My time in India was more amazing then I could have ever anticipated. It is truly a magical place that has transformed my life. Although I wasn’t originally looking for a spiritual experience previous to my arrival to India, it definitely was on. Through the people I have met, places I’ve been, things I’ve seen and courses I’ve taken, I have expanded my knowledge of my mind, body and spirit. I have gained a better understanding of myself and what brings me happiness.
Each city that I visited in India is unique and offers a different experience. The following are the places I visited during my three months exploring the country:
I began my Indian journey in perhaps most modern city in India. Here, you can find a handful of interesting sights that include a fairly large and decent parks. The city’s reputation for green spaces is well deserved, and the youthful energy and imagination (not to mention disposable income) fuels a progressive dining, drinking and shopping scene – one of the best in India, in fact.
This is a really interesting and beautiful place with breathtaking landscape. Hampi is made up of ruins that cover a wide area, but it’s possible to see the main sites in a day or two. The ruins of Hampi are set in an extraordinary landscape of giant granite boulders, lush paddies and banana plantations. There are mountains you can climb such as the famous “Monkey Mountain.” Its quite a climb up, but the view is spectacular. You can spend a surprisingly large amount of time gazing at the weirdly balanced rocks, wondering how millions of years of erosion could achieve such formations.
Unlike the other parts of India I visited, Fort Cochin is a place heavily populated by Christians. Here you can watch giant fishing nets being pulled into shore on an ongoing basis. Although heavily influences by Christianity, it is not uncommon to see a Christian church on one side of the road and an ancient mosque on the other. The city has many Portuguese houses built half a millennia ago and the crumbling residuum of the British Raj. The result is a blend of medieval Portugal, Holland and an English country village. It’s a delightful place to spend some time, soak in the history, wander around art galleries and nap in some of the finest heritage accommodations in India.
In the state of Kerala, surrounded by palm trees and the Arabian Sea, lies Kayankulum. What drew me to this town was solely to visit the Ashram of Amma (also known as the hugging mother). This was my first ashram experience and one that was quite interesting. Although I arrived at the ashram the day after she left on her European tour, the energy in the ashram was still very high. Everyone who lives in the Ashram, Westerners and Indians, are strong devotees to Amma. I found that every conversation I had with someone was solely about Amma, which was good because I got to learn a lot about the extraordinary women, but I was also glad to leave the ashram after three days.
This is a crazy city that is worth visiting. At first glance, Delhi seems very chaotic, claustrophobic and intimidating and well…it is! It is the eighth largest metropolis in the world by population with more than 12.25 million inhabitants in the territory. When I arrived in Old Delhi train station, I had the day to explore the city before taking a train to Agra. I was travelling solo and only a few weeks into my trip, so I definitely had some hesitation about walking the streets on my own. However, I sucked it up and went into the city to explore. There is a lot to see in Delhi, and although it is not number one on my list of the best Indian destinations, I can understand why people think it is an interesting place. There are many captivating ancient monuments, magnificent museums, a vivacious performing-arts scene and some yummy places to eat. Although I wouldn’t recommend staying to long in the city, it is worth a day or two visit.
The only attraction that brought me to Agra was the Taj Mahal. I’m not usually into visiting typical tourist attractions, but I made the exception for the magnificent palace. The Taj Mahal is definitely a masterpiece worth paying the overly priced tourist ticket to see. Although my time in Agra was short, I wasn’t sad to leave the city as nothing else really drew me in to make me want to stay longer than 24 hours.
Prepare yourself for this city as it is as Lonley Planet puts it: “the most blindingly colourful, unrelentingly chaotic and unapologetically indiscreet place on earth.” I really couldn’t put it better myself. This chaotic city is a must visit when travelling in India. The smells will delight and disgust you, the vendors will continuously harass you, and the busy streets will continuously send you diving out of the way to save your life. This is one of the world’s oldest continually inhabited cities and one of the holiest places in India. Hindu’s from all over the country come here to bathe and wash away their sins in the Ganges. It is also a place for many Hindu celebrations and the place to die. Hindu’s believe that the holy city offers “moksha” which is liberation from the cycle of birth and death. One of the main attractions thats pulls travellers here is to witness the “burning ghats.” There are 300-400 cremations that take place daily at the burning ghats on the shore of the Ganges. For me, it was eye opening and bizarre experience to witness the flesh from dead bodies melt away over an open fire. As disturbing as it sounds, the atmosphere was surprisingly peaceful and families were accepting of the death as they believe their loved one go on to a better life.
I meant to only pass through Rishikesh on my was to McLeod Ganj, but ended up staying for a month and then returning again for another 2! Ever since the Beatles rocked up at the ashram of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the late ’60s, Rishikesh has been a magnet for spiritual seekers. Today it styles itself as the ‘Yoga Capital of the World. Rishikesh captured my heart and helped me develop my spirituality. It was the only place that I visited in India that I could see myself living in for a long time. If you are looking for spirituality, great food, amazing people, extreme sports, music lessons and beautiful nature, than Rishikesh is definitely the place for you.
McLeod Ganj is located 4 km above Dharamsala town, home to His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. There is a huge Tibetan population there so it is extremely common to see many maroon robes walking about especially when the Dalai Lama is home for a visit. Fortunately, I was in McLeod Ganj in time to attend a buddhist teaching by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Being in the presence of HH was a unique experience that left me feeling overwhelmed with joy. I could do nothing but smile as he walked past me, waving and smiling with so much kindness in his eyes. McLeod Ganj has become a centre for the study of Buddhism and Tibetan culture. There are many places in the village to volunteer on community projects that focus on the refugees community. Make sure to check the weather before visiting because it can get really cold! Nonetheless, it is definitely a place to add to your itinerary as it presents a different vibe and culture than the rest of India.
East of McLeod Ganj, higher up in the Himalayan mountains, lies the village of Daramcot. I visited this small village in the off season which was to my benefit. It made the village more appealing because of the quiet atmosphere which was a nice break from the noisy traffic that is found throughout the rest of India. The view is spectacular with snow peak mountains popping up in every direction you look. Keep in mind that during the off season, the majority of shops and restaurants are closed as business heads south to where it is warmer. However, in high season, Dharamcot draws a large hippie/Israeli crowd which can change the atmosphere from peaceful to more chaotic.
This is perhaps the most popular tourist destination in Rajasthan. It is a small Hindu pilgrimage town set in the middle of the desert, around a small man-made lake, and with one of the world’s few Brahma temples. For the reason that Pushkar attracts many tourists, the town is made up of mostly restaurants and shops where you can buy touristy things. I really enjoyed leaving the main centre of Pushkar and walking into the dessert. It is a more rustic experience and a lot quieter. You can also pick up new skills by trying one of the many music or dance centres. I took Bollywood dance lessons at Sarawati Dance School, which I highly recommend. It was definitely a great time. Try to play the part in Pushkar – no booze, meat, eggs or kissing – or risk offending what you came here to admire.
Kristen Sarah is a full-time traveller, tiny home owner and adventure junkie. She has one of the leading YouTube travel channels and is the head honcha of award-winning travel and lifestyle website, Hopscotch the Globe.