From our world tour planning, India was a milestone in our journey.First, because we stayed there a little more than a month which makes it the second country where we stayed the longest after Australia. Second, because we are going to meet our friends Rajat and Payal again, after we spent New Year together, nothing better than to visit them at their new home in Pune. It was also a crossroad between Asia and Africa, after 4 months on the roads of South East Asia, and before leaving towards a new continent. After all, it was an important visit, for its culture, its traditions, its food, its landscapes, and its population so different from what we had seen so far and that we can not really find elsewhere, even in Sri Lanka that we just left. We were looking forward to it. We left Colombo airport and landed in Chennai formerly known as Madras.
CHENNAI / Madras
Small village of 9 millions inhabitants, capital of the state of Tamil Nadu, it is one of the main metro city of the country and it also has one of the highest population density in India: 18000 inhabitants per square km2! We were a little scarred of being drowned in this crowd. We are spending only one night here but we enjoyed the day after to have a tour of the city in a rickshaw to sight the main monuments. Thanks to the Uber application which allows to know the real prices and not to be scammed. We visited 2 beautiful Hindu temples, the lighthouse which overlooks the main large beach, Fort St. George and the Cathedral. Splendid, but the environment is airless. The humidity, the heat, the crowd, the traffic, as well as the disgusting smells of sewers remind us that it is a very very big city of India. We are happy to leave for a smaller city the same evening.
It is by a bus late in the evening that we arrive in Pondicherry. After 3h of traffic jam to get out of Chennai and 2h of highway, we reach a city at a human scale, only 300 000 inhabitants! The city is well known for its French colonial heritage! We found this in the "White Town" through many old buildings, churches, french street names. We wandered on foot under a crushing heat and it's really humid here, so not too much! At the end of the day, the seaside promenade fills up! Locals and tourists are looking for a little fresh breeze!The gallery was not found!
For the second day here, we went to Auroville. It's a unique concept in the world! It is a city created by Mira Alfassa, ( called The Mother) with Sri Aurobindo, an Indian philosopher. This was built in the 70. Auroville is a place where a community of men and women established to live here in peace and harmony without politics, without religion and regardless of nationality. At the beginning, the place chosen by "the Mother" was a desert and today Auroville is flourishing, green and clean. There are more than 50 nationalities cohabiting. You can visit just a small part of Auroville which includes the gardens where the Matrimandir is located. It is the place where Aurovillian goes for meditation. We met later in our trip a French Aurovillian volunteer who explained a little bit more from inside how it's operating. Interesting! If you want to know more about Auroville, click here.
Thekkhadi / Kumily
We were looking forward after those 3-4 days in India, to climb the mountain between the east and the west coast of the country and to get cooler temperatures! We left Pondicherry at 22h and arrived the next morning at 6h! First experience in an Indian Sleeper bus, and it was a good surprise. A real queen size bed and a pleasant ride. We had our breakfast after we reached and in the afternoon, we went on "safari" with Aneesh, a great local guide met on the roadside while walking to town. We went by jeep up in the mountains to see the tea plantations, as well as the local wildlife: apparently 2 elephants, but we were so far away that it took us 5 minutes to spot them, some Langur monkeys, and lot of giant squirrels really specific to this region.
The next morning, we visited on a boat the famous Lake Periyar, which give its name to the National Park. It's nice and we can see one wild elephant, bisons hordes, sea lions, kingfishers, a remarkable wildlife in a preserved landscape. In the afternoon, we then go hiking with a guide within the national park itself on a tour called the green walk. We walked for 3-4h in the middle of the National Park and got very close to wild bisons in a meadow, very impressive. On the way back, we meet a family of 6 wild elephants, very close to the nearby tribal village. We were stuck watching them eating for 15 minutes!
At this point of the trip, we hesitated between returning to the coast near Kochi or Alleypey, meaning getting warmer temperature, or staying cool in the mountains. The choice was quickly made knowing that we still had 1 month in India and wasn't going to be cooler after that. We also heard about Munnar, well known for being a beautiful tea growing area. We reached there in a somewhat chaotic way. First 3h on a local bus to reach Poopara from Kumily were fine. Then from Poopara, another bus was supposed to pass here and go to Munnar, but after 45 min waiting, we jumped in a Mahindra (Jeep) straight to Munnar for a 1h supposedly ride. So the small issue here, is that the driver waited to fill up the car and we ended to be 15 in the jeep, as well as it was really hot. Another issue was that the drivers ( yes there is an S ) of the jeep had some trouble driving: one dealing with the steering wheel, the other with pedals and the gear stick, knowing that the stick was between my legs and there was 18 others people seating on my left! Epic. Arriving in Munnar, it's a little surprise seeing it's very touristy and very developed compared to the small village of Kumily. We still enjoyed to see the main viewpoints and to hike XNUMX km off the beaten track, with a guide, and through several tea plantations. Beautiful !
Kochi / Cochin
As we had focus the visit of southern India spending almost a week in the mountains, we had only two day in Kochi. As much to say that we made a very fast but pleasant visit of Fort Cochin and its seafront promenade. We also did a tour in the famous "Backwaters". The "Backwaters" are a network of naturally or artificially interconnected canals and lakes, which cover 200 square km, on which small villages has been built. The ride is done in traditional boat and is very chilly.
Initially we planned to explore more of the area but we found a small beachfront bungalow in Palolem, in the south of the state of Goa, and we felt so good that we ended up not to do much. We took advantage of 4 days to relax and sunbathe on the beautiful beach with a few beers. A disconnection along the trip , and we have taken very few pictures!
Pune and Mahabaleshwar Canyon
We arrived in Pune at 3 am in the morning ( yes there is a lot of lowcost night flight in India). Pune is not a touristy city but we are here to spend time with our friends Rajat and Payal, and to celebrate Holi and as well as taking a trip all together to the nearby mountains.
After a sleepless night of reunion, we are ready to celebrate Holi. It is a Hindu festival also called the colors festival.
How it works ? it is simple, just throw powders of different colors everywhere on people you know but it also works with strangers, then you must get wet, then you dry off. You reapeat multiple times !! The result is beautiful and colorful of course. It also takes 2 hour scrubing under a shower to remove 80% of the colors on your body, the rest will slowly go after few days.
After a good nap, a good restaurant and a good night, we all leave together for Mahabaleswar. The city is located few hours drive from Pune on the ridge of the mountains forming a large canyon which somehow looks like Utah or Arizona landscape. The viewpoints are nice. At 40 min drive from the village, we visited Fort Pratapgad with panoramic views of the area, it's scenic. All the trip is pleasant but the area is undeveloped for foreign tourist: little or nothing is written in English, employees of hotels and tourist attractions do not speak English either. Fortunately we are with our guides / translators / friends !!! We left Pune after 5days and the promise to meet again. We flew again overnight to Amritsar in northwest India.
Amritsar, the Golden Temple and the Indo-Pakistanese border
The Golden Temple was one of the musts of our world tour. We had heard about it from Rajat and Payal and we had searched a lot on internet about the place. It is the highest place of pilgrimage of the Sikh religion. ( what is Sikhism, click here to learn more about it ?. You may have already seen Indians with turbans and long beards, who are not Maharaja). The place is just magical, made of white marble with a central islet entirely made of gold, Sikh singings prayers are broadcast continuously on the speakers of the complex. We went to walk around the temple many times during days and nights, and the magic operate every time. Generosity being a pillar among Sikhs religion, volunteers serve free meals to believers and visitors at any time of day or night. Near 100 000 meals are served here every day!
We are also attending the patriotic parade that takes place every evening when the flags goes down at the Waggah border post. It is an event which the Indians attend with great pleasure. First of all, there are Indian women coming down the stadium ( yes there is a stadium ! ) who have the opportunity to parade with the flag, Then children sing and dance on famous Indian music such as Jai Ho (in the movie Slumdog Millionaire). We must be admitted that this is the only song we knew! Then it's the turn of military people who also parade with the Indian flag. Then comes the guards at the border post. They are extremely tall on the Indian side as well as on the Pakistani side. Maybe they think the tallest will win. They "fight" by raising their feet as high as possible and the movements are synchronous with the Pakistani guards. Finally comes the lowering of the flags, and the ultimate goal is to be the last to completely lower the flag. A very beautiful moment!
Delhi and Agra
Back in a massive Indian metro city under a dry heat this time, much more bearable. We explore Old Delhi and it's an experience by itself. It's hard to describe! Shops everywhere, narrow streets, constant traffic, dirty smells mixed with frying and spices flavors ... Wow! We visited the main points of interest using the subway, it's hyper modern,safe and inexpensive. Here's what we visited: the Jama Masjid Mosque, the Qutub Minar, the Lotus Temple and the Red Fort, all of have remarkable history or architecture. Delhi isn't really the best of the time we spent in India, but it was okay, to spend XNUMX days there !
Going to Agra by Train and reaching late evening, the day after we visited one of the 7 wonders of the world: the Taj Mahal. Emma was subjugated. The size of the building is not so spectacular, but the fact that it is all made with white marble, makes it resplendent especially when the sun rise. Better to go early morning if you want to avoid the crowd. Nearby the Taj, we also visited the Agra Fort which is worth seeing. Thomas having already visited these 2 monuments 4 years ago, nothing new, but it is really 2 must do for a first visit in India.
The Taj's site is gorgeous despite a recent price increase: 1330 rupees, it is more than 15 € per person, especially since there is no real explanation on history, construction and maintenance of the monument, which is a bit disappointing.
Rajasthan: Udaipur, Jodhpur and Jaipur
From Agra, we took a night bus to Udaipur, a long 13 hours ride! We arrived at dawn and enjoy a beautiful sunrise on a rooftop, with view of the city with some monkeys getting some heat after a relatively cool night. The cool does not last long, we had during our visit of Rajasthan temperatures between 40-45 during the day!
Of the three cities we visited, we preferred Udaipur, the "white" city! The historic center with its palace is so peaceful, it feels like a small village. It is also called the Venice of the East, because there are 2 lakes and some canals. The story of the local Maharaja: Arvind Singh Mewar is taught to you when you visit the City Palace, it's very informative, all the visit in a royal setting!
A bus ride later and here we are in Jodhpur, the "blue" city, much larger, 5 million inhabitants. Its nice fortress overlooking the city is accessible from the old town by foot, an hike of 1 min under 20 degrees and you are there, it kills you! The city itself and its main 43 monuments (the Mehrangarh Fort, Jaswant Thada, Umaid Bhawan Palace) make it very attractive compared to Udaipur in term of tourism. We managed to visit the 3 sites, but each time happy to get back to the hotel room with air conditioning!
We will end our journey in India with 2 days in Jaipur, the "pink" city (well nowdays it's looking orange) Arriving by train late, we planned a tour with a Tuktuk driver for the next day to see the musts do of the city and its surroundings. We will pass by the Palace of the Winds and its incredible facade of orange windows, then we will visit Fort Amber, which is a fort but also a Maharaja palace! We didn't like a lot Jaipur but we didn't regret this last stop in Rajasthan! Maybe it's because of its XNUMX millions inhabitants which make already a big city.
The next morning, we headed to Mumbai-Bombay and stayed near the airport , because early morning the day after he had a flight to our next destination: The Seychelles.
Balance sheet of India
- The diversity of landscapes, from north to south, from the mountains to the plains, the beaches, the arid deserts of Rajasthan, ... simply incredible.
- Holi, a tradition to celebrate if you are in India!
- The food ! This is one of the only countries where we didn't eat lot of western food. Thomas almost turned vegetarian!
- Kerala and Rajasthan, two must-see places in India!
- The big metro cities (megalopolis) which is the image that many people (including us) have of India: overpopulated and dirty with often visible extreme poverty visible.
- The transportation which is a little chaotic, with a never ending traffic day and night, however Uber, Ola, RedBus and others website/app make it easier to organize.
- Same as in Sri Lanka, the alcohol is more or less easy to find depending on the regions/states/neighborhoods you are. Goa and Maharashtra (Pune / Mumbai) being more open on alcool than the rest of what we visited! We mainly drank beers: Kingfisher, Bira.
With a budget 2320 € for 33 days, so 32 € per day and per person, we managed to stick to the budget by spending only 2298 €. The local food (and we loved it) is really cheap, sometimes less than 1 € for a whole meal, however when you want Western cuisine, like everywhere in Asia it's expensive : 40-2 EUR for basic western food! We even took care of ourselves going to a dentist for a cleaning, for just 2298 € for 104 people, all included in the total money we spent (80 €)! The price of the E-Visa was also a good surprise, because originally planned at 70 € per person, we only paid XNUMX $ or about XNUMX € per person!