Dani and Jess, the globetrotter girls have kindly shared experiences of their holiday in India. Jessica is an American freelance travel editor and writer while Dani is a German freelance photographer. Their passion for travel is really amazing. They have travelled extensively throughout Asia, Europe, Latin America and the United States.
The Interview of globetrotter girls: Dani and Jess
When did you visit India?
We visited India in April – May 2012. We spent five weeks there.
Which parts of India did you see?
We only visited Kerala, Goa and Karnataka – three states in Southern India. We wanted to start with the south, which we had heard is less chaotic and easier to travel than the north. We took our time in these places rather than rushing through and trying to see all of India during one visit.
What was your first impression of India?
Our first impression was that it was LESS hectic, crowded, loud and dirty than we had expected! We flew into the city of Kochin in Kerala and stayed in the old fort and fishing village area. This felt very different to the rest of India, sleepy and slow almost. Other first impressions were how crowded the streets are with people, that the women’s dresses were so colorful, there is more honking than we could have imagined and there are so many cows roaming the streets!
What would you advice someone travelling to India?
If you are traveling through all of India, you could consider starting in the south, where it is easier to settle in to a more laid-back side of the country and then travel north once you’ve adjusted. Definitely always make sure to always book your train tickets well in advance. We learned that the hard way, when all the seats in sleeper class we wanted to book had been fully booked months ahead and we ended up standing squeezed in between hundreds of people in the dangerously overcrowded Second Class cars.
Even though you might not expect it, you might be the only foreigners some people have ever seen. Many Indians will stare at you, others will want to be in a photo with you, take your photo or touch your hair (especially if you are blond).
What souvenirs did you buy?
Souvenirs are cheap, though the quality varies. We bought some Kashmir scarves, bags, some silver, T-shirts,a gorgeous leather bound photo album, beautiful handmade pillow cases and a duvet.
Which items would you never travel without to India?
Hand sanitizer and PeptoBismol. If in doubt about anything you’re about to eat, take a little pink Pepto pill first and it settles your stomach even before you eat. We avoided Delhi Belly the entire trip. Hand sanitizer came in handy many times when we traveled on dirty buses or trains and went long periods without time to wash our hands. If you can bring hand wipes, they also come in handy, as would a little knife and fork set if you are eating in local places where people eat with their hands and you’re not comfortable with that.
And of course bring your camera – India is just so photogenic!
Did you try Indian food and what did you think of it?
Of course we tried Indian food! Indian food was one of our favorite foods long before we went to India, and we were excited to finally have ‘real’ Indian food! We were surprised to see how different Southern Indian cuisine was, which involved much more fruit like mangoes in a curry and lots of coconut. We loved homemade chapathi bread and all the eggplant dishes were to die for! Other favorites are PalakPaneer (spinach and Paneer cheese) and Daal, a lentil dish. We also like Indian Thalis.
Did you find India hot?
Yes, VERY hot! We were visiting during the hottest months of the year though, in April and May. The humidity was unbearable at times.
What did you think of the Indian people; honest answer please?
We found Indian people to be very friendly, curious and welcoming. No matter where we went, people were waving at us, smiling, asking to be in photos and having conversations with us, no matter how simple, just to say hi. We did not feel at risk or a target for crime, even though we stood out as being obviously very foreign.
What was your worst experience of India?
Jess got rammed by a cow in Goa, which resulted in a trip to the emergency room and her being unable to walk for our remaining time in India.
What was your best experience of India?
Cruising on the backwaters in Kerala – we rented a houseboat for three days and just glided along the countless waterways of the backwaters, which was just pure bliss!
Did you see beggars and how did you deal with them?
We did see beggars and it was hard to take sometimes. The extreme chasm between rich and poor was the biggest challenge for us, emotionally, as there are many Indians, both middle and upper class, that have enough money to live and travel comfortably, while others are so incredibly poor they can not afford to meet even their most basic needs and sleep out in the open or on the side of the street. We gave them a few rupees, which is nothing for us but ends up to be a lot of money for them.
What modes of transport did you use in India? What are thoughts on them?
We used trains, buses, planes, taxis and tuktuks. Indian trains in sleeper class were not luxurious, but are easy to travel on. However, sitting in second class felt unsafe, overcrowded and in the event of an emergency would be a nightmare. We had to even get off the train once at an unplanned stop because the second class journey was just too much for us to take.
The buses seemed all to be very old, and lurched back and forth unpredictably, but they got us from A to B. Tuktuks are an easy way to cover small distances, and taxis are really cheap to cover middle distances as well. We flew a few times as well, and the airports and airlines were all up to an international standard.
Please give your best tips for travelling to India?
Plan ahead, particularly with trains.. We can’t stress this enough! If you can’t reserve a ticket, think about if you really want to get on that train – especially when it is a long train ride.
Be flexible and patient, very patient. Reasons will not always be clear, languages get muddled and travel days especially can be confusing. Smile and laugh through it as much as possible and you should be fine.
Be open-minded and willing to try new foods and drinks.
We also found that India is a great place to splurge – if you are looking at a hotel room for $10 and a hotel for $20, the difference can be astonishing, so go for the $20 for a healthy amount of ‘luxury’.
Finally, would you visit India again?
We will return to India for sure! We haven’t been to the north yet, where a lot of places are that we’d like to see: the TajMahal, Jaipur, Jodpur and the Golden Temple in Amritsar, to name only a few. I would also love to return to Hampi.