So this blog post is SUPER long overdue but we returned in December from the trip of a lifetime, celebrating the marriage our beautiful friends Ashank and Pooja in India!!
What an incredible adventure we went on, exploring the amazing landscapes, differing cultures, and spicy cuisine. We spent two weeks traveling all over India and experiencing everything we could fit into our time there. We went from Northern India, home of the Taj Mahal, all the way down to the Southern most coast of Kerala, locally known as God's own country, and everywhere in between!
If you're planning a trip to India or just want a glimpse of the culture and our time there, this blog is for you! I am going to be breaking down our trip into a guide format of what to bring, what to expect, best places to travel, and our experiences there. I'll include some of our not-so-pleasant experiences, though few, and make some recommendations instead! Enjoy our travels through India!
NEW DELHI | AGRA | TAJ MAHAL
Starting in our trip in New Delhi, we landed and immediately headed to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. We ordered a private driver and tour guide to escort us to and from the Taj Mahal and we couldn't have been happier with the decision.
I've attached the company we went through for our service to and from Agra. The car was clean, well air conditioned and we had a very safe driver. Our driver spoke very good English and gave us nice information about the country along the way, with a pit stop at a restaurant for us to enjoy some local dishes. I would recommend Spice Market for food right outside of the Taj Mahal, but be warned, the general area surrounding the Taj Mahal is more or less un-developed. Getting in touch via email was very easy for setting up our trip. The service we used offered us a wonderful tour guide who took us around the Taj Mahal, making sure we had the perfect picture spots and all of the information about the beautiful world wonder. We tipped both 10% as that is what is customary in the country.
The drive to Agra from Delhi is about three hours without traffic. Most car services recommend leaving around 7am/8am to avoid traffic in Delhi. Make sure to use the restroom before leaving the hotel and not drink too much water if possible as westernized bathrooms are not common. I've attached a packing list below but in these situations I was grateful for having packed small toilet paper packs in case we needed to stop. (hehe...so glamorous)
Because our time in Delhi was limited we did not stay over night in Agra but returned that evening for a one night stay close to the airport. I recommend the HILTON or DOUBLE TREE if you're looking to stay closer to the airport. The more local hotels were not up to standard for what we were looking for so opt for one of the above.
After a long flight, quick stop at the Taj Mahal, and another little hop across the country we made it to our first destination for the wedding events, Goa. Goa is located on the western coast of India stretching along the Arabian Sea.
To get from New Delhi to Goa we took a domestic flight through Spice Jet Airlines. The food on Spice Jet was excellent and authentic, included bottled water, and the seating was quite comfortable for our short flight.
BIG NOTE* When flying within the country be sure to print ALL boarding passes before leaving home or have them downloaded onto your phone to use without cell service. There was strict airport policy for boarding passes and travelers are not even allowed into the airport without proper passes. I would recommend having all copies printed, just in case, before traveling.
Once in Goa, we were taken by car service to the Northern part of the Island. We immediately hit beautiful winding coastline roads that weaved through palm trees and colorful homes. After driving for an hour or so we were welcomed into the O Hotel in Goa where the party was just beginning.
If you're not familiar with traditional Indian weddings, they span over two weekends. The first weekend being a "party weekend" to celebrate the soon to be bride and groom with their close friends.... Sorry mom and dad, parents aren't usually invited to these events. (: The second weekend is full of family, friends, and loved ones from all over celebrating and joining in on the beautiful ceremony.
The O Hotel in Goa: We were immediately in love with this little resort. Upon arrival we were greeted with fresh watermelon juice that was refreshing after a days travel. We were taken to our room to relax where we found a spacious king sized mattress and a large bathroom with a rain water shower head and a large jacuzzi bath tub. This was heaven. But, we quickly dropped our bags to check out the beautiful beach. As you can see from the photo above, we were not disappointed.
We spent four days in Goa and it was both relaxing and full of celebration for our dear friends Ashank and Pooja. We absolutely partied the weekend away with homemade cocktails by the bride and groom, an all white brunch with all of the trimmings and delicious food, a sexy sleepwear party which is exactly as it sounds (everyone needs at least one of these in their lives) and topped off with complimentary hangover kits curtesy of the hotel to help get us through.
We also ventured out with a few friends to a greek restaurant called Thalassa that was a phenomenal sea side cliff experience with the most gorgeous views of the ocean, as can be seen above. I highly recommend spending some time on the coast in Goa. The O Hotel in Goa was the perfect getaway, the best mix of stunning views and resort experience. Venture out to Thalassa while there and immerse yourself in the beautiful seaside culture of Goa, India.
KERALA | COCHIN | MUNNAR
After an amazing, relaxing stay in Goa, we had a week to spend traveling the country and the obvious choice was Kerala. Located in the Southern region of India, Kerala is also known as God's Country with its beautiful landscapes, winding back water rivers, and lush tea hills. We hired a service through Indo World Tours that scheduled every leg of the trip for us and cleared with us before every booking to ensure the trip was to our exact specifications. We spoke exclusively with Ramesh, who handled our entire trip. He was prompt, made sure all of our expectations were met and more, and gave us memories to last a lifetime. I highly recommend booking through Ramesh and his company, Indo World Tours, for your trip through Kerala.
Upon our arrival in Kerala we were picked up by our driver, Sean, who was set up through Indo World Tours. Sean was amazing! He was prompt and gave us a wonderful and educational tour through Kerala. He ensured our safety and happiness along the way making all stops we requested. If/When booking through Indo World Tours I highly recommend requesting Sean as your driver.
One of our favorite moments from this trip was the overnight stay on the houseboat as we sailed around the back waters of Kerala. The views were gorgeous, the boat was spacious and surprisingly air conditioned, and the staff on board cooked all meals....some of the best food we had in India.
We were able to stop on the coast along our trip and pick fresh seafood out of local coastal markets to enjoy for dinner that evening. It was such a wonderful experience. My only wish was that we had more time to spend and could've stayed a few more nights on this dream boat.
After a wonderful evening on the houseboat, Sean picked us up and we drove to Munnar Tea Resorts in the mountains in Kerala.
We made a stop to spend some time with some of natures most beautiful animals, the Elephants. It truly was an incredible experience. Though not a sanctuary, we made sure the Elephants were treated properly before supporting their business and though it wasn't as free range as some others we've seen, we were able to see the environment the Elephants spent time in and were happy to report that the elephants seemed happy and well cared for.
It was an absolute dream to spend time with these beautiful animals.
Our last evening in Kerala we spent at the Munnar Tea Resort and this stay was incredible. The views were stunning as can be seen above and we each had a little bungalow to stay in for the evening. The bungalow was well air conditioned, had a large comfy bed, and a large well-heated shower. Our rooms were furnished with cold bottled water as well. The food here was delicious and I highly recommend a massage here. Kerala is known for its massage therapy and going through the resorts is the best bet. Enjoy and Relax.
The following morning we woke up to head to Pune for the wedding Ceremony. Kerala's airport is small and quaint but our flight was prompt and smooth.
PUNE | WEDDING CEREMONY
Arriving in Pune we were escorted to the O Hotel in Pune. Again, another gorgeous stay with a wonderful view of the city. The O Hotel in Pune had wonderful amenities included a stocked mini fridge, large king sized bed, jacuzzi bath tub, and free wifi. ( I will talk more about the wifi experience further down)
Friday evening we enjoyed a beautiful reception type party with dancing, drinks, and delicious food. The bride and groom were beautiful and happy and we did a little Indian dance in front of 1500 people...the video is floating around somewhere. (: It was quite the site to see.
Saturday Evening we prepared for the big ceremony. We dressed to the nine in our best traditional India attire. Because we were good friends on the grooms side we celebrated with him up to the ceremony. He rode in style in a convertible to the ceremony with a full drum line surrounded by friends and loved ones. It was beautiful and so much fun! The ceremony itself was beautiful with booths full of food to enjoy through out the ceremony. The ceremony goes on for about four hours so movement in and out is expected. It was truly a beautiful and magical experience. Ashank and Pooja became husband and wife and we were so glad we could be a part of their special time.
There's one more big party event the evening after but unfortunately we had to head back to the states but to wrap up our time in India, we felt tired but rich in culture and love. India is an incredible country full of beautiful people, steeped in culture, and an abundance of delicious food. If you have the opportunity to travel to India I couldn't encourage it more and I hope this guide has been able to give some insight into areas to visit.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Find my list of what to and how to while visiting India below.
FOOD IN INDIA
Now that we've come to the end of the trip details I want to talk a little about what to expect with food.
- Bottled Water- It's not difficult to find and most hotels offer it at no additional charge.
- Be cautious with tea. Be sure to get fully boiled water and pasteurized milk.
- India is widely vegetarian so be prepared to not find meat in every restaurant. Our group rather enjoyed this. The paneer dishes were delicious (paneer is cheese).
- Spice level- I do not enjoy heavy spice but I found it easy to find meals that were not overpowering with spice. Naan is a good go-to.
- Be cautious of raw veggies as they're probably cleaned with tap water, which can be unclean. This includes salads
- Breakfast bars at the hotels are phenomenal. I was happy to find and enjoy eggs in the morning.
- Charcoal Pills are wise when eating and drinking in the country. I took one a half hour before each meal to soak up excess liquids.
- Street food is absolutely delicious and very authentic however we were told it's best not to risk it.
DRESS IN INDIA
Many areas we visited in India were more modern so wearing westernized clothing is not as frowned upon. Different regions of the country can have completely different weather. The Southern part of the country will be quite hot while up in Delhi can be a bit cooler. Also, most hotels have laundry options and it is very affordable. We had great laundry service so I recommend taking advantage of that and trying to pack less.
- Shorts- a few pairs - not too short
- Tee shirts- light weight and cotton
- Tank tops- loose and breezy
- Jeans/ Pants- I packed two pairs
- Dresses - perfect for keeping it lightweight and breezy but still look nice
- Lightweight Scarves- this is an easy way to cover up if needed in a more conservative area
- Comfy Sandals- I took a pair of Aerosoles and they were perfect
- Comfy Lightweight Sneakers- I took my classic keds, of course
- Dressy Sandals- one pair if attending a wedding
- Rain Jacket/ Sweater- If you're traveling to a cooler part of the country
- Swimming Suit - two piece or one piece appropriate
- Hat- Ball cap or sun hat
- One Nice Outfit - at least one, especially if you're going for a wedding
- Proper Wedding Attire- If going for a wedding, women need two traditional Indian outfits and men could get away with one traditional and one suit. I recommend borrowing from friends if possible for traditional Indian attire as it can be quite pricy, though buying in the country is a great option if time permits
- Light Medications- Ibuprofen, Charcoal Pills, Dramamine (Low Dose, Less Drowsy) Cortizon (for bug bites), Benadryl
- Bug Spray
- Toilet Paper Packs
- Hand Sanitizer
- Locks for Luggage
- Cross Body Purse- keep all items in this when out and about (pickpocketing is a thing in touristy areas)
- Toiletries- many hotels don't supply shampoo and conditioner be sure to bring your own
- Charging Adapter for outlets- easily found on amazon
This is a list of things I think are important to know before traveling to the country.
- Wifi is listed everywhere but is quite spotty even in the best hotels. I recommend downloading the maps of the areas you will be in to your phone before traveling to ensure safety and always knowing your location. Alternatively, most phone plans offer an abroad package and depending on your cell phone needs it may be wise to add cell data as needed.
- Not all bathrooms are westernized- see above for toilet paper packs- though most hotels have westernized toilets. This was a question I asked before booking any stays.
- The airport is crazy- this was our biggest issue while in India. BE SURE TO PRINT ALL BOARDING PASSES BEFORE LEAVING HOME. You cannot even get into the airport without proof that you're suppose to be there. Just print the boarding passes or have them downloaded without wifi on your phone. Prepare for a very crowded airports and plan ahead accordingly.
- India runs on India time. I did not think this was a real thing before visiting but it's totally real. Arrive early to the airport but plan for delays. We had two flights leave early and two flights delayed. Just arrive early.
- People are going to try to hustle you. There's a large population of the country that see Americans as easy money and it can be a bit of a culture shock if you're not prepared for it. There are perpetually people trying to sell something or get something from you so be ready for the fact that you can't give to everyone, and stick to your no is a no.
- The dollar is higher value than the rupee so definitely exchange for Indian Rupees at the airport. Be sure to get small change and not just big bills, as they're hard to break and once people realize you have big bills, they'll say that's all they'll accept. Same goes with dollars, so try not to be too showy with your greenbacks.
- Uncles and Aunties. Ya'll. I have a lot of Indian friends and NO ONE told me about this cultural difference. There is an unspoken rule in the country that the older you get the more priority you have. We saw this mostly in the airport with older men and women constantly trying to pass us in line. We didn't understand the cultural aspect of it until we returned and someone gave us the low down. But be prepared to have lots of patience when traveling throughout the country, and try to understand that cultural differences are not meant to be personal slights.
- Most people speak english which was awesome, so getting around was not difficult, although most of our traveling was prearranged which leads to my next point.
- Prearrange as much travel as possible as there are still dangers within the country and if you're a female traveling alone be alert and absolutely have all travel pre booked.
- Don't take photos with locals- it's a pick pocketing strategy.
- Make sure your no means no. If you don't want to do something say so and don't let them tell you otherwise. Again, culturally very different than most westernized countries and it can be tough to get rid of peddlers. You're the client but as its a hustling place people will try to get everything they can. It's okay to say no and not feel bad about it.
- Absolutely 100% pay the extra money and fly direct on the return flight. 35 hours later David and I returned home with the worst flight experience ever. With multiple layovers, we just wanted to be home. Airports we were at did not allow us to check in more than an hour early, so we spent some not-so-glamorous hours sleeping on a bench between flights. If you're trying to save some cash not flying direct on the way in is easier in my opinion as you're excited and the additional time doesn't bother as much. After two weeks of lots of travel and a lot of wonderful cultural differences, we were just ready to be home. Book the direct flight home, trust me.
- India is vast with lots of people, rich cultures, and so much to see. Try to take in as much as possible of this extraordinary country and learn some beautiful, different ways from it's people.
India changed my heart, mind, and soul while visiting its majestic lands and rich culture. The outpouring of love from the people was overwhelming and humbling, the culture steeped in history demands an amazing amount of respect, and we were touched to have had the opportunity to take in this incredible place in such a short amount of time.
Special thanks to Ashank, Pooja, and family for welcoming us with open arms and for inviting us to be a part of one of the most incredible life moments for you both. Every aspect, from the ceremony, to the precious childhood touches, down to the thought out cocktails, was perfect in every way and only a glimpse of the beautiful life you have ahead together. So much love for India, its people, its culture, and of course, Ashank and Pooja.