When people find out I’ve just been to India, I think they want to hear horror stories. Just because, well, you know…
Even I’d braced myself for the worst. You hear about how hectic it is, and dusty, and hot, and loud, and smelly. And that you’re going to get sick from the food, and that men are going to grope you or stare at you in the street.
But I was fine. No really. India was fabulous! Of course, I’m sure there were a couple reasons for that.
I Traveled with a Guy
This hurts my feminist bone a little bit.
While I am absolutely, positively certain that India can be traveled solo as a female, I was personally a little intimidated by the subcontinent. I’ve been fine in South America, Southeast Asia, and Europe, but for some reason, India instilled a tiny bit of fear in me. Maybe it’s just all the stories I’ve heard from girls along the way, or reading too much on the Internet?
But this blonde hair stands out everywhere, and it always feels better to have a travel partner when roaming the streets of an unfamiliar place where you’re feeling unsure of yourself. In hindsight I probably would’ve been fine without Marko, but I did feel way more confident with him beside me. Also, his complexion seemed to make lots of Indians think he was half-Indian. One guy even asked if he spoke Hindi! God I rolled my eyes so hard.
Another thing I found was that while Marko was with me, almost every man that we spoke to completely ignored me. They would all hold a conversation with him as if I weren’t there. Like I was absolutely invisible. Instead of letting this bother me, I just took the opportunity to have a little mental break and do nothing in the realm of planning, remembering, or thinking. Just zone out. I’m sure Marko loved that…
We Didn’t Try to Do Too Much
Our itinerary for three weeks in South India was limited. I think an essential rule of travel is “Know thyself.” And after over a year of traveling around the world, I know myself pretty damn well. I know that I HATE packing my backpack up and hitting the road for a new destination every three days.
Another one of my rules: “Do less.” I know that I enjoy lounging on the beach and in the bed and in cafes. I like to find a good restaurant or street food guy and eat everything that they make over and over. So I don’t wanna pick up and leave right when I’m feeling comfortable. I also realllly don’t like spending full days on trains, planes, automobiles, or a combination therof. K thanks bye.
First, we hit Goa and its many beaches for ten days. I mean, that wasn’t a hard decision – I love the beach, and there was plenty to do. We based ourselves in Vagator and popped between there and Anjuna, lying on the beach, drinking beers, celebrating Thanksgiving, and eating Goan food (fish curries, tons of spices, and coconut milk for days!). Looking back, we could’ve spent more time there. Especially having just discovered the huge, beautiful Ashvem beach on the last day… isn’t that always how it goes? I’d go back to Goa and rent a place for like a month or more.
Then we overnight train’d it down to Kerala, specifically Alleppey, where we had one thing on the agenda: HOUSEBOAT! We found shockingly cheap (and nice) accommodation at a homestay – seriously, $9/night for both of us – and got comfortable before our fantastic voyage through the backwaters. Our boat was comfortable, the captain was friendly and totally catered to anything that we’d want to do (ie, swim, fish, and drink coconut toddy), and the chef made us way too much food for every meal.
Back in town, we found our fave restaurant and tried new curries that were sheer perfection. And we took a cooking class! I also got an Ayurvedic massage on a traditional wooden table (because they originated in Kerala like 7,000 years ago – so I had to do it). In between all that, we managed to work online some.
And we got a little bit fat.
We spent our final five days just outside of Fort Cochin, balling out in our Airbnb that took up a full floor of an apartment building, cooking Christmas-y things, wandering, eating, and taking photos.
We Went to Beautiful Places That Get a Lot of Tourism
People were pretty used to seeing Westerners in Goa, Alleppey, and Cochin, so we didn’t get too many stares or unwanted attention. And I didn’t feel we got ripped off really ever. There were lots of waves and hellos and cheap tuk tuk rides and I never felt uncomfortable.
The streets were lined with palm trees, the food was incredible, and the landscape was lush and green. We went during a great time, just before the peak peak high season of Christmas and New Year’s, and we also had great weather nearly every day. I think it maybe sprinkled twice.
(This Part of) India has It Together
Aside from the occasional trash (and how some people there just decide to burn it to get rid of it), the transportation, internet, roads, etc. were all solid. I felt kinda ignorant for not realizing how “with it” that India is. I mean, see the paragraph above, but still, after Nepal, it really felt technologically and infrastructurally advanced.
The Food is Incredible
India is top of the culinary list for sure in terms of travel. No caveats, Indian food is fabulous. And Indian food in India is the best! It’s so cheap it makes me cringe to think how many times I’ve paid $17 for a curry at home. From amazing lassis and breakfast dosas for $1, to all the new curries that we tried (kadai, malai kofta, and chettinad), to finally getting the spice level I crave and the best naan in the world, I am in love.
What I’m saying is, if you don’t eat incredibly well in India, that’s on you. (more food pics below)
But Really, Did Anything Bad Happen?
Okay, I know you wanna hear some dirt. People seem to love when I write about my miseries, so I won’t leave you hanging completely. (But to put all these things below in perspective, I just asked Marko if he could think of anything bad that happened in India, and he said “Nope!” very quickly. So this is all a bit of a reach.)
The Nightmare of Getting Cash
If you follow any international news, you might’ve heard about how the Indian prime minister abruptly eliminated the 500 and 1,000 rupee notes from India’s currency in an effort to curb the black market. Cue lots of Indians struggling to change in these old, now-defunct notes, and the resulting huge lines at banks and empty ATMs. Oh yeah, and lots of tourists with no cash.
Luckily, we’d heard about the issue and managed to change a bunch of Nepalese rupees to Indian rupees while in Kathmandu. And thank goodness, because none of the ATMs at the airport worked. Like, I’m not sure how we would’ve paid our cab driver that first night. We also rented a motorbike the whole time we were in Goa and figured out what time one of the ATMs got filled (3 PM). We’d head to Arpora, where there were less tourists in line and wait for cash… several times.
With withdrawals set to around 2,500 rupees ($36 USD) or even less at most ATMs, we’d have to sneak our debit cards into the machine repeatedly… before the security guard would bang on the door and tell us that our time was up. (With a fee for each transaction though, my Schwab debit card was a lifesaver!)
I almost pooped my pants.
Really. It was a close one!
Marko told me that the lassi he drank made him feel a little funny. I’d had one too but wasn’t feeling anything, so I brushed him off (thinking ahh yeahh okkkayyy). So then of course, that same day we went and ate way too much food at our favorite restaurant – two deliciously spicy curries.
Let’s just say it was an absolute race to the toilet for me almost immediately upon leaving dinner. There were prayers. (And yes, I should’ve just gone at the restaurant – but I didn’t have to go then! God, am I a child?) And to be honest, it wasn’t accompanied by cramps or anything, so I didn’t have food poisoning if that’s what you’re thinking. Just an IMMEDIATE need to go. And a treacherous run up the stairs to our bathroom. Sorry, TMI.
(And whatevs, hey, Marko vom’d in Kathmandu, because of the uh, “shower water.” You can’t open your mouth in the shower too much in countries where you can’t drink the tap water. Tough one to remember.)
The screw in the vada
Marko found a screw – yes, a motherfucking metal screw – in his breakfast. Vadas are little savory doughnut-shaped things that are common in a South Indian breakfast. You typically dip them in some curry before eating them. Luckily, like most Indian food, it’s all done with the hands, and he’d broken it up beforehand and found it. (My hungry ass probably would have broken a tooth and gobbled it down.)
But like actually, how does a screw get into the batter?! Did it fall from the ceiling? Should we be worried about the ceiling?!
Getting alcohol in the state of Kerala is way tougher than expected
We should’ve done our research, but after the booze-soaked, Westerner-filled Goa, we’d just expected cheap beers everywhere. But Kerala really makes it hard. Alcohol is not only more expensive there, but you can only purchase it from certain government-run shops, kinda like ABC stores in North Carolina, except that they sell everything you might want to drink: the beer, wine, and liquor. These places open at 10 AM and they are immediately swarmed by the local men of the town. (Thankfully, we found a nicer one in Cochin.)
No, you can’t buy beer from the mini-mart! So this isn’t like anywhere else I’ve been in Asia! It’s shocking how hard it was to get a beer in Alleppey. And you can’t get a drink in a restaurant unless it has a “beer and wine parlor” license (not too many of those around) or it’s a five-star hotel. So we had a bit of a detox for several days in Kerala. It wasn’t actually a problem, because after Goa we probably needed it. Of course, for our two nights on the houseboat and our Christmas celebration in Cochin, we managed to stock up.