India... A chaotic blend of colours, sights and sounds.
I had planned on being in India for a maximum of twenty-four hours. Of all the countries I've ever visited, India was the one where I actually had reservations. Admittedly, I'm not one to pay attention to the media, nor to be put off by what I see in the news. However, India was somewhat different. I was anxious about visiting and for that reason, arranged to visit the Taj Mahal and then return to the airport before heading to my next destination.
Oh how misinformed I was! It turned out (that due to my bag not arriving for five days), I ended up spending just short of a month in this beautifully chaotic country. Upon the advice of complete strangers, I travelled all across the country to New Delhi, Agra, Rishikesh and Varanasi. It was a noisy, colourful whirlwind adventure, mainly by bus, across this vast and sprawling country.
There were good times - a yoga retreat, delicious food, swimming in the Ganges; and bad times - the hellish journey to Kathmandu, the lost baggage, the terrifying monkeys. But all in all, it was a magical experience that I can't wait to repeat in different parts of the country: Goa, Kolkata, Mumbai.
New Delhi has plenty to see and do. If you enjoy exploring on foot then set off armed with a tourist map and see what you stumble across. We had no plans and managed to cover almost 100km worth of walking in just a few days. Tombs, temples and tons of people-watching, you won't be left disappointed.
Saying that, it's noisy and disorderly. I think my six years living in Egypt definitely helped me to quickly get used to the way things work.
Surprisingly, the subway system is one of the cleanest I've seen in the world!
Rishikesh is the yoga capital of India. Nestled at the foot of the Himalayas, it's in a beautiful spot for relaxing.
With many an ashram to choose from, as well as plenty of activities and markets on offer, you won't be bored.
I joined a yoga retreat having never done any yoga before and it was quite fantastic - though challenging. Definitely worth the experience.
Easily accessible by bus from Delhi (or train if you're organised). It is, however, more touristy so if you're looking for somewhere less-populated with the western backpacker then made this isn't the place or you. Fortunately, the yoga retreat I was at had only four students for the week and that was a real bonus. I didn't feel like making an arse of myself in front of hundreds of yoga experts!
Varanasi is absolutely one of the most fascinating places I've ever visited.
With sprawling streets that loop around in a maze-like way, it's easy to lose yourself and stumble across some hidden gems.
Follow the river to see all of the different goings-on at the various ghats - namely the Manikarnika Ghat where the burning ceremonies take place.
Varanasi can be quite a shock to some with its dusty alleyways, persistent locals and busy streets but take your time, embrace it and you'll no doubt have a blast.
Don't forget to head to Dasaswamedh Ghat at around 6pm for an evening ceremony of celebrations and culture.