He says, she says – India

19 October – 2 December
44 days

Places visited: Delhi, Varansi, Agra, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Udaipur, Goa, Hampi

Most favourite place:

Charlie: I’m guessing me and Lisa are gonna go the same here, Varanasi. It was somewhere I had to see and it didn’t disappoint. The history and culture of the city is immense, all engrained into the unmapped alleyways and streets, along with the occasional ginormous cow and cheese shop! We also met a few really cool people to make it special too! Udaipur being a close joint second with Cola Beach!

Lisa: Hold the phone everyone – it finally isn’t a beach town! Varanasi is 100% my favourite place. It was completely hectic but had this charm about it. I loved our morning on the rooftop watching the sunrise and that at 5pm every day residents all over went on the rooftops to fly kites. Looking out at the Ganges to one side of us and then 5000 kites flying in the air on the other side was so special!

Least favourite place:


Charlie: This is tough because everywhere is so different and unique in its own ways, for the positive and negative. I’d say Jodhpur. The blue city isn’t as blue as they say, and aside from the Fort and a couple of walks around the city, there wasn’t much there in my interests. The Fort is amazing though! We also spent Diwali here which made a memorable evening watching the fireworks from our roof top over the Fort!

Lisa: I really didn’t think much of Agra. It’s of course worth the visit for the Taj Mahal and the Fort but we just spent our free time at our hostel otherwise cause the rest of Agra really didn’t have a lot to offer. We only spent a night there so we could do the sunrise at the Taj Mahal but I understand why some people just make it a day trip.

Most favourite dish:


Charlie: I struggled to eat curry and bread/rice every day here as it’s so rich so I mixed in some western and Asian alternatives along the way but Indian food wise, it’s the butter chicken masala with roti or parantha.

Lisa: They have indo-Chinese here and whilst I wasn’t crazy on most of it the chilli garlic potatoes are amazing! For an authentic Indian dish though I really liked the Kadai curries!

Best experience:


Charlie: There’s been a lot of really cool experiences along the way and it’s tough to pick one out of the bag. The River tour of the Ganges in Varanasi was great, riding our scooter to Cola beach and jumping into the cold river by the ocean was fun too. There’s so many! Taj Mahal at sunrise, Sunsets over the Ganges, Kayaking in Palolem, cycling around Hampi. One of those!

Lisa: The kite flying in Varanasi whilst sipping on chai on the rooftop (as above). Even though it happened everyday, each time it gave Charlie and I that ‘life moment’ where all the saving and planning to prepare for this trip was worth it to be in this moment!

Worst experience:


Charlie: The airports! I hate airports anywhere globally as it is, I hate the trapped feeling and I’m impatient. India adds 18 million levels of security to contend with. Scanning the bag on entry, on check in, in security and having your ticket checked every 10 metres at random, pointless locations throughout! It was something I dreaded and something I won’t miss!

Lisa: The demonetisation! 100% was the worst experience just because it massively affected our plans and our trip but even still I’ve enjoyed every minute of it none the less (minus the hours spent at ATMs).

Something you will miss:


Charlie: Okay this is a bit strange but in northern India especially, we seemed to get a lot of attention. We’d get waved at my children constantly, having adults and even entire families coming up and asking for a photo with us made me feel famous. A real ego boost somehow! It could happen 10 times a day and still didn’t feel like an inconvenience. I’m kind of a big deal in India I guess!

Lisa: I will miss the variety of India, each place we went to was different from the other, it’s crazy how much one country can have so much contrast! Arriving at a new place really gave us a heightened level of excitement to explore each place, while it was still very much India it didn’t feel samey at all.

An unexpected few weeks in Goa

We had returned to palolem early from Hampi due to the demonetisation happening which meant another overnight bus. This one didn’t go to plan as we had a crazy driver who didn’t slow down for any bumps. After being thrown around our sleeper bed for 6 hours we arrived in palolem early at 4am. Remembering there was a 24 hour bar on the beach meant we could hang out there. We spent the next 4 hours drinking coffee and eating French fries waiting for everything to open.img_1384We checked into our old room at our old guesthouse and had a much needed nap before heading to our favourite cafe (Cafe Inn) for breakfast. Charlie got to eat meat again after 3 days of being veggie in Hampi so he was pretty happy.

The super-moon had changed the tide here so we were pretty surprised when we arrived on the beach and had seen how far the tide had gone out. We spent the afternoon on the beach finding loads of tiny crabs and chasing them. Charlie collected loads of shells like a child which he keeps now in his backpack.

The next day we pretty much did the exact same thing. Charlie was excited to explore the crabs and rock pools to see what he could find. For dinner we met up with Aubrey and Lauchie who are both from Melbourne. We met at our guesthouse in Hampi so it was great to catch up with them and discuss everyone’s travel plans! Aubrey is also heading to Sri Lanka next so we are hoping to see him again there.

Due to the demonetisation we were in Goa for much longer than planned. After our trip to Agonda we had planned to head to Kerala but couldn’t get the money together to do so and had to cancel our plans. Goa is not a bad place to stay but our days became very repetitive. We started naming them Groundhog Goa. A positive to staying there was we got to eat brunch at our favourite cafe a bit longer!img_1385Palolem was very relaxing and we did have some good days exploring Cola beach and Patnem beach close by. On our walk to Patnem we found some cute pigs walking around and snoozing.img_1387Unfortunately two nights before we were due to leave Charlie had a dodgy prawn vindaloo curry and food poisoning hit. We just spent time in our room for 48hours while Charlie recovered, I spent time planning our next few months away and doing my best to nurse him back to good health. I had to go to the pharmacy to get him some tablets but Palolem doesn’t have any pharmacy so you need to go to a town called Canacona nearby. We had been there before to use an ATM and knew a tuk tuk should be 150 rupees return. Charlie suggested I get one so that he knew I was just going there and back with a driver, so I set out on the main road to hail one. It was clear when the driver pulled over that he didn’t want to take me, the local bus was going past at the time so he put his had up to make it stop and told me to get on. Without hesitation I got on and sat down – I had been to Canacona a few times so I knew it enough to know the way. Only the bus didn’t go the way I knew. Realising this was a bit silly of me and that I had gone out without my phone ( I was supposed to be getting a quick tuk tuk) so I didn’t have my offline map to follow for directions. I asked a local lady sitting behind me if she knew where the pharmacy was and she wiggled her head from side to side. While a similar action to this is the sign for no in most western countries, this means yes in India. I asked if she could show me when to get off and she wiggled her head again. Not sure if she actually understood a word I was saying I thanked her and hoped for the best. The bus stoped and she grabbed my arm and started leading me down a very long road. She must have understood English but not spoken it well or just didn’t fancy a chat because we walked for 5 minutes in utter silence. 5 minutes isn’t a long time but it felt a lot longer whilst my mind kept wondering… Should try to talk to her? Are we even going to the pharmacy? I wonder how ridiculously tall I look walking next to her? (the top of her head didn’t even reach my shoulders). A lot of pointless thoughts and a little walk later we arrived at the main part of town I was familiar with. I found the pharmacy, stocked up on tablets and took a tuk tuk back.

A little break in Agonda

We woke up and headed out for another Cafe Inn breakfast only this time Lauchie and Aubrey joined us. After breakfast we headed off to agonda beach where we would stay for two nights.

The first thing we noticed was how quiet it was compared to Palolem! The beach has hardly any sunbeds, no boats asking you to do tours and there’s generally a lot less people around. There was also some decent size waves!img_1350We dropped our stuff off and went for a swim, I jumped waves while charlie tried to surf them in without a surf board. We stayed at Galaxy’s beach huts which is run by the nicest couple who couldn’t do enough to make our stay enjoyable.img_1349That evening we headed to a place called Simrose for dinner. Due to the money situation we had to find somewhere that would let us pay on card and had heard good things about this place. We splashed out and charlie got the seafood platter while I got a spicy goan curry. We sat there drinking a few beers and made friends with a couple called Steph and Richard who we ended up spending a couple hours with. Steph had come to India on her daughters recommendation and wasn’t really loving it as much as she thought. Bless her.

Simrose was a great restaurant and really did us a massive favour once they learnt how we were struggling to get money out. The manager agreed to run a tab there during our stay in Agonda and would allow us to settle the bill at the end. He didn’t even want to take anything from us as a form of security which was very trusting. It was cleaver for them as we ate there every day but it was also super helpful for us and the setting was lovely so we really didn’t mind.img_1299The next day we had our Simrose breakfast and decided to try and tackle the ATMs. I headed out with a couple of other tourists to an ATM just outside Agonda and left charlie at the one closer in case one of them got topped up. Luckily I arrived at the ATM in time and managed to get money out before it ran out! We headed to the beach for a swim to celebrate! We spent an hour enjoying the waves before going to see if the ATM in Agonda had been topped up yet. It had and sadly as we got to the front of the line the ATM ran out of money.

Dinner at Simrose was nice again except this time Charlie ordered half a tandoori chicken and what came out was more like a tandoori budgie! The chickens are much smaller here and Charlie forgot and thought a full chicken would be too much so sadly he went to bed still a bit hungry.

We woke up on our last morning at Agonda and went straight to the beach for some wave jumping again before having breakfast and settling our tab at Simrose. img_1294We were leaving for Palolem again as it’s cheaper for us to stay there but we really enjoyed the quiet and calmness that Agonda offered. Everyday there were always some cute cows enjoying the sun too.img_1348img_1346Before we left we tried one more time for the ATM – unsuccessful again. A nice man who had hired a driver overheard us talking about not having a lot of cash and so he offered to take us! He got his driver to drop us off at the top end of Palolem for free! Saving us 300 rupees and meaning we didn’t have to spend our cash which was so nice. We then walked for 15 minutes down towards our guesthouse.

 

When you travel, unexpected things happen.

A week ago the prime minister of India announced that 500 rupees (£6) and 1000 rupees (£12) notes were going to be unusable as of midnight, in an attempt to get rid of the fraudulent money in India.

While this is a good thing, this happened overnight and came with no warning to locals or tourists. The 100rs, but more so the 500rs and 1000rs notes were what you would get when you withdrew money at an ATM so as you can imagine there were a lot of people with the ‘old currency’ as it is now called.

The cash driven country hasn’t got electronic alternatives that would have helped but instead people are frantic to exchange life savings at a limit of 4000 rupees a day (approx £48).

For tourists and locals the maximum withdrawal is set at 2000 rupees (£24) which is enough to exist here but not enough to afford any activity or entrance fees to the many attractions. The Taj Mahal being 1000 per person taking half your daily cash alone. And that is assuming you manage to withdraw any money!

The lines for the ATMs can be hours of waiting to withdraw cash and run out within 20 minutes of being filled. We were fortunate to find an ATM that was just filled to get some cash but later that day queued for an hour to find the people in front had taken the last of the cash.

Banks have been closed, ATMs empty and tourists and locals desperate alike. Small businesses are getting no trade as no one can part with the precious cash, employers can’t pay their staff, and next to no one wants to accept the old notes.

We have 12 days remaining in India and have had to majorly shuffle our travel itinerary to ease the chaos but many travellers we’ve come by are booking flights to leave India for more stable countries, weeks ahead of their planned departure date. With the tourist season just starting, they could not have chosen a worse time to make these changes as an influx of tourists both international and domestic are set to holiday here.

The promise of an improved situation seems far fetched as the newly introduced notes (2,000/500) do not even fit into the cash machines, meaning only 100 notes are dispensed, 20 notes per person (due to the daily limit) means the ATMs are empty quicker. They do not seems to be printing the cash quick enough to supply the struggling population and each bank we’ve visited is a hectic unorganised crowd hoping to be seen to before they run out and close up.

We are very fortunate that this happened towards the end of our trip however it has resulted in our travel plans being compromised. The more rural parts we once hoped to visit are now deemed too ‘risky’ for us to travel too while the ATMs and bank situations are so unstable. We had paid a lot of money to be granted a visa that lasted more than the usual 30 days so that we could see as much of India as we could and now we are left with no option but to stay put for our financial safety.

Looking on the positive side, we are in Goa which is a beautiful place to be based with lovely people who can’t do enough to help us. Restaurants have trustingly let us set up food and drink tabs, allowing us pay with our cards at the end of our stay. We have a room to sleep in and food available which is much better than some of the locals and tourists around the rest of the country.

Historic Hampi

Our first overnight bus experience went surprisingly well and we arrived into Hampi at 7am.img_1156The first thing you notice are the big giant boulders that surround the village and the huge main temple.img_1287We couldn’t check in for another hour so the man at our guesthouse told us about the temples elephant that goes down to the river to bath every morning so we went there to take a look. Not only was the elephant bathing but so was about 20 locals, all at the same time.

We needed to exchange some money and try to get our hands on the new currency so we spent most of the day rushing around to the banks in Hosapete. Finally being successful we only had the afternoon left once we got back to Hampi. We did make it back in time for the sunset though which was beautiful!img_1285The views were breathtaking and I decided that Hampi was maybe one of the most scenic places we have been so far on our whole trip. It’s a mix of giant red/orange boulders, green plantations, palm trees and green and yellow crops.img_1286img_1293On our second day in Hampi we hired push bikes and rode around to different ruins, stopping whenever we liked to check out different spots along the way. img_1217Some of the ruins were really cool to check out, however some of them seemed almost too ruined and were slightly disappointing. The history is there but there’s little to no information and most of them are well maintained. It was fun to ride around and check them all out, even if I did need to push the bike up every hill.img_1219I had to cut my ride short as there were no toilets around and I needed to go but Charlie stayed to check out a few more ruins before he returned. His exploring lead him right into a school trip where once discovered the poor history teacher had no chance of controlling his class who all swarmed around Charlie desperate for him to get their picture!img_1290We decided that due to the money situation in Hampi we could only stay two nights. It is a complete cash run village and there’s no ATMs.

On our last day we took a boat across the river to the island which is home to more guest houses and restaurants. We hired a motorbike and rode around the island for a few hours, taking in the scenery and getting pretty lost.img_1269img_1279 The scenery on this side of the river was just as beautiful.img_1292We visited another monkey temple and due to my dislike for monkeys and stairs, I left charlie to explore while I had a little sit down in the shop downstairs. He said the views were good but there was no monkeys.

We headed back across the river and got ready for our overnight sleeper bus back to Goa. This one didn’t go as well as the last with us hardly getting any sleep. The driver drove like a lunatic and we ended up being thrashed around in our beds and dropped off in Goa hours earlier than we should have been. Luckily we found a 24 hour bar on the beach and parked ourselves there for 4 hours until everything opened.

Whilst we found some of the ruins in Hampi a little disappointing, the scenery and landscape more than make up for it!

Good times in Goa

We decided to skip Mumbai and head straight for Goa. Charlie had already been to Mumbai before and we weren’t really sure what we actually wanted to see there, we kind of just added it as it was a place people went. I had wanted to see the slums but by this stage I’d seen enough poverty and slums already. To fly from Udaipur to Goa we had to have a layover in Mumbai, whilst the first plane landed and the next plane took off we got to see the slums anyway.

We arrived in Goa and had to get quite an expensive taxi (1700 rupees) to the beach we chose to stay at (was all worth it after arriving and seeing Palolem). We’d heard that south Goa was full of much nicer beaches than the north and that the north was mostly for partying and raves. Whilst we like a good night out as much as the next person we aren’t the raving type and the idea of listening to trance type music for the 5 nights really didn’t sound relaxing at all. We were pretty happy with our choice once we arrived.img_1052Our arrival to palolem didn’t really go as planned. We arrived around 4pm and headed to La Alegro which appeared on the map as beachfront accommodation. When we arrived the man said that our room was at the other building and we had a garden view. He offered to walk us so off we went back behind the beach, through some messy area to a building that had the most pathetic excuse for a garden and loads of bugs flying about. On arrival the owner seemed confused as she didn’t know anyone was checking in and when we told her we booked on hotels.com she said she doesn’t allocate any rooms to them. Did I mention we had already paid online? It wasn’t ideal. She then said she had availability but wanted to charge us more than the price online so we put our bags back on our back and started searching for something else. It took a good hour or so before we found something. Every year in palolem they take down the beach huts before monsoon and rebuild them after. This can be the only explaination for why most of them are so crap. Don’t get me wrong there are some well built huts in beautiful places but they weren’t in our budget. We looked at so many of the newly built basic beach huts and they all looked like the big bad wolf would hardly have to huff or puff to blow them down. Oh and they were way overpriced. We ended up at cupids castle guesthouse for a small 600 rupees a night. It wasn’t that nice and very basic but it was the best of the bunch and cheapest we had seen. We figured if we were going to stay somewhere crap we may as well pay the least for it. We headed out for dinner and a much needed beer before turning in after a full day of travelling. Oh and hotels.com refunded our money for La Alegro so all wasn’t too bad in the end.

We spent the first couple of days resting as I had come down with a cold and wasn’t feeling great. We had leisurely brunches and found a secluded beach we would go to for a splash about and read. Once I was feeling better we didn’t really do too much more. We had a great little routine of a lay in, brunch, an afternoon at the beach, relax and shower at the room and then dinner. We were in full relaxation mode which was great after our fast paced travelling through the north.img_1055We also managed to some good sunsets in while we were here. img_1068We had two places we visited for breakfast. One was on the beachfront where you could sit on the edge of the restaurant and watch the waves crash whilst you ate.img_1042This was great and we went here the first two days but then we discovered our favourite place! Not only did it have the most fun breakfast consisting of eggs, homemade warm bread rolls, little posts of mezzanine that you got to select of a menu (chilli eggplant, tatsziki, roasted bell pepper, baked beans etc) but it also had great coffee! Out of an actual barista machine! We ate here every breakfast after that.img_1073

On our final day we hired a kayak to go across to butterfly island. We were told you could sometimes see dolphins and we assumed we’d see some butterfly’s (I mean it’s in the name?) but we didn’t see either. We did have fun though, lots of boats with Indian families on holiday would come past waving and taking photos of us.DCIM100GOPROGOPR0876.The waves in Goa aren’t massive but they are decent enough in size that when Charlie told me we’d have to surf the kayak into shore on a wave I wasn’t totally thrilled with the idea. Charlie pointed out we had no other options and although I suggested letting the kayak surf in on its own and that we could swim behind it, I knew that really wasn’t an option. So whilst Charlie is excited as this big wave builds behind us I start instantly regretting our decision. Charlie insists he will keep the front of the kayak straight and we just need to paddle really fast. As soon as the wave hit us the front of the kayak turned and over we went. We capsized. Luckily it wasn’t half as bad as I imagined and because we were in deep water to just duck down. Charlie being the adventure seeker in this relationship he then continued to surf waves in whilst I swam to shore with my paddle.img_1149Palolem was a great place to relax and we liked it so much we are heading back there!

Udaipur – the city of lakes

After a 5 hour bus we arrived in Udaipur and straight away noticed the change in temperature. Udaipur has an altitude of around 2100 ft and therefore is much cooler than other parts of Rajasthan especially in the evening. Tuk tuks were trying to overcharge us all around the bus stop where they were telling us that loads of roads were closed due to Diwali. Not knowing if this was true or not we said we’d just walk to which they replied “walking is impossible”. Challenge accepted and half an hour later we had lugged ourselves along with 30kgs of backpacks (combined) to the hostel. Impossible my a**! Lucky cause of the cool temperature the walk wasn’t too painful and I’m sure it was good exercise. Our hostel was right on the river and had beautiful views from the rooftop.img_1087We have a bit of a trend with accommodation ever since our wonderful rooftop in Varanasi, we tend to choose something with a rooftop as it’s a great place to escape and unwind after a busy day out.

We spend our days in Udaipur walking around and exploring the streets. There was also a spectacular temple just down the street from our hostel.img_1085It was nice to walk around and there’s a huge amount of shops here. Charlie bought a super hippie jumper which the man even took in for him. I bought a little leather book to record our finances in. I have one from Thailand already which I’ve been using all trip to track our spending but I will eventually run out of pages so we figured picking one up here would be perfect (it was also very cheap). There’s a huge leather trade here with so many nice bags, books and photo albums but sadly we couldn’t carry them and posting can be pricey. There was also these super cute fun monkeys around. By fun I of course mean fun for Charlie and a little fun for me far away. img_1084Udaipur was also where we discovered crispy chilli potatoes which is a indo Chinese dish that we absolutely love! We had it all 4 days we were here at a couple of different places (all rooftop locations of course).img_1017There were a lot of beautiful spots by the lake to walk around however one day when we were out on a ledge admiring the view a local lady decided she needed a poo. She was about 5 metres away and just like that she hiked up her saree.

We also vistited the old prime ministers house built in 1651.  It was really beautiful to walk around and had nice views from lots of the windows and doorways.img_1086img_1028It did however have some weird museum where there was a whole room of puppets and another room full of heads showing off all different headwear. As much as we understood why the heads were there a whole room of them was a little creepy. Here’s our favourite one…img_1022Udaipur was a nice place to visit but 4 days was a bit too long there. We had already booked our flight to Goa so we couldn’t move on earlier however it was nice to slow down after moving so fast around Rajasthan. It also had some lovely sunsets and views so it wasn’t hard to be stuck in such a picturesque place. We also met some great people at our hostel including some Australians (Tasmanian and Melbournians) and a very funny girl from Scotland.