Grapeshot Travel Blog: Jess Goes To India

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Words || Jess La

Favourite city and why?

Every city is beautiful in its own way. Having visited so many different cities in India, I can vouch for those who say each city is so uniquely different to the next! They are all so special to me, but my favourite city was Jaipur, the Pink City.

My love for Jaipur is indescribable. Its streets, lined with marigolds and market stalls, are surrounded by tall walls painted pink, the colour of hospitality. Originally painted pink to welcome the Prince of Wales and Queen Victoria, the old city now welcomes all into its nest of culture. Jaipur offers bountiful charm in its culture, textiles, jewellery, food, and traditions.

I was also lucky enough to jump into a hot air balloon one morning to watch the sunrise over Jaipur and its neighbouring villages. It was incredible. With almost 2 hours of flight time (our pilot had some issues with landing, giving us an extra 45 minutes in the sky… lucky us!), we witnessed mountain forms, villages, and its people from above.

Jaipur from the sky. Jaipur, India.

Jaipur has so many things to offer: from being immersed in the hustle and bustle of the old city to watching Bollywood movies with no English subtitles to floating in a hot air balloon over its neighbouring villages. Jaipur has stolen a little piece of my heart.

Five items that were an absolute must-have on your trip to India

  1. Toilet paper! We forget the luxuries of western culture, where we walk into a public toilet and expect toilet paper. There is rarely complementary toilet paper, so always BYO.
  2. Birkenstocks – These were honestly my saviour. I wore them every single day. They are the comfiest shoes, and are easy to slip on and off when visiting temples, shops, and even people’s houses.
  3. Camera – India is unbelievably photogenic. You wouldn’t want to miss a good photo op!
  4. Travel insurance – Four weeks into my trip I found myself lying in a hospital bed drifting in and out of consciousness. While I don’t remember much of that night, I do remember being told a bed for the night would cost me approximately US$400. Skimp on everything except travel insurance, kids.
  5. An open mind – India is like no other place in the world. It is crazy and amazing. Embrace every little thing it has to offer and let it change your world.
Cows on the beach. Goa, India.

Did you find any sights or activities down the road less travelled in India?

I was lucky enough to be invited to an Indian wedding! The culture and tradition that comes with an Indian wedding is amazing. We all went shopping for traditional wedding attire (saris for the girls, and kurtas for the boys).

Attending the wedding was an experience like no other. We were treated like royalty by everyone. We skipped all the lines for photos and food, and we were even given priority seating in the front row on couches (every other row had plastic chairs).

Indian weddings are one of their most social and special events, and their welcoming culture often means you could even turn up to a wedding uninvited and still be treated like royalty!

‘Formal’ wedding attire. Bangalore, India

Weirdest thing to happen you on the trip

While we were talking to a man in a village, he excused himself to tend to his cow…who was giving birth! As a girl who has spent all her life in the city, it was a super strange and crazy experience for me!

What was the budget like?

There’s no other way to put it: India is cheap. You can get away with having a full meal (with a drink and dessert) for about AUD $4 in the city, and way less than that if you’re in a village. On top of that, we managed to book a villa-like hut with its own stairway onto the beach for AUD $36/night (split by 4)!!

When buying clothes and jewellery at markets, make sure to bargain your price down, because they will most definitely overcharge you. While it may seem like you’re ripping the locals off when you manage to only pay AU$1 for a t-shirt, remember that money goes a lot further for them than it does at home!

#Foodbucketlist: Best eats

Eat where the locals eat – It is often a lot cheaper, and tastes a lot better!

One of my favourite dishes is one called Gobhi Manchurian, which is fried cauliflower with a sweet and sour sauce. It tastes just like sweet and sour pork/chicken, except it’s vegetarian. There was this one place we would visit for lunch at least once a week that we liked to call the ‘Gobhi (Gobby) Shack’.

Ragi balls – They are definitely on the opposite end of the ‘best eats’ spectrum, but a fun experience nonetheless. Ragi is crop Australians often feed to cows, however it is a common dish in rural villages in South India. The ragi is dried out, then cooked with flour and water to form a dough-like consistency. This mixture is then rolled out into balls and served with a vegetable curry. The trick to eating this is to just swallow. Don’t chew, just swallow. While very nutritious, none of us came back for seconds…

Ragi balls. Rural village in India.

What advice would you give to other people travelling?

Travel has so much offer to those who are willing to take it. Embrace every moment. Things will almost definitely go wrong at some point, but you can turn it into an adventure instead of letting it bring you down. It sounds like a cliché, but India has changed my life: I have learnt so much about myself and my values, and have been lucky enough to meet some amazing people.

My travel mantra is ‘Surrender yourself’! Surrender yourself to the culture, the people, the food.

A local man paddling down the sacred River Ganges. Varanasi, India.
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