After spending 3 weeks exploring India, I thought it might be helpful to review the sites and services I encountered on my journey.
China Eastern– you can’t beat the cheap fare I found. Roundtrip from Vancouver to Delhi– $750. I used a site called Travel2Be, which I found through Kayak.com. I’d never heard of it, but everything went smoothly. China Eastern has a reputation of being a lower grade airline, but this is the second time I’ve flown them and I’ve had no issues. For the price, it’s worth it. The flight from Vancouver to Shanghai was comfortable, but the flight from Shanghai to Delhi, not as much. The plane was much older, with no TV’s in the seats. A little boring for a 7 hr flight
Air India– flew one way from Delhi to Mumbai. A bit of an older plane. Comfortable
Jet Airways-flew one way from Mumbai to Goa. When I arrived to the airport, I wasn’t aware that I had to pay for my checked bags. It wasn’t clear when I booked the flight. Smaller plane, but it was a very short flight. When I arrived into Goa, my bag wasn’t on the carousel. The zipper had broken, so airport personnel wheeled it out on a trolley. Nothing was missing! So I’m not sure if it was Goa airport or Jet Airways to thank for that, but what a great outcome to a shitty situation!
AirAsia– flew one way from Goa to Delhi. Nice plane, good service
Overall, very easy travel. Since I was alone, I did not feel safe taking trains. Airlines offer one way flights for under $100- the flight from Mumbai to Goa was only $40!!! So this was a faster and safer option.
This was the Indian Getaway tour, from the Basix category.
The reason I love doing tours…sooo easy and hassle free! I often travel solo, and this way I can make new friends. This is one of the safest ways for women to travel, especially if you are alone. This tour included hotel, transport, some entrance fees/activities and a tour leader who is with you and accessible 24/7. Intrepid chooses local guides, so you’re always getting an authentic experience. This was a basix tour, or budget. Despite that, the hotels were way better than I’d expected. You have the option to pay more for your own room, but I don’t mind having a roommate. There were a couple of overnight train rides (not the most comfortable but it’s all part of the experience). There were a couple of bus rides, one with air con and one without. No big deal. A highlight of traveling with Intrepid is that they often include home stays, which is usually off the beaten track and an experience that would be hard to capture if you were not on a tour. This tour takes you to Tordi, a village in Rajasthan. It was great to get away from the noise and the intensity of the cities. The pricing of this tour is hard to beat…starting at $769 CAD for 11 days.
Hotel Perfect – This is the start and end point hotel on the tour. It doesn’t look like much on the outside, but the room was really nice. Staff was very helpful and friendly. It also has a cool rooftop patio.
Crossroads Restaurant – you’ll most likely go here on the first night of the tour. It’s very modern with an Indian twist, lots to choose from on the menu. I thought it was a little pricey, but that’s understandable being that it’s a touristy place. A short walk from Hotel Perfect.
Boheme Cafe Bar – cool atmosphere, good menu choices. At the end of the same block as Hotel Perfect.
India Gate – looks like the Arc de Triomphe. Nothing too exciting, skip it if time doesn’t permit
Humayan’s Tomb – MUST SEE. This was built before the Taj Mahal, and was its inspiration. Just beautiful and a UNESCO site.
Laxminarayan Temple – not bad, was part of a day tour we arranged but I wouldn’t go out of my way to see it
Jama Masjid – MUST SEE. One of the largest mosques in India
Gurudwara Sis Ganj Sahib – an old historical Sikh place of worship. They serve free lunch to all, every day. I felt kind of weird doing this, because I can afford to buy my own lunch. But it was a really cool experience that I would recommend if you are curious about sitting on the floor in a large hall with hundreds of people, and eating a simple traditional Indian meal.
Red Fort – MUST SEE. One of the most popular attractions in Delhi, UNESCO site.
Qutb Minar Complex – MUST SEE. Probably my favorite site in Delhi. Historical ruins and the world’s tallest brick minaret. UNESCO site.
Akshardham Temple– For some reason, I did not know about this temple. But wow, it looks beautiful. This is one site I regret not seeing. If I’m ever back in Delhi, this is where I’m going!
Since traffic in Delhi is horrendous, I’d recommend talking the metro as much as possible! This city is definitely one to spend a few days in, but it is hectic!!
Hotel Haifa – good location close to Assi Ghat. Walking distance to a few notable temples. Nice rooms. Decent restaurant. The air con wasn’t enough, because it was so hot and humid.
Blue Lassi – the best place to try a lassi in Varanasi…maybe even in India! A small place in the winding streets. So many different flavors it was hard to choose one. This place is a must!
The Beatles Bistro – a cute restaurant behind Hotel Haifa. Had dinner on the rooftop patio. The atmosphere was great, food was top notch
Sights – Varanasi
Ganges boat cruises – MUST DO. I recommended doing one in the morning, one at night. At night, we lit flower lanterns and released them, and pulled up to Dashashwamedh Ghat for the nightly prayer ceremony. The sunrise cruise brings so many beautiful colors to the Ghats of Varanasi, and you can see daily life as it begins for the locals.
Dashashwamedh Ghat –MUST SEE . Whether seeing it at night from a boat, or land during the day…the biggest and most impressive ghat.
Durga Temple – it was insanity inside…worth a look but not if you’re claustrophobic!
Tulsi Manas Temple – one of the most famous in Varanasi, worth a look
Sarnath – a short half day trip from Varanasi. Where Buddha did his first teachings after enlightenment. If you’re into that kind of thing, this is a must see.
Easiest way to get around is walking, rickshaws and tuk tuks. Varanasi is one of the dirtiest places I experienced in India, so be prepared. If you’re ok with this, you’re in for a real treat…it is unlike anywhere you’ve ever been!
Pizza Hut – if you’re in the mood for a pizza. But no pepperoni! The service was terrible…The food took a long time to come out, and then the staff tried to rip each of us off by charging us more, or not giving back the correct change. And then playing dumb about it. But during the meal, loud music came on and a few of the staff did a dance routine. That was pretty funny.
Sights – Agra
Taj Mahal- MUST SEE. Need I say more? The best site in all of India. Hurry, before it closes to the public and you can only gaze from behind a fence (it’s a possibility)
Agra Fort – MUST SEE. The other main site in Agra. Beautiful and full of history
If you’re in India, you are 100% visiting Agra. It can be done in 1 day.
Tordi Garh – a former fort and palace, converted into a guest house. Fantastic! Family run; they also provide activities like jeep safari and henna tattoos. Cute rooms. Power kept going off and on in the night, lots of bugs due to being in the countryside.
This is a town you’ll only hit if you do this tour. If not, I’d recommend visiting a different small village along your travels. It will give you a whole new view of Indian life.
Sights – Jaipur
Hawa Mahal – MUST SEE. The Wind Palace, has close to 1000 windows. So beautiful
Amber Fort – MUST SEE. Just outside the city, a magnificent complex high on a hill. Most popular site in Jaipur and all of India
City Palace – a palace complex that’s worth a look. There are only certain areas open to public as it’s still a residence, and there is also an expensive tour that takes you through some of the private areas. I chose not to do that tour and just wandered around the other areas.
Jantar Mantar – a collection of ancient astronomical instruments. UNESCO site. I found it interesting, but I didn’t understand how it all worked. Skip it if this type of thing doesn’t float your boat.
Jaipur is easy to get around using tuk tuks. The hotel we stayed at was outside of the city centre, but it was still cheap and efficient to use a tuk tuk. Another great city that should be top on your list to visit.
Treebo Garden Hotel – located in the Colaba district, a touristy area. Great location, great service. My room was quite large and comfortable, and clean. Reasonably priced.
Hotel Godwin – the sister hotel next door to Treebo Garden. Went here for dinner on the open air rooftop patio. The food was delicious.
Mc Donald’s – haha yes, I did try it out. However, it was pretty gross. First off, no beef burgers. I ordered a spicy chicken burger; it was greasy dark meat. Also tried the nacho fries, which were equally gross. I needed a quick on the go meal, but obviously there are way better dining options in Mumbai.
Colaba Social – a trendy place for dinner. It was so busy; I had to share a table with a couple from the USA. They had an interesting back story, but that’s for another time. I had the Elvis Presley French toast…topped with peanut butter, bananas and hot toffee. Oh lord.
Sights – Mumbai
Gateway of India – MUST SEE. A large monument on the waterfront, commemorating a royal visit from back in the day. One of the top sites in the city, full of tourists. This is where you’ll catch the ferry to Elephanta Island
Elephanta Caves – MUST SEE. An hour ferry ride takes you to Elephanta Island, with the ancient caves that contain carvings and statues representing Shiva. Amazing. And tons of monkeys roaming the island for your comic relief. You’ll only need a few hours here, so it’s easy to do as a half day trip.
Taj Mahal Palace – famous swanky hotel. If you’re at the Gateway of India, you’ll see this place. Mostly meant to be admired from the outside, since security is tight after the terrorist attack in 2008. I went inside and had a very expensive beer at the Harbour Bar, which offered views of the water and the Gateway of India.
Haji Ali – a mosque that is out in the water. There is a road to get you there, but it is dependent on the tides. The driver I hired told me that women are not allowed inside (this has since changed). So I took pics from the mainland.
Hanging Gardens – on top of Malabar Hill. Full of locals as well as tourists. A pretty park, but not a must see. I only went here because I hired a driver and this was part of our tour.
Dhobi Ghat – world’s largest open air laundromat. If you go in the morning, you’ll see the washing. I was there in the afternoon when the action was over, but saw everything hanging out to dry. You can overlook it from a nearby bridge, but be aware of the children that will swarm you to buy stuff from them or give them money. I kept a close eye on my belongings.
Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus – MUST SEE. Unesco World Heritage site. Also known as Victoria Terminus, it is a historic railway station and one of the busiest in India. The architecture is stunning.
Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya – AKA the Prince of Wales Museum. A decent way to kill a couple of hours. Great representation of Indian history.
Dharavi Slum – tour operated by Reality Tours and Travel http://realitytoursandtravel.com/
The only way to see what life is like in the largest slum in India. My perceptions were definitely challenged. Reality Tours and Travel give back to the community, hire local guides, and in my opinion…do not exploit the citizens of the slum. My guide was Guarav, a total sweetheart and offered so much knowledge about the slum. This may not be the type of tour for everyone but I found it very interesting.
Mumbai is a massive city…seems easy enough to get around by train. Since I was solo at this point, I felt safer hiring a driver. Not super expensive to do so. Stay in the Colaba area if you want to be within walking distance of a few major sites. A great city to visit!
La Maison Fontainhas – in Panaji. walking distance to pretty much anything you want to see in town. The décor is pretty, rooms are quaint and clean.
Dunes Holiday Village – in Mandrem Beach. Found this little gem online, you can only book through their website. It was really cheap; we had a 4 person hut for 2 of us. A short walk out to the beach, and a great restaurant where we had all our meals and drinks. Can walk on along the beach for half hour and visit Arambol Beach… it’s not as peaceful as Mandrem though. Hotel offers Aryuvedic kerala massage…not your average massage but worth a try.
Marina Bay Beach Resort – Candolim Beach. A nice, clean hotel run by a South African family. Our room had a massive balcony, which was a bit of wasted space. There’s also a pool. Note that there are no beachfront hotels at Candolim. The beach is about a 10 min walk from the hotel.
Café Bodega – a cute café on Altinho hill with decent views of Panaji. Was recommended by Lonely Planet.
Linda’s Viva Panjim – just wow. One of the best meals I had in India. Serves traditional Goan cuisine. Has patio seating as well, which we braved despite the pouring rain. It is located down a small street/alley close to La Maison Fontainhas
Prince of Tides beach shack – actually at Calangute Beach, a short walk from Candolim. Went there two days in a row…just a nice place to relax with cheap drinks and eats, and local dogs to keep you company.
Café Jazz – decent place for food and drinks in Candolim. Live music that night was a guy with a karaoke machine and guitar, but he was good.
Sights – Goa
Fort Aguada – one of the main attractions in Candolim. An old fort built by the Portuguese. Not too exciting, but a way to kill a couple of hours. Easiest way to get there is by cab. Go early, as it gets really hot up there.
Churches of Old Goa – MUST SEE. UNESCO World Heritage Site. A short cab or tuktuk ride from Panaji. Worth the trip. A few are the churches are still standing,but don’t miss the ruins of St Augustine.
It’s pretty easy to beach hop in Goa. If you plan it right, not much more than an hour cab ride in between them. And easy to get around once you’re there. Cabs, tuktuks, your legs.