3CMGM-Adventures-India

Mumbai Is More Than Slumdog Millionaire

Arriving in Mumbai felt a bit unreal. It didn’t feel like I set foot in the metropolitan city known for slums and Bollywood. Mumbai meant my final destination in India. Frankly, that made me feel a bit glum. Somehow, though, I succeeded in banning this feeling to the back of my mind. I was determined to make the most of these last three days!

I ordered an Ola cab to take us from the airport to Karan’s apartment. Karan was kind of the best man at the wedding that I attended last month (oh my god, that was only last month?!). He invited my dad and I to come and stay with him and show us around the city.

Since it was still my birthday when we left Goa for Mumbai, I was allowed to choose how I wanted to spend the evening. After enjoying the bottle of champagne my dad brought from Belgium (finally something that I could actually get down my throat!), I announced I’d like to go for drinks at the best rooftop bar in town, Aer, which is located on the 36th floor of the Four Seasons Hotel. I love viewpoints and could already imagine how spectacular the city lights of Mumbai must look!

At midnight, we went to a restaurant close to the sea, called Corniche. I had really good cannelloni there. After the dinner we returned to Karan’s apartment, had some fresh beers delivered and finally went to bed.

mumbai india

The next morning, we had a small breakfast before we headed out. We drove around the city; first stop was the Mumbai sign near the water, where we had our mandatory picture taken. After that we picked up a friend of Karan’s and stopped at Starbucks for some refreshments. (May I just clarify that this was my first Starbucks visit in 3.5 months?) We continued our tour by driving through a lesser-known neighborhood that kind of reminds me of what I think Rio de Janeiro looks like. Many residents of Mumbai don’t even know that this area exists!

For lunch we went to Colaba Social, which a famous burger place. And, yes, I had my first real burger here and it was soooo yummm. We walked to the Taj Hotel, which was the victim of a series of terrorist attacks in 2008. There was a lot of material damage and 167 innocent civilians died that time. It is like the 9/11 of India. Across from the hotel you’ll find the Gateway of India. The last British troops left the country through this gate after India became an independent republic. The gate is one of Mumbai’s most popular tourist attractions. As soon as I was asked by an Indian tourist to take a picture with her two small girls, a line immediately formed behind them of people wanting to take a picture with me!! Eventually, my dad had to drag me away from them, because Karan had arranged for us to go on a boat tour and we didn’t want to miss the boat.

starbucks india mumbai

That evening, we were allowed to attend an album launch party at Bonobo. It is a kind of nightlife spot where we would never have set foot in if we weren’t directed there. The music wasn’t really my style – I don’t really remember what it was called either… trance or something? By the time we left here, it had gotten so late that we couldn’t find a place serving dinner anymore (and that, too, in India!). Eventually, the Sun-n-Sand Hotel was willing to cook for us.

The third day, we started by visiting Mount Mary Church, another popular tourist attraction. It is very colorful inside, for a church that is. Nearby, there is this altar kind of place where you can make a wish and “be careful what you wish for because it always comes true”. So… I wished I could stay in India a bit longer, since I was not at all ready to go home.

We continued the day’s tour by going to Bandra Sea Face. There is a park here that is better known as Couple’s Park and as soon as you enter you find out why. Every other meter, you’ll find couples sitting, holding hands, cuddling. It is the amount of couple’s that makes everything a bit awkward you know. At the lower end of the park, which is located on a hilly surface, you’ll find some rocks that are accessible but probably shouldn’t be. Many people have slipped and died here. But apparently it is also a common place for people to commit suicide…

But let’s not go there!

We had our lunch at another surprise location that we could have never found on our own. I can really recommend Pali Village Café. I discovered here that not all Californian wines are like Gallo (which is just disgusting if you ask me). It was divine.

In the afternoon we went for a walk on Marine Drive. At that time Worli Festival was taking place. There were stalls selling Indian products and at each end of the festival a stage was built where concerts of Indian artists were happening. Our refreshments we got at Doolally Taproom, which kind of reminds of an ecological version of Anti-café in Paris. We played Uno and Jenga here together with another friend of Karan’s who lives nearby. We went to his place for another drink and a snack.

mumbai india

Soon enough, we had to start packing. My dad’s flight was leaving 4 hours before mine, so he went to the airport before me. I was gonna try and sleep for 2-3 hours.

When I reached the airport, the problems started already at check-in. I will save you the whole story, but what it comes down to is that this girl working for Turkish Airlines made sure I was not allowed to leave the country because I was missing a certain form that I had to present at border control. I had asked XIMB whether I needed such paper three times throughout my stay and each time I was assured I wouldn’t need it. I was already aware that my batch mates who already left the country had encountered some problems at border control, but they had all been able to catch their planes. But alas, I was the unfortunate one who got the nosy check-in lady who decided for me and for border control that I shouldn’t be allowed on the plane. She ripped my plane ticket in pieces and put me on the street. I wasn’t even allowed to make accommodation arrangement from inside the airport.

So there I was.

It was 3 or 4AM when I called Karan and asked him if I could come back to crash at his place. Since I couldn’t change anything about my situation, I went back to sleep and started the next day early. I ordered an Ola cab and went to the FRRO (Foreign Regional Registration Office) at the police station. It took two days (and a lot of bureaucratic and administrative BS) to get the form I needed. And then you should now that it also took an hour to go from the apartment to the police station, one way. Mumbai is pretty big and comes with a lot of traffic.

 

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The Two Faces of Party Capital Goa

If I have to name two states in India that are complete opposites, I would probably say Goa vs. Kashmir. The tourism and climate, nature and activities, the atmosphere and history are completely different – contrasting even. But my dad and I, we decided to switch from one extreme to the other, from one day to the next. From a war-stricken area to a beach & party capital.

North and South Goa have different things to offer, as you will soon discover. Based on a recommendation from one of my Indian friends, we went south first.

south-goa-india

South Goa

You have no idea how happy I was to feel the sun on my face and see palm trees everywhere. Especially after the cold, wet, grim days in Kashmir. At the same time, it was terrible to be around hundreds of tourists (esp. Brits). During my time in Bhubaneswar, I hardly ever saw white people. The east coast of India just isn’t that popular with tourists. It really took me a while to get used to the overpresence of foreigners and tourism.

south-goa-vaca-beach-india

We stayed in the Zuri White Sands Resort which was also recommended to us. It was a beautiful, modern hotel with spacious, clean rooms. During the day, I spent a lot of time near one of the pools – reading, swimming, reading… It became clear to me relatively soon that this was very much a hotel/resort where people come with their families and don’t leave the premises until the week is over.

north-goa-vaca-beach-india

South Goa equals relaxation. When I wasn’t lounging by the pool, I was making walks on the beach. Let me tell you about the beach! It was an extremely pleasant experience. It actually feels like your walking in snow, because of the way the sand makes cracking sounds underneath your feet and molds when you step on it. We walked all the way to the next beach resort, which happened to be a Taj hotel. There, we succeeded in getting a guided tour. I realized I was really happy to be staying in the Zuri Resort, which was a lot more colorful and a lot less stiff!

But of course we aren’t traveling in India to stay inside a hotel! After two days in the sun, my dad completely recovered from his illness and we left for North Goa, where there it’s much livelier (and that really is an understatement).

north-goa-vaca-beach-india

North Goa

It was a short two-hour drive to our next destination. We had discovered a small, local bar a five-minute walk away from the hotel. There we found someone who was willing to drive us to the North for a rate much cheaper for us (and much more rewarding for him when not having to go through the hotel).

We stayed two nights in the hotel Acacia near Candolim Beach. Again, we had a beautiful, modern, spacious room. The hotel was actually built in an O-shape. There was no roof in the middle, leaving the “indoor pool” open, but also letting the noise from the next-door mosque come in freely. The hotel was located on the main street, parallel with the beach, but the only noise that disturbed us was that of the mosque at 5AM in the morning. On the roof there was a really good restaurant with sea view.

north-goa-candolim-india

The sand in North Goa is rougher than in the South. It is also almost completely made out of bits and pieces of sea shells. It’s more crowded and, thus, there is also a different/better atmosphere! Candolim was crowded, but not too much. For the “real” Goan experience you go to Calangute, Baga, Anjuna or Vagator. You can walk most of the coastline (which is very long!) or take a taxi. By the way, you will spend most of your money in Goa on taxis and tuktuks. They are super expensive here!

north-goa-candolim-india

For food in Candolim, I can really recommend the fusion restaurant on the other side of the street from the hotel. You shouldn’t skip Thalassa, where you can enjoy delicious Greek food and watch the sun set from one of the most beautiful locations in the state. (Don’t forget to make a reservation!)

For partying, you will rather go to Calangute, instead of Baga because it is a common place for women to get harrassed. In Anjuna you can go to the popular beach bar Curlies Beach Shack. And during New Year’s you might like to attend the Sunburn festival.

vagator-thalassa-india-goa

Looking for an exclusive night out that is still within budget? Head over to Club Cubana. It is located on a hilltop between Baga and Anjuna and you can reach either by walking or by hopping into one of the jeeps that the club provides. Some nights, women can go in for free, so keep that in mind! The Club itself looks like it was dropped in the middle of a jungle. Here and there you discover open spaces with a pool, an in-door disco, another bar… This is usually not my scene, but it was an amazing experience to spend a few hours here!

north-goa-zuri-resort-india

To Do in Goa

Be sure to try one of the seafood dishes Goa is famous for. Also, make use of this occasion to get a massage or attend a yoga class. There is so many options! What I personally really liked, was the biggest flea market of Goa, which can be found in Anjuna. It is almost impossible to reach by foot, so you’ll have to have someone drive you there if you didn’t rent a scooty. Did I mention people rent a lot of scooters here? No? Well now you know! Traffic in Goa is quite ok. You just have to remember to drive on the left. Lastly, there are also a lot of forts and churches you can visit that date back to the time when Goa was a Portuguese colony.

One thing is sure: it is impossible to get bored in Goa!

What might be useful to know for my western friends, is that Goa is touristy enough that you can wear whatever you like! Bikinis, tops, shorts, dresses… all is allowed! (But still, keep it slightly decent.)

acacia-hotel-goa-india

On my last night in Goa, we celebrated my 23rd birthday on the roof of the hotel. The next day, we would continue our journey. On to Mumbai!

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The Beautiful Misery of Kashmir

Did you know that, apparently, Kashmir is the must-visit location on your trip to India? And did you know that, even though the beauty of the location should suggest otherwise, it is one of the least visited places by tourists in India? (Oh, and did you know that, according to all Indians, the most beautiful men and women are Kashmiri?!)

Me: If there is one place in India that I absolutely have to see in India, where would you send me?

Indian friends: Kashmir. You have to go to Kashmir. It is the most beautiful place in India.

I think I had this conversation with at least nine of my Indian friends, each with separate interests and personalities. Yet they all said the same thing. So I passed the message on to my father. We were going to the North of India, to Kashmir.

srinagar-kashmir-india

srinagar-kashmir-india

On the day I am writing this story, another five people died in the eternal battle for Kashmir. India and Pakistan keep claiming the territory as their own, while Kashmir wants nothing more than to be free and independent. According to the Guardian, 68,000 people have already died since the rebels started resisting against the Indian regime in 1989.

Now, I already knew that Kashmir was called “undisputed land,” but no one had told me it could be very unsafe to go there! I had only seen the pictures of beautiful landscapes and heard stories relating amazing memories, so I was just really excited to go see for myself. An “off the beaten track” location in India!

But the problems started already when booking flights to Srinagar from Jaipur. For some reason the connecting flights had to be booked separately. That meant we had to pick up our luggage in Delhi and pay the overweight again. (I explained before that for domestic flights on 15kg of check-in luggage is allowed.) We experienced more issues during the journey, which I will not bother you with.

srinagar-kashmir-india

The flight to Srinager itself was totally worth it. We flew over the bright yellow mustard flower fields and the snowy mountain tops of the Himalayas. It was a promising preview of what was yet to come.

At the airport, the excited and peaceful feeling that had grown within me quickly vanished. The safe and secure feeling I have had everywhere in India disappeared in a few heartbeats.

Soldiers and military people everywhere. Barbed wire and tanks all around. We had to show our passport several times, had to keep repeating what our plans were, who would be our guide, give the addresses of all the places we would be visiting… At that moment, I couldn’t believe that this was the beautiful Srinagar that I was promised.

The driver was waiting for us outside the airport. He was the guide of one of my batch mates once and had become a good friend. We could trust him to show us around. One of the first things I asked him was whether he was able to provide me with a sim card, because in Kashmir you can only use a Kashmiri sim. That is one of the consequences of being in a civil war for almost thirty years. After some unnecessary difficulties and necessary Indian complexities, I succeeded in obtaining a sim. Frankly speaking, contact with the outside world does give me some peace of mind!

srinagar-kashmir-india

srinagar-kashmir-india

The driver took us through bushy roads covered by grey, ominous clouds to Dal Lake. We passed by more army posts, tanks and armed soldiers who were stationed on the side of the roads, in front of grizzled, wooden houses.

The first two nights we would spent on the lake according to the original plan. But the driver quickly suggested to go to Gulmarg the next day, where you can take a chairlift to the top of a mountain. Nevertheless, as soon as we arrived on our houseboat, my dad had made up his mind: he wanted to leave right away.

dal-lake-srinagar-kashmir-india

dal-lake-kashmir-india

But if there is one thing I’ve learned during my stay in India, it is that you should give everything not two, but multiple chances to really learn to appreciate it. So we made a deal: we would discover Srinagar with the driver today, go somewhere else tomorrow and then decide to stay or leave. I suggested to go to Pahalgam the next day instead.

Many Indians like to compare Kashmir with Switzerland. To us, Europeans, this comparison seems a bit superficial, but I can see where the idea comes from. It is cold here, really cold, it rains, it’s cloudy, it’s green and mountainous, you can see snow on the mountain tops and the views are spectacular. But the “chalets” in Kashmir and the military presence could never be found in neutral, peaceful Switzerland.

srinagar-kashmir-india

srinagar-kashmir-india

I only had my summer clothes with me. In Bhubaneswar, where the temperature never went below 25°C (77°F), I didn’t need sweaters and scarfs. In Kashmir, the temperature at night goes close to the freezing point and during the day it feels like a typical autumn day in Belgium. I wasn’t dressed for this!

Dal Lake was really beautiful though. The boat ride in the shikara to the houseboat was worth it every time, despite the cold and rain. We also visited several parks with mesmerizing views. I was most pleasantly surprised by the hidden tulip fields in the middle of the mountains! Even in Holland I have never seen a tulip field.

We spent the night under our electric blankets on the boat.

shikara-dal-lake-kashmir

srinagar-kashmir-india

The next day didn’t start on a positive note. The boat owners tried to make us pay more than we agreed on, the “driver” of the shikara took us to the floating market against our will, and when we arrived on mainland, we had to wait almost an hour in the rain before we heard anything from the driver. In the meantime, they tried to hook us for a boat ride for three times the normal price and we had already said several times that we didn’t want to go for a boat ride in the pouring rain.

After a few hours of discussing, we could finally start the journey to Pahalgam. In a smooth pace, we drove by the mustard flower fields I had seen from the plane, and enjoyed the jaw-dropping views of the Himalayas. We tasted kawa at a roadside shop. Kawa is a fluorescent yellow, warm drink based on saffron. By the way, did you know that most of the world’s saffron is coming from Kashmir? (Just like they also export cricket bats!)

pahalgam-kashmir-india-road

tulips-srinagar-kashmir-india

We arrived in Pahalgam. It felt even colder here. First, we went looking for a hotel, in the pouring rain. I don’t know if it is because Pahalgam is a relatively popular destination within Kashmir, or if it’s because we are clearly Europeans, but everything seemed outrageously expensive. The only reason I wanted to go to Pahalgam in the first place, is because I wanted to do the main activity here: horseback riding in the mountains. But in this weather, we would only get sick (or more sick in my dad’s case).

After a few hours in the hotel, my dad and I decided that Kashmir wasn’t the right fit for us. We could understand why my Indian friends would send us here – we would sure feel good in the climate we are most used to right?

It wasn’t easy telling the driver that we would be flying off the next day, canceling the trip then and there. He was not happy, to say the least, even though I tried to explain to him it wasn’t his fault. We just couldn’t be happy in “the Switzerland of India”.

Leaving Srinagar also wasn’t that easy. While just nearing the airport, we already had to run our luggage through a metal detector/scanner while the car was being thoroughly searched. I think our hand luggage, passport and plane tickets were checked at least seven times (that I can remember). We even had to go on the tarmac to point out our luggage and prove it was ours.

While I was waiting until my dad’s electronic devices where checked by the safety personal to see if they weren’t bombs in disguise, I had an interesting conversation with a typical handsome Kashmiri boy. At least I got to see one of those!

By the way, did you know that you are only allowed to live in Kashmir if you are born there or marry into one of the families there? This way, the beauty of the population remains mostly a trait of this region. The easiest way to recognize a Kashmiri person is by their bright blue eyes. The pretty women I heard so much about I hadn’t seen, though. They are basically hiding underneath their bourkas. After all, Kashmir is represented by 90% muslims.

tulips-srinagar-kashmir-india-me

I know this isn’t the most positive blog post I have ever written, but I try to be honest about my experiences. So I have mentioned both the positive and negative aspects of this Indian State. Nevertheless, I was secretly really relieved to leave and head for sunnier territory… 30 degrees warmer to be exact.

Goa here we come!

City trip in Rajasthan: Jaipur

In the late afternoon, we arrived in the capital city of Rajasthan after a five-hour train ride from Jodhpur. It felt like the April heat in Jaipur just slapped me in the face. Whether you like it or not, you will sweat. Also, it appeared that another ten trains or so had arrived at the same time as us, so it was incredibly busy and crowded at the station.

We had to wait for almost two hours before our driver finally showed to pick us up. In the meantime, dozens and dozens of offers were made to us take us and our luggage anywhere we wanted to go for a “special prize, only for you my friend”.

jaipur-rajasthan-india

Eventually the driver found us in the crowd. The driver wasn’t actually driving the car, but he was the one who was going to show us around. Actually, he is an employee at the company Nipun’s parents own. They also welcomed us in their home in Delhi one week ago. The driver was a short, but enthusiastic guy who’s English was just good enough and who kept being overly worried about our happiness and comfort. He was so eager to start showing us around, it took a lot of arguments to convince him that we wanted to take a minute to rest and freshen up. After we did exactly that, we left the Metropolitian Hotel (fyi: wifi not included, crazy right?!) to start our city tour.

During the drive to our first must-see it became clear to us why Jaipur is also known as the Pink City: all the buildings have a rusty, pastel reddish/pink color.

jaipur-rajasthan-india

jaipur-rajasthan-india

We started by visiting Hawa Mahal, also known as the Palace of Winds. The façade is famous for its characteristic 365 windows made up of colored glass. A long time ago, these windows were the only way for the royal women living in the palace to look at the outside world without outsiders seeing them. Because of their religion and royal traditions, they were not allowed to come on the street.

Next, we continued on foot to the City Palace, where we had a small snack and breathed in the atmosphere of this monarchistic location. We skipped the close-by must-see Jantar Mantar due to lack of time (and, frankly, because there is no shadow to escape into when it gets too hot).

jaipur-rajasthan-hawa-mahal

jaipur-india-rajasthan

jaipur-rajasthan-india-hawa-mahal

jaipur-india-rajasthan

In the afternoon we headed to Jal Mahal and Fort Amer. Jal Mahal is a private property that consists of a big, yellow, “sunken” palace in the middle of a lake. You can admire from a cozy boulevard, passing by a little improvised market place.

Fort Amer is, again, very different from all the forts we’ve seen so far. I don’t think I have to tell you that this fort is amber-colored? It is “guarded” by a whole family of monkeys. I think – and am not at all ashamed! – that we were looking at them for about twenty minutes. They just kept doing funny things that I wanted to film and photograph!

amer-fort-jaipur-rajasthan

amer-fort-jaipur-rajasthan

amer-fort-jaipur-rajasthan

amer-fort-jaipur-rajasthan

I think, even if you do know the way, you could still easily spend half a day in Fort Amer. It’s so big! I seriously got lost and, blonde and naive as I am, almost got cheated when I asked one of the “guards” to show me the way to the exit, for which he asked a tip. Jeez… At the exit my mouth fell open: there was an actual Starbucks here! Even though it being there seemed totally inappropriate, I was so thirsty by that time that I bought a cold drink anyway.

That night, we had a nice dinner in a restaurant we’d found on TripAdvisor.

amer-fort-jaipur-rajasthan

amer-fort-jaipur-rajasthan

amer-fort-jaipur-rajasthan

The next day, my dad was feeling the worst yet despite the medicine cocktail he had been taken the past few days. I found out why this was the case: at the entrance of Fort Amer he had drunken not just one but two of the cold drinks offered at one of the stalls. It is a drink with lime and salt, Indians love it and apparently, my dad does too. But one important lesson you should remember when traveling in India: never drink water if you can’t tell where it is coming from (which should be a sealed bottle)! Otherwise you can never know whether it is filtered. So I am 99% sure this is why my dad got sick. You are warned!

jaipur-rajasthan-india

jaipur-rajasthan-india

I visited most of the sights alone the next day… in the driver and his sister’s company. We visited two more forts: Jaigarh Fort, which offers a panoramic view over Amer Fort and which houses the biggest canon ever used, and Nahargarh Fort, which basically consists of a maze of corridors. From the roof you also get a beautiful panoramic view over the city of Jaipur.

The afternoon I spent by the pool on the roof of the hotel, while my dad went back to the room to get some rest. In the evening we visited the driver’s home and his family.

jaipur-fort-rajasthan-india

jaipur-rajasthan-fort-india

jaipur-fort-rajasthan-india

Afterwards, we went on to discover the Disney-esque village Choki Dhani. It is a beautifully lit, artificial town where you can learn more about the state’s history and try out the traditional dishes from the area. You can enjoy performances and take part in some activities, such as an elephant ride. I love these kinds of places!

We couldn’t stay long though. I was very tired from walking around all day in the heat, my dad was still feeling unwell. Nevertheless, Choki Dhani was absolutely one of the highlights of our visit to Jaipur.

choki-dhani-jaipur-rajasthan

choki-dhani-jaipur-rajasthan

choki-dhani-jaipur-rajasthan

choki-dhani-jaipur-rajasthan

The next morning, we left really early to the airport to fly off to our next adventure, the place that should be the absolute highlight of this whole trip: Kashmir.

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The Indian Fairytale in Rajasthan: Jodhpur

The only thing you are sure about when you make a roundtrip in India is that you simply cannot skip Rajasthan. Why? Because the state is described as the land where all the tales of the Arabian Nights are set. Because the tradition of real princes is nowhere as obvious as it is here. And because you can ride camels in the desert.

Well, I didn’t get to go on a camel tour myself unfortunately. Good thing I got the opportunity to ride a camel before in Puri, right? Udaipur is typically the place where these tours take place, but in March and April it is way too hot. This and the fact that our schedule was already super tight made us decide to skip this activity. But if you go during winter season, you should definitely go. Apparently, every angle in Udaipur is a photo genetic one!

After a long train ride from Delhi, we arrived in Jodhpur. Dad and I had to travel in different classes. To make the story short, what happened was: we booked our beds too late and were on a waiting list. Apparently, this journey is particularly popular. The moment we had to board the train, we officially had only one ticket (in first class). In our compartment (which had four beds instead of the usual eight), one of our fellow passengers had an extra ticket for third class that was not being used. He just gave it to us. How generous can someone be?!

Seeing as I had traveled several times already in third class and my dad wasn’t as comfortable with his first time taking a train in India, I offered to take the third-class ticket. But in the end, I stayed in the first class because for a second I had forgotten that, of course, this is India and probably it wouldn’t be appropriate if I were to stay alone in third class… And since the men in our compartment seemed really nice, and kind, and helpful, it seemed like the best solution. (And honestly, I slept much better in first class!)

In Jodhpur, we had to arrange everything ourselves. At the train station, I booked an Ola and ordered chai while we waited. I keep thinking it’s so funny when the chaiwalla (a guy serving tea) makes a face when I go order with them. Actually, this tea, when it is served in the street, is a poor people’s drink (or at least that’s what I’ve been told). But I can’t help it I like it so much!

balsamand-lake-palace-jodhpur-india

Our Ola driver took us to the hotel. Balsamand Lake Palace used to be a real palace. Even in the hotel itself you can easily spend half a day discovering the grounds. While we were waiting until the room was ready, we got some more masala chai. Then another guy appeared with a giant golf cart to take us and our luggage to the room.

Let me take a moment to describe our room, because it was quite spectacular. After walking into the building’s marble hall, we climbed up the marble stairs and arrived at a double door which looked like it could be the entrance to a dungeon. The doors opened into a giant room. Our room. More marble. The ceiling reached several meters above us. There were two super soft beds, a living room area, two desks, a swing bed and the windows were completely made of colored glass art. On each side of the room there was a bathroom also… completely made of marble. In any other western country, this could be the presidential suite. But still, we didn’t pay that much more than a junior suite in London for example.

balsamand-palace-india-jodhpur

balsamand-india-jodhpur

As it was more than 40° Celsius in Jodhpur (+100°F), the first thing we did was go for a refreshing dive in “the royal pool”, where we stayed until the highest temperature peak had passed. Then we made our way into the old city. Being alone at this pool at this time of the day, it really felt like we were enjoying our own private oasis. sigh

Jodhpur is also known as the Blue City, and you can see why as soon as you go to higher places. We discovered the Old Town and braved the busy market where bracelets, bangles, saree fabric, spices and more were being sold. But from here, you can’t really tell the city is “blue”.

I also had my dad taste his first pani puri, but since he was already not feeling too good while adjusting to the Indian food – which is totally normal obviously – he only tasted one. Pani puri is a typical street food from Rajasthan. It is a kind of crunchy rice ball. With your thumb you push a hole into it and fill it with spiced water (pani means water by the way). It’s a bit hot.

jodhpur-blue-city-india-market

blue-city-jodhpur-rajasthan

But beware! Standard rule in India: if you try street food, always go where the Indians go. This way, chances are already a bit higher that the food is prepared (relatively) more hygienically. Trying pani puri is actually taking an unnecessary risk of getting sick: you don’t know if the water that is used was filtered for starters. Lucky me that I choose a good stall!

I booked a new Ola to take us to On The Rocks, which was recommended to us by one of the passengers in my compartment in the train. The best way I can describe it is as a cave complex filled with restaurants, shops and bars. That night we decided to sit outside on the patio underneath the starry sky.

Mehrangarh-jodhpur-rajasthan

rajasthan-fort-jodhpur

Mehrangarh-jodhpur-rajasthan

The next morning the Ola cab took us to the 600 year-old Mehrangarh Fort, also known as “the Petra of Rajasthan”, because it looks like the fort is made out of the rock itself. It is a very exhausting place to visit in this heat. You have to climb up and down a few steep hills. But once you reach the top you will experience why Jodhpur is known as the Blue City! Inside the fort you also have a few museums, which will let you cool down a bit. A short tuktuk ride out of the fort you can also visit a beautiful temple called Jaswant Thada. A famous maharaja (i.e. Indian king) is buried here.

jaswant-thada-jodhpur-rajasthan

jaswant-thada-jodhpur-rajasthan

At noon, we had the idea of having lunch in the most impressive (and expensive) hotel in the city: Umaid Palace. But just to get inside, you’ll need to come up with Rs. 10,000 (or €140). So we turned around and went back to On The Rocks. As the heat wasn’t doing my dad any good on top of how he was already feeling, we decided to spend the afternoon at the hotel pool again.

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balsamand-jodhpur-rajasthan-india

The last evening, we had dinner at another restaurant that was recommended to us by the same guy from the train. Hawant Mahal is located on the top of a mountain and comes with a spectacular view of the city lights and Umaid Palace. The food was also amazing and plentiful.

The next morning, we prepared to leave quite early. We were going on another train ride to continue our journey in Rajasthan. On the way to Jaipur!

 

3CMGM-Adventures-India

Discovering India: Delhi & Agra

Even though I have written that a trip to India should start in Kolkata, for my dad it started – as most holidays in India, I dare to assume – in Delhi. After the trimester in Bhubaneswar ended, I left the capital city of Orissa behind and headed for Delhi to start a round trip in India.

Delhi often appears in the press with negative stories: there are huge smog and general traffic problems, there is a high crime rate, and the worst rape case ever reported in India also took place here. And still, from all over the world people are heading to Delhi.

My batch mate Nipun lives in Noida, a neighborhood to the south of Delhi. It was with his brother that my dad and I stayed the first few days. We were picked up at the airport by the family’s personal driver and were welcomed at the house by Nipun’s brother, sister-in-law and staff. Later, I would discover what an advantage it was that my dad – who still had to get his first real taste of India – and I  were getting so much help from my friends.

In my previous stories about India, you may have read that I never traveled solo in India (yet). Every time, one or more Indian friends had been by my side to help me when needed – even if it was just to translate some words here and there, or to bargain about the price for a tuktuk. It doesn’t even seem that easy to get around in Delhi without some help. The traffic is terrible indeed, the tuktuk drivers are (supposed to be) the worst cheaters, and generally everyone seems to try to rip you off.

delhi-india-discover

Delhi

But of course I also have a lot of positive stuff to say about Delhi! Over and done with the few complaints I have. I mean, there must be a reason why people come from all over to visit this city right? Delhi has an enormous amount of sightseeing you can do. India Gate, for starters, is a popular place to have a picnic and it’s always incredibly crowded around this area. India Gate is a memorial to remember the 82,000 Indian soldiers that died during the first world war. Then there is the Red Fort, which was built in the 17th century and which was called home by the Mogol Empire for 200 years. Now it houses a few museums. Across from the Red Fort, you’ll find the biggest mosque in India, called Jarna Mashid. And if you’re wondering about the famous Lotus Temple, well, it’s a bit out of the way from the other must-sees, which prevented us from visiting because the detour would take too much time (which we didn’t have).

red-fort-india-delhi

red-fort-delhi-india

red-fort-delhi-india

 

What else did we do in Delhi? We ventured into the old part of Delhi and looked around in Chandni Chowk which is one of the oldest and busiest markets of India. The Red Fort is actually within walking distance from here. We also paid a short visit to Janpath, a Tibetan market. And do I have to remind you to keep an eye on your stuff at all times when visiting market places?

I really liked the Khan Market area. You’ll find a lot of cute little shops and boutiques. I also got my first Western meal since my last visit to Kolkata. Although my hamburger at Smokehouse Deli – a modern burger joint in French style – was actually a buffalo burger, it was absolutely delicious. What a relief to finally eat something different than chicken!

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delhi-market-india-discover

gurgaon-delhi-downtown-india

One of our evenings we spent in Hauz Khas. This area is like a village filled with nothing but restaurants and bars. I can imagine it is always lively and busy here at night. Another night we went to Gurgaon, a city just outside of Delhi which is called home by another batchmate of mine, Aman. He took us to one of his favorite bars, Downtown, which is known for its self-brewed Wheat beer.

agra-delhi-india-discover

Agra

The last day we drove over to Agra to visit one of the World Wonders. You simply cannot skip the Taj Mahal on a trip to India. It took the driver two hours to take us via the expressway from Delhi to Agra. He parked (I think) on the East parking. After I convinced my dad to try his first real chai and bought our entry tickets (remember to collect your free bottle of water and shoe protectors to enter the Taj!), we got into the van that would take us to the actual entrance to the Taj.

The Taj Mahal is actually a mausoleum that was built by order of Shah Jahan after his wife Mumtaz Mahal died in childbirth (it was her fourteenth child!). It took 22 years to build the tomb and surrounding gardens. The Taj Mahal is completely made up of marble and it is almost impossible to imagine how the engravers succeeded in getting such detailed decorations in the stone. The color of the marble is really being done justice in during sunrise and sunset (although there is often a lot of mist in the morning).

taj-mahal-delhi-agra-india

agra-taj-mahal-delhi-india

taj-mahal-agra-india-delhi

It was very crowded. Actually, the amount of people present also made me realize just how little the Taj really is. Yes, you read that correctly! I was constantly looking through the lens of my camera, where the tomb looks giant, and back to the real version right in front of me, which seemed almost disappointingly small (even though the Taj could never ever disappoint of course). It certainly didn’t stop me from taking about 50 pictures! The Taj is very photo genetic.

After this visit, we had lunch at a family restaurant on the way to the Agra Fort. The restaurant was very ‘tourist friendly’ in the sense that the food didn’t taste 100% Indian and was not too spicy. It was still good, though. Adapted to our western taste buds.

In the meantime, it had gotten super-hot outside, too! Inside the Agra Fort, we kept looking for rays of shadow to hide in, but there were very few. So, about this Fort. After Shah Jahan finished the construction of the Taj Mahal, he was “scammed” by his son and imprisoned… in the Agra Fort. From here, the Shah could admire his masterpiece, the Taj, from afar until his own death.

agra-fort-delhi-india

Just like the Red Fort, the Agra Fort consists of several parts. The outside walls are a rusty red color, but on the inside it looks completely different! That’s because Shah Jahan loved marble, so he remodeled the Fort to his tastes.

It was a bit less crowded here. Agra Fort is definitely worth the visit if you are making the trip down anyway. After visiting the Agra Fort, we headed back to Delhi.

After a small dinner, we said our goodbyes to Nipun’s brother and sister-in-law, and I also asked to send our regards and thanks to his parents. We also thanked the staff for taking such good care of us and, of course, the driver for taking us around everywhere for three days despite the language barrier. I think we wouldn’t have been able to do all we did if it weren’t for that driver!

agra-fort-delhi-india

agra-fort-delhi-india

agra-fort-india

At ten in the evening we were at the train station, waiting for the night train to take us to Rajasthan. Since every state is like a different country, I was very curious to discover yet another part of India! I was ready for the state of princes and real-life scenes from Arabian Nights!

3CMGM-Adventures-India

Why Our Weddings Are Nothing Compared to Indian Ones

May 9, 2016

After a 17-hour journey from West-Orissa to Mid-Bihar, I reached the city of Patna. This is the place my classmate Vidisha calls home. It is also the location of her brother’s wedding. The wedding of Aman, and his fiancé, Sushmita. If you were wondering if I was incredibly excited for this event, I can say: hell f***ing yeah! Who wouldn’t be? Whether I was prepared for it? That would have been absolutely impossible.

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DAY 1

I didn’t sleep much on the train from Bargarh to Patna. Even though I wasn’t that well rested, the adrenaline kept me going. We were too early to go straight to the hotel, so we were all invited to Vidisha’s home for breakfast first. And of course we also participated in applying the mehendi!

Mehendi, also known as henna, is when they apply the brown stuff to your hands and arms. Because I arrived first, I was the first one to try it out. The family had hired two henna artists. After about twenty minutes the front and back of my hands and lower arms were adorned with the strong-smelling (although not necessarily bad-smelling) brown stuff they use. This had to soak into my skin for about half an hour. Then I had to add lemon juice with a small sponge. The purpose is to create a darker color that stays longer, which are the two important aspects of good henna application. After another half hour I could start scraping of the crusts from my arms and hands. Not so easy and quite an uncomfortable experience!

mehendi-henna-india-wedding

wedding-india-henna

The drawings were supposed to stay for about 1 to 2 weeks, depending on how thoroughly I was going to wash my hands (which, by the way, I was not allowed to do for the next hour or two).

After I was done with this and had helped my classmates doing the same, we left in groups of two for the dance studio where a choreographer was supposed to teach us an “easy” routine. I was soooo not up for this. I only went to do Vidisha a favor. I hate dancing. I’m no good at it. And of course, the rehearsal was terrible. For me. We had a dancer in the group, so my strategy was to just do whatever she does.

wedding-india-blonde-international

After the dance class, there was a lunch buffet in Vidisha’s garden. After that we could finally go to the hotel. Not to get the rest I needed so badly, but to get ready for the first big night of the wedding week!!!

Weddings in India usually last 3 to 5 days, because the whole family from both the groom and bride’s sides come from all over India. Weddings in India are such big celebrations because this is one of the only times many family members get to see each other. Besides that, it’s about two whole families joining. Therefore, there are lots of “networking” opportunities for unmarried bachelors and bachelorettes (if you know what I’m saying).

wedding-india-sarees-international

indian-wedding-blonde

That night would be all about performances to entertain the bride and groom. Our performance would be one of many, so I hoped it would soon be forgotten! Frankly, I did get me some Dutch courage first… That was the best idea, too! Our performance was so messed up. So messed up… But the whole crowd thought it was so amazing to see foreigners perform at this wedding that they loved it anyway. Haha!

The rest of the night I was enjoying myself examining the traditional Indian outfits, stuffing myself with delicious snacks and finally snatching some drinkable wine.

indian-wedding-sarees-international

 

DAY 2

The next morning I was the only one at breakfast. The buffet thing wasn’t great, but it was sufficient. I enjoyed myself sitting in the sofa, taking food from the buffet, seeing my batchmates come and go, one hangover worse than the other… Lucky me for rarely having hangovers! By the way, a hangover could never keep me from having breakfast.

Sitting there, I also got to know some of the other hotel guests. They shared their life stories for my India story. This way, the mornings passed relatively quickly. By noon, we went over the Vidisha’s house again for another lunch buffet.

In the afternoon, we started getting ready for our favorite day of the whole week: the official wedding ceremony. This meant we finally got to take out the sarees that we bought the month before. With the help of some professional dressers we succeeded in draping the sarees around us in an elegant way. It’s quite impossible to do by yourself, you see. There’s so much fabric! When you have it on, you just need to figure out how to walk in it. So we practised until the car came to pick us up: forward, up the stairs, down the stairs…

indian-wedding-patna

indian-wedding-bride-patna

The best part, of course, was to admire each other’s looks. Coincidentally, every girl choose a different color and every one looked beautiful in their own choice. I, too, felt like a princess. A queen even! What a great feeling it was… even if it only lasted for one night. My saree was a dark orange, almost red, with a golden border. My ‘cropped top’ was made completely out of white and golden pearls. Very bling bling. But it worked, especially in this setting. The top was kinda itchy though. But that wasn’t stopping me from wearing it till the end of the night! No way was I taking that saree off.

First of all, we were taken to the starting point of the bharat. This is a parade that goes through the city. The family and friends, along with some ‘musicians’ lead the parade. The groom follows, in this case, in a horse carriage. He basically watches his family celebrating, singing, and dancing like crazy people. This is like the epitome of fun for Indians. They had so much fun!

Bharati symbolize the walk from the groom’s house to the bride’s home. He will pick her up and bring her to his home, her new home. Today, this is the way they do it, because families are spreading out all over India and obviously it is impossible to walk 1000kms both ways! So starting on a random point in the city, we walked to the hotel where the festivities and ceremony took place.

wedding-india-groom-bride

indian-wedding-patna-international

I didn’t see much of the ceremony itself though. Quite quickly, Vidisha guided our group to a separate room where the reception with alcohol was taking place. When I asked if they had wine also, they said no but that they’d get it for me. WTF?! I said that wasn’t necessary at all, but they insisted on it. That’s Indian hospitality for yah.

The food was amazing. I also had a lot of interesting talks with Vidisha’s friends. There were a lot of photo sessions in our sarees where we were all smiling like crazy. After the dinner I snuck into the “official ceremonial part” but, honestly, it was soooo long and boring. Everything is being said in a language that no one understands (maybe Sanskrit?). Only the priests who perform the ritual to seal the marriage may know. And no one could explain to me what the different steps were about. So, after a half hour or so I left and went home.

wedding-patna-india-3cmgm

 

DAY 3 & 4

Day three was our day off. Most of my friends decided to already go home, because they had been traveling the first week of our off period and they really had to start on their homework (which I had already finished before I left for Bargarh). The four of us that were left in Patna were invited to Vidisha’s home for dinner. We had spent the day in the hotel because Patna is not really a safe city and there is not much to do either. We only visited a street food area in the afternoon.

patna-india-wedding-3CMGM

The fourth day we didn’t do much either. We packed our stuff and prepared ourselves for our long 8-hour train journey to Kolkata that evening. In Kolkata we would be applying for our US visa.

Right before we headed over to the train station, we stopped by at the last wedding event: the reception. It was a humongous dinner buffet to celebrate the wedded couple one last time. This wedding was so big that even the mayor of Patna attended. We got to quickly take a pic with the new couple and devoured as much food as we could before we had to go. We half ran to the car and the driver took us to the train station as fast as he could. We really cut it close to be able to stay as long as possible at the reception, but we barely made the night train!

indian-wedding-reception-3CMGM

By then we were all super tired of all the parties, all the impressions… My dreams were very colorful during this week… Like you could expect anything else, right? My tummy was a little bit bigger from all the food.

I had never attended a wedding in Belgium before – or anywhere for that matter – but I can already say no wedding will be as breathtaking as an Indian one. I also learned that the arranged marriages system works quite well. India has a divorce rate of only 1%!

Sleeping on a train was no problem at all that night. Besides, I had something new to look forward to: we would be discovering a new city, and not just any city, but the former capital city of India!

3CMGM-Adventures-India

10 Things To Do in Kolkata

May 16, 2016

At the end of March, after four days of partying at the Indian wedding in Patna, we took the night train to Kolkata. We arrived early in the morning. I heard many things about the previous capital city of India, mostly positive things, too, so I was really looking forward to going there and discover it for myself.

Here I give you a list of the ten things I would recommend to anyone going to Kolkata for the first time.

Source: Travel Marvel

Source: Travel Marvel

10 Must Dos in Kolkata

1. Visit South Park Cemetery

Visiting a cemetery doesn’t have to be morbid. South Park Cemetery is the biggest christian cemetery outside of Europe and looks more like a park almost than an actual cemetery (is what they say). This may be because many young couples and groups of “brave” youngsters hang around on the tombs. As you may have guessed by its name, the location of this must-do is at the popular Park Street. It is definitely word a visit. Remember to register with the concierge when you enter.

2. Discover the Flower Market

The flower market of Kolkata can be found at the foot of the Howrah bridge and is a colorful, busy, “happening” place. The market is open basically 24/7, but the best time to visit is early in the morning when they deliver the fresh flowers. I haven’t been able to visit this must-do yet myself because it is a little out of the way, but from what I have heard, read, and seen it is definitely something I recommend!

kolkata-must-do

Bron: Corbin Stree House

3. Stroll around the Park Street Area

Park Street is just as lively as the center of London. The fact that Kolkata is full of British cabs and that the roads are lined up with trees instills the image even more that Kolkata once used to be British. You’ll find many Western restaurants, modern Indian food places, bars and clubs etc. Basically, if you don’t know what to do, you come here!

4. Go for a Walk by the Howrah River

I, myself, went for a walk on the boulevard at sundown. As soon as night falls though, all the mosquitos come out (so come prepared!). Nevertheless, the view of the lights on the other side of the river and the view on the beautifully lit bridge makes for a very romantic place to stroll with, say, your boyfriend or girlfriend.

kolkata-to-do-must

5. Chill in the Gardens of Victoria Memorial

The Victoria Memorial itself is quite beautiful and you could visit the museum inside (don’t go if you think it will be cool in there because it is even hotter inside than outside). The Memorial was finished in 1921, after 15 years of work, and was built in honor of Queen Victoria of Great Brittain, obviously. The gardens around the building are worth a walk as well. Again, I tend to go here later in the day to avoid the hottest time of the day. In addition, the gardens and Memorial are beautifully lit in the dark and the lights reflect beautifully in the pond at the back.

6. Take a look in Quest Mall

The Quest Mall is worth a visit just for its architecture, inside and out. Most shops are slightly out of my price range, but you’ll also find a Vero Moda and Inox cinema.

kolkata-quest-mall

Source: questads

7. Have Food at One Step Up and Eat Good Food

A restaurant that was recommended to me by a local is One Step Up in Park Street. We went twice because we missed Western food sooo much and the food was just that good. Another nice looking place I discovered, but didn’t get a chance to eat at myself, is Eat Good Food. It is close to Quest Mall and its menu contains original dishes at a decent price.

8. Indulge the Booklover in Yourself

Almost everywhere you go you’ll see books for sale – both on the streets and in stores. On the street you can buy both new and second-hand books at cheap rates. In some stores, like the Oxford Bookstore, you can immediately crawl up in a sofa and start reading the book you just bought with a cup of coffee. Just like in the British Waterstones really!

9. Pick the “Boat Ride by Night”

It was actually the second time I went to Kolkata that I did the boat ride on the Howrah river (last September). I was disappointed because it is one of those things my friends really recommended to me. You can take the boat from Princep Gath. Although, having been on the ride after all, it wasn’t worth the money after all. They just take you 100m to the left and 100m to the right. But I guess, if you take some beers with you, it could still be fun.

10. Have a Good Time at Nicco Park

Yes, in India, too, they have amusement parks! Of course, they don’t all look like a Six Flags (although apparently, these kinds are there too), but you should more imagine Nicco Park specifically as a huge fair. The reason we went to Nicco Park, was basically to keep busy one more day before we could go back to Bhubaneswar. We wanted to leave the overheated city and have some fun.

Budget tip: we chose the dayticket (250 rupees) instead of the all-in pack (500 rupees). The difference is that with the day pass you still have to pay extra for some of the more ‘spectactular’ rides, which is not the case for the all-in pass. We decided that for us the extra rides were not worth the extra pay. There were only three rides we paid a little more for, but this made the dayticket more economical in the end.

nicco-park-kolkata

I could live in Kolkata for a while, but not forever. Would I recommend you to add Kolkata on your list of must-visits in India? Definitely! More so than Delhi, Kolkata is a good introduction to India: it is a big city, but not as crowded as Mumbai or Delhi. Besides, it also won’t take you as long to get form point A to point B. Only if there is a strike, you can’t count on anyone. (Yes, talking from experience here!)

This list of must-dos in Kolkata is obviously relatively short. I didn’t have time to do all the things I wanted to do, but that is why I went back! I am looking forward to hearing about your adventures in Kolkata.

3CMGM-Adventures-India

February 2016: Life Inside and Outside of XIMB

May 2, 2016

I have already told you about the most memorable experiences from this month: I survived a survival camp in the middle of nowhere and flew over to South-Indian Kerala to catch my breath.

Obviously this was not all that happened this month. Here’s a brief summary of what the whole month of February was like.

Classes

The courses I had this month were very varied. First of all there was the Non-Competitive Strategy course, which looked incredibly interesting on paper – despite the contradicting title – but in practise it sucked. On the other hand, I really enjoyed writing the mandatory paper for this class. I wrote about the strategy of BlaBlaCar.

The second course was a bit strange, because we were learning about a system that we don’t use in Europe. I think I made the best of it though. At least I learned how to determine and calculate KPIs.

Lastly, we had our first Global Human Resource Management (GHRM) classes. This was so interesting and helpful! I am looking forward to the next classes from Sasmit!

survival-camp-february-2016-3CMGM

Other school activities

At the end of February, we also started preparing the application procedure for our American Student Visa. We started together in class so that we would be able to go to the US embassy on our own to collect it. It all seemed incredibly complicated, if you ask me. It’s so Indian to make things seem more complicated then they are you know. (Although I tend to do the same in my daily life, but whatever.) Nevertheless, as soon as we could start taking things into our own hands, things went a lot smoother.

I would be going to the consulate in Kolkata to finish the visa process because it is closest to Bhubaneswar and because the city has been recommended to me so often as the nearest place-to-go. It was also the place where I could get the quickest timeslot.

Furthermore, I participated in a survival camp organised by Tata Steel this month. We had to take a quite notorious trainride from Bhubaneswar to Jamshedphur. Apparently, this train track is a relatively dangerous one (but we only heard that afterwards). The camp itself was very educational! I never thought I would succeed or be able to do all the things I did. And I was especially surprised that I actually thoroughly enjoyed most of my time there!

kerala-india-3CMGM-getaway

One-week Holiday

As you may already have read earlier this month, I went on a short getaway trip to the South of India. Discovering Kerala was a breathtaking experience (in all meanings of the word). It was a totally unique experience for me in so many ways.

On Valentine’s Day I first went to Konark, where I visited the famous Sun Temple. The temple of Konark was built in the 13th century and is shaped to look like a gigantic horse carriage. When I was there, some construction works were going on, but that doesn’t stop the thousands of tourists to come and visit every single day. The day I went also happened to be free entrance. Then I continued to Puri, to relax on the beach and chill in the dunes.

Last but not least, we started preparing for the wedding we would be attending in March. My classmate Vidisha invited us. It’s her brother that is getting hitched. The main part of the preparation involved going to the Market Building in Bhubaneswar, which you can compare to the Indian version of a shopping village, to go buy our outfits. Choosing a saree took a lot more effort than I expected. I was hoping to finish everything in an hour or so but it took us almost half a day! Just like with other clothes, you have to find exactly the right shade that makes your skin look good, you know. And there are so many possibilities with the decorations on the fabric, it is hard to find one that has exactly the right amount that you like. Than you have to go find the underskirt and cropped top. The jewelry I would go and find later. This shopping spree was already exhausting enough!

saree-shopping-india-bhunaswer-india-ximb
February was the exact opposite of boring. There was a good balance between classes, travel, and other activities. I am sooo looking forward to the wedding next month. I promise to tell you all about it of course!

3CMGM-Adventures-India

Kerala, the Tropical Paradise of South India

April 26, 2016

During my study period in Bhubaneswar I decided to make one bigger trip. I decided to go to Kerala. It was supposed be completely different from Orissa or any other state in the north, so it should be fun! In February, the climate is at its best there. Not too hot, but you can already feel that the temperature will raise to a tropical level soon. During my roundtrip in April, after classes have ended, it wouldn’t be a good time to go south. So, I had to go now!

kerala-sunset-backwaters

Kerala is a popular state in India, both for Indian and foreign tourists. It is well-known for having the highest literacy rate in India (99% of the population can read), but at the same time it has the highest ratio of alcoholics as well. Kerala has long been an alcohol-free state, but a few years ago alcohol consumption was allowed again and that’s where things went wrong.

In the backwaters of Kerala, which are canals that come from the sea and lakes and meander their way land-inwards, alcohol consumption is still prohibited.

You should also go to Kerala for its paradise-like beaches, tropical views from the houseboats, and golden jewelry. You should go and try out the typical Ayurvedic massage, follow a cooking class, attend a martial arts show, and sleep in a tree house while sipping tea that comes straight from the tea plantations below you.

I will now give you an overview of what my one-week trip looked like.

kerala-munnar-tea

DAY 1: Bhubaneswar-Trivandrum

Early morning I left for the airport to fly from Bhubaneswar through Mumbai to Trivandrum (which is now known as Thiruvananthapuram, but who the hell can pronounce that?!). The flight connections went smoothly and in the afternoon we arrived in the capital city of the state Kerala.

We installed ourselves into the second best hotel of the city, Hycinth by Sparsa, for which we had to pay only €17/pp. Can’t be frugal for that price right?

We decided to catch the sunset at Kovalam Beach, which is one of the many popular beaches. This one was quite close to where we were staying. After a long ride in a tuktuk we zigzagged in a narrow street around tourists and many souvenir stalls to reach the white sand beach. At first I was a bit shocked to see so many women in bikini’s, shorts, and short dresses… but Kovalam is very touristy, so apparently that makes it more or less acceptable for us to show our knees and shoulders.

While walking down the beach by the water, we ran into a travel agent where we booked the houseboat for the next day. Two nights, three days on a private houseboat for two people would cost us Rs. 18,000, or €243 all-in. Quite expensive, but totally worth it!

That evening, we ate on a restaurant’s terrace with seaview. After dinner we walked back over the sand to get a tuktuk to drive us back to the hotel. It was quite hard for me not to fall asleep on the way. But I did my best, thinking that soon enough I would be laying down on the super soft kingsize bed that was waiting for me. (Such a luxury after the hard mattresses at XIMB!)

Kerala-trivandrum-beach

kerala-kovalam-beach-india

DAY 2: Trivandrum-Kollam

The next morning, after a delicious breakfast with cereal and pancakes (!!), we left for the trainstation to catch the train to Kollam. There, our houseboat would be waiting for us. Seeing as we didn’t make a reservation for the train, we had to go in general sleeper class. Thankfully, it wasn’t too crowded on the train and we had a whole section to ourselves.

Upon arrival in Kollam, a driver picked us up. Because we were too early to go on the boat, we went on a search for beer first. Like I said earlier, alcohol is not allowed on the backwaters, so we wanted a secret stash for later on. But… no alcohol was to be found anywhere. They can be quite smart, those Indians!

kerala-kollam-backwaters

kerala-india-backwaters

kerala-houseboat-backwaters

On the boat, we got a tour of the frontside deck, the bedroom and en-suite bathroom, and the kitchen. When we sat ourselves down in the “living room” on the front deck, we each received a coconut as a welcome drink. I never had coconutmilk before and I actually quite liked it – it was a perfect welcome drink in this setting.

Eventually we went out on the water and my eyes almost fell out of their sockets. How tropical and heavenly can a place look?! The fact that the boat barely made any noise and that we chose a less touristy location made for a very chill, relaxing, peaceful atmosphere. I went for a tanning session on the very front of the front deck and already after half an hour my short was burned into my skin.

In the afternoon we moored at some random place and got ready for dinner. In the evening I watched Narcos on the laptop, while having a refreshing beer that the staff got for us from… somewhere. Alcohol consumption may be prohibited here, but rules in India are usually more like “suggestions”.

kerala-houseboat-kollam-backwaters

kerala-india-backwaters

DAY 3: Kollam Backwaters

Spending a couple of days on a houseboat really forces you to relax. There is not much to do and phone reception is… poor to say the least. The second day, we were entertained with a gondola-like canoo ride which took us into the deepest canals of the backwaters. Often we had to lay down in the canoo to fit underneath the low bridges that connect the small towns with each other.

We also stopped in some of the villages. One of them was the home of our guide. He took us to the local café where we had some really good chai and discovered how they make ship ropes.

That evening I found a ginormous cockroach in the bed and rats were running from mainland on board. Eeeek! The staff did their very best to keep them away from us (and the kitchen) though!

Let me introduce the staff to you. There was a captain who barely spoke English, and a cook who was so friendly and tried so hard to speak English to me. He also made us food as if he were cooking for his own family, upon our request. And that is how I got to know the traditional, South-Indian kitchen. The cook had previously been cooking at weddings and other events. In short, the food had been superb!

kerala-kollam-houseboat

kerala-backwaters-india

kerala-backwaters-india

DAY 4: Kollam-Munnar

Honestly, this had been one of the toughest days of the week. It took us almost twelve hours to get from the backwaters to hill station Munnar. Two trainrides and one looooong busride. And the busride was… an adventure. Without AC, without windows (only rails) and so so full of local people, we drove on the narrow, winding roads in the hills at quite a high speed. I was sitting by the window and had to look away a few times when we came extremely close to the cliff’s edge. This happened especially when we had to take a bend at the same time as a bus that came from the opposite direction.

Once we had arrived in the center of Munnar, we made a secret stach of booze again and continued our way during a half-hour tuktuk ride over roads with full of potholes.

We had dinner at the hotel. We chose this particular hotel because of its price (€19/pp) and because it was supposed to offer a similar view and experience as a treehouse but in the comfort of a hotel. All real (and affordable) treehouses were already taken, which is a downside of the last-minute booking strategy. The truth is, though, that from our terrace we couldn’t actually see the forest through the trees… Too bad. The room itself was really good and the balcony was big and cosy, so really only the view disappointed a bit. The hotel also had its own tea plantation where we went for a walk both during the night and during the day.

kerala-munnar-tea-plantation

kerala-munnar-hills

DAY 5: Munnar

Because we didn’t expect the journey to Munnar to take this long, we decided to stay an extra day and give ourselves some well-deserved rest. As we booked our hotel through MakeMyTrip – and because we booked only for one night – we had to shift to another hotel the next day. Thankfully, there was another hotel nearby where we could stay for only €16/pp. Bamboo Dale Resort is a hotel where everything is made of bamboo. It was awesome. We had a huuuge terrace around our room and a swing from where we could enjoy the amazing view.

We went for a walk around the terrain, examined the “natural pool” near the waterfall, walked along the river and climbed up the rocks to get back to the main building – which was a piece of cake now thanks to our training at the survival camp from the week before. We ordered some supergood yet supercheap roomservice.

At two o’clock in the afternoon we had a Skypecall with our leadership and personal development coach in Belgium for an update. After that, we just rested and enjoyed the view.

In case you are wondering why I didn’t went out to go and visit stuff, then the answer is quite simple: we had already seen a tea plantation in our previous hotel, I don’t like to visit museums, the dams were too far away and we had been traveling enough the previous day, and visiting a spice plantation didn’t seem worth it to us either. Besides, we wanted to take full advantage of this really cool hotel!

kerala-munnar-india

kerala-india-munnar

DAY 6: Munnar-Trivandrum

Our second last day was one long journey again. After two long busrides (during which we lost a side mirror and bumped into an opposite bus and caused a traffic jam), we had to spend another four hours in the general class of a local train with no seating during the first half of the journey. A whole day without AC and being on the road that long… I was exhausted by the end of the day. A driver would have been a lot more comfortable, but when you’re on a budget, you can’t just spend €50 when you can just as easily spend €12 on an alternative. And besides, in hindsight, this way it also makes for a far better story. But in the moment itself, I was really sick and tired of it. I just reminded myself to be happy that I wasn’t traveling alone for once!

Since we couldn’t stay at the Hycinth again, we went to Hotel Keys and that was also quite up to the previous hotel’s level! In the lobby we played some pool while we waited for our dinner to be prepared. Once back in the room, I attempted to watch another episode of Narcos, but fairly quickly I was off to Dreamland.

kerala-mountains-munnar-bus

DAY 7: Trivandrum-Bhubaneswar

The return journey via Mumbai to Bhubaneswar went smoothly. We flew with Indigo again, a national airline in India that I can recommend. The catch is that you can only take 7kg of hand luggage and check in only 15kg.

kerala-india-south

Lastly, I want to take an extra minute to explain MakeMyTrip to you. This website, which also has an app, offers the possibility to book everything through one platform: trains, busses, flights, hotels… If you book your flight with them, you automatically get 70% discount on your next hotel booking.

I, myself, always booked through the app to get that discount. That is why I got to stay in the best hotels for the cheapest price. However, the prices for the flights are not always cheapest through this platform. But the discounts you get on the hotels more than compensate for that in the end.

Kerala has been a unique, beautiful, and memorable trip. In total, I spent €520 on my own, all included. That is quite a good price if you realize that 80% of the budget was spent on the houseboat and flights. Otherwise, it is quite easy to live low-budget in Kerala.

An overview:

Hotels & houseboat: €215,78
Food & drinks: €61,16
Transportation (bus, train, tuktuk): €18,05
Flights: €223,92
Extras: €2,7

Total: €521,61

Should you add Kerala into your India travel program? If you are going in the winter season, absolutely! The period of November-March is ideal. Otherwise, I would first consider if you can handle the heat during the summer months. Maybe read what reviewers online have to say about it. In any case, I wish you a wonderful trip!