Sunday, 17 March 2013

Home sweet home!

We spent our final day relaxing lakeside at a hotel in Kumarakom. 3 flights, a quick stop in an airport hotel and 36 hours later we made it back in one piece.....jet lagged, tired but glad to be back to normality! I wanted to do one final blog post about India just to sum up our experience and to give a few tips to anyone thinking about going. I'm also going to do a separate post about Elegant Journeys who organised our trip and the best way to go about organising it just so this post isn't too confusing.

India is an amazing country- the people, the culture, the history, the food.....there wasn't a single thing which I didn't love. I'm so so glad that we went and saw as much as we did and for anyone thinking about going I would 100% recommend doing it. It's a real eye-opener and a proper assault on the senses. You will see a million and one different things that are of interest.....everywhere you look there will be a new and different sights, smells, sounds etc. What I would say though, it's important to prepare yourself mentally for the challenges which come with visiting such a huge and different country! Getting anywhere is a challenge   and you will get hassled EVERYwhere. As a tourist you will be asked for money everywhere you go. Indian bureaucracy is a pain in the arse, nobody does anything to a schedule, nothing is particularly well organised and you just have to take everything as it comes. Go with a positive attitude, flexibility and take each day as it comes (trust me, in England I am NOT this kind of person- I had to adapt) and I genuinely believe that you will love it.

A few practical things to note which I wish I'd known/what I did know from reading other blogs/forums.........

1) You will get stared at A LOT. Try and mitigate this as much as possible by dressing more modestly where possible (especially as a female). What we found was that in larger cities- Delhi and Mumbai and in tourist hotspots- Jaipur, Agra etc. you can get away with a bit more. Here I wore knee-length dresses with short
sleeves (not strapless) and I seemed to be OK. In Kerala, Varanasi, Khajuraho etc. (anywhere which isn't on the typical tourist trail) I got much more attention and it was here I wore mainly trousers, longer cardigans and maxi dresses etc.

2) If a guide takes you to a 'demonstration' of a particular handicraft e.g. carpet-making, silk weaving etc. it will be a guise for a hard sell to try and make you buy the product. It's really interesting seeing things being made but it's also fine to say that you're not interested in going. If you do go, be happy to say no when they try to sell you the product, or if it's something you genuinely want, haggle. In general we got about 30% knocked off through some fairly hard negotiating. Start low because you can always go up but they wont let you go down! And walk away if the selling gets too aggressive....chances are you'll find similar (although lower-quality) items in the many markets and from street sellers.

3) On a similar note, take space in your suitcase! There are some amazing souvenirs to be had- you can see why India really is the capital of manufacturing. Textiles, paintings and carvings are probably the most readily available and while there is the usual array of tat there are some incredible and cheap keepsakes to be had!

4) It's pretty much impossible to avoid the poor sanitation. Take a lot of hand sanitiser (use it particularly after touching the money which is filthy) but don't spend the whole time second-guessing everything you're eating because the food is AMAZING and I think I got overly-concerned with hygiene which stopped me enjoying it as much as I should have. Golden rule which we stuck too.....only eat boiling hot food unless you can wash or peel it yourself. I did get ill but to be honest I've got a crap digestive system anyway and any little thing sets it off. My mum stuck to this rule and she was absolutely fine the whole time. However, DON'T touch the tap water for drinking....not even brushing your teeth. Stick to bottles and ALWAYS check the seals haven't been tampered with.

5) Tipping is a massive part of the culture in India so factor this into your budget. A lot of the workers completely depend upon tips to supplement their meagre incomes so everyone will be after a tip. It's unavoidable so make sure you work it out in advance and take enough money.

6) Food is cheap! We went to some lovely restaurants and in most decent hotels you won't pay more than about £10 for 2 courses and soft drinks. If you go to restaurants outside of hotels you'll pay half that and if you want to risk the street food you could eat a good meal for less than £1. On the converse, alcohol is expensive and not readily available. Expect to pay between £4 and £5 for a glass of domestic wine and £20 for a bottle plus tax (33% on alcohol) generally isn't included on the menu price. Domestic beer is cheaper (normally Kingfisher) and for a small beer it'll be about £2-£3.

If I think of anything else I'll add it in later, but for the time being they seem to be most prevalent! We really did have an amazing time and as a destination I would hugely recommend it. Go with an open mind and immerse yourself in the culture and you'll have the best time.


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  2. I have just finished reading your India blog which was very informative.We are travelling with Elegant Journeys in September and after reading your stories we now can't wait.Thanks regards Steve.

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed it Steve. Have an amazing time in India- I know we did. If you have any questions please feel free to ask me. Rebecca