Four weeks is not nearly enough time to discover India. I spend a month in this beautiful country and visited the following places: New Delhi, Agra, Varanasi, Bodh Gaya, Darjeeling and Yoksum in Sikkim. I will tell you all about my journey and share with you my experiences and tips.
New Delhi (or Delhi)
My plane arrived in Delhi and the taxi drive from the airport to my hotel was one big adventure. The road signs and marks are merely a suggestion in India and people honk all the time, to let others know they’re passing them. People crossing extremely busy roads, wearing the most beautiful sari’s. All those colors. All those sounds. I ended up spending about two days in (New) Delhi and fell a bit in love with this city. Here’s what I did.
Visit the Sikh Temple
When you visit the temple of the Sikh, you can start by getting some information in the tourist centre. You will also get a chance to cover up your body and hair and take off your shoes. I was told that the Sikh feed 400 mouths a day, no matter what religion or origin. The vibe in the temple is really relaxed and it’s a beautiful place to walk around.
Visit an old Haveli
Hidden in the small streets of Delhi, there are some beautifully renovated Haveli’s, now serving as a hotel or restaurant. One of them is Haveli Dharampura, which I visited only for dinner but was blown away by it’s beauty. It’s very expensive for Indian Standards (I think dinner was about 30 dollars per person and staying here starts at 150 dollars per night), but it definitely was an experience. During dinner, there was also a typical Indian dance performance. Like a fairy tale.
Shop at the Paharganj Main Bazaar
If you like anything elephants, buddha statues, cute bags and typical Indian shoes: definitely visit the Paharganj Main Bazaar for some souvenir shopping.
Agra, the city of the Taj Mahal and the Agra Red Fort: must sees if you’re visiting this place.
Getting up at 4 am is not my favorite thing to do (understatement), but it was definitely worth it to see the Taj Mahal with sunrise. Also nice: it’s not that busy yet at this hour (already busy, don’t get me wrong, but apparently not the busiest yet). Walk through the garden, check out the mosque’s view at the Taj Mahal and step inside one of the Modern World Wonders.
Agra Red Fort
Definitely on your must visit list: the beautiful and impressive Red Fort of Agra, where the ruler who lived here had three wives: a Hindu wife, a Christian wife and a Muslim wife. It’s one big red brick and marble dream.
Varanasi (also known as Benares)
The famous city with the holy Ganges river where dead people are burned and are being shoved in the river. And in that same river, people are bathing and even drinking the water. This colorful city honors death and simultaneously lives like no other city. It’s one of the dirtiest places I’ve ever been and the smells of dead bodies and stool are all around, just as the smell of sandalwood. If you can, book an evening or morning tour on the Ganges, when the body burning rituals are taking place. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen.
This city is also famous for it’s scarves, made from silk or pashmina. Good to know: all of the sales men will tell you their scarves are real, and the scarves of others are fake… Even a good Tripadvisor score doesn’t mean much.
It was – legend says – here, underneath the Bodhi Tree where Buddha became enlightened. This is why Bodh Gaya is a place visited by lots of buddhists, but because of it’s popularity, unfortunately, it has become somewhat of an attraction – and not in a good way. Nevertheless, Bodh Gaya is a special place and the market leading up to the Bodhi Tree is really nice. I stayed in the Shanti Devy Ashram, which has a little school teaching kids for free. The atmosphere here was lovely. If you like temples, definitely stop by at some here. Also cool to see: the Big Buddha Statue.
We took a 14-hour train ride to Siliguri, stayed one night and then took a 4 hour taxi drive up to Darjeeling, famous for its tea! Visiting a tea plantation is like visiting the set of The Sound of Music. But Darjeeling is also a great place to book a trekking, either a one day trekking or a multiple day trekking. If you go trekking, there’s a big chance that you’ll be hiking through parts of Nepal, like I did. Pretty cool. Oh and, you can’t leave this place with buying some first flush Darjeeling tea, of course.
Part of the Eastern Himalayas is Sikkim, a state in northeast India. It borders Tibet in the north and northeast, Bhutan in the east, Nepal in the west, and West Bengal in the south. Going to Sikkim requires a visum, which can be obtained from all Indian Missions, Sikkim Tourism Offices at New Delhi, Kolkata, District Magistrates Office of Darjeeling, Siliguri, and Rangpo on the strength of an Indian Visa. The 30 days duration Permit is issued on the spot without any delay provided photocopies of the passport and visa along with two pass port photos of the applicants are made available. The permissible duration of the stay for foreign tourists is 30 days initially. It’s quite a scary drive up, that took us 8 hours from Darjeeling.
We stayed in Yoksum, a small town with beautiful monasteries and amazing surroundings. The perfect place to book a trekking. Make sure to bring enough warm clothes, and if you go for a multiple day trekking, definitely bring warm sleeping bags and gloves.