Blissful in India.
My friend Sue has been dreaming of seeing India since she was a child. Her friends Bahara and Christina were planning a trip, and she decided this was the year to make it happen.
Her husband did not have this same dream, so she went anyway while he stayed home and watched the kids. Every journey needs a heroine and a wizard of sorts, and I guess sometimes that wizard (or fairy godfather ?) is your husband.
In the months leading up to her trip all our conversations centered around what she was packing in case she couldn’t find a toilet, or what meds she needed in case she got sick. This was quite an ambitious adventure to plan, and she had to deal with the anxiety of leaving her family for almost three weeks. She was determined to make this happen. You only have one life.
As luck would have it, on the day of her flight she got the stomach flu. She spent the day in the bathroom and boarded the plane sick as a dog. Her husband talked her onto that flight, even when she wanted to cancel, and she headed off on a journey that began years ago in her daydreams…
I hope you are inspired to make yours come true, no matter what.
A dream comes true. Sue reflected in waters before the Taj Mahal.
“Inside, I have always felt like an Indian waiting to escape to a more decorative place and after dreaming about it for over thirty years, I finally got here.”
Angelique: Why has it always been your dream to see India?
Suzanne: Having grown up on the West Coast of Canada, I was surrounded by many Sikh and Hindu immigrant families, including my very best guy friend, Dean Shahi. I would hold onto my mother’s leg in the bank line up staring at the beautiful Indian women dressed in their saris and wonder why we as British Canadians dressed in such a uncolourful way. I believe these early experiences with such incredible fabrics and textures led me to go into fashion design.
The incredible colors of India.
Chaos and colors, Ganges River.
A: Did it live up to what you hoped?
S: India the most spectacular, interesting, contradicting place lived up to every dream I have ever had and more. It brought me back to the joys of adventure and the exotic. I will definitely be making some life changes in the near future in order to be able to get back there more often. I think India is one of the few places left on this planet that has not been over ‘westernized’. I feel like if I only make it back there in ten years then it will be just as I left it…or at least I hope!
A: How did India change you?
S: India made me want to live smaller without so much stuff. I felt a little disgusted by the western world’s excess. Oh, and of course to live with more colour!
A: Tell me about the places you visited and why you chose them.
S: Me and my two girlfriends chose to travel through Rajasthan through a tour company I found online called www.namasteindiatours.com. Since I only had 18 days, the tour offered a driver to take us to all of the cities I had on my list. In the 18 days, we were able to see Varanasi (this we did by train), Mandawa, Bikaner, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Rankapur, Ghanareo, Udaipur, Pushkar, Jaipur, and finally, Agra and Dehli.
I won’t lie, this was too much to do in such a short amount of time. I would like to have stayed at least a day longer in each town, and to have broken up the driving a little differently. There was at least 4-6 hours of car rides either every day, or every second day, and while the view out the window was always changing and incredible, the constant travel did wear us down a little. Thankfully, the energy of each city brought us back to life.
Our driver, Prem stayed with us for the entire duration (other than Varanasi) and was at our beck and call. He spoke English perfectly and taught us much Hindi on our car rides. Unless you have months to travel through India, hiring a driver is the best option. We did not have to wait around for trains or buses and take numerous rickshaws to get to every temple or fort that we wanted to see. We were able to stop along the way at every whim, even to just take a picture of a camel, or to drink from a fresh coconut.
Christina enjoys a fresh coconut.
Let me begin by saying that India is not for the faint hearted, I saw many things that upset me, or made me want to protest and take over their government. But if you let the chaos and beauty be what it is and relax into it, you will come out having had a much better experience.
A quick synopsis of each stop
The holy city of Shiva.
Boats on the Ganges.
This was the most amazing experience of my life. This city is very old and the Ganges is very sacred. We were given a private look of the burning ghat very late at night by a local who explained the entire cremation ceremony and even gave us a sneak peek of the eternal flame by which all cremation take their flame. It has been burning for over 300 years. Women are usually not allowed at this level. Thanks to Bahara, one of my travel mates, we were also able to talk ourselves into the Golden temple. Not many white people are allowed in, so it was very special. Also, we took the overnight train there and back, and as frightening as the Dehli train station can seem at night, by the time we got back we felt like more confident travelers.
He pronounces it MandaVa…the right way.
We stayed in an old Haveli that had been converted into a hotel…gorgeous. I loved walking through this town and seeing this random camel.
Art on the wall.
Bikaner (known for its desserts)
We were upgraded to a fancier hotel where there was a huge (and I’m sure very expensive) Indian wedding going on. The bride’s cousins asked us to crash, and so of course we did. The food was out of this world and since we were the only white people there, we were treated like royalty. This was also one of the only chances we had to get up close with the Indian women and even though the language barrier was tough, there was a lot of hugging and picture taking and an overall feeling of total warmth.
The bride arrives.
Delicious wedding food.
Beautiful wedding saris.
The fort in Bikaner is incredible as is the “rat temple” or Karni Mata. It is thought of as good luck to see the white rat and while Christina and I missed it, Bahara was lucky enough to catch glimpse and take this photo.
The “lucky” white rat at Karni Mata.
Camel ride into the desert…STUNNING.
Bahara and her camel.
I had never been on a camel nor been to the desert. Now my bucket list includes trying to see every desert this world has to offer! Also, camels are my new favorite animal. Sorry dolphins. We stayed in a tent and experienced a Rajasthani Rijana dance by a local gypsy that blew us away.
In the Blue city, we went for a delicious rooftop dinner at the Pal Haveli restaurant overlooking the city square and the fort. Very cool.
The castle courtyard.
We stayed in a castle that is still inhabited by the Prince. Sadly, he wasn’t there at the time, as Bahara found out. We met four great Australian women, watched peacocks roam the grounds, saw the sun set, and had a cooking lesson.
Cooking lessons at the castle.
Jain Temple pillar.
The Jain Temple was worth the visit but so were the hundreds of monkeys all over the area.
Café and local cow.
One word – Octopussy (it was filmed there).
A very pretty city and great jewelry shopping.
Even though we didn’t have much time here, it is another holy city and the sunset over the lake was worth the stopover.
Jaipur (The Pink City)
The Jal Mahal.
I love that the boys wear eyeliner.
I couldn’t stop staring at this beautiful girl selling jewelry.
We went into a small neighbourhood and met a young female student who did our henna.
Nahargarh Fort, Jaipur.
It was nice to see a bit more of suburban India. Many dates were being had at the top of a hill in this area near a temple. Romance India style. And of course, the Amber Palace is here and has amazing views. I saw this impressive palace once in a Pinterest photograph over ten years ago. We made it to watch the sun set and get the shot minutes before it went behind the mountain. It is humbling to have a dream realized.
The Amber Palace.
Amber Palace walls.
Amber Palace gardens.
We went for sunrise but honestly, if I were to go again, I’d sleep that extra hour and miss the line ups by going at 8 am. The lighting is still great and you don’t have to wait in a long line.
View behind the Taj Mahal.
Preparing for Holi festival.
Old Dehli was so much fun. We went the day before the Holi festival so everyone was out buying their coloured powder and water guns. We took a rickshaw and got cornered a couple of times and early revelers got us soaked with water balloons!
Streets of Delhi.
Lodi Gardens, Dehli.
Chai tea please!
Making pancake bread.
The food in India was incredible and I ate everything, even the street food. I also didn’t have one solid poo for three weeks, but as long as you take some toilet paper wherever you go, you can almost always find a western toilet and if not, I just hope your aim is better than mine…lol. Even though I have heard of worse cases and people getting sick, as soon as I was back in North America it went away.
I needed to get a tetanus shot before leaving as I was only going to be in the north. If you are heading south you may need to get Malaria pills.
How to dress
I dressed very comfortably every day in stretchy leggings, long tank tops and t-shirts. We always carried a scarf or pashmina for the cooler evenings or to go into a temple.
Sue in the Amber Palace.
The shopping was superb and very cheap! I did not buy any saris but I did get a lot of embroidered pieces.
Of course I bought some mini bangles, for my little girl. There is not a lot of selection for children other than clothes, but I did buy a ‘gold’ statue for my son and a leather Indiana Jones style book for him to write down his adventures. I bought a mini painting for my art loving husband, and a tailor-made block printed shirt.
Sue’s daughter Avia enjoying her clothing and jewelry from India.
When she grows up she wants to be an explorer.
Where do you dream of going?
Thank you Sue, Bahara, and Christina for sharing your journey and beautiful photographs.
I definitely caught a glimpse of the emotions you must have experienced in this exotic and mystical land.
P.S. Check out Sue’s trip to Istanbul here.