had visions of returning from India feeling enlightened and looking emaciated – the enlightenment would be from the morning, noon and night yoga sessions that I would partake in, and the drop in dress size would inevitably be caused by the worst bout of Delhi belly ever recorded.
The pressure was on. Not only did my 30th birthday loom a mere two weeks post my return (hence the quest for enlightenment and all other things related to turning the big three-oh), but I had a bridesmaid’s dress to fit into (the dire need for Delhi belly need not be explained further).
Sadly, my trip to India, the land of Saints, gods, demi-gods and all things mystical and magical, bestowed neither upon me. Setting off from Johannesburg with my vegetarian, yoga-loving best friend. We arrived in Delhi with a number of preconceived, post-Shantaram reading, notions on India. Rather grubby, smelly and definitely full of all sorts of nasty bugs, Delhi is a thriving city, which constantly and unpredictably contrasts between the old and new, extreme poverty and extreme wealth.
Western, especially blonde female, tourists are a fascination for the locals who, if you fit the description, will stop you to have their picture taken with them. Great for the many family portraits that we now feature in, but not so great for the ones taken with the young single guys who will forever onwards claim to have bedded either one or sometimes both of us – the digital revolution has made photo-taking a new sport in India.
From Delhi we set off, with a driver, to the Rajasthan district – think Agra and the Taj Mahal, the pink city of Jaipur, the one-horse hippy town of Pushkar, and the city of lakes and palaces Udaipur, which will be forever immortalised by the 1980’s James Bond movie Octopusssy.
The Taj Mahal at sunrise. Sadly it was a gloomy day, but a spectacular sight nevertheless. There was also a three-hour-long Bollywood blockbuster, which we watched minus subtitles, in Jaipur’s famous art deco meringue-shaped movie theatre.
Camel trekking We hooked this up in Pushkar – a Hindu pilgrimage city which has banned all public displays of affection, alcohol, eggs and meat. If you want to smoke pot, however, look no further.
A cooking course in Udaipur We learnt how to make everything from roti, to coriander chutney, to paneer and the most delicious vegetarian curries. Talking about food in general; it’s really good and if you avoid the tourist hot spots, you’re likely to find it for a steal. The restaurants are not the cleanest-looking places, but the food is great, as is the super-cheap food you’ll find on the streets. I still find myself dreaming about the veg curry bomb that we shared in Jaipur. Two weeks into our trip – the bridesmaids dress didn’t stand
Driving in India is like playing a game of chicken. Fuel – check. Hooter – check. Side mirror tucked in to avoid rear view – check. Drive. Truck, bus, camel, dog, elephant, cow in full frontal view – drive. At the very last second, sharp-left. Stopping, of course, is only for the most sacred of creatures: the holy cow.
After two weeks of near-fatal road travel, I was only too happy to embark on our next adventure into the south of India. From Udaipur, we flew into Mumbai, and then into Bangalore. From Bangalore, we caught a bus into Mysore, where we stayed in a dodgy over-priced hostel, and then the following day caught another bus up into the mountains of Madikeri.
India is large, and travelling from one place to another, even if only a couple hundred of kilometres away, can take as long as an entire day. The above-mentioned plane, taxi, bus, auto-rickshaw affair took a good three days before we arrived – internal organs forever repositioned from the bumpy bus drive, at the most wonderful organic rainforest retreat up in the mountains of Madikeri.
This is where we spent three days of pure bliss, taking long hikes in and around the surrounds, touring the organic coffee plantation and eating the purest, fresh from the earth, food – India is vegetarian heaven!
Preparing for yet another day long bus, plane, taxi, auto rickshaw journey, we left Madikeri after one last early morning hike to embark on our trip into Kerala – India’s answer to the land of milk and honey.
The South of India, Kerala in particular, could not be more different from the North. This is where India shows its more gentle relaxed side – an inviting respite from the frantic chaos that epitomises the rest of the country.
A trip on one of the thousands of houseboats scattering the backwaters is one of the most relaxing experiences you’ll ever have – as long as you deal with a reputable company that is. We heard of one Swedish tourist whose houseboat was infested with elephant sized rats! Back to our experience – imagine beautiful sunsets, excellent food, fresh air, open waters…. so romantic, a pity almost that my cuddle companion was my best friend – oh, what could have been…
With its dramatic cliff-top setting and perfect beaches, Varkala is an idyllic beach town. This is where we headed after hot-footing it out of V Jay’s Rice Paddy Guest House – sometimes the Rough Guides and Lonely Planets get it wrong – V Jay’s was expensive and dull.
From Varkala we headed to Goa – India’s tourist hot spot where the British and Australians flock in droves. Getting there with Kingfisher Airlines, a budget airline owned by Vijay Mallya – India’s very own Richard Branson, involved four stopovers, with each flight being about 35 minutes long.
Introducing the silent party – an all night rave, with one crucial factor missing – the noise. Held on Palolem beach, the silent parties entail a stand off between two DJs competing entirely in your headspace via cordless headphones. Alcohol which is frowned upon in many other areas in India is available on tap, as are illegal drugs – from hash to cocaine – be warned though, authorities may be willing to turn a blind eye to a bunch of foreigners gyrating to their own beat, but this is where they draw the line, so to speak.
Welcome to Home. Offering freshly ground coffee and delicious post silent party breakfasts, Home, which lies metres off the Patnem beach shore is a stellar find. Run by an ex-pat British couple, Home offers an excellent breakfast, lunch and dinner spread. The cucumber- infused G&T’s are also a hit.
Treat yourself to an Ayurvedic massage with Subudhi at the Bhakti Kutir eco-friendly resort. Trained at the University of Pune in India, Subudhi tunes into your physical and psychic being (this is India after all), offering perhaps one of the best massages that you will ever have. Ayurveda, a natural Indian healing system is offered pretty much everywhere you go in India – be careful though that you choose a reputable therapist, a lot of places appear to have jumped onto the Ayurvedic bandwagon.
Our trip to India was sadly drawing to an end – with one last day left to explore Mumbai, self-reflection was inevitable. My friend and I had travelled to the birthplace of yoga, a favourite past time in South Africa, and yet we chose rather to sleep in and indulge on the other delights on offer in this mystical and strange place called India. We had in one month traipsed from the North to the South and only knew perhaps a day in advance where our next destination would be.
Perhaps there is a slight disappointment that the enlightened being I imagined coming back as, had failed to be roused but then again, perhaps that’s something I don’t need India for. It’s something I need to find for myself, regardless of time and place. Let’s face it – Delhi belly was a quick fix diet, if I really want to lose the weight, I actually have to work at it – the same goes I suppose for the state of enlightenment that I will continue to search for now that I am in my 30s – and loving it.
Writer: Beverly Houston