Northern India: The Good, the Great and The Ugly

Categories Cultural Quirks, India, Photo Essays

I noticed the clouds first, as I always do.

“You see?” I said to my mum, pointing upward as we exited the airport. “Don’t the clouds look crazy after those weeks away? They’re so close to the ground here. It’s almost like you can touch them.”

I’ve said this every time I have returned from travels, my cloud fixation reignited immediately upon landing. Light and airy, the clouds still had heft, their bottoms flat and tops puffed outward, tumbling layers of white.  After the wide open skies of India and Bangkok, Montreal clouds appeared to hang by a thread, as though they would at any point come careening down, flattening me. Rationally, I knew that clouds don’t crash. But in the haze of jetlag, my face pressed to the window on the drive back to my parents’ place, I had my doubts.

“Clouds… yes…” my mother mused slowly “but really it’s the silence. I cannot get over the silence. It echoes in my head.”

Each of us notices something different upon a return to what is familiar. For me, clouds. For my mother, sitting in traffic on that drive back home, the quiet. No horns, no yelling, no whistles being blown and no cows, goats or camels in the road. Turning to stare out of the window, she smiled “I kind of miss the cows though.”

Cow in Mandawa, India

Cow and schoolboys in the background, Mandawa, India

Before I left for India, those who had been said the same thing to me: it will be a place that you love and you hate, that you will find chaotic and dizzying and that will leave its imprint on you for years to come. With many years of travel under my belt, I was curious about India’s effects. I remember how scared I was to leave for Santiago in 2008, and again how foreign Southeast Asia felt to me when I first set foot in Thailand near the end of that same year. How would I react to the dichotomies of India?

I am still processing how I want to share stories from Northern India on this site. But I want to start with a long umbrella post, an overview of the quirks that made me smile and the memories that lingered. Think of it as a follow up to the pre-trip reading and notes from just prior to my departure.

The great, mostly — and bit of the ugly. Some not specific to India, but to developing countries generally. Others very much an Indian phenomenon. I can’t say I know India well at all — for starters, I travelled only to Rajasthan and Agra and Delhi. And with only two weeks and change, I had barely a chance to dig for anything all. In those few weeks, however, these are the things that stood out.

Northern India: The Great

1. The food.

Every province of India has different dishes and culinary traditions. Punjabi food versus Rajasthani food versus Bengali food — so many variations of spice and taste and preparation. Much like China and other countries spread over such a staggeringly large geographic landscape, local specialities abound. So much food. So good.

I’ll be posting about this separately of course, but it merits mention at the top of the “great” heap. I’m writing this from Montreal, dreaming of paneer (cottage cheese, usually cooked in a rich gravy of cream and spinach or spices) and lassi (shaken yoghurt, served either sour or sweet) and so much more.

aloo gobi india

Aloo gobi, potato and cauliflower curry, with rice, yoghurt (“curd”) and crispy lentil crackers (“papad”).

Street meat, Jaipur

Street meat, Jaipur. To those who said “don’t eat street meat” — this was a halal place next to the mosque, freshly cooked & seriously delicious. AND WE DID NOT GET SICK. Win.

saffron lassi

Kesar (saffron) lassi, topped with almonds from the streets of Old Delhi. Dreaming of this still…

2. The Indian head nod.

I have no photos of this, but the Internet does, of course, have a GIF. The head nod or head shake or “Desi-nod” (as the label might be) is well-documented in travel blogs and magazines alike.  There is a whole section of the book Shantaram about it, how the nod can mean yes, or ok, or no, or a mere acknowledgement of your presence. And it never, ever grew old. From little kids to auto-rickshaw drivers to people in hotels or market stalls, it is a minimalist affirmation of whateverness, and it is glorious.

3. Kids (or their parents) wanting photos.

A highlight no matter where you go in Rajasthan or Delhi or Agra: people want you to take their photo. This is a highlight not because of the superficial act of capturing someone else, but because it creates a temporary but immediate bond between you and that person, usually resulting in some serious giggles. From tiny villages to bigger cities, kids would run up and ask for a photo, then ask to see it, then give me a thumbs up or a high five and then disappear. My memories and my photos are full of these sequences, not just from kids but their parents, equally excited to see their kids on camera.

kids india

THE CUTEST. Red shirt guy in the back too, even though he is too cool for this gathering.

kids Bikaner

I paused to take a photo in Bikaner and out of nowhere these kids came skidding to a stop, asking to be photographed too.

Woman and her kids, Jodphur

This beautiful woman also asked to take a family portrait, though her son seems less enthused.

4. Goats.

Those who have travelled with me know that I get irresponsibly happy around goats. In Jordan I had a group of baby goats following me into the desert, in Mongolia I stopped the car consistently to take photos of the goat-and-sheep grazing herds and in India I was extremely happy with the amount of goats in the county. Goats might not make a “great” list for everyone but they did for me.

goat eating a motorbike

Goat eating a motorbike, Jaipur

Goat and baby

Mama goat (WITH DIAPER!) and baby goat.

baby goat

Someone very randomly handed me a baby goat in Chandelao, which I returned to its mother immediately.

5. Dodging cows.

I grew up helping the farmer across the road from my dad during haying season weekends, often disappearing into the barn to stare at the cows. I suppose it is no surprise, then, that I would not take issue with the volume of cows in India. I will be posting a photoessay of cows — how could I not? — but cows get their mention here, as they were all incredibly different. From the calf whose ears we scratched in Jojawar after dinner to the bull who made a run for us in Jodphur, dodging cows was an important part of our trip and definitely added some interesting narrative to our dinners.

Cow in Bikaner

My mum’s face says it all “BIG COW, SMALL ME.”

6. Women and girls asking tons of questions and wanting photos.

I previously wrote about travel as a woman and how it allows you to straddle both worlds, interacting with women but also with men abroad. In India, the women were especially curious, coming up for photos, coming to ask questions about what I thought about my weeks in the country, asking me what India was like compared to other countries or my own. Many illuminating and thought-provoking discussions were had in just a short time in the country. I’m grateful for the kindness of these women who wanted to share their own life stories with me, despite my brief visit to their cities. (And for my mum who decided that every time someone came to ask for a photo with me, she would take one of her own.)

family portrait india

Asked to join a portrait with these two women, of course I said yes!

india

Another photo request from an accounting student in Udaipur.

girls at the rat temple

Girls at the rat temple near Bikaner.

7. Total chaos.

I am a city person. I love Saigon because of the frenetic energy and the inevitable push to keep your eyes ahead, searching for the next wonderful thing to eat. India was also frenetic, and chaotic. For those who don’t like cities, I’ve been told the South is a bit less chaotic — I have yet to visit, but this was the advice I received. For those like me who take energy from the bubbling mess of noise and movement, you will enjoy Northern India. From Delhi to Jaipur to the night markets of Jodphur, all of the whirring and yelling made me feel like I was in a stop-motion video of my own, standing still while everything and anything swirled maniacally around me. If that sounds like a nightmare, you’re not alone — my mother wasn’t so thrilled with the chaos herself.

Jaipur

Jaipur during rush hour: rickshaws, auto-rickshaws, buses, people, motorbikes, yelling, honking, cows bleating — chaos.

8. Spice heaven.

In my Ode to Spices post I wrote about why spices mattered to me and how they were a gateway to eating richly, despite a diagnosis of celiac disease.  India is ground zero for spices and herbs and dried flavourings, and I in no way got my fill during my short trip there. So much more to explore and taste and learn.

Old delhi spice market

Old Delhi spice market

dried lotus root

Dried lotus root.

chili

Dried chili in Bikaner

9. Colourful saris.

Against the dusty landscapes and neutral sandstone and marble, saris stood out.  Though the type of sari differed depending on the city, the vividness did not fade. It made me look at my wardrobe and sigh — what is with all the black I was toting around? From embellishments to simple veils to more elaborate matching pieces, they all stood out as incredibly beautiful.

Women at the Sikh temple in Delhi

Women preparing food at a Sikh temple in Delhi

bikaner

Women walking in Bikaner

10. Incredible architecture.

I’ve said this to others but I want to repeat it here: in the face of the most complex, intricate architectural wonders, one cannot help but think “damn, my country is so young.” That’s what comes to mind when I see the forts and gates and Mughal mosques, the palaces and havelis and winding walls tracing the tops of hills. If anyone wants to be reminded of the immediacy of the present, go to India and open your eyes. It will make you feel teeny tiny in the grand scheme of things, within seconds.

While the Taj Mahal is the most famous of the places we visited, the sandstone forts, glowing red, were what stood out to me. Caught in the last hours of sunlight they were impossible to miss, impassive and impressive, a testament to their necessity (keep people out) and constructive skill. I only visited the North, of course, and other parts of the country have different architecture. But from now on when I think Rajasthan my mind will immediately leap to ochre and archways.

Ranakpur

Ranakpur, an intricate Jain temple carved out of marble near Udaipur.

Jama Masjid

Jama Masjid, a huge mosque in central Delhi

Jama Masjid

Jama Masjid from the front.

Red fort, Agra

Red Fort, Agra

Red fort, Agra

Agra’s red fort from the side.

Udaipur

Udaipur’s central Hindu temple, right in the middle of town.

Jaipur palace

Jaipur’s Amber Fort

old buildings in bikaner

Old buildings in Bikaner

Jaipur's palace of winds

Jaipur’s Palace of Winds

Mehrangarh Fort in Jodphur

View from the Mehrangarh Fort in Jodphur.

11. Sunsets galore.

Fact: sunsets are better in far-away places.

sunset over the taj mahal

Sunset over the Taj Mahal

Sunset in Chandelao

Sunset in Chandelao

Sunset in Jaipur's "small square"

Sunset in Jaipur’s “small square”

jodphur

Sunset and a horseman, Jodphur

12. Moustaches (and hennaed moustaches and beards).

So many ‘mos, so little time. Amazingly complex moustaches, curled up and oiled and flamboyant. And in addition, many of the beards of Muslim men in Northern India were hennaed as well, dyed a bright orange. Friends in India noted that Muslim men are not permitted to use non-natural dyes, so opt for henna. (If anyone can confirm this, please do in the comments!)

Udaipur auto-rickshaw driver

Udaipur auto-rickshaw driver

Dying clothing using indigo in Chandelao

Dying clothing using indigo in Chandelao

13. Pudin Hara.

When I first arrived in India, readers (both Indians and foreigners) left comments on my fan page about the food, urging me to pick up some of these magic green pearls. Made from concentrated mint and herbs, they are meant to be taken after a meal to alleviate upset stomach and heartburn. And they work, oh boy do they work. By the end of my trip I had everyone around me hooked on them. As one of my readers noted, “you will burp up mint instead of curry”. Even if your stomach is upset, this is a great way to end a meal. And, they are on Amazon! At $3.54 for 10 pearls, a lot more expensive than the $0.24 for 10 in India. Still, I can’t complain — this stuff is magic.

Pudin Hara

Magic.

14. Saunf.

Fennel seeds, called saunf in India, are served after a meal with sugar, sometimes coated in sugar and other times in a bowl like the photo below. Occasionally they are in packets with rose petals and anise seed and fenugreek too, adding an additional punch of flavour. I grew up with the after dinner wintergreen mints, those powdery pink disks that were found in a bowl in front a restaurant’s cashier. Why do we use wintergreens when we can just use fennel? The fennel settles your stomach, gives your mouth a fresh liquorice burst and is simple, so simple. I came back to my mum’s in Montreal and immediately drove to the bulk store to get a big bag of fennel. Paired with those Pudin Hara tablets, I’m guaranteed minty, anise-y goodness for months to come.

Fennel and sugar in India (Saunf)

Fennel and sugar in India, along with our bill for a 4-person feast – 6$ total.

15. Hangsies with my mum.

The last time I took a trip with my mother was when she visited me in France. I was living there to study, doing a masters in Aix-en-Provence. We rented a car and we drove and drove and drove — 2000km total in a few weeks time, looping up toward Paris, to Arras, back down to Provence and through the winding hairpin curves of Eze and Gordes and other tiny towns. The trip was beautiful but it was a logistical nightmare; I insisted on driving, we got lost a lot and we often ended up negotiating those curves in the dead of night.

This time the logistics were out of my hands, and though I snuck my mum away to eat street food when I could, we were taken from A to B without my input — possibly a good thing. After all, years of travel aside, I tend to leave things to the last minute, which doesn’t make people comfortable. When asked, my mum says she liked India more than she expected to. She will write something herself, but overall she had a great time and did not once get sick from the street food. Moreover, we got to spend time together for 3-weeks straight, she celebrated her birthday in Bangkok, and she got a glimpse of what my post-law life is like. She has always been supportive, but also remained a bit baffled about how I met people, how I ate and what I did. These weeks in India and Bangkok gave her far more input into those choices, which benefits all of us in the long run.

Taj Mahal in the rain

My mum and I at Taj Mahal, in the pouring rain.

My mum and I in Jodphur

My mum and I in Jodphur

16. Havelis.

Because of the trip we chose (Land of the Maharajas), we ended up staying in older heritage guesthouses, called havelis, instead of hotels. This meant on one hand that we were isolated at times and with no choice for food — though happily these havelis had chefs that not only made great meals, but let me into the kitchen — but also that we were staying in places rich in history. Each had a story, and someone to go into that story and how India and its property ownership has changed over the years. While not a full picture — it was just a few weeks after all — the heritage houses and their accompanying narratives made the trip more personal for me and for my mum, a historian.

Bikaner

Bikaner

mandawa

Mandawa

Chandelao garh

Mr. Singh, the owner of the haveli we stayed at in Chandelao, telling us about the history of his home.

17. Autorickshaws.

I made the mistake of calling these tuk-tuks on Instagram and was quickly reprimanded. Auto-rickshaws, the tuk-tuk-esque machines that carpet cities in Northern India, are the taxis you always wanted but didn’t know existed. With raucous drivers, hilarious editorial and — as expected — some serious haggling needed to get the price you know you want, they were a lot of fun.

auto rickshaw Meter

Auto-rickshaw meter — AS THOUGH IT WAS USED. Ha. Never.

Autorickshaw ride Delhi

Auto-rickshaw ride FTW.

18. Chilli and lime to ward away bad spirits.

Like the blue nazar boncugu in Turkey, chillies and limes are meant to ward away evil. Strung vertically and occasionally plastic, they were found hanging from the grill of trucks just above the ground, over doorways in havelis, over awnings in shops and on the rearview mirrors of cars and buses. A totally unexpected quirk, once I noticed them I started seeing them everywhere.

chilli and lime evil spirits india

Chilli and lime to ward away evil spirits.

19. Visiting Northern India during a national holiday.

We were in town during Navratri, a 10-day festival that culminates in a big celebration called Dussehra. As a result, much of the area was on holiday. This meant that not only were we visiting Indian shrines and temples and monuments, but so was just about every school child in the vicinity. It made for great interaction with curious kids, the opportunity to photobomb a class portrait (and get scolded for it by the teacher, while the students laughed in the background) and watch Indian tourists visit their country’s own famous places. A lot of fun.

class jaipur

Class students and the poor guide in the middle at Udaipur’s palace.

jain temple udaipur

Female students exiting the Jain temple near Udaipur

Group photo in red fort Agra

Group photo at Agra’s red fort

20. Frangipanis everywhere.

They smell fantastic and they are just about everywhere in Northern India. No complaints.

frangipani

Frangipani, Udaipur

21. Bhujia.

Chickpea flour treats, seasoned with cardamom, chilli and other spices and served everywhere from Bikaner to Jaipur to Delhi, both in bags and — as you can see from the photo below — in bulk and by weight. As a celiac these are safe for consumption, and spicy as hell. Loved it.

bhujia

Bhujia in Bikaner

22. Truck decorations.

Like jeepneys in the Philippines, Indian truck drivers take decorating seriously. Two of many different colourful options from the trucks in the north, below.

trucks india

Trucks at a roadside stop outside of Delhi

Northern India: The Ugly

A few things that lingered were less positive than the list above.

1. Effects of tourism gone wrong.

In a few of the smaller villages, the children would come up and ask for photos and just sit and stare. In some where tourism has grown in recent years, however, they would either come up and say “boom boom?” while making lewd hand signals, or ask for money, or ask for pens, or ask for chocolate.

As with any developing country, I don’t bring any of those things — if I want to buy pens, I go to the school and ask how I can contribute supplies to the school directly. Candy, no — those teeth are important! But this is from years of travel and reading and of course sometimes the things we do that we think are good, or make a positive impact, can do worse when we leave. I’m not pointing fingers at any one group or tourism generally, but it does make me sad when people don’t think about the effects of their so-called generosity after they’ve left.

Also, what’s with sticking your camera in people’s faces? It’s one thing to have someone come and ask for their portrait to be taken, or for you to ask them first. It’s another to do what this woman did, just walk up and shoot a photo and leave.

tourism gone wrong

Ask first, lady.

2. Men peeing everywhere.

Not ugly in a “can’t they go somewhere else?” way, because I know full well there is a serious lack of public toilets. I, too, had to pee often and had trouble finding a place. (Perhaps I’m just jealous that dudes can pee anywhere they want?) Either way, every time I turned around, there was a guy peeing. The photo below was me trying to capture the railway tracks. I had no idea Peeing Man #24523532 would be captured too, as I didn’t see him. But there he was. It’s not just India. The same goes for Vietnam — there was a tree near my old apartment that we referred to as “The Peeing Tree” — but it’s still an “ugly” merely because of the stench and the risk of coming into contact with peeing dudes at every turn.

Peeing 101

3. Garbage everywhere.

Again not limited to India, but in a country with so many people it makes sense that there would be an exponential amount of waste. Plastic bags are no longer allowed in Delhi (soft fabric ones were given instead) but the garbage, oh the garbage. Piles and piles of it, sitting on the ground. In Chandelao, the owner of our haveli got into a heated discussion with townspeople when they wondered why I wouldn’t dispose of my plastic tea cup on the ground, explaining that it would just create more dirt and potential problems. They genuinely fought him on his arguments, not seeing the problem. That’s quite common in other countries I’ve visited — e.g. the woman on the train in Myanmar who waited to throw her styrofoam out of the window in the country, because “people won’t see it”. (She had no idea it would never biodegrade.) I don’t have solid answers (education about lasting effects of plastic is a good start, and I know that is being implemented), but garbage definitely merits mention because it is so un-ignorable.

4. Cow Dung

A lot of cows means a lot of cow dung. Enough said.

5. Aggressive touts.

My mum met a guy in a quiet part of the Jaipur market who, seemingly out of nowhere, wanted to know why tourists keep saying no to him when he comes up to sell something. She responded that in our country it is not customary for someone to come up expecting to sell something, that if we wanted something then we would go and find it ourselves. Confused, he responded “but how would you know it is there?”

Ah, the touts. We were warned, of course, and we were for the most part sheltered from them since we were part of a tour. But in the bigger tourist centres, anywhere in the world, you will find aggressive salespeople and you will be exhausted by the end of wading through them. Everyone needs to make a living, of course. But India’s touts, notably in Agra, were more aggressive than I had seen in other places.

6. Teenage boys.

This is by no means limited to India, but pretty much the same everywhere. Teenage boys, THE WORST. In Myanmar, when people were thanking me for wearing the longyi and/or giving me food “because you are Burmese-sized and need to grow” the teenaged boys would yell “where are your jeans, lady?” In India, people were universally welcoming with very few exceptions, most notably the teenaged boy who tried to run my mum over in Jaipur, and the teenaged boy who tried to run me over in Jojawar. (Me, to his friends after he peeled off in a cloud of dust on his motorbike: “Your friend suuuuuucks”.) I am sure there are lovely teenaged boys the world over, but the contact that has stood out regardless of destination hasn’t been terribly positive. Still, the good news is that they grow up eventually, right? ;)

7. Rat temple.

I was glad to visit the rat temple but I was not glad when the gentleman behind me kept flinging rat food on my bare feet so that the rats would come and scurry over them. NOT COOL, RANDOM MAN. Not cool.

The temple, homage to Hindu sage Karni Mata, is filled with thousands of rats. Smaller than what we are used to in North America, they resemble field mice with scrawnier tails. The temple was built in the 1900s and was filled with pilgrims who were coming to pay homage to Karni Mata in the hopes of prosperity and health. No shoes are allowed in the temple so I had a pair of socks that I quickly discarded upon leaving the premises. I’m not afraid of rats, but I have to say that in the thousands they just don’t feel so cuddly. It was a fascinating stop near Bikaner but still gives me the shivers when I think of it.

karni mata temple

Pilgrims at the Karni Mata Temple

rats karni mata temple

Rats aplenty.

karni mata temple

It’s not a rat temple without a closeup. This guy was hogging all the coconut pieces.

8. Monkeys.

Monkeys, oh monkeys. Perhaps because I am not large enough to be a threat, perhaps because they know I am not remotely fond of them — regardless of why, they make a beeline for me. I carry a safety whistle because monkeys have already made me a target, and they’ve also stolen water, dug through my bag for food (though there was none) and thrown away my shoes at a temple. I know one cannot stereotype one monkey for all monkeys but I have to say, not a fan. And there are a LOT of monkeys in India.

monkeys india

“Hey guys, the small one might have food — let’s GO!”

* * *

And thus concludes my introductory post for India. Brevity is clearly not my forte. But I wanted to give some overview of the things that stood out, even after years of travel, and the things that lingered.

I’ve not touched upon the more contentious issues of gender norms and treatment of women. I did not spent enough time there to speak to those complicated subjects, though I highly recommend people read this smart, researched piece from Amartya Sen.

More soon — photos and recipes and lots of stories.

EDIT: Many of you have written asking about my camera. I am using a micro-4/3ds camera from 2011, the Olympus E-P3 camera (I’m small, and I didn’t want to lug around a DSLR.) I’ve paired the camera with an excellent 20mm “pancake” Panasonic lens, perfect for macro food photography. Since I forgot my other lens when I went to India, all of the photos above are with that 20mm lens :)

-Jodi

A reminder that I was sent to India to document my journey as part of G Adventures’ Wanderers in Residence Programme. Flights and tour costs were thus absorbed by them.

128 comments to Northern India: The Good, the Great and The Ugly

  1. Jodi – a lovely, detail-rich piece which brought back fond memories of my two trips to India (one to north, the other to the south). We immediately took a liking to saunf and cardamom seeds as after-dinner ‘mints’, but never encountered pudin hara. Yet another reason to return.

    I wasn’t on a restrictive gluten free diet when I last visited, so I’m curious – were you able to find a good amount of GF street and restaurant food? I seem to remember our cooking class teacher using a variety of flours, but wasn’t so keenly aware back then.

    • I found lots to eat, actually — never felt stressed about being unable to get food, unlike some other countries. Even though chapati were prevalent, there was always rice, and in some areas bajra (millet) roti as well, which was gluten-free. Also ate a lot of pakoras (chickpea flour) and dosa stands on the street were great too (lentil flour). I’ll be writing a post on GF eats in N. India so I have a list to go through then too :)

  2. Hi Jodi- gorgeous photos! Amazing how much you captured in such a short time. I’ve been in Kolkata for two months, and sometimes I found myself nodding, “yes, yes!!” as I read your post. Like with the mustaches (although here they just use black dye), the food (ahhhhhhhhmazing), autos (I fear for my life sometimes), colorful saris (stunning) and garbage (big sigh). I haven’t noticed the chili and lime thing, although maybe I need to keep my eyes peeled. It also illustrates how much India varies by region. Kolkata isn’t as touristy, so people aren’t as aggressive, but I haven’t seen as much great architecture! I’ve learned it’s a culture with many layers and I hope you have a chance to return for further digging :-)

    • I really do look forward to getting to other parts of the country as well! I wonder if the chilli and lime is a Northern phenomenon? Please report back :)

      • Chili/lime is found in the south too ! I did sketch a day (124 last year and 78 this summer) when I was India taking care of my M-I-l. There were in tailor shop, vehicle bumpers, and irony of ironies on a stall selling talisman masks ;) – and I sketched them ! May be some day you will check my blog and my sketches ( not many photos – trying to record with sketches . ) enjoyed your posts on India and elsewhere. Take care!

  3. On November 6, 2013 at 5:41 am Pun Riwartumid said:

    A post by Jodi isn’t something I just read to past my time. I had to find time to really absorb and immerse myself in your stories. That it took me a week to find that time says a lot. And I wasn’t disappointed. Of course I can never compliment you enough about your amazing photography. Another classic from you which I hoped would go on and on.. I didn’t want it to end..!

  4. What a great post Jodi. I really enjoyed reading and loved all your photos. I’m obviously looking forward to your food posts. India is on my list of places to visit this year and this was a great perspective. You are an amazing writer. Thanks for sharing your likes and dislikes. The rat temple had me cringing. You are one brave woman. Tala

  5. Great post! Very thoughtful and funny and full of great photos. I was in India for a month this year, and fell in love so hard I’ll be going back for 5 months next year; your post made me look forward to it even more, if that’s possible. And I like how you included the not so good parts. When I went, I had been told by people who live there about the challenges I would face, which made me go with no expectations, prepared to both like it or dislike it. And that was a good thing. It turned out I loved it.

  6. Good read and loved your photos! Hope you get a chance to visit south India one day.

  7. I loved this post as it brought back all of my memories from visiting India in 2011. Your overview touched upon all of the impressions that I had of India, and I’m glad that you included the good and the bad. I miss saris, the food, and the beautiful architecture, but I don’t miss the garbage and the smell. Thank you also for noting the issue of the treatment of women in India and being honest to say that you weren’t there long enough to make a truly accurate assessment of it.

  8. Hey Jodi, great post! Such beautiful photos and stories! I wish to travel to India myself but currently I’ve read a lot about safety problems for solo woman travelers in India. Groping, man staring at you and a few cases of hotel personal trying to rape guests even! Have you experienced or heard about any problems (except for the teenage boys). Probably it is a lot different if someone travels with a group like you did, but that is also very expensive and not a possibility for me. There are many woman writing about this topic but most of them write about it because they had some bad experiences and want to warn others or because they want to counter posts like that. I’ve followed your blog for such a long time, that I just somehow feel like your advise is a little more reliable.

    • Hi Helen, thanks for the note! As I say at the end of the post, I’m not truly qualified to answer the female safety question as I was alone only a few times and my mum with me definitely deterred anything disrespectful for the most part. Candace wrote a piece on Nomadic Matt’s site about solo travel in India here: http://www.nomadicmatt.com/travel-blogs/women-safety-in-india/, which might be more helpful. There are groups that are less expensive, or shorter 4-day options if you want to get your travel legs instead of a full trip.

  9. Wonderful first post, so rich in experiences.
    Every time my dad goes home to India (which is 2-4 times a year now he and mum are retired) he brings back kilos and kilos of bhujia! He just bought back 41 kilos! Most of this goes into a dedicated bhujia freezer in the garage, I kid you not!!!

  10. Hey Jodi, great post. Anyways really a good post any nice pictures you have clicked. You have covered heart & soul of India in your post. Its really appreciable. Hope you enjoyed your trip. Hope to see you soon back in India.

    Regards

    Sandip

  11. On November 11, 2013 at 10:42 am Adnan Alsharrah said:

    What an amazing article, I must say that I enjoyed reading it to the maximum. As a traveller who has covered more than 50 countries and to be honest I have covered both south and north india, I was very interested in more the pros and cons, although I wished to add to them but I think your article covers it.

    Keep up the amazing work

    Regards

  12. These photos are absolutely breathtaking! You really have captured the beauty if India.

    Nice touch with the meme. lol = )

  13. I love people who love India :) And you clearly did. Lovely photos and lovely descriptions! Thank you :)
    You sure have some courage though, to go to the rat temple. I doubt I ever will!!

  14. Amazing photos! India is definitely a place that I’ve been putting off visiting — due to the chaos and it possibly being hard to navigate. This was a very informative post though and possibly a good reference to jumpstart my visit!

  15. Awesome post Jodi…I do have a fixation with India. Of the 70 or so countries I’ve traveled to, it really is in it’s own special league. I don’t think I need to remind an experienced traveler as you, but India needs a good length of time, more than any country I’ve visited, to be able to readjust your senses, emotions and perspective before you can truly appreciate the wonders it has to offer. I was just back to India last year for the first time in years and although I was quite familiar with the ways things work in India, it still took me 3 weeks to readjust to “The Fog of India” :)
    Can’t wait for the next visit you have there!…Happy Journey’s

  16. Incredible post and photos – I feel like I’ve been there. And what a gorgeous turn of phrase – “a minimalist affirmation of whateverness, and it is glorious.” Indeed, so is this blog.

  17. I loved this post. I’ve lived in India for a year now and can understand each of your pros and cons! it’s great to have someone share opinions with! I kept thinking “omg i knowww” while I read. Except I really like the feisty monkeys (not up north though) down in the south they are more chilled out, like the rest of Goa

  18. Amazing photos and thanks a lot for the information. Really good job, Jodi :)

  19. I am currently devouring your India posts as my husband and I have an opportunity to go to a lesser-travelled part of India, like, next week – provided visas can be obtained in time. I am both over the moon and kind of freaking out!

    Loved reading about your experiences there. great pics, too :)

  20. Wow! these photos are great… especially the cow lol!

    Something about unclose animal photos that I like – even i take photos
    really close of animals insects here in Costa Rica to a point where a spider
    actually starts crawling on my hand haha

    Loooove love your pics!

    I too have heard good and “not so good” stuff about india but as
    travelers, its for us to find out!

    Pura Vida

    And thank you for the awesome post!

  21. interesting read. what do you say when people ask you about getting tired of traveling after having done it for months or years as you have? Is there a time when you feel like what you’re doing is mundane and repetitive? How do you deal with that?

    • People don’t ask that anymore, actually. They did at first, but when traveling turned into a new career and had a bit more gravitas in their minds as a result, that wasn’t a question any longer. People do ask about whether I’m tired of moving, but I explain that I stay in a place for 5-6 mos in the Winter, which provides a good routine. No, I don’t feel ever that it is mundane or repetitive, to be honest. I’d probably stop doing this if I did.

  22. Stunning captures Jodi… especially loved the architecture and sunset shots. Oh my… Rat temple? You are too brave. I agree about the teenage boys – they really are disgusting.

  23. I loved this post, and the way you’ve observed too many little things than rest of the non-Indian travellers . It does clearly says that you loved travelling in India :) Being an Indian myself, that gives me immense satisfaction. And on complete agreement with all that downsides you’ve mentioned! Travelling in India is a combination of frustration and fascination! It’s an experience one has to accept with an open heart. I am glad you enjoyed and experienced it.

  24. The photos and details are simply lovely!

  25. Hi Jodi, I am from India (South),not a regular to blogs but after going through this one, I told my self I should now do it more often. One of my Swedish colleagues wanted to visit India as well and was curious to know about India and was inquiring. While I did give her some insight, I was curious about what the travelers/tourists know or think about India and ended up reading this article. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post. Its good to know you enjoyed your visit and had good experiences. About the not so good things, I can do nothing but agree this is how it is..
    About your comments on ‘teenage boys’,’Aggressive salesmen’ and concerns over women safety, definitely, this not we want the visitors to experience or concerned about. While I can’t change all of this, I wish I can help you with information on which places are safe for women or even can help you with planning your next visit to India (I mean with whatever questions you may have about the places you wish to visit or you may want to know). I will try my best to get you all the information needed to make your visit a good one. If you happen to visit Hyderabad , I can even help you with more than just information. You can reach me on the email id mentioned above.

  26. I took a group of 20 college students to Rajasthan in 2011 and loved it. Did you get a chance to see the tigers in Ranthambore? That was my favorite part of all (naan and paneer aside).

    P.S. You look so pretty in all these photos! I never look half that good when traveling.

  27. Wonderful recount of India. I can totally relate to what you say about “Damn my country is young”. That always mesmerizes me when I travel. Great article!

  28. Excellent post, Jodi! I’m planning on spending 4 months+ in India next year (which will also be my first visit to the country) so this provides perfect preparation. And, although I’d like to blend in and not look too much like a tourist, I promise not to turn into “peeing dude” – honest!

  29. Jodi,

    What a lovely post. Vid is ecstatic about the fact that Pudin Hara has made a lasting impression on you too – he swears by it ;). Brevity most certainly won’t have worked in a post on India, and you would have had to write at least 3 posts if you wanted to cover contentious issues like gender norms :) More on that over coffee in Vietnam !

    Nicely done. Both of us thoroughly enjoyed reading it, and it sent us on a quick trip back home.

  30. Don’t apologise for the detail – I thought this was a great post! Thanks for sharing your thoughts, both the good and the ugly. India is definitely one of those countries that divides people. I’m yet to go but really want to. I think it will test any traveller.

  31. What an amazingly detailed & visually beautiful post. Your photography has come such a long way Jodi — it’s really pro as of late. So much has been written on big sights so I appreciate you singling out the little things in travel. I too am a huge fan of goats & aloo gobi (Omg, yum!).

  32. Wonderful photos and evocative writing. While I certainly do have India on my tops list, it is simultaneously fascinating and intimidating. I don’t like crowds and chaos much, so that would be difficult for me in large doses. I love your balanced perspective too.

  33. Look at your cutie mama! When I linked to your story in the Rajasthan piece we just published, I mentioned your mother’s appreciation of the quite she noticed upon arriving home. This weekend we flew from Kerala to Kuala Lumpur, and I was amazed by the overwhelming quite that smacked me in the middle of this massive city. It might take leaving to realize how Indian India can be.

  34. Nice post!!!
    I like the way you writing the post..
    Thanks for sharing such a nice information.

  35. Northern India is one of the great places to travel. Much of it is accessible and relatively safe, yet having traveled there numerous times it always piques my sense of adventure. It always makes me glad to be out on the road.
    There are few places that wakes your senses the way northern India does; the colors, the smells, the noises, the heat, the bustle, the varied food and drink. Reading your post made me want to head back there!

  36. A fascinating post. India is on my list but I haven’t quite worked up the courage to go there solo. Appreciate your insights.

  37. Beautiful words & photos – thank you for sharing in such vivid detail! Like you, I’ve heard much about the dichotomy of India, and I’m nervously excited to experience it for myself in a few months. I’m on a solo RTW myself, but decided to book a tour for India as well to avoid some of the logistical chaos (and figure I can always stay longer on my own if I love it). I’m looking forward to seeing more of your posts on your trip! Thanks again!

    • Thanks Jennifer! Agreed that the best move was to build in some flexibility after the India tour. I suspect you’ll feel comfortable thereafter, and of course there are so many more foods to try ;) Hope you have safe travels!

  38. I’ve only been to Delhi and Agra (of the places you have mentioned in the above post). Rajastan is definitely on my list, I have heard wonderful things about the place.

    Yes, India is quite something. I’m an Indian (though I’ve lived most of my life outside India) and even I find the country quite overwhelming. It’s definitely not one of those places I want to live in, but a place I would return to over and over again and learn something new every single time.
    I’ve been to around 10 states in India, and they are all quite mad and yet, quite wonderful as well. :)

  39. I am the same way about clouds… One of the first things I noticed soon as we left home, and from then on taking stock of the sky was alwaysnthe first thing I did when we dropped into a new country. They are always different.

    I shudder at the thought of having rats touch my skin. You are so much hardier than me…

  40. Quite interesting post you have here. I don’t really read posts on India by foreign travelers but yours kept me till the end. Hope you had a great time in India and it world be really nice if you could explore the west, south & eastern part of the nation. And by the way you look nice like salwar kameez.:D

  41. Great post! currently I’m in Rishikesh and reading this post with a big smile on my face…and yes, Monkeys…Oh monkeys! :D

  42. I had never noticed clouds when i lived in india, except for in rajasthan they r like wisps in the dessert air. But when i was in North America is when i phantomed the vast sky almost like a dome. The sky and clouds in India is very different.

  43. Loved your post. Really enjoyed how you separated the differences between the good, bad and ugly. Love it, hate it, there is something for everyone in India. You just have to go with an open mind.

  44. Jodi,
    Just discovered your blog and it’s been a joy to read. On India, you brought back so many memories which can’t be shared with those who’ve never been there: Mogul architecture, girls asking questions, cows everywhere, men peeing, head wobble, colorful busses, henna moustaches, etc., etc. You captured it all! Somehow I missed those green minty thingies but loved the Himalayan skin & hair products. How you fit all that into two weeks is a mystery. Ranakpur was mind blowing! Did you have a driver through Rajasthan?

    My RTW began in 2006 and lasted eighteen months. I blogged for the first year and then stopped in SE Asia when my travel pace picked up. Never made it to Vietnam, sadly, as it was on my list. After a month in Bangkok, I flew to Chang Rai, then down the Mekong to Luang Probang, Sien Reip and finished up in Bali. After coming home to Sedona, AZ in Sept. 2007, I returned the next March for two months in Egypt, Jordan, Israel & Turkey.

    Now I’m thinking of traveling again, which is what brought me to reading your blog. Recently I signed up with a home exchange site with the idea of going to Rome or elsewhere in Europe–places I could not afford for long if staying in hotels.

    Thank you for helping to re-ignite the fire.
    Ricia

    You inspire me with your adventures in food and, while I’m a lover of all foods exotic, I was intimidated by dodgy sanitation. That did limit many options but, after five months in India and Nepal, I didn’t once get sick on food. No doubt, at the cost of many fine eats!

  45. On April 8, 2014 at 1:58 pm Sital Jani said:

    Amazing read and pics! So proud of you :) I’ll be reading more!!

  46. Very well written, it feels good that you had such an amazing experience.
    By the way I am also big fan of ‘BHUJIA’.
    :)

    ~An Indian

  47. Made a nice read. Amazing photographs made the piece nicer.

  48. Hi Jodi,

    I’m a Muslim man from Malaysia and I just wanted to confirm that yes, Muslim men are encouraged to dye their greying hair/beard with henna, resulting in a yellowish or reddish color. We cannot use black dye.

    (However, for some reason this practice is not the norm here in Malaysia.)

  49. On April 14, 2014 at 2:52 am Prabhjot Singh said:

    Hi Jodi,

    I am an Indian, recently followed your blog.
    I must say that this post is amazing. It covers all the aspects and it covers them correctly. Felt really angry for incident in rat temple and by teenagers.

    Prabhjot

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