India is a chaotic country which will awaken your senses the minute you land at the airport. From the infusion of the aromatic fragrances of the spices and the pungent smell of hard work covering a worker’s cotton shirt, to the loud orchestra of sounds the traffic and population creates, to the pollution covered gutters surrounding you. But, amongst all the chaos are strangers who will display kindness, relatives who will embrace and shower with you what little they have, dhabas and street vendors providing the most delicious cooked food, a strong sense of faith that is remarkable to witness and a broad variety of sightseeing opportunities unmatched by any other country. This bustling country is my home, and in five days time, I am ready to spend an entire month exploring its nooks and crannies.
On the 10th of October I embark on a journey of discovering India with two of my favourite humans on the planets – papa and mumma. It makes sense that the two of them want to see and explore the same parts of India that I do – genes perhaps?
The first week of travel will be spent in my hometown of Kangra, Himachal Pradesh – a village nestled in the snow-capped mountain valley and surrounded by lush surrounds. It is the only place in the world where I feel at peace. A normal day starts by milking the cow, having hot parathas made by my nani maa (grandmother) with freshly churned white butter. The rest of the morning is centred on walks in our sugar cane fields, chatting with the aunties and uncles who all live in the same area of land, and ending the afternoon with nani’s spicy dhal, rice and curd. The afternoon is hot so a nap is warranted. Late evenings are often chats with nana ji (grandfather) while sipping on some chai and eating biscuits (pronounced bis-kuts). The nights are always quiet filled with the twinkling of fireflies, buzzing of dragonflies and a sense of caution as you watch where you step – in case it’s a snake! I spent my early years in Kangra and every school holiday till I moved to New Zealand. This home is where time stands still while the rest of the world keeps going on with its stressful days. The only part I dread about this is the 12 hour drive from New Delhi following a 14 hour plane trip from Melbourne to New Delhi (but good things take time!)
After spending a few days in Kangra, we will embark on our tour of India. Our family makes it a rule to always see a new place in India every time we visit. As a family, we have covered the states of (some extensively and others’ highlights) Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh. My parents have covered a lot more and papa has possibly seen every state, but as a family we have really only seen Northern India and Southern India is untouched. This brings us to the next three weeks of our trip.
The majority of our trip is focussed on Southern India, in particular Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The last leg of the trip is some relaxing time at the beach in Goa and taking in the hustle and bustle of Bollywood India in Mumbai, before taking the plane back home to Melbourne.
India is such a large and diverse country and every town has something different to offer. This is why while we were putting together the itinerary; we were torn as to whether we should include the state of Karnataka. However, we didn’t want to sacrifice places we really wanted to see in order to just do a whizz-around-whirlwind highlights of South India tour.
This is a custom tour which we have made as authentically Indian as we could – no fancy hotels and five star luxuries but still the basic comfort necessities. The mode of transportation for the journey is a mix of car travel (taxi), overnight trains and planes. The plan is to stay in guesthouses, houseboats, huts and tree houses – the guesthouses in the major places are booked leaving us to decide on our accommodation in the smaller cities – just to add a little bit of excitement and uncertainty to the trip!
We have chosen the itinerary to be of a varied variety exploring temples, churches, cities, tea plantations, lakes, rivers, beaches, mosques, villages and even a slum. I hope to write an extensive blog of my travels upon my return but thought I would talk a little about each of the places.
We start off in Chennai in search of some good filter coffee making our way to the beaches of Pondicherry via the ancient temples in Mahabalipuram. The next few cities are focussed on the beautiful architecture of Tamil Nadu – Tanjore and Madurai. Rameswaram was a must-see place for us due to its importance in Hindu religion. It is the location of Rama’s bridge (Adam’s bridge) which in the ancient Indian Sanskrit epic of Ramayana, the army of Lord Rama (namely Hanuman) built a bridge of rocks to reach Lanka to rescue Sita from Ravana. From here we make our way to the luscious hill stations of Munnar and Kodikanal where I will be spending my golden (24th) birthday. Following this we will make a visit to Thekkady from where we will embark into the backwaters of Allepey, Kerala. A few days relaxing in Allepey are planned, followed by a visit to Kochi (Cochin) to witness the famous kathakali dance. From here, we depart to Goa to spend a few days at the beach with not much planned. The trip finishes off in Mumbai where we hope to devour in their food and culture.
It was a really big but easy decision to spend my annual leave exploring India with my parents. It is after all my birth country and one that a lot of people would not get to experience the same way I can. The big tours don’t always show you the real India and planning this trip our way has given us the opportunity to explore what we want, how we want, all while eating delicious Indian food and sipping on Limca.