I had always wanted to get to India someday, but after talking to a few Westernized Indian acquaintances, we were actually a bit scared to travel there and didn’t originally include it in our itinerary. While tales of food poisoning, rape, poverty and overall dirtiness of the country are all valid concerns, we were too close not to go, but didn’t feel entirely safe traveling alone as two female Americans.
After numerous emails with Dr. Seal, one of my professor’s at LMU who is originally from Kolkata and who was very enthusiastic about our change of heart, we had arranged a 15-day tour of the North with Indo Asia Tours, a company that LMU previously used and which I can now highly recommend.
We started and ended our tour in Delhi, and traveled via plane, car and train to Udaipur, Jodhpur, Jaipur, Agra, Haridwar, Rishikesh and Devprayag. We felt well taken care of, with all transportation, accommodations and meals arranged, and provided a lot of input as to what we wanted to see.
Our guide Sunil was a wealth of knowledge with over 26 years of experience, seven spoken languages, and three masters degrees. He was confidently able to answer our neverending questions, and entertained us during meals with his storytelling.
Our driver Paramjeet was sweet and mild-tempered, and greeted us every morning with “namaste”, a clean car and fresh marigolds hanging from the dash for good luck. He said a little prayer before he started driving and kept his cool every time, even in the most chaotic of traffic situations.
Despite our exhaustion from the jam-packed tour and pre-monsoon heat, we absolutely loved India. Yes, it is dirty and there is a lot of poverty, but neither of us encountered food poisoning and we never felt unsafe, although we did have our guide with us most of the time and avoided eating street food.
Full disclosure, our excitement over eating Indian food daily quickly dwindled. Two weeks of heavy curries, spices and eating late dinners while having to get up and eat again early enough to beat the heat or the crowds took its toll on our tummies. But we did try regional dishes in all of the cities we visited and everything was delicious!
Our first full day was spent recovering from traveling, meeting Nitya, a fellow LMU MBA alum, for dinner in Cyber City (where all the big companies are headquartered) and catching a live Bollywood show called Zangoora at Kingdom of Dreams in Gurguaon – a most entertaining adventure!
The next morning started our official tour and over the course of two weeks, we visited mosques & temples, forts & palaces, tombs, gardens, crematoriums, ancient step wells, local villages, markets, palm readers, and the infamous Ganges River.
The Taj Mahal was breathtaking, although we both really enjoyed the “Baby Taj”, a 17th century tomb of Utimad Ud Daula that predates the Taj Mahal (1628), a lot more due to its colorful frescoes and serene atmosphere along the Yamuna River, and of course, no tourists!
The last few days of our trip took us to Haridwar, Rishikesh and Devprayag – the confluence of the Ganges River. We went to evening prayer ceremonies (Aarti) in both Haridwar and Rishikesh, but also spent a few hours just walking around and observing all the people there to bath in the holy water of the Ganges.
Witnessing this ancient ritual was infectious and quite moving for both of us. Despite the bad rap of the Ganges (it is a very polluted river, especially as it flows south to Varanasi), thousands of Hindus make the pilgrimage here each month in hopes of washing away their sins. With the excitement surrounding us, we were compelled to at least dip our feet in the chilly holy water on more than one occasion.
As respectable travelers, we covered up our arms and legs during most of the tour, which also helped to keep us from burning in the sun, but didn’t prevent us from drawing attention. Outside of the Golden Triangle, we often encountered locals who tried to take discreet photos of us, asked us to pose in selfies with them, and even thrust their children into our arms for photos.
Accepting our temporary celebrity status gave me the opportunity to request photos in return – something that most others demanded at least 10-20 rupees for in exchange. The Indian people we had the pleasure of meeting were beautiful, kind and jovial, not to mention photogenic.
On a day trip from Udaipur, we were the only Western tourists visiting Chittorgarh Fort, one of the most formidable forts in India. At the entrance to the ruins of Kumbha Palace, Sunil was giving us a long-winded history, much to the dismay of a group of young Indian teen boys who wanted to take pictures with us.
After about 10 minutes of patiently waiting, we thought they had given up and walked away, but sure enough they came running back when they realized Sunil’s speech was over and we were finally entering the palace. After several rounds of pictures with each of them and each of us separately, the leader of the teen pack looked over the photos on his cell phone and said, “very satisifed ma’am” before running off.
We too were very satisifed with our experience in India. The history, culture and cuisine are undeniably fascinating and we found ourselves in awe many times on the trip. A huge thank you to Dr. Seal for his insight, history and guidance in helping us plan this adventure!