Destination: India

Visiting family & relatives, trekking expeditions & backpacking…
– Read about 5 different takes on India as The Asian Destination asks 5 different individuals, Sim, Katy, Zara, Lauren and Ashley about their unique Indian adventures.

Places Visited & Duration of Stay:
Sim (S): Punjab and Haryana for 2 weeks over 3 different years.
Katy (K): Travelled around for 1 month visiting: Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Goa.
Lauren (L): Delhi & then I went trekking in the Himalayas for a month.
Zara (Z): Travelled to Leh in the north of India, flew into Delhi. I stayed and travelled around for 1 month.
Ashley (A): Travelled around for 2 months visiting: Delhi, Pushkar, Udaipur, Jodhpur, Jaipur, Agra, Varanasi and Goa.

Favourite Destination:
S: The land on our farm.
K: Lotus temple in Delhi, cycling around Benaras University in Varanasi, also boat trips in Varanasi during a puja and on Lake Pichola in Udaipur.
L: EVERYWHERE. Except maybe Delhi – I wasn’t a fan.
Z: Taj Mahal and also the Lotus Temple, shaped like a real lotus in Delhi, was amazing.
A: Favourite monument: Taj Mahal; Favourite Place: Varanasi.

Describe India in 3 words:
K: Noisy, Vibrant, Dreamlike/Hypnotic/Mesmerizing – (the feeling when I would walk around temples/old building/gardens and just feel a bit light-headed).
Z: Colourful, Varied and Spiritual.
A: Overwhelming, Alive and HOT!

I wasn’t expecting to find…
S: McDonalds!
K: Quite so many cows!
L: Such a stark difference between rich and poor. It’s not something you get in England really. Also the difference between the cities and the countryside; the variety of landscapes makes you feel like you’re in more than just one country.
A: People outside fanning cows in 50 degrees!

My favourite part of the culture was:
S: It was relaxed, no clocks in the village.
K: The temples, the food, the colours (of the clothes, especially the lovely scarves!) Also the flowers everywhere.
L: The craziness, you don’t get it anywhere else.
Z: In Leh the people were so spiritual. We visited monks up in the mountains and I cannot believe how peaceful they were and so removed from the chaos of the world – amazing people. Also found the Buddhist religion very interesting to explore and it really opened my eyes to something completely new.
A: I loved the fact that the culture is still very traditional and unique.

I would describe the people as…
S: Interesting drivers!
K: Friendly (or maybe ‘insistent’ in Agra!)
L: Really warm, and willing to help out.
Z: Friendly, curious and generous.
A: Warm, curious and very talkative!

I was surprised by…
S: How you could be in an area of extreme wealth and 30 seconds away, extreme poverty.
K: How kind the people were – we stayed with some distant family friends (I had never met) and they were so generous and welcoming to us. When we later went to Mumbai we were put in touch with some of their family there who then hosted us. This second family weren’t that wealthy, so their kindness to complete strangers was particularly touching.
L: Everything! How hot, dusty, smelly, manic it was. I was warned – I just didn’t believe it!
Z: The fact they eat spicy food for breakfast!

Something I miss about India now:
S: Playing cricket in the village.
K: Frequently being compared to an angel/Bollywood star/’Britney Spears’. The way people often seemed to speak in quotes/catch-phrases and there seemed to be lots of inspirational sayings around.
L: The smell, wierdly. My tent. The people I went with. My trip guides – we made great friends.
Z: The peacefulness of the Himalayas made it feel like a different world.
A: I miss the energy and how noisy and chaotic everything is. And how you never knew what was going to happen each day.

Any words of hindi/other Indian language I picked up:

K: I have now forgotten it all except for my Indian name, Tara Raj !(‘Tara’ meaning Star, ‘Raj’ meaning, Royalty)
L: Challo (Meaning, ‘let’s go!’) was heavily overused during my trip
Z: Namaste (Formal greeting/Hello)

Strange or memorable experience:
S: The trains, on time to the dot, why can’t we have that here?
K: Being told by our first tuk tuk drivers that, “To drive in India you need 3 things: your horn, your brake and your luck”. Encouraging!
L: The road signs along the way – ‘Don’t be a gama in the land of lama’? Whaaaat?! ‘After drinking whisky driving is risky’ – Very helpful stuff…!
Z: Getting abducted in a tuk tuk in Dehli. The driver thought it would be nice to take us to his family’s shop in a back street and tried to make us buy stuff!
A: So many but one that springs to mind is an evening spent driving a tuk-tuk!
(‘tuk tuk’ – also called ‘Autos’ short for Autorickshaws in India)

A misconception people may have of the country:
Z: That all areas are the same. The difference between Leh, up in the mountains and Delhi was unbelievable.

One thing the guide books don’t tell you:
K: The staring.
L: The smell, there’s nothing like it. And they don’t tell you about the Indian fondness for horns.
Z: You will never EVER be able to imagine what Delhi is like. I found it very difficult to stay there. It was absolute chaos and the poverty is unimaginable.

Other advice I would give to those planning a trip to India:
S: Go by train, you see a lot more.
K:
1. Telling your bank that you are going far away and may use your card still does not guarantee it’ll actually work, so best to take some sterling (more than £10 as it turns out I did).
2. Never go for a room without A/C!
3. Always settle tuk tuk prices in advance even if they misleadingly say you can pay “whatever you like”..this will ultimately not be the case.
4. Take water purification tablets with you.
L:
1. You’re going to get ill. Plan for that.
2. Gaffa tape is essential – you can fix anything with it, including tents.
3. Cake – however good it looks, it may not be!
A:
1. Don’t go in May unless you like being extremely hot!
2. Spend as much time as possible out on the streets talking with the locals and 3. Don’t be put off by long train journeys.. it’s the ultimate Indian experience!

Z:
Take a step back and take advantage of what the country has to offer you. I learnt so much over just a month. You really do take things for granted in the UK. It also teaches you that you don’t have to have money to be happy.

Would you go back?
S: Maybe, to Goa.
K: Definitely, perhaps to different places as the more places we visited and people we met the longer our ‘to visit’ list grew!
L: Yes, definitely.
Z: Yes but I want to explore different areas.
A: In a heartbeat!

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A Slice of Asia – Coming Soon!

Thinking of visiting Asia?

The Asian Destination will be sharing some essential travel tips from those that have experienced the culture, food and people first hand.

Stay tuned!

Happy Diwali & Kali Puja!

It’s a busy week in the Hindu calendar…

 

Monday 12th November – Kali Choudas (Naruka Chaturdashi)
Goddess Kali is worshipped on this day (and also on Kali Puja which coincides with Diwali). Kali Choudas falls midway through the Ashwin month and celebrates the day Goddess Kali, associated with empowerment or shakti, slayed the demon king, Narakasura. The killing of Narakasura symbolizes the banishing of apathy thus allowing light, hope and positivity to replace the darkness in our lives.

In addition to rituals and prayers, special sweet offerings are made. In preparation for Diwali, 14 lamps or diyas are lit to welcome home Lord Rama after his 14 years spent in exile.

Tuesday 13th November – Diwali & Kali Puja

Diwali, or Deepavali, is the Hindu festival of lights. On this day, Lord Rama defeated the demon Ravana, thus representing a victorious battle of good overcoming evil. After 14 years in exile, Lord Rama returned to his Kingdom of Ayodhya and was met by rows of diyas to celebrate his arrival.

Diwali today, marks a time to decorate homes with diyas and consciously welcome new light, love & prosperity into our lives as the new Hindu year approaches (this year the Hindu New Year starts on Wednesday 14th November). Pujas are performed and both Lord Ganesha, God of Wisdom and Lakshmi, Goddess of good fortune are worshipped. Friends and family celebrate with food and fireworks, flowers and rangoli patterns.

Thursday 15th November – Bhai Phota (Bhai Dhooj in Northern India, Bhai Tika in Nepal)

Bhai Phota (or Bhai Fota) is celebrated in Bengal, traditionally 2 days after Kali Puja & Diwali and marks the sibling bond between brothers and sisters. With the ring finger on their left hand, girls mark their brother’s forehead with a mixture sandalwood paste and curd whilst reciting a traditional rhyme three times. In doing so, they pray for the safety of their brother, his well being and his success.

With every great festival comes an opportunity to feast and Bhai Phota is no different! Breakfast on Bhai Phota usually consists of Luchis (buttery bread) and traditional Bengali sweets. Lunch includes Bengali classics such as Hilsa fish and an assortment of the traditional sweets.

So this week, whether you are celebrating any of the above or not – take a moment to listen out for the fireworks (if you were wondering why there were people still celebrating Guy Fawkes’ now you know!) the festivities, and enjoy time spent with friends and family!

Diwali & Kali Puja – Coming Soon

Remember, remember the 5th of November. Happy Guy Fawkes!
 
From darkness into light…8 days until Diwali and Kali puja!