It is impossible for me to convey all of my thoughts on our time in India in this post. It is the first place where I feel that pictures don’t capture the true essence of this country or our experience here. In our 17 days through India we were only able to get to know such a small part of this country – even if we had more time I am not sure if I could ever fully grasp the vastness of this place.
There are 1.3 billion people that live in India – in a space 1/3 of the size of the US. The terrains vary from mountainous in the Himalayas to deserts and plains. There is no common language spoken throughout the country, but instead there are over 22 official languages. In addition to these official languages, there are 1,652 recognized languages spoken in India (only 150 of these languages have a sizable speaking population). India is a spiritual place with many religions being practiced across the country such as Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, and Jainism. The food, culture, and languages vary as well. India is comprised of 29 states and it is overwhelming to try to understand all the differences.
Our time in India can be looked at as two separate parts: our time in Delhi and our time in Kerala. We spent 6 days in Delhi before heading south to Kerala to meet up with Scott’s sister, Jennifer, and her fiancé, Karoon. We had been looking forward to seeing them in India our entire trip and it was amazing to be able to travel with them and Karoon’s family (which is now our family too – marriage has a pretty cool way of joining families). Our experience in India would have been completely different if we had not met up with the Mackencherys and we are so grateful they welcomed us into the family as one of their own.
India tested our patience. It could be exhilarating and terrifying all at once. India can be raw, intense, overwhelming and chaotic – it is also beautiful, full of kindness, eye-opening, and oh so colorful. I cannot un-see some of the things I saw, but I’m not sure I would ever want to. My perspective of the world has been changed forever and India holds a special place in my heart. We both really loved our time in India. It was possibly one of the hardest places we have traveled so far, but the positives far outweighed the negatives. We really loved our time in this incredible country.
Delhi, Agra, Cochin, Ballussery, Ottapalam, Calicut, Vayittiri, Alleppey
Things We Liked
Traveling with family, food, not having to plan accommodations or logistics for a while, head wobbling, Kerala and the South, houseboats, New Years Eve, being with locals/people who knew the language (!), hospitality, and the Delhi Holiday Inn (it was like no other Holiday Inn I have ever seen).
The food was one of the best cuisines we have experienced. I never got tired of Indian food and I can’t wait to find all the good places back in Denver when we get home!
Things We Disliked
Trash, dirtiness, trash fires, pollution, serious fog, Delhi, con-artists all over Delhi, constantly being on our toes, hard beds, worrying about getting sick, moving around a lot, Christmas away from home, getting sick (a virus not Delhi belly – miraculously we avoided stomach problems in India), and less than ideal showers.
Many of the things that we disliked about India are specific to our time in Delhi – we just really had a hard time liking that place.
As mentioned above we traveled with Jennifer (my sister-in-law), Karoon (my soon to be brother-in-law), and Karoon’s family (the Mackencherys). Traveling with them around India was by far one of the most genuine and authentic experiences we have had to date. Their family opened up their homes, fed us, and shared their lives with us. We were blown away with the generosity we were shown and we are so appreciative! Special thanks to Shermi and Suresh for being so amazing to us.
2. Taj Mahal
Our main objective in traveling to Delhi was to make our way to the famed Taj Mahal. We aborted our plans to take the train and opted for a private driver to take us to Agra and back. Unfortunately the dense Delhi fog that happens this time of year made an appearance the day we drove to Agra and it was terrifying. You could not see more than 5 feet in any direction. I wrote about our experience in detail at the Taj Mahal in another post found here.
The Mackencherys rented a houseboat in Allepey and we cruised through the Kerala backwaters. It was one of the first days we spent in Kerala and it was a great introduction into such a beautiful place and a stark contrast to our chaotic city experience in Delhi. We had so much fun this day enjoying the scenery, playing games, eating/drinking well, and watching the boats cruise past. This day was very long with nearly 8 hours (9 hours? Who knows!) spent in a mini-bus with little air conditioning, but the boat was so fun I have forgotten all about that! It was a highlight of our time in India.
Delhi was our first stop in India. At this point, we have been a lot of places – many with high levels of poverty – and maybe we underestimated the culture shock we would experience. Obviously we are on a budget and our trip to India was no exception (although maybe it should have been the exception). We were dropped off at our hotel in the middle of the city centre and in the midst of chaos at 1 am. If we had not been so tired we might have put up a fight about this place…dirty/stained sheets on the bed and excessive noise waking us up every 30 minutes (it sounded like a construction site existed one floor above our room).
Walking was near impossible in the city and I felt infinitely safer in an auto-rickshaw (tuk-tuk) than on my own two feet. It felt as everyone was trying to scam us and we have never felt so on edge. It was uncomfortable, unpleasant and I will never return to Delhi again. It did not help that I had a virus and was sick our entire time in Delhi. After several days in the budget hotel we checked into the Holiday Inn as a Christmas present to ourselves. We spent two days at the hotel recovering from sickness, getting past culture shock, and celebrating Christmas away from home.
I am incredibly grateful this was not my entire experience in India. India is so much more than our experience in Delhi (and I wish we could redo Delhi because it is probably unfair to view Delhi the way we do). India is such a big and diverse country I can hardly wrap my head around it. We headed south and our experience could not have been any more different. I do not regret our time in Delhi as it was one of the most eye-opening and humbling experiences from our trip, but I am certainly glad I do not have to go back either!
There have been a lot of countries that we have complained about the amount of trash everywhere. India took this to an entirely new level. Trash littered every street/open space you saw and every few steps there was another trash fire.
In the US we are able to put our trash on the street and then it disappears to places most of us don’t like to think too hard about. Burning trash in India is a common practice. This causes a wide range of problems including the introduction of dangerous particulates and toxins in the air and causes many health issues. It was hard to see trash and trash fires everywhere you went.
Partying with the Indians
There was a small party at Karoon’s grandparents house (a housewarming of sorts – renovations on the house had recently been completed) and we were invited! Jen and I were outfitted in Salwar Khameez and the guys in lungis. Apparently Scott looked as if he had been born to wear a lungi as he was complimented on his appearance so many times — unfortunately as he was learning to tie his longer version of the lungi into the short version Scott’s Iphone fell out of his shirt pocket and shattered upon hitting the ground. The driveway was covered with huge, beautiful colored tents and they were really stunning. A traditional lunch was served on banana leaves, people sat down in shifts to eat, and of course the proper way was to eat with our hands (we were well practiced at this point). The party was over as quickly as it started and it was wonderful to be included in the fun.
We rang in the New Year in India and it was one of my favorite NYE nights I have ever had. Usually I feel like NYE is so overrated because there is so much pressure to find the best event, dress up and have the greatest night. It ends up costing a ton of money and isn’t my favorite. This year was so low key and it tuned our perfect. It started with the guys heading to the “liquor store” — the state of Kerala is dry so alcohol is not easy to come by. I wasn’t there so I can’t talk about the liquor store too much, but I am sure Scott could write an entire blog post about what that was like. They had to wait in a line to get up to a fenced off area where they keep the hooch. Upon arrival home everyone changed and showered before they felt clean again. I hear it was very memorable.
We sat on the porch for hours drinking, talking, and trying to find a countdown to use. We finally ate some dinner just after 12:30 am and then went to bed. It was the most low key night and it was perfect in my mind. Cheers to a great 2016 and we are looking forward to what next year brings as well!
A professional photographer was brought in to do family photos. We were in them and we were welcomed into open arms into the photo session — we even have a nice prom style photo to keep forever! The pictures are our favorites and hopefully one day I get the digital copies (I have a few pictures of a pictures that are not terrible). After we were in the family photo we were sure they would take one without the random, not so random white kids (at least Scott and I), but we are in them and I love them. Thanks for welcoming us into the family — we are forever thankful.
Total Number of Nights: 17
Languages: Malayalam, Hindi, and English
Currency: $1 USD = 67.8 Indian Rupee (INR)
Number of Miles Traveled: 8,200 (including our flight Melbourne and Malaysia)
Number of Miles Walked: 83.8 miles (average of 6 miles per day)
Steps Taken: 180,246 steps (average of about 12,875 per day)
Transportation Used: Car, houseboat, tuk-tuk (auto rickshaw), taxi, Uber, van
Type of Accommodations: Hotel (5), house (2 places—4 beds), plane — overnight flight (1)
Number of Beds: 10 (!) – the most beds in one country to date