India is a polarizing country there’s no doubt about that. In the months leading up to my trip I spoke with friends, family, and colleagues about the trip. Some looked at me with wonderment, asking me why I’d ever want to go to India on vacation, while others yearned to go back to India. Nobody seemed to come back with a middle of the road response, it was either you love it or you hate it. Care to guess where I fell?
The start of my trip was amazing, flying first class on Emirates for 90,000 miles and $48 . The trip to India was centered around Holi, which is a colorful Hindu holiday that celebrates the arrival of spring.
- 3 nights in Mumbai
- 2 nights in Goa
- 2 nights in Jaipur
- 1 night in Agra
- 1 night in Mathura (for Holi)
- 3 nights in Delhi
- 2 nights in Varanasi for me/Himachal for Dave
Let’s start of with the first stop, Mumbai. I did not like Mumbai at all, and perhaps that soured my trip from the start. I read Shantaram last summer, and I loved the book. The book takes place mostly in Mumbai, and it did not live up to what my imagination had built the city up to be. The traffic and accompanying noise pollution was awful. To get to our hotel which was 15 miles away it took over an hour in bumper to bumper traffic. Combine that with some lackluster sights and I was itching to get out of Mumbai ASAP. One redeeming day was our last day there where we hired an uber for the day for $20, he acted as our tour guide for the day showing us some of the local spots. I actually convinced my buddy Dave to move up our flight to Goa by a few hours and eat the flight change fee because I wanted to get out of there so badly.
Goa had some potential, but once again this didn’t quite live up to the expectations I had unfairly created. First issue is that Goa is much larger than I expected in terms of sq miles. We stayed in a hostel in Vagator, which is ~1 hour north of the airport. Perhaps we didn’t choose the right town to settle down in, but most of my research pointed me in the direction of Vagator for the beach and party scene. I kind of expected to have a party scene similar to the Thailand beach scene in Koh Phi Phi or Koh Phangnan, but it was far from that. Most of the music that we heard wafting through the late hours of the night in and around Goa is Psytrance. We’d meet the occasional backpacker, but it was nowhere close to the Thailand beaches. I’m Not sure if this is a coincidence or not, but there is also a large Russian population in Goa, perhaps they are a big consumer of Psytrance?
One of our days in Goa we decided to rent motorbikes nearby and do some exploring. Based on my last experience riding a motorbike, I didn’t have the highest hopes. We did come out unscathed, but it didn’t go without any hiccups. On our ride back to the hostel we back came a different way than how we came and ended up going through a police checkpoint and getting a shake down by the police for ~$50, caught partially on my go-pro here. Luckily our officer got a kick out of Dave’s last name of Soberman and he let us go for $50.
Before our run in with the law, we stopped our bikes so I could take some shots at golden hour and caught some kids playing cricket in a field nearby. Dave couldn’t turn down the opportunity to play cricket, and I couldn’t down the opportunity to capture the moment. The kids were a lot of fun, and this was one of the better days of the trip, minus the police shakedown.
Next up was Jaipur, also known as the Pink City. Garnering it’s nickname from the pink terracota walls that surround the city center. Following the trend of the other cities, Jaipur was quite hectic. To add to the madness we drove through a hail storm on our way to the hotel from the airport, unscathed we ventured on and got one of the better meals of the trip at Spice Court and then did some touristy stuff within the old city center. The next morning we were off to the Amer Fort where we took an elephant ride to the top. The elephants were adorned in all kinds of paint, and I’m not sure if that was because Holi was a couple days away, or if that’s a year round thing? But it was a nice touristy touch.
2 nights in Jaipur was enough, you could probably get away with one full day there. We had thought we could show up to the train station and take a train from Jaipur to Agra. When you look in Google Maps it seems like an easy 4-4.5 hour train ride, and we had wanted to experience the infamous India train system. I think Dave really just wanted to hang out of a moving train.
As anyone who has been to India can attest, nothing is easy. We arrived at the train station and, surprise, surprise, we couldn’t get tickets for a train that would get us to Agra as we had planned. So we hired a car service via a ride hailing app to drive us for a 4.5 hour white knuckle journey. Obviously there were some hiccups along that 4.5 hour ride. The first 15 minutes in the car our driver got pulled over by a police officer and was summoned for not wearing a uniform. So he took a detour to his house to pick up his uniform, and left us sitting in his car outside of his house, while a group of kids surrounded the car. Unsure of the situation Dave and I both locked our doors. The kids seemed friendly enough, but we didn’t feel comfortable opening the car door, especially when one of the kids brandished a hatchet. I shit you not, the kid was waiving a hatchet in front of us pantomiming for us to roll down the window! Once our driver returned after a few uneasy minutes, the kids scattered and we hit the road. He once again left us in the car again to pick up something, at this point he wasn’t evoking much confidence for the next 4 hours, every hour or so he’d pull off the road to pay off what I could only surmise as a mafia racket. Roughly 2 hours into the trip, the sun had set and our driver drove like most people in India, like a bat out of hell with a penchant for passing whenever possible while honking their horn. This aggressiveness resulted in him rear-ending a car and not stopping to chat with the other driver while continuing his rampage on our journey to Agra.
We’ll never know if we lucked out by not getting on that train, but we survived and that’s all that matters. We checked into the Courtyard Marriott, which was a welcomed luxury from our previous hotels in Mumbai and Jaipur. We had a solid dinner and called it an early night since we wanted to see the Taj at sunrise. To be honest the hotel was actually really nice, and I’d recommend it to anyone going to the Taj.
We arranged for a car to take us to the Taj for sunrise via the hotel and joined the queue. The Taj was a beautiful site to see, but not worth the effort to get there, unless you’re providing me with tranquilizers. Compared to other similar man made wonders of the world that I’ve been lucky enough to see like Machu Picchu, The Colosseum, Christ the Redeemer & Angkor Wat, this was relatively disappointing. I can’t even imagine how crowded it gets during peak times, but even while we were there you would wait in lines to get your picture with the Taj, and that alone kind of soured it for me. Christ the Redeemer was similar in that way, but then you get over it because you’re in Rio with an amazing view.
Stay tuned for part 2 of my journey where I’ll go more in depth on the craziness that was Holi in Mathura, New Dehli, and Varanasi.