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

Kerala, South India: Our 2-week itinerary

Our route: Fort Kochi >> Alleppey (Alappuzha) >> Kumily (near Thekkady) >> Munnar >> Thrissur >> Cochin

Taken from Google maps.

We made it to India! 🇮🇳

Kerala, a southern Indian state, literally translates to ‘land of coconut’. Coconuts grow everywhere and is the base of Keralan food, drink (from fresh coconut water to toddy – the alcoholic version!) and beauty products. Like Sri Lanka, Kerala has a diverse landscape from the lush green hill country to the interweaving backwaters, vast national parks and the pearly white sandy beaches.

href=””> Jonny drinking fresh coconut water.[/c

href=””> These nine photos give you a taste of Kerala.[/c

We had just under two weeks in Kerala and one destination we were certain about was Thrissur because we wanted to experience a temple festival called Thrissur Pooram. The festival was one of the biggest in the whole of Kerala and would be held during the end of our two week stay. This dictated the other destinations we visited, not going any further south than Alappuzha (or Alleppey as it’s more commonly referred to). To give you an idea of the scale of Kerala, it takes about twelve hours to get from one end of the state to the other by train.

Our route:

(A) Fort Kochi – 2 nights
(B) Alappuzha/Alleppey – 3 nights
(C) Kumily – 3 nights
(D) Munnar – 1 night
(E) Thrissur – 2 nights
(F) Cochin (close to airport) – 1 night

 We flew into Cochin airport Kerala from Sri Lanka on 25th April 2017. This was our first trip to India and we were anticipating arriving to an exciting but somewhat chaotic atmosphere. When we arrived, we were surprised to see a very modern airport and an air-conditioned bus.

A lot of the guidebooks and people we had spoken to recommended spending some time in Fort Kochi so we decided to spend our first two nights here. Fort Kochi is a city on the coast, south-west of Cochin airport, and was a major port for trading spices from the 14th century.

As we got close, Fort Kochi looked more elegant than we expected with big houses and women in stunning saris, often lined with gold. It was really quiet when we arrived, the buses didn’t honk as much and there wasn’t the commotion and buzz we had seen in India on the TV or from what people had told us. We got the sense that this was a more well-to-do area. Kerala is one of the most educated Indian states so perhaps this should come as no surprise.

On our first night in Fort Kochi, we went to the Ginger House restaurant on the edge of the water which was tucked away behind a warehouse full of Indian antiques. You’ve probably guessed already but the items on the menu mostly featured ginger in them. The Ginger tea and curry were delicious!

href=””> Our first evening in Kerala at the Ginger House restaurant in Fort Kochi.[/c

We stayed at a place called Tree Loft. The owners were very nice people and we played uno with them in their upstairs hangout area. We tried to be cheap and got a small room with a fan but it was way too hot (think soggy clothes in just a few hours!). First lesson learnt in India: April/May is the hottest time of the year and air-conditioning is a must. The room also let us down further because in the middle of the night, I woke to find a cockroach crawling on me!! Nightmare! The little beast.

The next day, we got out the room as soon as possible. A tuk-tuk driver offered to take us around all the sights for 100 INR (less than £1.50) which sounded very reasonable! The sights included the Chinese Fishing nets, various churches around the town (we weren’t expecting to see so many churches) and the old Jewish town.

href=””> The huge Chinese fishing nets in Fort Kochi.[/c

href=””> Christianity has a huge following in Kerala and in Fort Kochi we visited St Francis church in the bottom left (the oldest European style church in India) and the Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica.[/c

The tuk-tuk driver also wanted to take us to ten shops because he would then earn enough commission to cover his fuel. We’d heard about this but just thought it would be one or two shops, not ten! So you might want to be specific with the tuk-tuk driver if you visit. We actually bailed on the last few shops and although he did seem a little annoyed he let us off all the same.

href=””> One of the spice markets the Tuk Tuk driver took us to was actually quite interesting and in a quaint little old building. You aren’t compelled to buy anything, though they do try with a hard sell but this mainly involves free tastings so it’s not so bad![/c

We decided to chill out after our time exploring and found a cool hangout to spend the afternoon called Kashi Art Gallery & Cafe which served really tasty organic food and juices. It also had the most amazing chocolate cake which was very popular!

href=””> The perfect respite at this hidden gem![/c

We also checked out the shop Anokhi which supplies East (a brand/shop you may have heard of which is also stocked in House of Fraser). In the evening, we watched a traditional Kathakali performance; a play conducted with facial expressions, particularly the eyes. We had a cut down version with English translation to make it easier for us to understand – a normal Kathakali can last over 3 hours! We saw this at Greenix Village if you are interested in the shorter version.

href=””> The Katakhali. A play with music, facial expressions and dramatic costumes.[/c

There was a small local cafe near our accommodation called Sanitha Hotel (we’re not sure why but often restaurants are called hotels) and we ended up eating there a few times because the food was really good and super cheap. They made good masala tea, masala dosa and parathas & curry. Each meal would cost us 50p each!

href=””> This small local restaurant might not look much from the outside but we enjoyed fresh masala tea, parathas and masala dosa (the triangle shape dish) here and it was really tasty and very cheap![/c

The next destination was Alappuzha or it’s less formal name of Alleppey. We got two crowded buses to get there (changing at New Bridge). Alleppey is best known for its backwaters, often referred to as the ‘Venice of India’. Large ‘houseboats’ float along the backwaters and have become popular with tourists. You can stay in a houseboat for between £60-£250 depending on the season, size of the boat and whether you share with others. We were told the best way to get a houseboat at a decent price was to go to Finishing point (where the houseboats dock) around 8am and negotiate a good deal for that day.

href=””> A houseboat floating along the backwaters of Alleppey.[/c

 After doing some research, there seemed to be lots of other ways to explore the backwaters (this blog post is good) at a fraction of the cost and better for the environment. Unfortunately, the houseboats often have big diesel engines and generators for air-conditioning that pollute the water which you see the local women washing their clothes in.

We booked a homestay called Venice Castle (with a/c this time!). We were fortunate because this homestay was really nice and the host Thomas made us feel very welcome. In fact, we liked it so much here we ended up staying 3 nights!

Thomas, our host at Venice Castle homestay.

The breakfast made for us each morning was really yummy including more masala dosa with coconut chutney.

href=””> A very yummy homemade masala dosa with coconut chutney.[/c

On our first full day in Alleppey, we took the public ferry which does a 2 hour round trip on the backwaters for 80 INR (around £1). It was interesting to see the local life and the many houseboats.

href=””> A few photos from the public ferry ride.[/c

For lunch, we ate at the highly recommended Thaffs, a small bustling restaurant which was extremely popular with the locals. We ordered vegetable thali and were presented with more food than we could manage!

href=””> The huge vegetarian Thali at Thaffs.[/c

After lunch, we visited Finishing point to get a closer look at the houseboats. We were able to take a look around the ones for hire which was fun (they did have the hope of selling it to us but we just made our excuses and left).

href=””> The houseboats at Finishing Point, Alleppey.[/c

 The main shopping area in Alleppey definitely had more of the hustle and bustle we had been expecting in India. Every vehicle honking and lots of people – crossing the road here certainly tempted fate! We ventured into a sari shop but quickly retreated with the heat and hoards of people. Jonny had a successful shopping trip grabbing some fake Ray-Ban sunglasses for £1.50 which haven’t yet fallen apart.

href=””> The busy streets of the shopping area in Alleppey.[/c

 Feeling like something sweet,  Thomas suggested we try ‘Halwa’, a common Indian dessert. It was surprisingly tasty!

href=””> This Halwa was made with cashew nuts, coconut and ginger. Mmmm[/c

Alleppey also has a small beach so we went to check it out. The beach had lovely white sand and an old pier like West Pier in Brighton. We watched the sunset and had dinner at Dreamers, a charming beachfront restaurant with lots of lanterns hanging from the ceiling.

href=””> Watching the sunset on Alleppey beach.[/c

The next day, Thomas helped arrange a canoe tour for us which meant we could go down the narrower canals (where the houseboats and ferry can’t go). The day trip with breakfast and lunch worked out under £20 for both of us and was organised by Oscar Cruise Alleppey. Joining us for the day was an Australian family, two Argentinian friends, one British guy living in South Africa and seven Indian friends from Chennai. We had a great laugh with the other tourists on this trip.

href=””> A few photos from our canoe trip. We shared our canoe with two Argentinians 😊[/ca

To get to our next stop, Kumily, we had to take a 5-hour bus ride up into the hill country which was an experience- read Jonny’s blog post to find out more!

Alleppey had been about 36 degrees Celsius so it was refreshing to feel the air cooling as we headed higher above sea level.  This was the journey where we discovered the street shop samosas for about 8p each! Simply delicious!

ref=””> Really tasty freshly made veggie samosas and ridiculously cheap![/ca

When we arrived, we headed to Chrissie’s Hotel where we stayed for the next three nights. Our room was on the third floor and had a balcony which overlooked a forest. We spent the rest of the day chilling out on the balcony watching the wildlife. The monkeys especially were very sweet and liked to play!

ref=””> The monkeys around Chrissie’s hotel. They were very inquisitive so I decided to play with them! Aren’t they cute?! ♥️[/cap

The small hotel also had a yoga room upstairs which we took advantage of on our first morning. The hotel made us curry and appam for breakfast (appam is a bread made from coconut).

ef=””> Keralan breakfast with appam and curry.[/cap

Later, we spent an hour visiting a local spice plantation. It was amazing to understand where the spices we find on our supermarket shelf come from.

ef=””> We visited Abraham Spice Garden. The top two photos are of the cacao plant (to make chocolate), the bottom left is of peppercorns and the bottom right is a cinnamon tree![/cap

In the evening, we took a really fun cooking class at Bar-B-Que. It was just the two of us and the tutor (who was hilarious and slightly crazy!). We made paratha bread, a fish masala curry, masala chips, pineapple curry and more! And best of all, we got to eat it all at the end! NOM NOM NOM.

ef=””> The fruits of our labour: Beans Thoran, Dahl Thadduka, Roasted Okra, Pineapple Curry, Fish Masala, Masala French Fries, Paratha bread, Poppadoms and of course rice![/cap

The next morning we got up early to go bamboo rafting. This involved a 5km hike through Periyar National Park (or Periyar Tiger Reserve as it’s also known). We saw wild elephants, a giant squirrel, Indian bison and various birds.

ef=””> The wildlife we spotted in Periyar Tiger Reserve, no tigers though![/cap

When we reached the water, we had curry & appam. We had a very scenic and peaceful experience floating along on the bamboo rafts before taking the 5km hike back. We really enjoyed getting outdoors, away from the honking horns on the roads. We also met a nice guy who is a relative of the owner of Kayal restaurant in our hometown of Leicester- small world!

ef=””> Our trip into Periyar National Park. The scenery was beautiful![/cap

In the afternoon, we took a look around Connemara, a working tea factory. Being British, we’ll spend a bit of time on the tea factory 😉

ef=””> Connemara tea factory, a working tea factory near Kumily.[/cap

 Our guide talked us through the traditional tea-making process.

The factory had lots of different sections and machinery for each stage of the process.

ef=””> Tea-making machines at Connemara Tea Factory. First the leaves are left to wilt, then they are crushed, torn and curled before being fermented and heated to dry out.[/cap

At the end of our tour, we were shown how to brew the perfect cup of tea (a funny concept for an English person!) and eventually taste the tea! We drank it black and it had a fresh and earthy flavour to it.

ef=””> Time for tasting! We had a lesson on how to brew the perfect cuppa 😜[/capt

Our next stop was Munnar and there were only three morning buses. The 3-hour bus ride had incredible views for just £1! Though I was slightly unlucky as I was seated next to an Indian lady who proceeded to fall asleep on me!

f=””> The breathtaking views from the bus ride near Munnar.[/capt

It was 11am when we arrived in Munnar and thankfully we were able to check-in early to Aminas Cottage, our next accommodation. Munnar is even higher than Kumily so the air was cooler still- it was the first place we needed a jumper in the evening. It was also one of the few places where it rained. Our time in Munnar involved wandering around the town, walking up to a Mosque and a Hindu temple, a short visit to Hydel park and a short walk in the tea plantations.

We only had one night in Munnar before catching the 6 hour bus to Thrissur to arrive in time for the Pooram temple festival. We tried our first stuffed paratha here (another bread a bit like a roti).

f=””> A paratha stuffed with spiced aloo (potato). Yummy![/capt

Thrissur Pooram festival is the biggest temple festival in Kerala and lasts for 36 hours. We had planned to go months in advance, even pre-booking accommodation. Unfortunately though, when we contacted the booked AirBnb to let them know when we would arrive the owner claimed he didn’t have a booking! We managed to get our money back with AirBnb but we had to scramble to find another last minute booking.

We caught the 2.30pm bus from Munnar and arrived in Thrissur 6 hours later. We made it to Raj Mahal Lodge, where we’d booked a last minute room, but the staff tried to charge us double the price. This was hugely frustrating after the AirBnb issue earlier and a 6 hour bus ride to get to Thrissur. However, we had little choice with everywhere booked up for the festival. After debating with the Manager, we settled for the same price but a downgrade on the room. Annoying but at least we had a room!

f=””> Photos from the Thrissur Pooram festival.[/capt

The next day at 7.30am the 36 hour festival began: thousands of locals, colour, music, elephants, decorations and excitement! And zero alcohol – at least they wouldn’t have lots beer bottles to clear up at the end. We had come to the festival curious to see a local traditional festival and Thissur Pooram certainly ticked those boxes. Our favourite memory was the crowds cheering with brightly coloured balloons every time the rhythm of the music changed.

f=””> The balloons and lots of happy people celebrating Thrissur Pooram.[/capt

We were also constantly asked for ‘selfies’, I guess we looked out of place!

The only thing we struggled with, was seeing the elephants in the processions. You can’t but imagine what they must have gone through to be so calm amongst swarms of people, loud music, canons and fireworks 😔

=””> The elephants were decorated, had three men stand on them and had chains on their feet 😔[/captio

In the early hours the next day, there were fireworks. The fireworks were punctuated with small explosions to make them sound even louder! Although by this point a lot of people were falling asleep – we’d had a nap in our room to stay awake!”> The fireworks at 5am during Thrissur Pooram festival. [/captio

If you’d like to read more about our experience of Thrissur Pooram festival, Jonny has written a full blog post on it. Everyone was in good spirits at the festival and it was certainly something different.

Thrissur was quite a way from Cochin Airport and our flight to Delhi was at 5.20am. To ensure we’d make our flight, we travelled the next day and stayed at Princess Residency which was right next to the airport. The owner was very nice and offered to give us a lift to the airport in the morning.

Overall, our trip to Kerela was so varied from experiencing our first Indian festival, the beautiful and calmer hill country, the captivating backwaters plus the amazing food (no Delhi belly here!), culture and people. We really loved this place.”> Ready to board our early flight to Delhi![/captio

Next stop the Golden Triangle and Rajasthan…!

You can read about the rest of our India travels here:

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

Thrissur Pooram – An Outsider’s Perspective

India: The Golden Triangle and Rajasthan in 2 weeks