The Good, The Bad and The Useful of Travelling in India

Spending a month in India, we didn’t even scratch the surface of this vast land and culture. However, we did begin to appreciate some of its quirks, people and regions. We have summarised these into some useful tidbits of info for travel in India.

We’ll start with the useful:

India may be the 7th largest country in the world but in terms of population it ranks in second place. Over 1.3 billion people to be more precise spread across 29 states and 7 union territories. There is more diversity than you might think for one country including religion, over 20 different languages, cuisine and culture. We met Indians who felt like foreigners when visiting other Indian states.

Many restaurants in India are confusingly called ‘hotels’, We’re not quite sure why. The majority of restaurants are vegetarian (as Hindus do not believe in inflicting pain on animals) and often restaurants serving meat advertise themselves as a ‘non-veg’ restaurants since it is less common.

You’ll never find beef on the menu as cows are considered sacred and kept for milking only. Pork is also less common because of the Muslim beliefs about the pig being a dirty animal. The meat you will find in non-veg restaurants will be most likely chicken, lamb or goat.

If you are white, tall or blonde at some point during your time in India you will most likely be asked for a selfie. It can make you feel like a film star at times and annoyed at other times. Love it or hate it, a lot of Indians just aren’t used to seeing foreigners and therefore you’ll need to get used to being stared at. A lot. As a female, have your wits about you, sometimes selfies frustratingly encouraged ‘unwanted touching’.

Indian people generally dress conservatively, especially the women. Ladies, I feel for you as you need to cover up your legs and shoulders and it’s very hot. However, it’s much better to dress in line with the locals as a sign of respect and to avoid unwanted attention. Maxi dresses or long pants are ideal.

The good:

One of the appeals of travelling in India is the cultural experience you can get for your money. The cost of living is very low in comparison to the U.K. For example, a decent size meal can cost between 30p to £4. Accommodation for a private double room with an ensuite and air conditioning cost between £10-£20 per night. Buses were inexpensive and trains were reasonable (the rate dependent on the class).

You can see so much fascinating wildlife and stunning landscapes in India. Periyar National Park in Kerala was very picturesque with wild elephants roaming around. Ranthambhore National Park was great for spotting Bengal tigers. The Indian peafowl or peacock is India’s national bird and we saw plenty during our travels.

There was much less Western tourists in India compared to South East Asia for example. You certainly get the local experience.

The food is amazing. Particularly the breads and curries. Trying the food and snacks from different regions of India was one of our highlights as they were so different! Delhi belly is a reality though so best to eat at reputable restaurants or street food vendors where you see them cooking the food in front of you. We stayed away from meat a lot of the time and didn’t touch salads or fruit unless you could peel the skin like oranges and bananas. The water is definitely not drinkable, we wouldn’t even advise using it to brush your teeth!

Not to stereotype, but we found the Indian people to always be so smiley and friendly. Even if it was broken English or using hand signs because they spoke no English at all, we found their hospitality to be second to none.

The bad:

If you arrive in Delhi or another big city in India, it’s unlikely you’ll avoid witnessing poverty in India. It can be really hard to stomach the scale of it and seeing so many old, young, men, women and children sleeping on the streets.

It is not uncommon to see cows, pigs, goats, dogs and cats walk freely amongst the streets. The sad part, is that unfortunately a lot of these animals look malnourished and are often seen near or on piles of rubbish on the side of the street. I watched one cow gobble up 10 plastic cups, it was pretty awful to watch. The stray dogs and cats are often wounded and flea-infested.

Not necessarily a bad thing but something to get used to – foreigners pay more for things. Generally Indian states have a local rate and a higher foreigner rate for all of the forts, palaces and sights requiring a ticket to enter. The same can be said for tuk-tuks and buses. Sometimes as a foreigner you will be stopped and charged to enter free places of worship too. Normally you just have to suck it up and pay it. The only time you can negotiate is with tuk-tuk drivers. An Indian man told me, “when they see white people, they see money”, meaning many Indian people believe white people are rich. It helps if you have a rough idea of how much you should be paying for something.

Gender equality hasn’t quite reached the same level as western countries. I know in some areas there is gender equality (from working with Indian women in the U.K.) but we still felt there seemed to be a strong perception of women staying at home and raising children. There were times when Indian men would speak to Jonny and would ignore me when I spoke. The question I would get asked most commonly was “Do you have any children? Why not?”. We even saw some restaurants advertised as ‘women-friendly’.

Public transport in India by bus and train was generally always overcrowded. If you purchase a seat, it generally meant you had to share it.

The Indian head nod, was both fun and frustrating for us. We’d ask a question and sometimes get the head shake in response which meant it was hard to decipher a concrete yes or no. We think it just means okay, I hear you.

The toilets are generally pretty basic, especially those on the trains. No toilet paper but a tap for running water – Indians use their left hand to clean themselves. Some Indians thought toilet paper was unhygienic so bring toilet paper with you if you don’t want to clean yourself the Indian way. If you are eating in a restaurant or shaking someone’s hand, remember to use your right hand!

In conclusion:

India is 100% worth visiting. The diversity, culture, landscape, sights, wildlife and food are breathtaking. There are so many incredible places to visit both in the cities, countryside and coastline.

As a backpacker, it’s amazing how much you can see and do with a relatively low budget. Plus very authentically as there are less tourists that South East Asia for example.

However, I would say keep your wits about you, particularly if you are female. Look out for scams and be open-minded.

Read up as much as possible about the culture and the places you will visit in advance if you can. Use your hotel/homestay/hostel as much as possible to help you during your stay if you have any questions.

Oh and remember to bring toilet roll (and Ladies, bring tampons as you’re unlikely to be able to buy them in India!).

We hope you have an amazing trip!

You can read our other blog posts about India here:

Kerala, South India: Our 2-week itinerary

Thrissur Pooram – An Outsider’s Perspective

India: The Golden Triangle and Rajasthan in 2 weeks

India: The Golden Triangle and Rajasthan in 2 weeks

Our route: Agra >> Jaipur >> Ranthambore >> Jodhpur >> Jaisalmer >> Delhi

We arrived in Delhi on 7th May 2017. I guess because South India is closer to the equator, we expected the north of India to be less hot, if not the same. How foolish.

This was taken at 10am!

 At midday, Delhi and the surrounding area got to between 40-46 degrees celsius. So our schedule had to fit around what we thought we could realistically manage in the heat. We prioritised the Taj Mahal (obviously), seeing a Benghal Tiger (we’d not managed to see one in Periyar National Park in Kerala) and the three Rajasthan cities of Jaipur, Jodhpur and Jaisalmer. The three places that make up the classic ‘Golden Triangle’ of India consist of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. Our itinerary looked like this:

A) Agra (for Taj Mahal) – 1 night
B) Jaipur – 3 nights
C) Ranthambore (for the National Park) – 2 nights
D) Jodhpur – 2 nights
E) Jaisalmer – 4 nights
F) Delhi – 2 nights

Our route in North India using Google maps.
When you zoom out, you can start to get the scale of India. We only covered a very small portion!

This portion of our trip was characterised by beautiful forts, palaces and desert land.

These nine photos capture some of the highlights of the 2 weeks!

The best way to take long distances in this region is by train. Getting to Agra from Delhi would be much better if you purchased tickets in advance. We had tried using the website but the registration did not go through in time so if you plan to use the trains in India make sure you do this well in advance. This blog is amazing at spelling out the various train classes and how to book tickets.

Arriving at New Delhi train station was certainly an experience with lots of Indians sitting or sleeping on the floor, various different queues for the ticket office, beggars and lots and lots of touts. At the time I was too frazzled to take a photo but I found this blog which provides some pretty accurate photos!

Unfortunately, we weren’t entirely sure where to buy our tickets. A friendly staff member told us the next train to Agra was in two hours and we had to go to another building to purchase tourist tickets. Being none the wiser to the scam being played on us, off we went to this other building to get train tickets only to be told there were no trains available. This was when we realised something phishy was going on and quickly made our way back to the train station. As we entered the station, a train Security Officer asked to see our tickets. Since we didn’t have any he said we could not enter the station and must walk down the street to the ‘tourist train reservation office’. He was quite authoritative, even showing us his ID, and began escorting us down the road. We were naturally skeptical from the last scam. Thankfully, a foreigner happened to be walking down the street and told us quietly the tourist office was inside the main train station on the 1st floor. We immediately turned on our heel and marched back to the station, ignoring everyone until we got into the station. Eventually we found the tourist office which was very busy. There was a ticketing system and after a further painful two hour wait we finally had all our train tickets.

We had side beds for the ride to Agra in class ‘3A’.

 The train to Agra was pleasant enough, lasting about three and a half hours. We sat in the air-conditioned 3rd tier class (there are eight classes in total) and spoke to an Indian family along the way.

Looking down the aisle of the train carriage. The guys face is brilliant.

 Our hotel, Sai Palace, was pretty impressive in terms of location and price for £11 per night! You could even see the silhouette of the famous Taj Mahal from the rooftop restaurant.

Jonny took this cool zoomed in shot from the rooftop of our hotel, Sai Palace.

Very early the next morning we walked to the Taj Mahal for sunrise to beat the crowds and the heat. It was truly spectacular.

Even before we got to the Taj Mahal the walk was stunning with the sun glinting through the West gate and lighting up the red brick.
The magnificent Taj Mahal.
From every angle the Taj Mahal looks magnificent. We even got to go inside with shoe covers.
For those that can peel their eyes away from the Taj Mahal, Jonny noticed there were lots of parrots flying around so I took a few snaps.

We ate breakfast back at the hotel and also managed to check out Agra Fort before catching the train to Jaipur.

The Red Fort in Agra. No brownie points for guessing why it is called the ‘Red’ Fort 😉

This train ride was really comfortable in the air-conditioned chair class and we were even given food!

Train food consisted of Dahl curry (lentils) and paneer curry with rice and chapatis. There was yoghurt and a syrup sponge sweet for desert.

 We arrived at our hotel Pandya Niwas about 10pm. The room was really modern and the staff friendly. The next morning I realised I had left my sunglasses in the hotel in Agra- oops. The hotel confirmed they had them but they would not post, only collect them in person. If these had been a cheap pair of sunglasses I would not have been bothered but Jonny had bought them for our honeymoon. So our first morning in Jaipur was spent booking train tickets back to Agra for the following day. We had a late breakfast and spent the rest of the day meandering through the streets. We saw Hawa Mahal at dusk, a high-walled palace built for the Royal women to watch the streetlife. We ate at a rooftop restaurant which overlooked Hawa Mahal.

Hawa Mahal in Jaipur.

 The next day we caught the first train back to Agra. Fortunately, I retrieved my sunglasses and not wanting to waste the day, we took a look around the other sights of Agra including the Tomb of I’timād-ud-Daula often referred to as the ‘Baby Taj’, the Jama Mosque (built in the 1600s) and the Mehtab Bagh gardens with a view of the Taj Mahal from across the river.

The actual Taj Mahal (top), Baby Taj (bottom-left) and the Jama Mosque (bottom-middle) which had a creepy room with ladies handprints (bottom-right).

We also decided to spoil ourselves with a great Bon Barbecue lunch.

Bon Barbeque- this was the starter: skewered pineapple and paneer for me, fish and mutton for Jonny.

In the evening we travelled back to Jaipur. Jaipur is the capital of the Rajasthan state and is called the ‘pink city’ because the buildings were painted pink for a royal visit from Queen Victoria in 1876. The main sights are the City Palace, Jantar Mantar (an astronomical observation site built in the early 18th century) and Amer Fort. We managed to do all of these in one day.

The City Palace in Jaipur.
Jantar Mantar, a collection of astronomical instruments used in the 18th century.

Amer Fort is located 11km from Jaipur whereas the City Palace and Jantat Mantar are centrally located. Amer Fort was certainly worth the visit and made for some impressive views.

Amer Fort near Jaipur

Talking food for a moment, we found a very authentic small street food vendor that many locals ate at. We were served a 50p meal consisting of chickpea curry and poori bread or rice – and if you weren’t full from your first plate they would keep on serving.

A very small bustling authentic street vendor selling hot chickpea curry and freshly made poori bread or rice.

Ganeshi, a small restaurant recommended in lonely planet I believe, had really friendly staff and you could watch them cook your meal. It’s quite hard to spot though as the entrance is in between shops. The food was yummy and very cheap.

Ganeshi, an unassuming restaurant which had charming staff and freshly cooked curries, rice and bread at great prices!

Another of our favourite restaurants in Jaipur was Natraj, the peshwari naan and potato bomb curry were the best! This time, I gobbled it all up without taking a photo.

On our last day in Jaipur, we decided to do something a little different. We’d heard there were elephant sanctuaries in the area but were slightly sceptical of how well the elephants were treated. After some research we decided to visit Elephant Joy. When we arrived we were greeted with three elephants: Rangoli, Moti and Gori. It was a relief to see they were not in chains and free to wander. The owner explained how Rangoli was rescued from a circus and Gori was an orphan. We fed and washed the elephants which was really fun.

Feeding and washing the elephants.

We were also able to ride Moti bareback (because the wooden boxes hurt the elephants). The owner was also keen to ensure we weren’t too heavy for the elephant . To be honest although the ride was an experience, we both felt bad riding it. I know people ride horses and camels but an elephant just felt wrong somehow.

Riding Moti, one of the elephants. It felt different to riding a horse or camel and although care was taken for the elephants, it didn’t feel right riding one.

On the plus side, the elephants seemed to be treated really well and had vet care every month. They certainly seemed to enjoy being fed and washed! Overall, we had a really fun experience and it was amazing to be so intimate with these huge creatures.

Giving Moti a treat after the ride was really fun and she certainly seemed to like her treat! Normally it would be sugar cane but they had run out so she got a few slices of bread instead.

Our next stop was Ranthambore for the Tiger Reserve. We really wanted to spot a wild Bengal tiger. We took the first train and arrived by lunchtime. In the afternoon, we managed to secure a safari after a lot of waiting and patience. The ticket office was home to a lot of touts and a long line. Someone said to Jonny “if you wait they will not come to you, you have to shout to be seen!“. By 3pm, we were in a jeep racing towards Ranthambore National Park. When I say racing, this was no word of a lie – the driver did not slow down for anything: herds of goats, pot-holes, bumps, bends and even the wildlife (which was the point of the Safari). We were bouncing around all over the place in the back of the jeep, it may as well have been a bouncy castle! It was also ridiculously hot with no shade so we bought emergency rags at the side of the road.

In the back of the jeep, with the emergency rags to try and stop our heads from frying in the heat!

Amazingly, we did actually spot two tigers up close! Other wildlife we spotted were birds including kingfishers and peacocks, samba deer and monkeys. I just about managed to take photos whilst the driver raced on.

Some photos of the wildlife spotted in Ranthambore National Park.

After a restful second day in Ranthambore town, we caught two trains to Jodhpur. We had a 2 hour wait in Jaipur so took a taxi to the Peacock rooftop cafe for breakfast. This place was really nice and relaxing.

Breakfast at the Peacock restaurant in Jaipur (in-between trains).
Time to kill on the train to Jodhpur.

The train ride took up the whole day and we arrived late to our homestay Suraj Haveli. We were welcomed by a lovely family. The Mum made us Thali which we ate with beer on the rooftop with an impressive view of Mehrangarh Fort.

You can just about make out us eating dinner with a view of the fort.
The Mum rustled up a great homemade Thali for us.

The next morning, the family prepared a special breakfast with sweets because it was Jonny’s birthday. He even got a garland and a tikka on his forehead!

Jonny’s birthday morning. The family we stayed with cooked us a special breakfast and offered Jonny a garland and a tikka to wish him happy birthday.

The Mehrangarh Fort was very impressive, followed by a visit to the Clock Tower in the middle of Sardar Market.

Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur.

Cafe Royal was a little gem tucked into the little shops surrounding the market with a great view of the clock tower. The owners were really sweet and lent Jonny their guitar for a bit.

Sadar Market around the clock tower. We sat watching market life at Cafe Royale and Jonny played guitar.

Around 5 o’clock in the afternoon, a friend of the homestay took us on a walking tour of Jodhpur. It was a very personal tour as he showed us his school and home, as well as a step well and some temples. Jodhpur is known as the blue city and it’s easy to see why.

The walking tour around Jodphur, the blue city. The step well was a particular highlight.

Dinner was at On the Rocks- a restaurant complex with lots of choice and an actual bar (this was the first bar we’d come across in India with alcohol advertised).

Birthday dinner with lots of curries, rice and breads at On the Rocks restaurant in Jodphur.

On the way back there was a sandstorm from hell and we had to remain in the fetal position in the tuk-tuk!

To get to Jaisalmer we had to get up at 4am and arrived by train around midday.

A cow casually walks past the train window.

The hotel we stayed in was the best yet- it was actually part of the Lal Garh fort wall. The balcony was awesome and we easily lost a good few hours sitting out watching the world go by.

Our balcony at Hotel Victoria in Jaisalmer. It was actually in the fort wall.

 The breakfasts were great too – banana and honey pancakes with chai tea on a rooftop with a view!

Not the best photo, but we loved our honey and banana pancakes each morning at Hotel Victoria in Jaisalmer.

Jaisalmer is not too far from the Pakistan border and located very close to the Thar desert. The average temperature was 44-47 degrees celsius which limited the amount we could do in the day. The sights of Jaisalmer include a lake, the fort palace and the desert.

The lake and Fort palace in Jaisalmer.

 To get a break from curry, we found a fun cafe called ‘Cafe +’ which served western food and had lots of space to chill out.

We went to Cafe + twice during our stay. It was a great escape from the heat.

We took a overnight trip into the desert which involved visiting a deserted village, an hour camel ride and sleeping out under the stars.

An abandoned village in the Thar desert. Supposedly the villagers fled from an Emperor. There was an Indian family visiting all crammed into a tuk-tuk.

It was low season in Jaisalmer – there aren’t many tourists silly enough to come here in the heat. It worked in our favour though as we got really good deals on accommodation and for the desert tour it was just the two of us plus our guide so felt very much like a private tour.

Camel ride in the Thar desert 🌵

After the camel ride, our guide cooked us dinner on an open fire.

Camp fire and meal. The food was actually pretty tasty and even in the middle of the desert they made fresh chapatis.

Camping consisted of sleeping on a bed exposed to the elements. It’s difficult to put into words how surreal this was – we were in the middle of the desert, no signs of civilisation for miles, no toilet, no huts – just us, a campfire and some beds! The stars did look incredible though.

Sleeping out in the middle of the desert!

  We were right next to a giant sand dune which was hilariously hard to walk on, particularly in the dark. You’d fall about everywhere and sand filled up your shoes instantly.

Jonny demonstrating how to tackle the sand dune 😂

  The next morning we had breakfast and then messed around with some fun ninja moves on the sand dunes.

Ninja moves in the Thar Desert.

On the way back I rode the camel myself which was both terrifying and satisfying. I survived nevertheless.

Riding a camel by myself. Jonny was too frightened so kept tethered to our guide which made me more nervous! My camel Papaya was very good though, just a little slow 😝

When we got back to Jaisalmer, feeling brave we thought we’d try something else pretty random – driving a tuk tuk! A friendly driver taught us how to operate the gears, clutch etc and then let us have a go! It was brilliant. We couldn’t stop laughing!


The next day we had an 18-hour train ride back to Delhi. We decided to fork out the extra money and get first class (which essentially means you pay for space). It was worth it because we actually got a decent night’s sleep.

The 18 hour train from Jaisalmer to Delhi. First class was a four-berth cabin with a door. You were given a towel and bed sheets for the journey.
The train food wasn’t free even in First Class, but curry bread and rice cost about £2.

 In Delhi we stayed near the train station which had a good atmosphere and there were lots of restaurants. We saw the Jama Masjid, one of the largest mosques in India, but we didn’t stay too long as before we knew it we had a queue of Indians wanting selfies with us.

Jama Masjid in Delhi, one of the biggest mosques in India.
We attracted a lot of attention in India with our pale skin and got asked for so many selfies. At the Mosque it was even more crazy so we took a few of our own 🙈

The Red Fort nearby was closed so we wandered back through the streets full of people on the streets selling food, clothes or drinks. Some of the streets were pretty run down with lots cables dangling between buildings.

The busy city of Delhi. Some streets looked quite run down, but they were always very interesting and gave you a good sense of local life.

For our last night in India, we decided to stay somewhere nice and booked the Marriott in Gurugram, 30-minutes from the airport. The hotel had a pool and gym so we spent some time there and in the evening they had a drinks reception and food in the Executive Lounge (something I had access to with all my travel with IBM). My first glass of wine in a month! We went to bed feeling very satisfied.

For our last evening in India we decided to treat ourselves at a nice hotel near the airport.

Annoyingly, at 4am I woke up feeling completely shit. I threw up all morning. We’d done quite well to not get a serious dose of Delhi belly throughout our trip so getting so sick right at the end of our trip and at a nice hotel was a shame. In fact, I was so poorly we missed our flight to Bangkok but the Marriott were good and let us stay an extra night for free.

Needless to say, our time in India had its ups and downs- it is busy and chaotic, sometimes things don’t make sense and you can’t miss poverty.  Yet on the other hand, there is such beautiful scenery, wonders of the world, fantastic forts and palaces and amazing wildlife. Overall, we’re really glad we went!

Next stop Bangkok followed by a trip to Cambodia and Vietnam 😊

You can read our other posts about travel in India here:

The Good, The Bad and The Useful of Travelling in India

Kerala, South India: Our 2-week itinerary

Thrissur Pooram – An Outsider’s Perspective

Thrissur – A city in the coconut-loving state of Kerela, southern India

Pooram  – A Hindu temple festival; fiery processions, mesmerising music, adorned elephants, huge numbers of excited devotees

I think we may have covered every base on the emotional spectrum during the 36 hour festival. On the Asian stint of our sabbatical trip, the Pooram festival in India was pretty much the only event we’d reserved on our calendar. We wanted to get an experience of a local festival, one not particularly geared up for extracting tourist ruppees. I can report that an experience is what we got!

Thrissur Pooram, “the mother of all Poorams” is described as “a grand assembly of Gods and Godesses… 36-hours non-stop with no loss of energy” Elephants-a-plenty, and 4 hours of fireworks in the early hours of the morning. Sounded great to us – To Thrissur!

Elephantastic?
We booked an AirBnB well in advance anticipating the majority of beds to be taken up. Accommodation was a complete pain in the arse. (More in “Advice” at the end)

We arrived the day before to acclimatise. Within minutes, we saw an elephant being ridden on the road amongst the honking rickshaws, motorbikes and taxis. I hadn’t applied much thought before arriving in India about the condition of the elephants, but shit do I feel awful for them. The problem with tradition I guess, elephant welfare was probably even more of an afterthought 200+ years ago.

Safe Space
The main festival area is on the inside of a ring road housing a large temple. Taking in the sights and lights at night-time was a fairly pleasant way to spend time. Even better from the Friday morning when the road closes. Being fairly fresh in India, exposed to madly packed up roads with every single bike and rickshaw blaring their horns is enough to make you stop where you’re standing and immediately assume the fetal position. I’m about used to it now though, but I’m still suprised traffic seems to flow without making the roads look like a scene from Final Destination.

Early doors of the festival – people were climbing wherever possible for a good view.. lots of opportunities later for close encounters with the elephants and performers
Braving the risk of electrocution for a good view 😐

Trance Inducing Horn 😎
With the festival underway, you can expect to see huge gatherings of devotees around the temples, with adorened elephants parked outside. Performers in traditional wear stand atop the poor bastards, spinning colourful umbrellas, whilst musicians play trance inducing horn and percussion instruments. The music is quite good, in that the group change up the beats and rhythm quite frequently, and in-time. There was one performance around 5:30 on the Friday outside the main temple where the crowd would cheer ferociously and lose their minds each time the group changed the beat. People were partying and waving around colourful balloons, this was probably the highlight of the whole festival actually.

This was dead good

By the evening, we agreed the music to foreign ears is incredibly repetitive. I still have the beat of the piercing cymbals in my head now. I don’t think it will ever leave, I’m a changed man now.

The moment of realisation – “Damn, the music IS pretty repetitive”

Indian Summer
One thing to note is that it is freaking hot. I’m talking 40 degrees celcius hot. It’s properly dangerous to be exposed to the sunlight for any extended period of time, which is an easy mistake to make when you’re an excited Westerner and the festival is a novelty. The daytime is taken up by the game “Hunt shade, or literally die”

Local companies hand out fans and hats. Clever marketing.. If you don’t die, you’re more likely to spend money with them

Bhang for buck
One interesting point Mrs Mansell made was that the festival experience was slightly odd to us without alcohol.. I’m pretty sure that would sound crazy to a local, but we hit up many music festivals in Europe and getting boozed is commonplace. Alcohol is the second most consumed fluid after air. That said, “bhang” (edibal cannibis) is legal from government controlled shops, maybe that’s how the younger crowd found the repetitive music so mesmerising for so long..

These guys are probably bhanged up. Speaking of Selfies..

Travelling before the age of front-facing camera equipped smartphones must’ve been bliss
“Selfie?” “Selfie?” As a Westerner, this is the most common interaction you’ll have with the locals. The frequency increases somewhat if you have blonde hair, or if you’re 6’4″. Top tip, take it in your stride and do it. If you don’t, a photo of your mush will end up on their phone anyway! The best selfies are when someone tries to stealthily get a picture with you without you noticing. If you notice, pull a stupid face. Another good tactic is to dodge them or run away (In a joking manner, don’t actually run for your life) the guys I did this to found it hilarious.
We had a bit of a downer when late into the main evening we found ourselves “Selfie-ing” (Yeah sure, why not) when a separate boystrous group of guys got involved too. I hadn’t realised at the time but lady Mansell was subjected to over-excited, touchy-feely hands belonging to this second group of young men. This was a real shame as I had read comments online before the festival about this sort of issue. Up until that point, we hadn’t had a problem, and this blog post would’ve wholly encouraged you to dismiss those comments. The way women are treated and regarded in India in general could be the topic of a separate blog post, and then some.. Anyway, we agreed the best step forward would be if I covered the rear in all future Selfies!

My face may suggest otherwise, but thankfully these guys were not touching me inappropriately
This guy is your favourite, right?

4 hours of fireworks*
The fireworks were a big draw for us. The appeal was the 4 hour duration, the odd timing from 2AM on the Saturday plus the general reputation online. The fireworks did not start at 2AM, we heard different times from all sorts of people. In fact this situation was a common occurance throughout the festival. We heard and partially saw a massive display from our nearby hotel room at around 3AM. This lasted about 3 minutes. After this a firework was set off every couple of minutes, probably for about 4 hours. There is a lesson here about managing expectations! In truth, the short display was impresive with an incredible noise. It sounded like a warzone, with the night being lit up to look as if the sun was shining. From memory there were two displays of this magnitude which both lasted about 3 minutes… So 6 minutes of the 240 minutes originally advertised were quality!

I don’t have a photo of the fireworks, so, here is your favourite man instead

The humbling tale of Mr Loiterer
A vivid memory of mine.. we were speaking for quite some time to a local chap from Kerela whilst the processions ran into the night. He was well travelled, firmly middle class and genuinely a pleasant, interesting guy. Roughly halfway through our 45 minute chat, I began to notice a very old looking man lingering around. We’d gotten used to people staring at us intently, but this guy was loitering whilst we were deep in conversation. Once we parted ways with the friendly Kerela based chap, I could see in the corner of my eye the old boy was still hanging around. Mrs Mansell and I managed to lose each other (photo opportunities, large crowds…) As I was looking around for the top of her head, I spotted Mr Loiterer, who kindly pointed me in the direction of Mrs Mansell towards the elephants. Still he hung around, and it became clear that he wanted nothing, other than to just be around us. The most memorable point was when I offered him some of our water, he made a noise that I would liken to a young boy getting the exact gift they wanted on their birthday. I have a degree in Engineering, and therefore have no emotional intelligence, but if I did function like a normal human being I’m sure it would’ve pulled on my heart strings.

Whoops

Thirssur Pooram 2018?
The 2017 edition of Thrissur Pooram didn’t encourage me enough to consider visiting again in 2018.. But if you find yourself in the south of India at the right time, I would recommend the festival for the experience. I think your stories from Thrissur Pooram will be more interesting than your stories about sunbathing on the beaches of Goa!

A Naieve Westerner’s Summary
The Good
A very “local” experience – I can recall seeing perhaps 10 – 20 other obvious Westerners.

Eye opening – I’d never been to a festival like this, I don’t know too many others that have. Everything was new.. that’s good right?!

Performance – The processions and performances are mesmorising, colourful and awe-inspiring.

Fireworks – Although brief, the displays made night look like day and sounded like a scene from an action film in a cinema with a world class sound system.. In fact, that multiplied by 10.

Price – Hey the festival is free too!

The Bad
Elephant welfare – I can imagine this being a huge turn off for many people.

The Temperature – The date of the festival is dictated by a celestial event, which happens to be around April or May when it is frickin’ hot. Manageable by limiting sun exposure and making the most of the post sunset processions.

Timetable – Every experience was a chance encounter for us, which wasn’t really a bad thing.. Others may like to have a schedule. Information was available online but it’s really difficult to digest, probably because of my lack of knowledge of the history and Hinduism.

Touchy-feely-Selfie-hands – Every 3 seconds, someone is affected by Touchy-feely-Selfie-hands. That’s another one. And another. Whoops sorry that’s not useful. Ok, I reckon different people handle this risk differently. You could refuse all Selfies, run away or position ladies tactfully if you’re in a group. And another.

 And another..

Advice
Location – Try to stay somewhere close to the main ring road for easy access/escape.

Accommodation – Book your bed early, and get in touch with your host or hotel in advance. If you really want, do as many Indian nationals do and sleep rough for the night (That wasn’t for us, we stumped up a relatively large sum for a room) From our accommodation experience, long story short, avoid the AirBnb host below, and prepare to be ripped off and/or shouted at by your friendly hosts at Raj Mahal Lodge.

🖕😑🖕

Sunshine – Manage your time in direct sunlight, and carry a hat, sunscreen and water (easy to buy bottled)

Food – There were some decent restaurants on the south side main roads connecting to the main ring road. The breakfast buffet we had on Sunday at Pooram International Hotel made me a happy Westerner. I expected more street food vendors.. most were selling sweets.

Respite – Need a break from the noise, crowds and heat? Just do it.. find shade or an AC hotel restaurant and relax. There will still be processions, elephants and music when you’re finished, trust me!

Maps – Probably not needed so much, but download the Thrissur area on offline Google Maps.

Locals – Talk to people! The majority of people we spoke to were jubilant, happy to be there and curious as to why you’re there. You never know who you’ll meet.

Most importantly – Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think, enjoy yourself, etc etc etc 😁

You can read our other blog posts about India here:

The Good, The Bad and The Useful of Travelling in India

Kerala, South India: Our 2-week itinerary

India: The Golden Triangle and Rajasthan in 2 weeks