s provided the necessary seclusion for ladies of the court, held by the custom of purdah, to enjoy street life and the many festivals that enriched this baked earth pink washed city. Find Hawa Mahal Palace of the Winds at Hawa Mahal Rd, Badi Choupad, J.D.A. Market, Pink City.
Observatory of Janter Manter
We truly were amazed at the sight and size of this astronomical masterpiece. Like toys for Finn McCool, these brick devices catch the actions of the Celestial bodies, pin pointing the configuration of the heavens Jai Singh, designer and constructer, was captivated by.
The details of the zodiac symbols are extraordinary. Find the Observatory of Janter Manter Gangori Bazaar, J.D.A. Market, Pink City, Jaipur, Rajasthan 302002
Amer Fort or Amber Fort
Historical fort built in 16th century by Kachhwaa Rajput King Sawai Man Singh. Its architecturally stunning and even romantic. It sits on a hill top towering overlooking Jaipur. Find Amer at Devisinghpura, Amer, Jaipur 302001
Rich in heritage and culture, spread out over a series of courtyards, it was founded in 1727 by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II Find the City Palace at Tulsi Marg, Gangori Bazaar, J.D.A. Market, Pink City, Jaipur, Rajasthan 302002
RANTHAMBORE THE CIRCUS
Away from Sawai Modhupur town centre it is a village of resorts, hotels, restaurants and tacky souvenir shops lining the way to the park entrance.
The area is geared up for wealthy tour groups on short holiday stints.
The park tours were no different. Rules understandably only allow a certain amount of jeeps in the park and everyone who comes wants to see tigers. Tour operator’s pre-book jeeps weeks in advance enabling them to grossly inflate the price, holding park visitors to ransom. The alternative is the cheaper ‘canter’, a noisy, worn-out, convertible truck that seats about twenty, painted khaki in an attempt to blend in with its surroundings.
The romance of this beautiful countryside slips into the undergrowth as it hides from the rampant commercialism beating an ever-winding path.
There is no doubt that Ranthambore is a truly striking landscape. A decaying stone arch greets the flocking tourists as they pass into the park, setting a hushed tone and increasing the anticipation that hangs in the air.
Ranthambore was not the right place for us to realize the dream of seeing tigers in their natural habitat. We hadn’t even seen a bird.
UDAIPUR – What to see
We got a sleeper train to Udaipur. We’d highly reccomend it for a unique Indian expereicne. To role out of bed and into the romantic city of Udaipur is a dream. The rugged, parched scenery entices one into the valleyed city. A hardy land in a constant battle against failing seasonal rain comes out fighting as the lake holds its water and the flora maintains its dry green.
Udaipur is also well known for the 1983 James Bond film Octopussy, and the locals are very proud that it was filmed in several places all over their city! You will catch restaurants and bars showing the bond movies almost everywhere and every night lol
The city palace
This is what you are really here for right? The city Palace stands proudly at the edge of Lake Pichola. Strong and tall the plain walls are coroneted by rich architecture giving turrets and battlements a noble majesty.
Uninterrupted mountains give this royal home of arched windows, domed peaks, gardens and courtyards a shining location. Take a boat tour or your own private gondola style craft to see the full beauty of the palace. The palace is located on the east bank of Lake Pichola and has several palaces built within its complex.
Lake Pichola is actually an artificial fresh water lake, built in the year of 1362 AD, overtime Palaces and temples were built. Watch the sunset or sunrise from this enchanting Lake Pichola, or take a boat ride.
is a palace in the middle of the Lake Pichola Lake. (also known as garden palace). Jagmandir is like a large floating structure which is awe inspiring, India surely knows how to build palaces!
Fateh Sagar Lake
Is another artifical lake located the north of Lake Pichola right across the Moti Magri Hill, Lake Fatehsagar is the second largest artificial lake. You can do speedboat or ordinary boat rides. At sunsert the lake is particulary beautiful as the sun sets over the hills.
The palace sits on a hill top overlooking Fateh Sagar Lake. You can get some stunning panoramic views of the city and the lake.
Ambrai Ghat or Manjhi Ghat and Hanuman Ghat
Colours flared as dhobi wallahs and wives thrashed dhotis and saris without mercy, people scrubbed lather on their bodies, and children dive bombed to send great splashes in the air. After sunset there is perfect lighting to get some night views from the Palace.
Jagdish temple was built by Maharana Jagat Singh in the year 1651. It’s a huge, holy building, where people from all around the world flock to becasue of its significance. The temple is made in the Indo-
A beautiful garden to take respite from the city. It has fountains, a lotus pool and marble elephant’s.
Saheliyon-Ki-Bari is a peaceful place to stroll around. Address : Saheli Marg, New Fatehpura, Panchwati, Udaipur, Rajasthan 313001 (located on the banks of Fateh Sagar Lake).
There are shantytowns with masses of tin-roofs and blue tarpaulin. Absurdly you catch sight of satellite dishes prodding above the parapet.
Mumbai, seventeen million people squeezed in.
In Mumbai every square inch of pavement is in use. Shiny shoed business men, bare footed rag pickers, designer trainers of the young and trendy and sparkly sandals of fashion conscious women all snake past a multitude of stalls and straight through the lounge of a family living on the street.
Certainly, it’s a crazy city and we have to be honest, it’s not our favourite, but a must see at least once. We usually just use it for a transit.
What to see
Gateway of India
is an arch-monument built in the early twentieth century. Located at the tip of Apollo Bunder, the gateway overlooks the Mumbai harbour. The Gateway of India is a well known historical monument, which attracts lots of tourists.
A World Heritage Site and a collection of cave temples predominantly dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. You can hop in a boat / ferry that you need to take, from the Gateway of India jetty. It takes approx 1 hour to reach the Elaphanta caves.
Promenade along the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Road. Take a walk and breathe in the ocean air. There is many large hotels (Mainly 5 star) and sports clubs along the promenade. Marine Drive also has some of the great street food which are in the area.
The Indian Holywood! Take a Bollywood tour around the most famous movie locations, visit a studio and see the celebs opulent homes. Address : 23, Manohardas Street, Opp CSTM Gpo Side, Borabazar Precinct, Ballard Estate, Fort. Maybe you’ll even be lucky to act in a Bollywood movie, as scouts are usually out in the streets looking for westeners as film extra’s!
Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus
It is the main train station that Central railway trains come in to.
An impressive UNESCO World Heritage Site and was designed by British architect Frederick William Stevens and constructed between 1878 and 1888 A.D.
A busy and hectic place, but within all the disorder, it is very well run. Address : Dhobi Talao, Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus Area, Fort, India
What to see
Firsty we prefer South Goa than the North. We like the fact there is isnt a pile of permanant structures being built along Palolem beach.
North Goa is also kind of noisy, and not the hippy place it was decades ago.
It has nightclubs akin to that of the tourist spots in Spain, where as in South Goa you can still find a lone guitar player on the beach, whom youre welcome to join in with.
Most places aslo close at 11pm in Palolem, so you can be up eager for yoga or running on the beach the next morning.
A beautiful cresent shaped beach with calm water, 2km in length, you can be sure to find a quiet spot to sunbathe away from the crowds. Palolem beach as magnificent sunsets.
Approx £3/4 a day. A must to get around the village or surrounding areas.
Cuba on the beach
Best cocktails and staff in Palolem. Cuba on the beach has a chilled out vibe, friendly staff, dog friendly, great snacks and rooms and huts onsite.
(Although the rooms / huts can be expensive in Indian terms).
If you’re lucky you can visit a farm in the countryside which makes cashew nut feni, as well as an array of vegetables and rice paddies.
We had a local friend, Raj who brought us to his famlies farm.
We got to see how they made pure coconut feni and also how they grew rice and vegetables.
There was no big factories here, only hard manual labor!
It was a fantastic experience and the cashnew nut feni would put hairs on your chest!
Animal rescue Centre is a must see just outside Palolem if you love animals.
It’s an animal hospital and recue centre. They are always looking for volunteers to dog walk.
The dogs are friendly and extremely loveable!
They do a lot of good work and even helped us with our doggy friend Martha.
To find Arc coming from Palolem/Cha Rasta, go under the railways bridge on way to Chaudi & opp the train station road its your first left. There is a sign post.
Palolem has many boat trips where you can see the dolphins or Butterfly beach. It’s possibleto do private tours or group. Haggle hard! They will always start at the highest price!
Chaudi is a small but bustling town filled with chaos and colour.
Check out the market with lots of fresh fruit and veg.
Also the market stalls that sell stunning garlands they make by hand.
There is also a supermarket in Chaudi with other stores such as electrical store, clothes shops and a bank.
Watch a local cricket game. Indians don’t like cricket, they love it!
Join a local football game
Join a friendly game of football on the beach. Indians are very happy for you to join in!
Dog walking / feeding the strays
There’s plenty of pooches who need love and attention and in return give it back.
You can choose to volunteer to walk the dogs at the animal shelter, Arc, or feed and play with the beach dogs. They are the cutest!
2km from Palolem, it’s a good jaunt down to see the beach, where you can sunbathe on it’s white sands, or have a drink in the shade.
Another pretty beach where you can spot sea turtles in September. It can be more expensice for accomodation here.
Cabo de Rama Beach
A stunning stretch approx 40 minutes drive from Palolem.
Many beautiful photo ops.
Hire a moped to scoot around to this beautiful setting.
Cabo de Rama Beach has not many tourists here, as it’s a local best kept secret (or maybe not for long)!
As well as spectacular scenery on the way, you can also stop of at St Anthony’s church to ring the bell!
Cabo de Rama fort
is a four-tiered waterfall located on the Mandovi River in the Indian state of Goa. Dudhsagar Falls is 60 km from Panaji by road and is located on the Guntakal–Vasco da Gama rail route about 46 km.
Seventeenth-century Portuguese fort, along with a lighthouse, standing in Goa, India, on Sinquerim Beach, overlooking the Arabian Sea. Fort Aguada can be found at the Aguada Fort Area, Candolim
If you do head North and in a party mood, Anjuna may hit the spot, with it’s lively clubs , bars, restaurants and water sports. They also have a weekend flea market.
Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary
You won’t see tigers and leopards here, but there are a number of other creatures that can be seen.
Look out for flying squirrel, mouse deer, four-horned antelope, Malabar pit viper, hump-nosed pit viper etc.
It’s a nice shady walk or moped ride through the woodlands with lots of vegetation.
Find Cotigao at Canacona Taluka garlands they make by hand. There is also a supermarket in Chaudi with other stores such as electrical store, clothes shops and a bank.
If you do head North and in a party mood, Anjuna may hit the spot, with it’s lively clubs , bars, restaurants and water sports. They also have a weekend flea market.
KERALA – THE DEEP SOUTH
In our race to spend one New Year’s in Varkala, we could afford to ease up in Ernakulem. This was one of the gateways, and our chosen launch pad, for the sparkling and much vaunted waterways of Kerala’s spectacular backwaters, a maze of tenuous channels and thickset countryside that opens up all of a sudden into rich emerald green paddy fields. Tiny glimpses of rural village life can be caught between the forest showing simple homes and temples of the local fishing and farming community.
First impression of the state was one of difference from the rest of India. Simply put it was cleaner, more structured, modernish, better organized and yet still India. Few dogs were to be seen anywhere which was a shock for the system. Poverty was less visible and for most the bare foot had been shod, apart of course for those westerners who had taken it upon themselves to follow their form of going ‘native’. Get used to drinking beer out of teapots! Lounge all day by the see, take a boat trip or listen to the call of prayer.
What to see:
You can travel with a tour or rent a houseboat over night,or longer. For us we had tome constraints, so opted for a half day tour. There was two types of boat, the larger ‘Kettu Vallams’ that plied the big open waterways and the smaller canoes for the intimate streams that criss-crossed through the coconut groves, tropical thickets, open fields and the small back water communities.
We decided on the latter because of their imagined romance of the narrow streams and the thought that the canoes would be unable to hold many people. We were shocked at the reality. Ridiculous red plastic chairs were plonked into the dugout and sat unsteadily out of place between the traditional bench seats forcing all pretences of the idealistic setting out of the window. The three canoes looked as if they would comfortably seat six each yet the amount of tourists scurrying forward to claim their place ensured that more than double that amount would pack in.
Large paddle leaves bobbed at the verges of the stream, their stems reaching up the slopes to grasp the soil amongst the tangled roots. Palm trees angled in overhead closing around the channel along with a mass of varied greenery and vivid flowers, shaded apricot and crimson that poked through. Wooded trunks curled out of the muddy muddle before bending straight up.
If we were doing the backwaters again, we would defintely go private for a more unique experience, rather than an ‘organized’ tour.
Varkala cliff top is too overcrowded for our liking. The beach is small and busy. Restaurants have the chairs all facing out to the ocean. It sounds lovely in theory, but noone seems to talk to one another!
Odayam beach is more charming than Varkala. Walk down past the end of the cliff , along the Northward coast. The first bay is only a few minutes from the bluff and the narrow strip is still fairly busy with a lot of onlookers from the slope behind it.
Walk down an incline dotted with the huts of a fisher mans village and cross an outlet stream. Follow the path which will take you past the impressive white washed walls of the green minareted mosque facing out to Arabia. There is gueshouses around here.
The beach is beautiful. Throughout the day you can hear the call to prayer from the mosque. It’s a more spiritual setting. We stayed at Royal Palm beach resort. It’s not an actual ‘resort’ just several rooms. The beack is 2 minutes away. Ask for Shain the owner. Say Miko and Knox sent you, and don’t be shy to ask for good discount lol
Juma Masjid Mosque
Check out the blue and coral mosque. Listen to the call of prayer from morning till evening.
Also still known as Madras sits the Bay of Bengal in eastern India, is the capital of the state of Tamil Nadu. There is a nice feel to Chennai. A cosmopolitan city it immerses itself in music, dance, drama, sculpture and other arts.
What to see
is a natural urban beach in Chennai, along the Bay of Bengal. The beach runs near Fort St. George in the north to Foreshore Estate in the south. It the longest natural urban beach in the country. See the beautiful sunset at night.
Fort St George
Is the first English fortress in India, founded in 1639. It is a well perserved building. It also has a museum and a 17th-century church. Address: Rajaji Rd, near Legislature and Secretariat, Fort St George, India
San Thome Church
It was built in the 16th century and it’s claimed that it was built over the tomb of an apostle. San Thome Church can be found at, Address : 38, Santhome High Rd, Dummingkuppam, Mylapore, India
Parthasarathy Temple is an 6th-century Hindu Vaishnavite temple
The religious significance of Parthasarathy Temple receives several pilgrims and visitors every year. A stunning structure with carved columns is truely exquisite. The water tank at the temple is also thought to be holy. Floral festivals are held here from feb-March. This is one of our favourites. It seems there is a temple on every corner in India!
Victory War Memorial
A Marble structure dedicated to the soliders who lost their lives in the two world wars. It is close to Marine beach. Find the Victory War Memorial at Address: Port Trust Officers Quarters, Sathya Nagar, Chennai Port Trust, India.
The Andaman Islands are know for its white sandy beaches and tropical rainforests. It’s the best place to relax and wind down. It is also well known for capital Port Blair & a former colonial prison.
The quickest way to reach the Andaman Islands is by flight, however we opted for a direct ferry departing from Chennai Port and arriving at Port Blair. The ferry departs once a week and takes 2 and a half days. We stayed in a 1st class cabin, which was a fab experience, and also were invited to dinner with the captain of the ship!
Mazruzz is the best ship as it’s well maintained and gets to Port Blair slightly quicker. You can pay anything from 11295 -7445 ruppes for a first or second class cabin. Bunks are obviously much cheaper but rudimentary.
What to see
You will enter into Port Blair on your arrival. Port Blair is connected to all islands by ferries The Phoenix Bay Jetty and the Haddo wharf, are the most reliable harbours.
Built by the British,to house political prisoners fighting for independance from the british rule, far from the mainland. All prisoners were kept in isolation cells and subjected to a cruel working schedule, with regular whippings and executions. The horrors these prisoners must of went through is unthinkable. We found it a sombre experience visiting the jail, but a must see when in the Andaman Islands.
Built by the Japanese army during World War II, who invaded and occupied the Andaman and Nicobar Islands during this time.
Known for its dive sites and beaches, like Elephant Beach, with its coral reefs. It’s a wonderful place to switch off. So kick back and relax, soak up the sun, read a book, sunbathe, swim. After checking out the beaches, you can go scuba diving, snorkeling, or take a trip in a glass bottom boat.
Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park
Located in Wandoor Park. You can check out the wonderful colourful marine life and coral in a glass bottom boat. It’s approx 29 k from Port Blair. You can get a taxi or buses to take you to Wandoor. From here then you can arrange a tour.
We admittedly haven’t been back to Orissa since the 2000 millennium. We arrived just after the severe super cyclone hit Orissa in October 1999. It devastated coastal districts and brought death to over 10,000 people. As you can imagine it was a somber atmosphere, however the locals were glad of our business as many travellers stayed away.
On the beach you could see the effects of the 20 foot surge the cyclone brought in. There were dead turtles and dogs washed up on the sand. Some were already turning to skeleton. It was a sad sight. The Shri Jagannath Hindu Temple still stood without being marked. The temple is one of the most sacred pilgrimage sites in India.
What to see
Shri Jagannath Temple
Of course the main attraction is the Jagannath Hindu Temple, which is a sacred pilgrimage site. It was constructed by Ganga Dynasty Ananta Varman Chodaganga Deva dating back to the 12th century.
The temple is situated on a raised platform and is architecturally brilliant.
It is built in a way where no shadows are visible to others. There are many festivals, main one being the Chariot Festival and people flock from all over the world. It is located on Grand Road, Puri.
Konark Sun Temple
A 13th century temple Dedicated to the Hindu Sun God Surya. Its patterns and carvings are used as sundials. The temple is built like a chariot and made from stone. The sun temple is located on the coastline of Orissa.
Udayagiri and Khandagiri Caves
Natural and artificial cave. It is thought the Udayagiri and Khandagiri caves were carved out as residential blocks for Jaina monks during the reign of King Kharavela. Located at Khandagiri, Bhubaneswar, Odisha 751030
A well known tourist attraction. Golden beach was awarded a blue flag beach in 2020 by the Foundation for Environment Education in Denmark. There is various sand art work by Sudarshan Pattnaik. Grab a samosa at one of the many food stalls that line the area, take a walk along the long stretch, or sunbathe on their glorious sands.
Raghurajpur Artist Village
Just outside the Puri district lies this very special artist village. It is best known for its ancient Pattachitra art, made of cloth-based scroll paintings. It’s also got palm leaf art, wood engravings, painted clay pots and paper crafts. The village attracts many tourists now which helps the local peoples economy. Address:Raghurajpur Artist Village1st Ln, Raghurajpur, Jagannath Ballav, Odisha
Dhauli Giri Hills
A beautiful white peace pagoda & Buddhist shrine, located at the bank of Daya River, the striking building sits on the top of Dhauli Hill. However it can get crowded so get early if you want to experience the calm. Walk the steps and take in some great views over the city. Address: Bhubaneswar, Odisha 752104, India