Thursday, November 1, 2012

India - Part 2

Friendly locals gather around me to chat
This blog is written in 3 parts. Last week in - Part 1 - I talked about north vs south India, the climate and the people.

I want to talk about the things I loved about India. Firstly the food. There are apparently more vegetarians in India alone than the rest of the world combined. Forty percent of the population is vegetarian. You saw the population figures in the last post. That's a lot of vegetarians. India is heaven for vegetarians. Read more  - here

Raj Ghat for Ghandi
As it happens I love curry and I got to eat curry for breakfast, lunch and supper. As you do in India. Most Indian menus have a tiny section with 'non-vegetarian' food. It's normally the other way round in Western countries. I've never had it so good. One word of warning. Do not under any circumstances eat street food. Our tour guide told us exactly where we could and couldn't eat. After three weeks, I got brave and tried a place he hadn't suggested and I got - Delhi Belly. I won't elaborate but you do not want this to happen to you.

The face says it all - Greenie about to tuck into a curry
The same applies to bottled water that the locals sell on the streets. We were told it's not always clean pure water so don't even think about buying it. Indian curries come with lots of accompaniments and trying out various vegetables and masala (spice) combinations was great fun. Not to missed either is masala chai (spiced tea), lassi (smoothie) and Indian sweets. They have so many sweets to choose from and are unlike anything in the west.

One little piece of advice. Indians eat their curries fire hot. If you get asked how you like your curry, there is a big difference between an English hot curry and an Indian hot curry. Start with a mild curry and work up to your preferred heat from there.

Heritage accommodation
India is a shoppers paradise. Pack light because you are sure to do quite a bit of shopping. You can't help it. Prices are good and you find things unlike anything anywhere else. I bought embroidered pashminas, Kerela towels (great for traveling), hand-made leather shoes, gorgeous fabrics, jewelery made with silver and semi precious stones, books and cotton bohemian style clothing. There are also table cloths, bed linen, teas, hand carved wooden items, cloth bags and much, much more. If I could have, I would have bought more.

Visiting a local villager to taste chickpea dumplings
The best prices are to be found on the streets at the markets. Locals will try and push their prices up on seeing you are a foreigner so first walk around going from stall to stall. Check prices between vendors. It won't take long before sellers run after you dropping their prices and hustling, trying to score a sale. If it all gets too much, and it can, it's easier to shop at the tourist shops. Prices are higher but you still get good deals and you will be safe from over pushy traders. One thing I can promise, if the street traders spot a buyer, they will hound and harass you, even after you have bought bags of goods, they will go on and on trying to sell to you. If you can tough it out you will get excellent bargains.

I visited - The Golden Triangle - which is where most new visitors to India go and India's most popular destination. The triangle is between DelhiAgra and Jaipur. Our tour took in lots of temples and historical places. Key attractions in the big cities such as the Taj Mahal and Raj Ghat are included but we also got to stay in places like the Venice of the east - Udaipur.

Venice of the East - Udaipur
Our accommodation at night was mostly in old palaces, castles and forts. India has an affirmative action policy whereby people from lower castes are being given opportunities to move up the ladder. Royal and land owning families are exempt from these programmes. As a result many are turning their land, palaces and castles into tourist accommodation to make a living. We took turns to sleep in the royal quarters which are historical rooms decorated in heritage style. Accommodation on the tour was interesting and varied. Our tour guide told us he was a prince. His father was apparently a Maharajah and his mum a Maharani.

Local ladies washing clothes in the lake
Breakfast was included. Sometimes our evening meal plus entertainment by local musicians and dancers was in-house. Or we went out to a restaurant for our evening meal. I like a glass of wine with my supper but in India I took to drinking one of their local beers - Kingfisher - with our meals.

Next week in the final - Part 3 - I will be discussing temples, holy animals, castes  
To read about other trips and holidays you can visit the travel archive page - here.
Temple
Three people up - no problem. Ladies ride side saddle
Till next week.