It took time but I’m finally sitting down and writing about my visit to India 2 months ago. It was great to be back to this amazing country! I was invited to a wedding by a local friend and jumped at the opportunity to go back and see places I have lived in and visited 6 years ago as well as discover a few new ones. IT was going to be my second time there but a first for my boyfriend who was accompanying me. We didn’t have much time for the whole trip being able to take only 2 weeks from work and it felt more like hopping from place to place but it was still nice to see the country again. The only thing making the trip a little less enjoyable was that it was summer in India and thus very hot – it got up to 40-45 degrees inland and 35-38 by the sea where it still felt too hot with 60-80% moisture.
The first stop was Mumbai as we landed there. I had already been there so it was more of remembering how it was before and trying to see some new things I hadn’t had time for. We had a lot of leisure walks getting acquainted with the heat, crowds, noise, colors and sights. We lived in a hotel in the Ford area so most things were a walking distance away. Since the plane arrived at 5 a.m. the first thing to experience was a calm (and not so hot) walk around the still sleeping streets of Mumbai. I saw the Victoria station building, rediscovered the great view from Marine Drive and walked past the court house. The next couple of days were dedicated to visiting the Gate of India again, walking around bazaars and trying all the amazing food Mumbai has to offer. From drinks at the Taj and at Marine Drive, chai at a tiny place at the bazaar, visiting a popular backpacker cafe, having fresh juice on the street, eating authentic South Indian food from banana leaves, sharing tables at a small but delicious place, to splurging money (which was still nothing comparable to eating at a restaurant in Sweden) at a famous Chinese/fish place in town – each visit and meal was unique and memorable.
Soon it was time to continue the adventure. I had booked a 6-hour journey to Vadodara with the train with the help of my Indian friend. Vadodara is where I lived and did an internship for 5 months during my last visit to India so it was going to be a special part of the trip. It was also where the wedding was taking place. The three days there were dedicated to meeting up with old friends and looking around to determine that there were some changes that had happened the last 6 years but in many ways it felt the same. A highlight was the shopping for wedding guest clothes (I bought a sari and my boyfriend got a whole set of ‘Indian prince’ clothing) including a visit to the bazaar in the old town.We participated in all the wedding ceremonies. The day before the wedding was time for the haldi ceremony where women put turmeric powder paste on the groom and then, at a separate location, on the bride. Since I was a guest of the groom, we participated in the whole ceremony there and took just a short trip to the bride’s place to put some turmeric paste on her as well. It was a fun short ride on the open back of a jeep which felt great in the early evening and the heat. The day after was time for the wedding and we had an interesting evening following the rituals. I had to get help from a neighbor woman of the groom with putting on my sari and got the Gujarati style draping (the local way to wear a sari as opposed to the Bengali that’s usually shown on movies). Since it was a Muslim wedding there were some differences from the Indian wedding most people imagine. For example the bride and groom were at separate places when they said ‘Yes’ and were married and there was no going around the fire. My friend had also chosen to do only the most necessary ceremonies so it was a short wedding by Indian standards. There were still hundreds of guests and a fun moment was the wedding food which was served in a big metal plate that 5-6 people shared. My boyfriend and I got our own and enjoyed a delicious meal the local style, eating with our hands. There wasn’t any dancing (except from the little ones) and most of the evening went to the bride and groom taking pictures with the numerous guests. I sneaked quite a few pictures of the bride since she looked so amazing with all her wedding clothes and jewellery. Like a true princess! When it was time to go back to the hotel we got a nice ride from one of the guests on his rickshaw off duty together with a few girls who wanted to come along for the ride. It was a relief to take off the clothes that were so pretty but a bit too much for the 38+ degrees heat.
The day after the wedding was again time to move to a new place. We took the plane to Kolkata (Calcutta). It was a place I hadn’t visited before so we did all the sightseeing we could in the heat and the 2.5 days we had there. We managed to see mother Theresa’s statue, the pretty Victoria Memorial and visit the famous Kalighat Kali temple that is presumably the source of the name of Kolkata, as well as discover a bazaar by moon light. Since we both got a little sick from the food in Kolkata, we didn’t manage to see and experience it fully but it did seem like a nice calm city.
Since we had not managed to secure a place on the train (luckily, since neither of us felt up to 12 hours of train trip), we got plane tickets and flew up to Bagdogra airport, from where we took a taxi and then a shared jeep up the mountain to Darjeeling. This was the place that I had most looked forward to. I had been to the Himalayas before but to another part in the west of the country and it had been amazing. We were now headed for the tea paradise and I was really excited to see and experience the mixture of my beloved tea and mountain. It turned out to be even better than I had expected. First of all, it was a great escape from the hot weather – it was 17-20 degrees there and we actually had to wear long sleeves and jackets most of the time. We stayed in a pleasant Tibetan family hotel by Cowrastra (the big main square above town). We visited the local tea plantation Happy Valley Tea Estate just outside of Darjeeling where we were shown how the tea is processed from fresh leaves to the packages good we buy in the shop and got to buy some local teas produced there. We had a tea tasting later in town where we tried different teas and bought the one we liked best so all in all we got stocked on tea quite well. We also visited the local zoo that had Himalayan animals and for me the highlight were the several different types of cats (snow leopard, Bangal tiger, black panther, clouded leopard and the leopard cat), as well as the adjacent Mountaineering institute. A nice walk away from all the noise and town business was the botanical garden which felt more like a natural piece of the surroundings full of local plants rather than a curated garden like the ones we have in the west. Another fun part were the Aladin-cave-like shops which we visited and which sold everything from jewellery to local artifacts and souvenirs. I ended up with a beautiful flower embroidered big scarf and a cute pair of earrings but there were so many more curious things to be seen and bought. Another highlight of the stay were the yummy Tibetan dishes we often had and even the butter tea tasted much better than the first time when I had tried it. An all favourite moment was the visit of the Observatory hill above town where there are various temples for the Hindu and Buddhist. It is an amazing calm place with tons of colorful flags and hoards of monkeys roaming around undisturbed. One older monkey was even hanging out with the god statues. Speaking of monkeys, they were everywhere – sitting and posing for my pictures which I just couldn’t stop taking. :)
Unfortunately it was soon time to leave amazing Darjeeling. We took a jeep down to the airport. There we had a problem with the plane – when it was accelerating to take off it suddenly braked and they announced that there was some technical problem. So after 3-hour delay and a new going trough check-in we arrived in Delhi too late to do anything that day.All we had left there was the next day, which we spent going to the Red Ford (where most of the places were closed off for renovation or something so we had to look from afar) and Jama Masjid (where we had unpleasant encounters with the staff that tried to trick us into buying clothes to enter and paying a fee when it’s free so we refrained from entering in the end) in the morning, as well as to the spice market. Since it was too hot to do anything in the afternoon (42-44 degrees and dusty), we ended up in a few malls adjacent to each other where we finished the trip buying souvenirs and clothes. We stayed in a relatively new backpacker oriented hotel/hostel – Bloomrooms, which was the perfect place for resting our heads in a clean and new tiny room with adjacent bathroom, unfortunately both with no windows.
And then our two weeks were up just like that. It was time to go back to cold Sweden. We got up early and went to the airport. A cute elephant statue is one of the last impressions I got from this visit to India, together with a nice offer for free henna (with suggestion for tips afterwards) at an airport shop. After some hours with the great Qatar airways that really make the time fly by and a brief stay at Doha airport we landed back in Stockholm full of impressions and an extra bag full of great Indian treasures.