This trip was an unplanned trip, borne out of nowhere and turned into a huge travel adventure. In 35 days; visited 16 different cities, spent at least one night in 15 of them, and visited 9 new cities. Literally, lived off of my suitcase. A whirlwind tour. See the detailed itinerary at the end.
- Every region of India is so different that you have to reorient yourself for every region. From Delhi to Indore in MP to Kochi/Trivandrum/Kanyakumari/Madurai in the South to Assama and Meghalaya in the Northeast to Mumbai and Goa in the West to Varanasi and Kanpur in the North-Central region are wildly diverse in culture, food, languages, religion, and lifestyle. The only commonality is overpopulation and the middle and poor class’s struggles.
- India overall is much cleaner compared to 20 years ago. Every city has artistic murals on its main highways and even in some tourist places depicting that city’s culture, art, and history. Every city now has Indian-flag-colored lights on its highways, which looks beautiful. But cleanliness has a long way to go outside of Delhi. New Delhi is super clean in its mostly tourist areas, besides Delhi, Varanasi has changed drastically, is super clean, and has a huge amount of tourism growth, but lacks a service mindset.
- People in the South and Northeast regions were extremely honest, polite, and courteous compared to the northern part of the country. Kochi is probably the best example and one of the finest cities to visit in the south. Kochi has a lot of history, modern comforts, places to see, and things to do for 2-3 days.
- Assam and Meghalaya need more infrastructure development to take on tourism to the next level. Beautiful country, and very inexpensive. People there don’t feel like they are part of India. They are left out of the development. Some development is happening but not enough for it to become a powerhouse soon. Cherapunji, Mawlynnong, Dawki river, and many other attractions are wonderful. Guwahati is just another big city, cannot enter Shillong without spending hours in traffic jams. Roads are horrible in many places like Uttarakhand and Ladakh. Ziplining on the way to Cherapunji was thrilling. Cherapunji reminded me of much of Uttarakhand and parts of Ladakh. Weather is important. Mountain ranges were covered with smog throughout, like my trip to Uttarakhand a year ago.
- Kerala is equally divided between Hindus, Christians, and Muslims but all religions live in complete harmony. They should set an example for the rest of the world. Similarly, Assam is predominantly Hindu but its neighbor Meghalaya is predominantly Christian and both states are equally at peace with each other. All of India is fighting over beef but it is openly available and part of most Keralites’ meals every day. Southern people are very chilled and not in rush to go anywhere as compared to their northern neighbors.
- Goa is still one of the best tourist places to visit. Its beaches and shack restaurants are designed to cater to tourists. Just have a load of money to spend because you can spend a lot of money here if you like to have good times.
- Mumbai is just the same as it has always been. Mumbai is New York of India. To see Mumbai, you have to go with some locals. Its cafes, bars, and restaurants can overwhelm anyone’s senses. Visited a cafe deep inside some hidden street inside the Bandra area, called Sabko, it has become a cult amongst the locals and tourists. Similarly, there are restaurants only locals will know about their food and existence. Having a celebrity along with you can get you a table and special attention in these places too.
- Varanasi is much improved and much more commercialized since I visited in 2017. There are marked improvements in its infrastructure such as the airport, train station, trains, and highways but no one can help with its crowds and self-righteous, deeply superficially religious citizens. The service excellence is not what Varanasi is famous for, this is a city you come to, pushed thru the famous temples and ghats, and pushed out. No one seems to care about you, and you get overwhelmed but still feel that you have experienced a miracle. You come back still thrilled that you could see Varanasi.
- Kanpur has been my love for life, it doesn’t matter that it’s decaying at its core, it hasn’t changed at the grassroots level since I left the city in 1978. Except for a few concerned citizens, like the Kanpur Parivartan Forum and some more socially conscious people, the rest of Kanpur thinks alike. Even though the new metro, highrise buildings, and malls may give the image of 21st-century Kanpur, in reality, It is still living in the 70s, and it will not change anytime in the near future. But no one in the country can beat Mithas’s Jalebi, mithai, and Lassi. Kanpur is for family, specialty food, and Paan.
- Delhi has transformed into a modern city for the most part, comparable to any international city until you go to Old Delhi. Delhi has its own culture which is quite different from any other city in India. Its people are very adventurous, confident, and friendly, not your what-you-see-what-you-get types like in the South or even other UP cities, they are very self-absorbed, and love food. Go to any restaurant, they are all packed any time of the day. Delhi is foodies’ mecca. Its food places are popular from under-the-metro food vendors to seven-star restaurants. There is so much to do and see in Delhi that you can spend weeks and still not cover it all but Delhi is not for solo travelers, you must have company to enjoy it completely. And if you don’t like crowds, and cars, and struggle to reach anywhere on time, don’t go to Delhi then.
- Religion has come to the forefront and has become prominent in most people’s lives, especially among Hindus. Religious tourism has become a thing in India. So many people are traveling to religious destinations, especially Shiva Bhakti (Mahakal) has become a cult in itself. I don’t know how and who started this but you have to see the lines at the famous temples. Poor people stay in lines for hours. Even Vivekanand Memorial is now treated as a religious pilgrimage location. Your position in lines is for sale. You can buy your way into any temple. I visited more temples on this trip than ever before. Except for one or two temples, I went in and came out without even seeing the main Idol because of the lines. Waited for 1.5 hours to get to Vivekanand memorial in the fast lane. There must’ve been a single-file kilometer-long line for general admission at 7:30 am and later in the day. The same for Padmnabhaswamy Temple, and Kamakhya Temple, Vishwanath Temple; couldn’t even go close to the Mahakal temple and Kaal Bhairav temples in Ujjain.
- Important Travelling Lesson for going solo or no local persons – Look for 4 and above start hotels for a clean and good stay; a 3-star hotel ranking is deceiving. Demand 4-star if you are going with any tour. Getting a Sim card at the airport or in the city comes in handy when you have to deal with local hotels, taxis, Uber, etc. Always carry cash, cash is still the king unless you have PayTM or UPI for Indian transactions. Not everyone accepts your American credit card. There is no one rule, rules change with the service provider. Confirm everything, don’t assume anything. Uber and Ola drivers can cancel anytime even after accepting the ride. You will have to talk to them after confirming the ride via the app. Uber is almost half the price compared to independent taxi drivers.
- I believe in buying from Indian local vendors instead of western big corporate outlets. Spend locally and help the local economy.
- The last lesson – poor man is just poor, they have no religion or nationality, and their only hope is to get some money, love, and respect. At least treat them with respect.
- The bottom line, you will enjoy India only when you give in to the Indian way, otherwise, you will stay miserable. You cannot enjoy India with the western mindset. You will also learn about the Herd mentality in India. You cannot question anything, and you cannot apply logic to anything, Just have faith in the system. Even when things look bleak, they get done, you reach where you want to reach, may not be in time but you reach. In 35 days, I did not miss any taxi, train, or flight, my reservations showed up on time and I reached and achieved what I was set to do, nothing. I traveled and enjoyed every aspect of it, good and bad.
- Please feel free to send your queries, and questions directly via this post or Facebook https://www.facebook.com/manojtiwari
Trip Itinerary – Feb 12 – Mar. 18th, 2023
Feb. 12th – Departed from DC
Feb 13 – Feb 15th – Delhi
Feb15 – Travel by Train to Indore
Feb. 16th – Reached Indore, Ashoo’s Sangeet Program
Feb. 17th – to Ujjain for Mahakal Shiv temple and Kaal Bhairav temple but couldn’t see because of Shivaratri crowd, instead visited 2 other temples. Shadi in the evening
Feb. 18th & 19th – Indore excursion, Sarafa Bazaar
Feb. 20th – Flight via Mumbai to Kochi;
Feb. 21st – Business meetings and Dinner
Feb. 22nd – Excursion to Fort Kochi and Jewish settlements, synagogue, palace, etc. Dinner in the evening at Grand Hyatt.
Feb. 23rd – Excursion to Periyar Estate and boat ride
Feb. 24th – Train to Trivandrum, Visit Kovalam beach and Lulu Mall in the evening
Feb. 25th – Train to Kanyakumari
Feb. 26th – Sunrise at Kanyakumari, excursion to Vivekanand Memorial
Feb. 27th – Train to Madurai
Feb. 28th – Flight to Guwahati
Mar. 1st & 2nd – Assam/Meghalaya 6-day excursion started. Zakai Eco camp in Kaziranga National park and visited Kaziranga National Park
Mar. 3rd – Shillong, Mahamrityunjay Temple
Mar. 4th – Mawlynnong, Dawki River, Bangladesh border
Mar. 5th – Cherapunji, Garden of Caves, Nohkalikai Fall, Mawsamai Cave
Mar. 6th – Guwahati, Kamakhya temple and Sunset Cruise on Brahmaputra
Mar. 7th – Mumbai, Holi celebration with the family
Mar. 8th – In Mumbai, sightseeing, Sabko Cafe, dinner at Mahesh Restaurant with the family
Mar. 9th – Flight to Goa
Mar. 10th – Goa, Morajim beach, Calamari restaurant, Aguada fort
Mar. 11th – Basilica and other Churches
Mar. 12th – Flight to Varanasi
Mar. 13th – Sankat Mochan, BHU, meeting with family, Ganga Arti, boat ride, Vishwanath mandir
Mar. 14th – Sunrise at Assi Ghat, Train to Kanpur
March 15th & 16th – meeting with family, Parivartan group, Farm visit, dinner with friends & family
Mar. 17th – Train to Delhi; lunch with the family. Flight back to the US.
One thought on “India 2023”
Excellent Manoj , this could be very helpful when I retire and travel to India in a few years ! Well done !!