India is an incredible country to travel, full stop. It’s on a spectrum that spans from confusion, frustration and sorrow to euphoria, bliss and total exhilaration, and all this can be experienced in the space of just one day.
There are countless breathtaking views, cultural insights and an array of mouth watering food to savour. I’ve tried my best to produce ten things to do while travelling this spectacular country.
1. Take an auto-rickshaw ride around Delhi
Often referred to as a ‘tut tut’ in South East Asia, these speedy street rockets are known as an ‘auto’ or ‘auto-rickshaw’ in India.
If you opt for a manual, peddled version they are called a ‘rickshaw’ or ‘cyclo’.
Either vehicle is a great way to get up close and personal with the Delhi madness and an ideal method of transport to zoom around in, stopping off at the various sights around the capital.
Be sure to agree your price upfront and book a driver via your accommodation or a recommendation if possible. Ensure you leave your valuables back at your hotel and only take what you need for the day. Like any major city in the world, there are stories of bag snatching and pick pocketing, so it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
2. Have a one on one with The Taj Mahal in Agra
If you’re travelling India, chances are you are going to be visiting the infamous Taj Mahal. I’ve heard countless stories of underwhelming experiences and frustration due to the huge crowds and unbearable heat.
If you’re after a unique insight into this breathtaking monument then follow my simple steps below.
- Buy your ticket at least one day before you want to visit. This may mean buying a ticket via your accommodation or taking a trip to the Taj Mahal to buy one from the kiosk.
- Do not take a backpack, bag, handbag (sorry ladies), man-bag (sorry men), food or anything other than a camera and a wallet. Do not take your camera case either. This will ensure a quick and smooth transition through the security checks.
- Arrive at least one hour before the opening time. Chances are there will be a few other savvy travellers getting up as early as you are. Make sure you are there first by waking up at stupid o’clock and taking an auto rickshaw to the Taj Mahal. While you’re waiting, grab a sugary and spiced chai masala from across the road to awaken the senses.
- This one is simple, visit on a weekday and make sure it is not a religious or national day. Do your research online or simply ask someone at your accommodation.
- When they start letting people in, make sure you maintain your spot at the front of the queue. You may find yourself a few people back from the front, but don’t worry too much. Once you pass security it’s time to start running and passing all the people who are walking or faffing. Run straight and then take a right through the main arched entrance. Don’t stop when you see the Taj Mahal for the first time. Keep running until you hit the famous ‘Diana bench’ which is the bench up upon the raised platform, straight ahead of you. You should now have a few minutes to yourself with a unique, unspoilt view of this magical monument. Take some photos and I highly recommend just sitting down for a minute or two and allowing yourself to absorb and appreciate the moment.
If you’d like to read my personal experience with the Taj Mahal then read my blog entry ‘One on One with the Taj Mahal’.
3. Watch a Bollywood film in the Rajmandir cinema, Jaipur
Let’s face it, you can’t go to India and not watch a Bollywood blockbuster. If you’re visiting Jaipur then I highly recommend visiting the Rajmandir cinema. It’s located at C-16, Bhagwan Das Road, Panch Batti. The cinema originally opened in 1976 and was the dream of Shri Mehtab chandra Golch. He wanted a cinema hall that would cross the boundary of traditional cinema and showcase more than just movie. In my opinion, I think he has achieved this.
4. Trek the Savitri Temple in Pushkar for sunrise
If you love an epic sunrise, an early rise and a morning trek, then this is the one for you. Climb the stairs to heaven and admire the view from the pleasant Savitri Temple.
The 1.5 km climb up the stairs leading to the temple takes between a half-hour and an hour, depending on your energy levels, but trust me, the outstanding view is worth it. Be mindful of menacing monkeys, which tend to grab anything edible, especially food in a shiny wrapper.
If you are one of those people who prefers a sunset over a sunrise, or you just want to view one of the most beautiful landscapes in India, then make sure you take the majestic cable cart ride from the bustling streets of Udaipur to the dizzy heights of the 360 degree viewing point.
The red cable carts are located between popular tourist spot Deen Dayal Park, on the top of hill near lake pichola and Machhala Hill Top near Karni Mata temple. The cost of the ticket is 78 rupees for adults and 39 rupees for children.
Check sunset times on the Internet or at your accommodation and leave plenty of time for the walk and cable cart ride. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed. Don’t forget your camera for this one.
If you’re looking for some more ideas on things to do in Udaipur then check out this great article, ‘8 Top Udaipur Attractions and Places to Visit’.
6. Drink cocktails in Mumbai
If you want to spend some time rubbing shoulders with the new generation of India, then head to one of the many quirky, cosmopolitan, cocktail bars, that can be found nestled among the buzzing streets. One of my favourites is ‘Social’ which is located at 24, Ground Floor, B.K.Boman Behram, Marg, Apollo Bunder, Colaba. If you want to check the menu before you go then just scroll down the page on their website which can be ‘found on their website’.
7. Go canyoning in Goa
Nothing cultural here, just a fix for those with an adventurous streak. If you find yourself anywhere near Palolem, then head to ‘Goa Jungle Adventure’. An action packed day of river cliff jumping, abseiling, trekking and a cool jeep ride combine to satisfy the thrill seeker within.
8. Breakthrough the clouds in Munnar
Within the state of Kerala, amidst the dizzy heights of Munnar, lay some of the most spectacular scenery India has to offer. Acres and acres of luscious green tea plantations line the mountain hills as they intertwine with the clouds and mist from the heavens above.
Take a trip to top station for some awesome views and pop into a tea museum to learn the history behind the plantations in the area. Be sure to try some spiced masala chai here, that’s if you haven’t already.
If you opt for an overnight house boat or just a simple day cruise, you will be mesmerised by the beauty of these flowing backwaters. The network of waterways is breathing life from all angles. Sit back and relax as you pass countless wildlife and take a sneak peek at the communities that live around the water as they fish, cook and go about their daily lives.
Using local transport should be a part of everyone’s travel plan while in India. It will push you out of your comfort zone but bring you to closer to the real India. Remain patient, always clarify and check your plans to minimise any potential hiccups.
Trains – India’s rail system is extensive and relatively easy to travel on. Sometimes there are delays for no apparent reason and make sure you book your tickets up as soon as possible. Tickets can be booked online via www.makemytrip.com , once you’ve completed the somewhat tricky Indian Railway registration process you are on your way. There is an excellent step by step guide on this registration process and other useful information on www.seat61.com . I recommend booking second class AC for sleeper trains and AC chair for short journeys but like anything in life it’s different stokes for different folks, so do your research before selecting your carriage type.
Rickshaws – Touching on a previous note, make sure you take at least one auto rickshaw (tut tut) and rickshaw (cyclo) ride while in India. Barter and agree the price before you get in and don’t be afraid to walk away if you feel you are being ripped off. Keep your valuables close, your limbs within the vehicle and enjoy the ride.
Buses – Taking the local bus will not be for everyone, but if you’re looking to get seriously up close and personal (locals on your lap sometimes), then this is the method of transport for you. Ridiculously cheap, fun and interesting, the bus network around India is pretty good. Head to the main information desk or office of the local bus depot for advice and guidance. If you want to stay extra safe then I suggest travelling during the day time and with other travellers. I found that this method of transport gets easier as you travel southerly, especially in and around places such as Kerala.
Food is a very important part of travelling. It gives you a chance to savour dishes that the locals eat and it gives you a true insight into the culture and people of that particular area. Chances are you will suffer from the dreaded ‘Delhi belly’ at some point, but don’t let this put you off, as taking the right precautions and medication will ensure everything turns out fine in the end. Stock up on hand sanitiser and Imodium before you go.
If you’re going to eat street food then make sure you eat from a vendor that is busy with locals, thus meaning it is of good quality and that it has a high turnover of food. This will help ensure that you won’t be eating food that has been left on display all day. You should also clarify costs of street food before you buy as many sellers won’t display prices.
If you’re vegetarian then you will love India. They have a ridiculous amount of vegetarian only restaurants and dishes. The selection on offer puts the UK to shame and the taste of some of the dishes are sensational whether you are vegetarian or not.
Here’s a quick run down of some of the other dishes I recommend trying:
- Samosa – A popular triangular fried or baked appetiser stuffed with potato, vegetables and sometimes meat.
- Papad / Papadam – a fried, thin, crisp, circular shaped side snack, usually served with onions, chutney and other condiments.
- Chicken Tandoor – slow cooked, roasted chicken marinated in yoghurt and spices. The chicken is cooked in a tradition oven called a Tandoor.
- Paneer Curry – paneer is an Indian type of cubed cheese. There are various paneer based curries but my favourite is the green, spinach based curry called saag paneer.
- Dal Curry – dal is simply the India word for lentil. There are various types of dal dishes and you should try one at least. In you’re struggling to decide, opt for dal tadka or dal Makhani.
- Butter Chicken – one of my personal favourites, this dish is a mix of marinated chicken, yogurt and spices. The butter sauce has a very unique taste hence it’s popularity in India.
- Thali – another one of my favourite meals, this platter like dish contains a bit of everything. I’ve seen this called ‘Kerala Meals’ in the south but it is available in both the North as well with slight differences depending on location.
- Biriyani – A special rice dish, cooked slowly in containers with several spices and saffron. It can be vegetarian or contain marinated chicken or mutton. Try this in Hydrabad as they boast the best dish.
- Naan – this flatbread is probably the most well known Indian bread in the world. Naan is normally used to mop up the sauce during and after eating a curry.
- Roti – a type of thin corn bread. It is a rather light bread and can be used as a substitute to naan bread if you want something less filling.
- Dosa’s – A very thin, crispy, pancake like wrap served for breakfast. It is made of rice batter and is filled with mashed potato. Served with chutney and lentil sauce you should try this once you get to Southern states such as Kerala.
- Kulfi – Indians answer to ice cream is prepared by prolonged stirring of milk that is sweetened, flavoured and heated over a flame.
- Gulab Juman – who doesn’t love a dessert, I know I certainly do! These deep-fried balls of dried milk are sure enough to satisfy the sweet tooth inside your mouth. They are slow cooked and boiled in sugar syrup.
- Lassi – this drink shares similarities with smoothies as it is a fruit, yogurt and sugar based drink. Often served in clay cups that can sometimes be smashed once you’ve finished. Don’t do this unless your 100% sure though.
- Masala Chai – basically translated as spiced tea, this sugary, milky, warm drink is infused with cardamom powder, cinnamon powder, ground cloves, ginger powder, and pepper powder. It is drunk in small cups all over India and you’ll be having one or two a day before you even know it.
As I don’t pretend to be an expert on Indian dishes, you should check out this fantastic and comprehensive blog called ’52 best Indian dishes to try‘ for more culinary guidance and information.
So that’s it, my somewhat eclectic but not extensive list of possible things you could do when travelling India. I hope you try a few things from my list and any comments or questions you may have are always welcomed and appreciated. If you enjoyed reading this article then keep a look out for my ‘Top 5 Essential Tips for Travelling India’ that will be posted soon. Safe travels!