INDIA. Where to even begin? I spent almost six weeks in the north of India this summer and man did a lot happen. I spent more money then I meant to, got groped several times, had three seemingly days-long panic attacks and got very very ill. But I also had some of the most amazing experiences of my life, and I have to say it’s much easier to appreciate India in hindsight.
I am so glad I went, but next time – I am NOT going in the summer. There’s a full post coming on the worst things that happened in India, but for now – let’s focus on the positive! Here are the best things I did in India.
HEARING THE DALAI LAMA SPEAK
The first amazing thing that happened to me in India was such a crazy once-in-a-lifetime experience. I was out for lunch with some German backpackers in Amritsar when they started talking about the Dalai Lama and how sometimes, you could go see him speak in McLeod Ganj. I had booked a bus ticket to McLeod Ganj for the next night, and serendipitously I learned that I was arriving just in time for his public speech!!!
It was hectic and crowded, and I didn’t get to hear most of the speech because the radio was garbage, but I befriended a Kiwi girl who shared her radio and her seat. I stood ten feet from him as he entered the complex, peering through shoulders and legs and cameras as dozens of reporters tried to get the perfect picture. I couldn’t believe I was there.
HIKING OVERNIGHT TO TRIUND
Two days later, my friend flew in to join me for two weeks – and honestly, thank god, because I might have fled the country if not for her. Despite the fact that I was still very weak and had a horrible cough, we decided to embark on an overnight trek.
On the way up the mountain it went from 35 degrees to literal hail. We clambered past goats, got stared at by Indian hikers, and paused a lot. The pauses were totally to admire the views….not because we were out of breath. I swear.
We slept in a freezing and rain-pummeled tent, but we could get chai delivered to us anytime we yelled out the tent, and the views……you really can’t beat waking up to this, even if you don’t have a jacket and it’s so cold you want to die.
Aside from the beauty, I felt mentally clear here for the first time in weeks. I journalled furiously about how I felt, who I wanted to be, everything – it was great to feel alive again, as depressing as that sounds.
A RANDOM RIVER ACTIVITY IN MANALI
After our hike, we took some time to recover and then headed to Manali, another Himalayan town famous with backpackers. We didn’t really DO a lot here – our guesthouse was adorable (highly recommend staying at Apple View) and the views all around the town are amazing. Every time it rained it seemed like new waterfalls appeared around us.
Aside from deep life chats and intense journalling, we ate a lot of Western food in town (oops) and visited probably every cafe we could find. The one ‘activity’ we did was so random and I don’t even know what it was called – at the river right next to our guesthouse, people would get slid out onto these zipline type things and then they just bounce you up and down. It’s SO weird and we couldn’t figure out why it was a thing, but then we did it and it was honestly really fun. They gave us a really good deal for some reason and let us go for longer, and we couldn’t stop laughing for about half an hour afterwards.
SEEING THE TAJ MAHAL AT SUNRISE
It is very rare that I will wake up before 9AM voluntarily. However, I made a friend in Jaipur and he encouraged me to do so, and because it was way easier to walk around with a guy than alone, I said yes. He woke up my cranky self at 4:30AM with coffee and we headed out. We stayed at Joey’s Hostel in Agra, which was really great – the common area didn’t have air conditioning, but the rooms did (blessedly) and the vibe was really great. The staff were super helpful when I needed to get a rickshaw to the bus station, AND best of all, the view from the terrace was absolutely stunning. It was too hot to hang out on the terrace for longer than 3 minutes, unfortunately, but still – for $10 a night, you get THIS VIEW.
The hostel is so close to the Taj Mahal that you can very easily be the first people there. When we arrived, only three others were there – and randomly, they happened to be three German girls that I had met in Shimla weeks earlier! Unbelievably, I ran into them again the next week at the Varanasi airport. Anyway, we made time for some photoshoots and I got some of my favourite photos of all time, and as the complex got more crowded we found quiet areas to sit and admire one of the Seven Wonders of the World. This was one of those places that I worried would be underwhelming, but it is just stunning, and the early morning light and quiet truly elevated the experience.
A RICKSHAW RIDE HOME IN VARANASI
Varanasi and Darjeeling were probably my two least favorite places in India – not because they weren’t beautiful, but just because I had a crap time. However, there was one lovely little interlude in Varanasi where I was NOT sobbing. I had just finished a sunset boat tour, and then managed to navigate myself through some twisted alleys without any mishaps. I flagged down a shared rickshaw to take me home for the equivalent of 20 cents, and communicated with the driver in Hindi perfectly. I talked to my fellow passengers, and one of them even made sure I was paying the local price and not getting ripped off. I got back to my hotel, they greeted me by name, and I went to bed feeling fulfilled, confident, and happy – which was a truly delightful change. Simple – but lovely!
SPLURGING ON AN AIRBNB IN KALIMPONG
When I arrived at my Airbnb in this town near Darjeeling, everybody was so kind to me that as soon as I was alone I had a nice little happy cry in my room. Man, I cry a lot. Anyway, as mentioned I had a horrible time in Darjeeling and decided I needed to rest and ‘recuperate’. I felt like I really splurged on a night at an amazing Airbnb, when in reality I just checked and it cost me $35.
Main benefit of this place? All the DOGS. They were so clean and nice and friendly and it was a great change to actually be able to pet and snugle with the dogs. The host’s mom cooked amazing meals based on my preferences at every meal time, and they helped me get a bus to my next destination and even helped me figure out a permit for Sikkim. Sanjay spoke perfect English, had books for me to read, and the views were incredible. Next time, I’m staying here for a week and I’ll even do some sightseeing.
EXPLORING THE REMOTE REGION OF SIKKIM
If I hadn’t gone to Sikkim as the last stop of my trip, I would have left India absolutely hating everything and regretting my time there. Luckily, I did go to Sikkim! If you don’t know what or where this is, it’s tucked in right between Bhutan, Nepal and China.
This means the culture feels TOTALLY different from the rest of India (which is obviously a very diverse country), and it was a very refreshing change. The food is more my speed, the cities are calmer, and there are mountains everywhere! I want to write a whole post about the trip, because there is almost no information on the internet and it’s very restricted in terms of solo travel, but highlights included making some great friends in the cutest homestay ever in Yuksom, some sweet Jeep rides, and seeing the third tallest mountain in the world!