Friday, 31 August 2012

Beaches, Backwaters, Temples, Tigers, and Spiritual India!

With two months to go, I thought it was high time I finalised my route around the mystical cities and kaleidoscope of colour that is India. I have exactly 2 months in India, but in light of all the research I've done and the amount I want to see, I may well be extending my stay by a couple of weeks to enjoy a longer Southern trail, which will not only mean spending Christmas there, but also New Year. Plus of course, my many trips back with my mum and sister, and hopefully longer ones which will include some volunteering with NGO's! However that's something to consider nearer the time.

The itinerary is pretty jam-packed and with the stereotypical, easy-going nature of Indian life (almost nothing is ever on time) it could be very challenging sticking to it! I've tried to combine the best of everything India has to offer, taking advice from my Lonely Planet, as well as tips and experiences from those who've been.

I'm combining the spiritual and soul-searching gems of Haridwar, Rishikesh and Varanasi, with bustling metropolitan cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata. From over-night camel safari's in the desert to the majestic temples and fortresses of Jaipur and Agra. Journeying into the chilly hill station of Darjeeling down to the golden beaches of Goa. Watching the sun rise over the sacred River Ganges and the sun set drifting through the tranquil Backwaters of Kerala. And don't forget the food...and the Delhi Belly!

I begin my Indian adventure on the evening of Monday 29th Oct, and arrive in Delhi in the afternoon on 30th October (Tuesday), where I will stay until the Friday. Visiting some of the sights Delhi has to offer and if there is time, maybe take a quick trip to Ranthambore Park for a safari to see if I can spot any Tigers!

Then on either the Friday afternoon or Saturday morning I intend to travel by train or bus up to Haridwar, in Uttarakhand for a couple of days. One of the most Holiest places in India, it's where the River Ganges enters the plains of North India for the first time. Millions of pilgrims, devotees, and tourists congregate every night to perform ritualistic bathing on the banks of the river Ganges to wash away their sins. I don't intend to bathe, but I will hopefully witness this ritual and see what else Haridwar has to offer.

Then, on either the Monday or Tuesday (5/6th Nov) I'll head further north to Rishikesh, located in the foothills of the Himalayas it's the Yoga capitol of the world and is often known as 'the gateway to the Himalayas'. I intend to spend about 5 or 6 days there, practising yoga, taking classical Indian dance lessons, maybe even taking a Hindi class here and there! I also hope to spend one or two nights/days at an Ashram, to practise meditation and prayers. I will then travel back to Delhi on the morning or afternoon of Monday 12th November as I have booked a 3 week tour which starts in Delhi on that day.

12th November, my tour with Gap Adventures (Itinerary: Roam India, 20 days) starts for 3 weeks around Rajasthan down to Varanasi (it goes back to Delhi but I'm cutting it 2 days short so I can stay on in Varanasi and then travel onwards). This includes an overnight camel safari in the desert at Bikaner, then onto Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Udaipur, Pushkar, Jaipur, Agra and Varanasi.

After experiencing Varanasi, one of the oldest and holiest places in India and even the world - where I also get to take part in a candle flower ceremony on the Ganges - I am planning on catching a long train ride up to the hill station of Darjeeling for couple of days. It's supposed to get very cold here so I won't be staying too long! Darjeeling used to belong to Nepal, but us good ol' Brits took it from them when we ruled over India. It's apparently a great place to watch sunrise over a view of the mountain Kanchengjunga, the worlds 3rd highest peak.

From here it's another long train journey down to Kolkata, the capitol of West Bengal. I'm hoping to stay here for about a week as I would love to volunteer to help care for the destitute and disabled children at Mother Theresa's house.

A local flight From Kolkata will take me down to Kerala, on the west coast of India. Here it's time to relax, escaping the hustle and bustle of the north to a more chilled journey through the Backwaters, and taking in the golden sands of the beaches whilst travelling up the coast. I hope to spend about two weeks here.

Further north up the west coast is Goa. Goa is mostly unplanned, I hope to visit Anjuna to watch some spectacular sunsets from a treehouse on the beach, but the rest will just go with the flow. Goa is where I'm spending Christmas hopefully as it's got a big Christian community that celebrates it.

The final stop on my Tour de India is Mumbai, the largest city in India. Where I'll spend around 4-5 days sightseeing, taking in a bollywood movie or two, tour the slums (all money goes to charity), visit Dhobi Ghat, the largest open air laundry in the world, take a walk along Chowpati Beach etc. It will then be time to say bye bye India and Hello Thailand!

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