|Chandni Chowk Market, Delhi|
India is one of those places that prior to your first visit it really doesn’t matter how many people you take tips from (and we quizzed a great deal of our friends), or the volume of travel guides that you pore over (we read three in total, back-to-back), nothing, absolutely nothing will prepare you for the experiences that await you when you arrive. And experience them you will!
Today I found myself searching through the hundreds of photos of our trip (there are just shy of a thousand, it took a while!) and remembering what a crazy, enchanting, magical and fantastic time we had. I struggled to whittle them down but here are some of my favourites alongside my recommendations of what to see, eat and drink and where to stay and do it all. I fell in love with India, with the sights, the colours, the sounds, the people and with the sheer frenetic intensity of it all. They say that India is an assault on the senses and I concur with whomever made that comment, it truly is, but in the most wonderful of ways.
Delhi is world-renowned for its street food, the Indians call it chaat, and there’s nowhere better to experience it first-hand than in Chandni Chowk, one of India’s oldest and busiest markets and more crazily chaotic than a box full of hyperactive badgers on acid. It is INSANE! However its not somewhere that as a tourist you would feel comfortable travelling around solo, or even in a pair to be fair, so my top tip is to get yourself booked onto The Delhi Food Adventure. Run by the affable Prabhat and his team, who are fluent in both English and our meticulous hygiene habits, you couldn’t be in safer hands as they skilfully navigate you through the organised chaos, taking you to the best of the best of local haunts and delivering an informative potted history of the market and of Delhi. You’ll eat delicacies such as The Raj Kachori at Haldarim’s, a dish that is totally discombobulating to the palate as it delivers a cacophony of flavours to the tongue; sweet and sour, salty and bitter, hot and cold, smooth and crunchy, and downright delicious. You’ll sit cross-legged and eat Paranthas with your hands at Paranthe Wali Gali (which translates as ‘Parantha Alley’), a buttery flat-bread stuffed with a seemingly never-ending variety of flavour combinations, there are almost 50 to choose from! I’d advise starting with the spicy potato Parantha served with plenty of spoonfuls of tamarind chutney, then finish with the sweetened condensed milk Parantha, every bite is like a cuddle and its the most comforting of comfort-food. The Delhi Food Adventure lasts around half a day and you’ll visit roughly 6 different street-food outlets, eating at every single one, so arrive hungry and you’ll leave with a full belly and an experience you’ll never forget.
Butter Chicken is said to have originated in Delhi and as one of my favourite curries I was damned if I was leaving without first eating a sizeable portion. We were tipped off that the best place to fulfil my curry ambitions was at The United Coffee House on Connaught Place, a bustling modern district in the heart of Delhi with road after road of shops and restaurants vying for your attention. Popular with the locals, The United Coffee House has a certain olde-worlde charm, if a little faded, so expect to queue, but once inside service is speedy and attentive without being overly-so. So, what about the Butter Chicken? It was divine! The aromatic bite of the tikka was enrobed with a rich, thick and creamily unctuous sauce which we mopped up with the fluffiest of buttered naans and washed down with a few Kingfishers, up there with the very best Butter Chicken I’ve ever had. The United Coffee House is steep by Indian prices but if you fancy splashing the rupees then make a beeline for it, and loosen your belt on arrival.
The United Coffee House, E-15 Connaught Place, Delhi 110001, India
|The The Laxminarayan Temple, also know as The Birla Mandir, Delhi|
|The Red Fort, Delhi|
|‘Chhatta Chowk Bazaar’ or ‘Meena Bazaar’ in the entrance to The Red Fort, Delhi|
|Fruit-seller at Chandni Chowk Market. Delhi|
|A dusty parked bicycle in Chandni Chowk Market, Delhi|
|The Qutub Minar at sunset, Delhi|
|Taken at Humayan’s Tomb at sunset|
Located on the banks of the River Ganges, Varanasi (or Benares as its known) is the holiest Hindu city and is like something that time forgot. From the moment we stepped off the train we were greeted by cows wandering aimlessly through the train station, mice scuttling round that were as big as rats, rats as big as cats, and well, I’m just glad I didn’t see any cats! Varanasi is the craziest place I’ve ever been to and also, one of the most spiritual and magical places I’ve ever been lucky enough to visit. You must take a sunset river-boat ride along the Ganges to the Burning Ghat to witness the ceremonial burning of the dead, both tribal and yet at the same time infinitely peaceful, watch as the flames reflect and dance in the river and be prepared to have your breath taken away.
The Brown Bread Bakery is as the name suggests, a working bakery, but is also an exceptional vegetarian restaurant that serves a wide array of organic food from all over the Globe. We both had vegetarian curries that were pungent and tasty and their garlic naan was incredible. An idyllic haven from the frenetic atmosphere below, The Brown Bread Bakery is a must, if only for the ginormous slabs of chocolate brownie they serve!
The Brown Bread Bakery, 127 Tripura Bhairavi, Golden Temple, Varanasi, India
Rest your head at The Ganpati Guesthouse, overlooking the River Ganges, it has a rooftop restaurant serving inexpensive dishes (the banana porridge was gorgeous, as were their Parathas) and with the added bonus of a merry band of baboons who will race you to finish the last few morsels on your plate! Each brightly-coloured room is decorated in its own unique style, the beds are comfy, the service is friendly and the price is cheap.
Ganpati Guesthouse, D 3/24, Meer Ghat Varanasi-221001, Uttar Pradesh, India
|The old signage in Varanasi|
|The beautiful light you get just before sunset on The River Ganges, Varanasi|
It would be ridiculous for me to omit seeing The Taj Mahal however if you’re going to Agra then I’m assuming you’re headed there anyway so as an additional thing to do, go to Agra Fort. We saw a lot of forts in India and no two were the same, Agra Fort was one of our favourites. Personally I think Agra gets a bad rep, we really enjoyed it and two days there is ample, any less and you risk cramming too much in. My tip – don’t rush seeing The Taj Mahal, take your time, see it from every angle and just marvel in its beauty. It doesn’t disappoint, it will have your legs go a-quiver and your heart quicken when you snatch your first glimpse (I advise seeing it from the gardens of The Mahtab Bagh), and that feeling stays with you for as long as you’re in its company. I hope to one day go back and pay The Taj Mahal a second visit, it really is that striking.
Agra Fort, Rakabganj, Agra, Uttar Pradesh 282003, India
|The Taj Mahal, Agra|
|The Baby Taj Mahal, Agra|
|Bad Baboons at The Taj Mahal, Agra|
|The Jami Masjid Mosque, Agra|
|Taken at sunset at The Jami Masjid Mosque, Agra|
Our stay in Alsisar Haveli was one of my favourites. Tucked away off a dusty and busy street, lies the magnificent oasis that is Alsisar Haveli. Decorated in the typical Rajasthani style, think of lots of striking dark wood furniture, enormous gilded antique mirrors and intricately detailed fabrics, it oozes old-school grandeur and opulence. Take your 4pm gin and tonic in the central courtyard, a peaceful and serene setting, and you’ll feel like a Maharaja and Maharani in no time.
Alsisar Haveli, Sansar Chandar Road, Opposite Mandawa, Loha Mandi , Jaipur, Rajasthan 302001, India
|The Floating Palace, Jaipur|
|The Hawa Mahal or ‘Palace of Winds’, Jaipur|
|Taken at The Amber Fort and Palace in Jaipur|
|The ‘Pink City’ of Jaipur, taken at The Amber Fort & Palace|
To Eat (& Drink!)
The food in Goa is a a melee of cultural influences, blended together with mouth-watering results. We stayed in Patnem and the bay is lined with restaurants that double up as accommodation, and to pick a favourite is nigh on impossible! So I’d advise having breakfast at Home Patnem where their Swedish chef serves up a mixture of traditional Goan cuisine and western dishes, I became addicted to their creamy mushrooms on sourdough toast and their berry smoothies were divine, definitely the best way to start a days sunbathing. Lunch at Papayas and order one of their enormous crisp and refreshing salads topped with seeds and fruit and relax on one of the beds in the shade with a lassi in hand and a view out to the sea and think about good life is right now. For a pre-dinner sun downer take a walk up the beach to Mickeys for one of their killer cocktails, the Pina Colada was our favourite, made with fresh coconut and pineapple it certainly hits the spot and after two your evening will have a gorgeous fuzzy hue. For dinner you can either go to Shanu’s and have her Pork Vindaloo, made from homemade vinegar and to recipe handed down through generations, the thick sauce is a mixture of tangy and fiery and the pork is melt-in-the-mouth tender. Or, head to Tantra, take a seat at a table on the beach, burrow your toes in the sand and go for the Goan Fish Curry with a side order of cheese and garlic naan. End your day with a moonlit stroll, flip-flops in hand, running from the waves as they lap at your feet and go to sleep happy and oh-so content.
Located on the beachfront Shanu’s not only guarantees you a clean and very affordable room with the sand and sea literally a few feet from your door, but you also get an adopted family for the duration. Shanu and her husband Shiva are your hosts and along with the rest of the team they’ll ensure that anything and everything you may need is catered for. We were there for New Years Eve and they laid on a feast for us and our new-found friends in their treetop hideaway ,where we had birds eye view of the fireworks on the beach, and spent the best New Years Eve I’ve ever had.
|Beach cows on Agonda beach! Goa|
|The gorgeous sunsets at Patnem Bay, Goa|
|Silhouette shot! Patnem Bay, Goa|
|Walking off the mountains of food we ate every single day in Patnem, Goa|
|Another sunset shot, this was taken on 31st December 2011 in Patnem, Goa|
The Intercontinental on Marine Drive is the world’s smallest Intercontinental Hotel but what it may lack in size it certainly doesn’t lack in service. The staff went above and beyond to cater to our every whim, included within the price of our room were complimentary massages which they organised for us to have right before we flew ensuring that our flight home was as stress-free as possible. Make sure you have a cocktail on their rooftop where the view of the Queens Necklace is laid out before you in all its glittering twinkly beauty. We ended our trip to India here and I can’t think of a more luxurious farewell.
|A riot of colour in Mumbai|