You either love it or hate it. Understandably, there are polarizing views on India. To love India you must be in the right mind frame, check your expectations, and not be afraid to get a little dirt on your hands (literally and metaphorically).
Personally, India is one of my favorite countries. Between the cuisine, impressive architecture, and friendly people, there is little to dislike other than the dirt and chaos. I’ve found that the Indian people go out of their way to make an effort to welcome and help you in whatever way they can.
I believe the main contributing factor to why I found India so delightful is that I was able to do it on a motorcycle. Having transportation of your own allows you to bypass all the hasslers and hagglers who prey on tourist bus stations (and tourists in general). It’s easier to shop around for hotels because there’s no need to lug around an oversized backpack, and getting to attractions is cheaper, hassle free, and direct.
Places to stay: The Singh Homestay ($20~) is a little outside of the city of Udaipur, but if you have your own transportation it’s not a problem and totally worth it. They have hot water and wifi, offer you seasonal fruits (like apple custards), and even give you toothbrushes and razors like a real hotel. It’s a great combination of having a homestay feel with hotel amenities.
Places to eat: Natraj Thali Restaurant is not the best thali in Udaipur, but in India. The menu differs slightly each day depending on what ingredients they have, but you can always bet it’ll be an unlimited feast for 200 rupees. It’s really the only thali place worth going to at all.
Places to see: Monsoon Palace has a great panorama of the city and is the go-to place at sunset. Sahelion Ki Bari is the queen’s gardens definitely worth checking it out at night for a more romantic vibe with a lot less people. Just don’t forget that other than the obvious one in the front, there are three more ponds around the sides so don’t forget to check those out too. If you’ve got wheels (even if you don’t), the 100 kilometers to Kumbhalgarh is totally worth the trip. It’s a 36 kilometer fort with 360 temples scattered along the way. Lots of lodges there so spend the night and take a trek!
Places to stay: The Marigold Hotel ($10~) is outside the fort (which is always cheaper) but close enough to be centrally located and a quick ten minutes walk into town. The food there isn’t great, but I’m an avid advocate of street food anyway so it’s still worth the rooftop view of the sunset while drinking some chai.
Places to see: Being a desert, everyone offers a camel desert safari. Adventure Travel Agency Camel Safaris will give you value for your buck plus some. The guides are hilarious, theres plenty of water, the futons on the sand have pristine pressed sheets, and the dinner is delicious. They will accommodate however you want, and there’s no bullshit with this guy. The owner and his son are seasoned travelers themselves and know how to put on a tour. Well worth the expense for having your last sight before you close your eyes to be the desert stars.
Places to stay: The Stephen High School for Deaf ($25~) (AirBnB) is a great little find in Mumbai if you want cleanliness, a hot shower, wifi, and knowing your money is going to a good cause. It’s a simple room but has all the basic necessities and a really great little find. If you’re traveling via train, Hotel Saim Palace ($10~) is walking distance to the station and it’s affordable, good wifi, and reasonably clean. Don’t be fooled by the street you turn up on or the appearance of the building because you’ll be quite pleasantly surprised when you walk inside.
Places to eat: The Street. There is absolutely no reason to eat anywhere other than the street in India, especially in Mumbai. In my opinion, Mumbai has the best street food anywhere in India. The main road outside the Stephen HS as well as Hotel Saim Palace have exceptional street food (bonus: it’ll literally cost you pennies). Just find where the locals are crowded around and point at a plate.
Places to see: The Mumbai CST is the main train station in Mumbai. It’s definitely more impressive outside than in, so make sure to take in all the pups and bits sticking out from the clock tower. The High Court is on a street with lots of colonial inspired buildings, so grab some street food and take a walk and watch a cricket match imagine all the Ambassadors rolling through the streets.
Places to stay: Villa Everest ($40~) is an old English mansion that’s been converted by someone who’s clearly traveled and took inspiration from lovely cottages. The wifi is good, a hearty breakfast is included, and the sunset from the bay window is worth a mountain view window. It’s quiet even though it’s on a busy street, and the only downside is that their hot water lasts for less than five minutes before needing to be reheated. It’s a room that’s got personality and perfect for cold days in watching cable.
Places to see: If you’re going up in a four-by-four, you can’t stop and appreciate the view like you can on a motorcycle. The area right before Margaret’s Tea has stunning views of Darjeeling sitting on the tea plantations, and surprisingly the bottom of the hill before the toll booth has been planted very strategically so that everything is symmetrical and beautiful. Tiger Hill is supposed to be a great viewpoint, but it was cloudy when I went up so I can’t vouch for it.
Places to stay: The whole point of Varanasi is to watch them cremate the deceased on the Ganges. The way to the cremation point the families are ringing bells, chanting, and playing the drums so if your hotel is on route to the Ganges, there will be very little sleeping involved. Hotel Monay ($10~) is at the entry of one of the smaller cremation sites so its loud, the room is filthy, and they forgot their wifi password. It is, however, one of the cheapest places you’ll find. Ganga GH + Music School ($15~) is on a ghat further down so it’s quieter, has hot water, wifi, a lovely balcony to eat your street food on, and they offer boat rides down the Ganges.
Places to see: Obviously a river row boat is a must to see all the ghats and the cremations from the water. They go for about $20 wherever you go, but just make sure that you ask them to go all the way down to both of the main cremation sites even if they get tired. Just don’t stick any part of your body into the water because if the deceased had an incurable disease or a skin disease, they sink them down the Ganges instead of cremating them in it so the water (although holy) is probably not the most sanitary.
Places to stay: Red Soil ($13~) is on a hard-to-find back street in Vagator, but is one of the cheaper in the area. It’s clean, there’s wifi (it doesn’t reach the room sometimes), and the water is lukewarm (which is what you want in Goa). Hotel Ekdant ($10~) is a decent place with good wifi and cheap food if you’re stopping between Goa and Mumbai. Nothing special, but for 800 rupees it’s cleaner than all the rest and has a beautiful garden to eat in. Home (40~)in Patnem doesn’t have hot water or wifi, so it isn’t ideal for budget travelers. Most of the places in Patnem, the longer you stay the cheaper it gets, plus the longer reservations get an apartment with a kitchen (which cuts down the cost of vacationing quite considerably).
Places to eat: Just go on any travel site and you’ll find Thalassa. It’s the number one restaurant in Goa for a good reason. Mariketti is an amazing character and why most people probably come back for more (aside from the food. She serves Greek food better than what you would get in Greece). Don’t forget to book a cliffside table to watch the sunset whilst sipping a burnt orange martini. Otremarino Italian Beach Restaurant is a very classy beachside resort/restaurant/beach bar. The prices are very reasonable for you get, plus you get to lounge in their tiki beach chairs all day! Their pasta and mozzarella is the best you’ll probably find in Goa. Sunita isn’t on the beach, but a nice spot to watch the world go by. Their food isn’t great, but make the best pina colada I’ve had in Goa, and that in itself is a reason to go. The Mango Tree is where everyone gathers for breakfast for coffee (or if you’re like me) bloody mary’s and mimosas. April 20 in Patnem has lovely strawberry daiquiris and if you’re lucky, a school of dolphins will put on a show for you. Magic View in Patnem is also a great place for wood fire pizzas, but don’t forget to book in advance and bring mosquito spray!
Places to see: In total honesty, I was so tired from being on the motorcycle for two and a half months that I didn’t even bother to sightsee. I woke up, started my day off with a bloody mary, found a beach bar and tanned on their sunbeds whilst drinking pina coladas for the rest of the day until sunset happy hour. But I wouldn’t have done it any other way because they are, after all, known for their beaches.
TIPS FOR MOTORCYCLE TOURS THROUGH INDIA:
- Two wheeled vehicles don’t pay ANY tolls. Don’t even ask, go to the very left lane that looks like it’s for pedestrians
- Learn to love the cows and not be mad with driving in a zoo
- Driving on the left is a suggestion, not a rule
- Don’t be afraid of street food. Just make sure it’s steaming hot, cooked in front of you, and other locals are eating at the place too
- SMILE! People will gawk at you (it’s not rude), but once you shoot them a smile they’ll shoot one twice the size back
- It’s not everyone riding Enfields up north- you’re not gonna find a riding buddy as easily as you fantasize
- Restaurants are called hotels and hotels are called lodges
- Look for lodges and hotels called “family restaurants”. They’ll take you no matter what
- You will be tired after a days ride. No matter how short the ride, you’ll want to crash. Don’t plan on too much sightseeing unless you’re really pressed for time
- Most police in India don’t care about foreigners. If it looks like they’ll pull you over, just smile and wave and they’ll smile and wave you right past
- If you have a converter for a European outlet, bring that instead of buying an Indian one
- Learn how to tie a good sailor’s knot. You’ll have to get super creative where to hang the mosquito net and a shoelace and knot go a long way
- Scarves go a long way: head wrap, cardigan, pillowcase, eye mask, pollution shield
- Depending on where you go, a sheet and pillowcase may be more practical than an entire sleeping bag