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10 Days In India: A Guest Post From Mark

…with lots of egging on from me

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Given that I galavanted off to Thailand earlier in the year on my own (see the vlog here), when our friend Steve asked Mark to join him on his travels in India back in March, it only seemed fair for him to have his own ‘Eat, Pray, Love‘ moment. He had an absolute ball, and after a tweet asking if you’d like to see a post from him on his time there received an overwhelming ‘HELL YEAH!’ response, here it is. Over to Mark… 

Ever since I did a school project on India back in Year 6 I have wanted to go there and it certainly didn’t disappoint from my childhood expectations. The culture was so contrasted from the one that we live in, which is one of the main reasons I enjoyed it so much. Although I love to travel to western destinations, there is something familiar when travelling to places in Europe or America for example, whereas India was very different – and in a great way. The fact that you are walking around a country where nearly 1.5 billion people live is quite hard to comprehend when you come from little old blighty!

During this trip I travelled to the north west of India and took in some of the sights of Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. The trip took me from Delhi through to Agra, both in Uttar Pradesh, then on to Jaipur, Jaisalmer and Jodhpur in Rajasthan and finally back to Delhi to fly home.

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How To Plan

The prior reading I did before the trip consisted of flicking through the Lonely Planet Guide and looking at online blogposts. Through these sources I gained a base level of knowledge about local customs, how to get around, how to be safe, useful things to take with me, and most crucially, where we wanted to go. My friend and I decided on a loose itinerary of places beforehand and it was more or less what we stuck to. I like to read about the place I am visiting when I am on the plane to my destination, so I read up on the history and culture of the places that we planned to visit on the way there. I am a bit weird so this gets me excited and fired up for the trip!

Upon my first flick through the Lonely Planet Guide, it highlighted the process for booking Indian Rail tickets online. This is quite a task without an Indian mobile phone number, as without this you cannot get the verification code that is required to verify your account. The process for someone outside of India is to email the Indian Railway company with your account details and a scan of your passport and they will send you through a verification code. I tried this approximately 2 months before I went and only received a reply upon my return back to the UK. I would recommend doing this several months in advance – see this blog post for a good breakdown of the process. If this does fail don’t panic! We still managed to buy our train tickets easily at train stations as and when we needed them.

One thing that I did overlook slightly were vaccinations. I assumed that my doctors surgery would have an abundance of appointments for travel vaccinations – how wrong I was. With just a couple of months left, my doctors didn’t have any appointments until after I was due to depart. I had to go to a pricey private travel clinic to get all the necessary jabs. So top tip – get your jabs as soon as you know you are going to be travelling there.

We also made sure that we had our first night’s accommodation booked. This meant that we knew exactly where we were going when our flight landed. There is also a requirement to complete a visa which requires an address for when you get to India, so this can be used for that too.

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How To Get Around

I took a return flight from London Heathrow to Indira Gandi Airport, Delhi which took approximately 8-9 hours. I wasn’t planning on flying when I was in India but ended up flying from Jodhpur to Delhi as this gave me an extra night seeing the sights!

Our main mode of transport whilst we were over there was train. As I said earlier I did try to purchase tickets beforehand as this is recommended, but to no avail. On our first night in Delhi we went to the International Ticket Bureau in Delhi Rail Station and purchased our tickets for the trip. This included an AC Chair Car ticket from Delhi to Agra; an AC Chair Car ticket from Agra to Jaipur; and a 2AC Sleeper ticket from Jaipur to Jaisalmer. The trains were by far my favourite way of getting around; all trains arrived at their destination on time and the food was amazing. Food was only available on the Chair Car services, there were people who came around on the Sleeper service but these were not official train meals.

For our trip from Jaisalmer to Jodhpur we took a coach which was approximately 200 rupees for a 5-6 hour journey (approximately £2.50, €2.80, $3.00) which was a bargain. If you are wanting to stick to a really tight budget the buses are the way to go. The bus was no frills, and the ride wasn’t great as the roads weren’t in great condition. If you are willing to spend (literally) a few extra pounds/euros/dollars – take the train.

For shorter trips around cities and towns we occasionally used Rickshaws if it was too far to walk. These were a cheap and effective way of getting round, and I would highly recommend using them as they are a great way to see the sights. Be prepared to be bombarded with rickshaw drivers at tourist hot spots, and also rickshaw drivers asking you if you need one when you are simply walking down the street. If you don’t want one, simply politely decline.

We also used a local bus when were in Jaipur to get to the Amber Fort – this was a great way to get around.The bus was air conditioned, easy to get on and outrageously cheap. The journey was approximately 30 minutes and cost us around 15 pence!

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Where To Eat

We didn’t have a bad meal whilst we were there – I genuinely enjoyed every meal I ate. Once type of food I didn’t try was the street food. The main reason for this was that I didn’t want to risk being out with a bad stomach for couple of days on a 10 day trip. If I had been there longer I would have tried it. From what I read and heard beforehand you just need to be sensible when assessing a street vendor’s stand; see how and if they are washing things? Is it cooked fresh? Is it busy with locals?

Here are a few stand out places on the trip that I enjoyed. Suruci was a restaurant we went to on our first night in Delhi. They served Thali and we picked the Gujarati Thali. The Thali were unlimited and the waiters would be straight with you once you had finished any part of your meal to restock, be it the curries, the rotti, the rice or the condiments. This first meal in India got us very excited for the culinary delights that were set to come.

Another highlight came in Jaipur. LMB is a deli from the outside and when you walk in there is an entrance to a restaurant on the side. This place was teaming with locals and the food was top class. We ordered a few different dishes along with a variety of breads – the Dal Makhani was a highlight, a slow cooked black lentil dal. Delicious.

One of the surprise culinary experiences was on the trains. During our trips between Delhi and Agra and Agra and Jaipur we were served numerous meals. These knocked the socks of the tat that is sold on UK trains and it was some of the most delicious food I had on the trip. A real highlight.

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Where To Explore

Agra: One of the highlights of the trip was getting to see the Taj Mahal – I cannot recommend this place enough. We got there when it opened at sunrise. It wasn’t that busy then and the views you get are absolutely stunning. We stood marvelling at it for some time and questioning if it was real – it really doesn’t look real! Take time to appreciate the other beautiful architecture in the complex; the great gate, mosque and Mehman Khana are all beautiful in their own right! After visiting the Taj Mahal we also visited the lesser known Itimad-ud-Daulah (aka. the Baby Taj), which actually pre-dates the Taj Mahal. This was a modicum of calm in comparison, with beautiful tranquil gardens surrounding it and backing on to the Yasuma River. The beautiful white marble with its delicately detailed inlayed stone work was particularly impressive.

Jaipur: The Amber Palace and Jaigarh Fort, a short bus journey outside Jaipur were a great sight. We took the audio guide around the Palace and learnt how the Maharaja lived and went about his duties such as hearing the public speak and voice opinions in the hall of public audience, and how he entertained his wives in the beautiful courtyard gardens. Coming out the palace we walked up to Jaigarh Fort where we had spectacular views back over the Palace and the surrounding landscape. Loads of monkeys here too! On one of the evenings we decided to see a Bollywood film and we found that there was a very famous cinema in Jaipur called the Raj Mandir Cinema, so we decided to go and see Rangoon – a Hindi film set in World War 2. I think we managed to grasp the plot just about!

Jaisalmer: We had heard that the camel safaris from Jaisalmer are a must, so when we arrived we booked onto one straight away. We set out within a couple of hours of getting there, off into the sand dunes and spent the night in a thatched hut. The tour guides cooked some amazing food over a fire, and and we sat around with the group and chewed the fat until we fell asleep under the stars. Inside Jaisalmer Fort there are a number of Jain Temples which are exquisitely ornate and are well worth a visit.

Jodhpur: Although we didn’t have much time in Jodhpur we still managed to fit in a couple of visits. The Rau Jodha Dessert Rock Park, a place aimed at restoring the natural ecology of a large, rocky wasteland next to Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur had beautiful views over the old blue city and also up to Mehrangah Fort. We also managed to see the Mehrangah Fort. This was one of the most polished forts we had seen. The rooms and external masonry were in great condition and the audio guide we listened to was very interesting.

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Mark’s Top Tips

It is rude to eat with your left hand.

Take toilet tissue.

Unless it is a train ticket office, do not believe anyone who says that train tickets have sold out!

Be careful at Delhi Train Station of ‘travel agents’ and other tickets touts outside the station. They may have tickets but they will be at a heavily inflated price.

Don’t try and swim against the tide – swim with it!

Comments

  • Ah, India! I just love the light in the photos. Well done, Mark.

    afomaumesi.com

  • Iann Ethel

    Absolutely love this post by Mark! Great pictures and the very informative post will come in handy for future travels in India!(:

    With love from Singapore,

    Iann Ethel

    Artelounge.net | An Online Space for Travel + Inspiration

  • India is the place I want to visit ever since I was 14, but the only thing I ahve managed so far is a stop over at the airport on my way to Nepal. Not giving up though, I will get there eventually.

    Linda, Libra, Loca: Beauty, Baby and Backpacking

  • Aishwarya Reddy

    Such a lovely and informative post! You and Mark should come together and visit rest of India…You guys certainly will love Kerala,Goa and North east India(Himalayas).

  • Ronja

    Great Post! Very helpful and informative! 🙂 and also interesting and fun to read if You’re Not planning on going to India anytime soon 🙂

  • Jaclyn

    What a wonderful & informative read. And stunning pictures. Bravo Mark!

  • Rachel 🌸

    Beautiful photos Mark – now I’m craving an adventure in India!

    the-potofgold.blogspot.com

  • I’m from India (Kerala) and I loved how you had a great time. You definitely need to revisit and spend time in the South next time!

    Mimi | According to Mimi

  • Laura Torninoja

    Beautiful photos and such an informative post!

    That thing about not eating with your left hand is so interesting – I wonder why that is! I find different customs in other cultures so intriguing. 🙂

    Laura // Middle of Adventure

    • Lesleyc

      In India, as across Asia, the left hand is for wiping your bottom, cleaning your feet and other unsavoury functions (you also put on and take off your shoes with your left hand), while the right hand is for eating, shaking hands and so on.

  • I really love all of the photos!! I would love to be able to visit India one day!
    -Maddy
    cheers-maddy.com

  • Great post Mark! Really well written!
    http://www.flareaforte.com

  • Pavithra Balasubramanian

    Awesome Post! I’m from India and I love the way you’ve captured the essence of the country in your photos. Thanks for visiting and please do come back to see the rest of the country! You’ll be amazed 🙂

  • Lisa Autumn

    OH I just love India.. maybe I am a bit bias as my boyfriend is indian but this is such a beautiful country!

    xx Lisa | lisaautumn.com

    • Hi Lisa, this is kind of random, but how did you get the xx Lisa and the url for your blog to show up in your Disqus signature?

  • Thanks for getting Mark to post, it was awesome. And the pictures are absolutely beautiful, what a lovely post to read! – JP

  • Emily

    Love this! Sounds like such an incredible trip! On my bucket list for sure.
    Em http://www.organicallyemily.com

  • Ah this was such a lovely post. Thanks for sharing, Mark! I love the analogue photos – I’m an analogue fan myself and seeing these snaps really makes me want to visit India and shoot lots of rolls of film. India used to be on top of my bucket list and you might have just bumped it up to the top again with your post 😉 best wishes from Berlin!
    Lilly | http://www.instagram.com/inapavilion

  • Florence

    Glad he liked it! I lived in India for a few months last year (in Jaipur) and got to know the country and its people! For the trains, unless you have a very tight schedule, I don’t recommend buying them in advance, as you never know where you might want to stay longer (and where you might want to escape sooner!). I only had trouble with that once, and ended up sharing a 3AC cot with a friend overnight.

    Anyone visiting Jaipur, I highly recommend going to Anokhi cafe. There is a great shop selling hand printed fabric and clothes, and an organic cafe selling western inspired organic dishes. While it is not Indian food, sometimes it is much needed!

    And for me, Uber turned out to be the best way to get around. Cheaper than Tuktuk most of the time, you get the comfort of AC and the guaranty of a driver with a gps.

  • vijeyta sharma

    Thanks for sharing Mark! I am from India (living in USA) and I am so happy to know you had a fun trip. The post is very informative and has some best tips for first time travelers! Mark, you should try the southern part of India next time 🙂 Anna, you should visit India too.

  • Loved this quote “Don’t try and swim against the tide – swim with it!” such great advice for life in general! This was a great post, beautiful written and so informative!! Well done, Mark!!
    http://bevseyeview.com

  • Love this post! I always wanted to visit India x http://www.justsavxnnah.com

  • Sophie ♥

    Great post Mark! Thanks for sharing your experiences and stunning photos.

  • Sharmili Vidyadaran

    Thanks Mark, this was such a comprehensive post! Fabulous pictures and discovering Dal Makhani on my India trip was one of my highlights too!

  • Great post Mark and what a cool trip!

  • Sounds like you had an amazing trip Mark, my cousin is in India at the moment with her partner and some friends. I’m loving seeing all her photos.

  • Loved this travelogue, thanks a lot for sharing 🙂 This place is definitely on my bucket list!
    Hugs, Sophie // http://www.moodbistro.com

  • Saroja Segu

    Fabulous pictures!! You should visit southern & eastern part of India too…You will love it 🙂 Anna, you should visit India too!!!

  • Rebecca

    I was waiting on a post about India from Mark and it didn’t disappoint. It brought back a lot of memories from my time spent in India last year and I can’t wait to go back soon. Glad to hear Mark enjoyed it so much, my trip really changed my life!! http://www.anneandbelle.com

  • Anete

    Beautiful photos. Which film camera does Mark use?

  • Was looking forward to reading this guest post and I have really enjoyed it. Great writing and very informative post 🙂 Sounds like an incredible trip!

    VioletDaffodils
    xx

  • “It is rude to eat with your left hand” – that’s so funny & true because when it comes to eating food I seem to be a natural leftie (not when it comes to writing though) and my mom’s always slapping my hand away saying “eat with your right hand”! 🙂 Excellent post! I’m of Indian origin but never lived there so every one of my visits have the same sort of aha moments and experiences. Also, the Indian train food? OMG THE BEST.

  • Akash Kumar

    Nice post! I’m from Agra (The Taj City). I’m happy that you enjoyed your trip. Pics are really awesome. Thank you for this beautiful article for my place. 🙂

  • Antonio Vacos

    Nice article! You can try online service for photo retouching.

  • Will Dennis

    This is just the post I needed. Just booked a 3 week trip to India in November and I’m looking forward to using your advice!! http://www.brightonstreetstyle.com

  • So nice to hear about Mark’s trip, the photos are all lovely too!

    Lauren x
    Britton Loves | Lifestyle Beauty Wellbeing

  • Zoe

    This is such a good post. I have always wanted to visit India but I didn’t think I would be able to see enough of it in the two weeks I could get off work. Mark’s post has totally changed my mind. I read a book a while a go that I think Mark would love. It is called Around India in 80 trains by Monisha Rajesh.

  • Bran

    This is a great post – I cannot wait to book India. Which camera were the photos taken with? They look incredible. X