Discover India in Jaipur

 

Contributor:
Andy Marty

Nationality:
Australian

Social Links:
Instagram: @andympics
Facebook: @andympics

Age Group:
 30-40

Gender:
Male

Travel Style:
 Photography
Casual

 

Destination: Jaipur - Rajasthan, India. December 2018

There are few cities in India regarded for their beauty as much as Jaipur. It was founded and named after Maharaja Jai Singh II and was where the family ruled over Rajasthan. 

Jaipur is affectionately known as the “Pink City”, owing to the original color the walls of many of the buildings were painted. These days, the city buildings are mostly painted in earthy red colors, which was done in preparation for a visit by the Prince of Wales in 1876

The ancient step well of Panna Meena Ka Kund

The ancient step well of Panna Meena Ka Kund

 Getting In:

The international airport (map) is only just outside the main city area and a relatively short drive to most hotels. International flights arrive from several destinations including Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Dubai and Sharjah – we flew Air Arabia from Sharjah to Jaipur. There are also domestic flights from several cities within India.

International visitors arriving into Jaipur will require a Visa. Check online to see what category of visa you require and most can be applied for and processed online in less than 1 week. You will need scans of passport photos and your travel history.

Many visitors will arrive to Jaipur via train, with lines linking the popular destinations of Delhi, Agra, Jodpur and Jaipur. There are many options and classes of travel on trains in India. Be sure to book a carriage with air-conditioning if travelling in warmer months! 

Travel by car/taxi is possible for long distances in India and surprisingly cheap. However, be warned that certain cars (including Uber drivers) are often not permitted to cross state boundaries – they will accept Uber requests and then only inform you of this once they arrive to collect you. If they are able to cross, they will often need to get paperwork completed, which can take a long time, especially if there is traffic – definitely check this information before you agree to travel with them.

There is also a bus service from Delhi to Jaipur. Again, be sure to book a ticket on the air-conditioned bus in the warmer months (it is around USD15 one way). Only book through Rajasthan State Road Transport Corporation as some other companies are unreliable in terms of service and vehicles.

The busy and colourful streetlife of Jaipur

The busy and colourful streetlife of Jaipur

Getting around Jaipur:

Once in Jaipur, it is relatively easy to book Uber drivers where needed and this is a very convenient way to get around, especially if you have some distance to travel. 

There are private “chauffeur” cars, which can be booked per trip or per day. If you are looking to spend a day visiting the highlights of Jaipur this is probably your best option. It will cost you around USD50.00 for a day. Many of these drivers will be in front of the hotels or can be arranged by your hotel. Most can speak English quite well and communicate via Whatsapp. It is a very convenient way to visit places around Jaipur, as many of the highlights are some distance away from each other.

In the city centre there are large numbers of rickshaws waiting to take people around. Trips in rickshaws are certainly far cheaper and in most cases the price can be bargained. 

The chauffeur probably offers a safer and more comfortable mode of transport, but if you’re looking to save a few dollars or enjoy the authentic experience, certainly give the rickshaws a go!

Friendly people in the streets of Bapu Bazar

Friendly people in the streets of Bapu Bazar

 Fairmont Jaipur: (map)

We stayed at Fairmont Jaipur, a luxury hotel on the North of the city. It is a stunning property that is immaculately presented with traditional architecture and furnishings. The layout and service is designed around providing guests with an authentic experience, with many small touches capturing elements of the region’s fascinating history. 

Guests are welcomed on arrival with a traditional greeting complete with drums and rose petals – you will be transported back to the time of the ruling Maharaja as you enter the large wooden doors. Inside the music will continue and you will become immersed in the atmosphere of Rajasthan. 

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A warm traditional greeting awaits at Fairmont Jaipur

A warm traditional greeting awaits at Fairmont Jaipur

 In the evening belly dancers will perform in the lobby and guests are encouraged to join in. The hotel frequently hosts local weddings and if you are in the hotel it is almost impossible not to be drawn to the arrival of the wedding party – complete with painted elephants and horses.

Join the belly dancing

Join the belly dancing

 The rooms are elegantly furnished and all have enormous  bath tubs suitable for relaxing the weariest of travellers. The beds maintain the high standard set by Fairmont properties around the world.

 

The hotel serves breakfast from 2 restaurants, both providing buffet style service. There is a selection of traditional dishes and global cuisine, but when in India, I would definitely recommend sampling some of the local delicacies! If the weather is nice, a perfect spot for breakfast is outside the Zoya Restaurant overlooking the pond.

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 There are also several dinner options including a wonderful in room dining menu (I have had many, and the butter chicken on this menu stacks up very well). However, to truly appreciate the local cuisine, I don’t think you can go past the Thali – literally a meal fit for a King. Served in Zarin Restaurant, the Thali arrives as many small dishes on a large silver tray. You are able to sample a variety of flavors and textures. The meal is enormous and an experience in itself.

 There is also an elegant high tea served in Anjum – a beautifully decorated room that takes a golden glow in the afternoon as the sun sets out the window.

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 Exploring Jaipur:

1.    Panna Meena Ka Kund: (map)

These ancient stepwells or “baoris” were common in the North of India for centuries. They would collect water and fill up in the rainy monsoon season. As the dry season progressed and the level dropped, people could walk down the cascading steps cut into the sides to access water. Now, they mostly serve as tourist attractions, creating unique photo opportunities.

The Panna Meena Ka Kund stepwell is located close to the Amber Fort. I would suggest going early in the morning if you want a photo without people in it. There is a security guard stopping people from entering the stepwell as the water has become a source of infection and people are not allowed to go into the water. If you are extremely nice and assure the security that you only wish to go onto the steps, they may allow you to take a quick photograph.

There is another larger stepwell around an hours drive out of Jaipur – Chand Baori (map) that is meant to be incredible. If you have time when you visit, it might be worth taking a drive to see this.

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 2.    Amber Fort (Amer Fort): (map)

One of the highlights of Jaipur, Amber Fort is a large fort palace built on the side of a hill in 1592 from red sandstone and marble. Although it is roughly amber in color, the name does not come from this, rather it is named after the town of Amber. The main section of the fort consists of 4 courtyards.

The popular photo opportunity is of the steps leading up to the large colored facade of Ganesh Pol (Ganesh Gate) in the first courtyard. If you want the iconic picture at the top of the steps, without hundreds of tourists, you will need to come as early as the fort opens (8am) and then hope it isn’t crowded.

The steps of Ganesh Pol, Amber Fort

The steps of Ganesh Pol, Amber Fort

Entering through Ganesh Pol, you will reach the equally impressive Sheesh Mahal – a large room covered in thousands of mirrors and colored glass which would reflect candlelight to create a mesmerizing glittering effect.

Entry to Amber Fort is R500 for foreign tourists (around USD7) and gives you access to the entire complex. You can pay extra for guided tours (R100).

The fort is also the site of a light show after dark, that is best viewed from the lower sections of the fort.

Many tourists travel up to and from Amber Fort on the elephant rides that are offered. However there is significant concerns over the standard of treatment many of these animals receive and tourists are encouraged not to support the practice.

When you visit Amber Fort early in the morning, it is a different experience than when the crowds of tourists arrive!

When you visit Amber Fort early in the morning, it is a different experience than when the crowds of tourists arrive!

 3.    Jaigarh Fort: (map)

Only a short walk up from Amber Fort, Jaigarh Fort is the “strongest” of Jaipur’s 3 main forts. It is also the home of the world’s largest cannon! Entry is R85

 4.    Nahargarh Fort: (map)

You will definitely need to get a car up to Nahargarh Fort and the road up is quite windy and narrow. There is an area to stop close to the fort that has a pretty good view of Jal Mahal (The Water Palace in the middle of the Mansarovar Lake). 

A view of the Taj Mahal on the road to Nahargarh Fort

A view of the Taj Mahal on the road to Nahargarh Fort

The first section of the fort walls is free to visit and explore with some nice, albeit restricted, views across parts of Jaipur. 

The main section of the fort requires payment to enter (R200) and this includes a drink from the restaurant at the top of the fort. The gates and just inside is quite touristy with several small stands. Lots of people hang around the first few hundred meters, but the best views across the city are seen from the top of the fort which is around a 15 minute walk (there are also rickshaws that can take people if they prefer). Scenes from several Bollywood movies were shot on the walls of the fort and it is a very popular place to view sunsets – if you are lucky enough to be there on a day without intense haze!

Sunset through the Jaipur haze from the top of Nahargarh Fort

Sunset through the Jaipur haze from the top of Nahargarh Fort

The view over a sprawling Jaipur suburb

The view over a sprawling Jaipur suburb

 5.    Jawahar Circle: (map)

A huge roundabout on the south of Jaipur, with a park area in the middle. Probably the cleanest and nicest place in the city to go for a walk. There is a small street-food bazar (great for refreshing ice cream), a rose garden and a children’s play area. But the most popular and iconic is the entry at the northern end of the park – Patrika Gate (map). The huge archways are impressive and on the inside are colorful murals depicting the local history of Jaipur. It is a hugely popular photo spot, so again, if you want to avoid crowded photos, you will need to visit early in the morning. The Patrika Gates are open 24 hours, so get there as early as you can and you will have it almost to yourself! We visited around 7am and it was pretty much empty.

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 6.    City Palace: (map)

Much of the City Palace is now a museum and there is still a section which remains the residence of the Royal Family – Chandra Mahal. Entry to the palace is R500, however if you want to access Chandra Mahal you will need to pay R3000 per person which includes a tour guide. There are some sections of the residence which are certainly worth seeing and it’s a fascinating insight into the life of the ruling family. If you can spare the money, walking through the residence is really interesting, especially with the informed guides. 

One of the highlights of the City Palace is a courtyard with 4 elaborately decorated doorways depicting the 4 seasons of the year – each one draws on elements of the season that are significant in Rajasthan culture.

The Lotus doorway

The Lotus doorway

The Peacock doorway

The Peacock doorway

 

The Diwan-i-aam or the Hall of Public Audience is where the King used to sit and listen to the issues of his subjects. 

Diwan-i-aam where the King would hear the problems of his people.

Diwan-i-aam where the King would hear the problems of his people.

 Chand Mahal has a total of 7 floors, with each floor serving a different purpose or giving respect to a different season or special holiday in the year.

The Chhawi Niwas is a beautifully decorated blue and white room, and was used to celebrate the monsoon rains.

Chhavi Niwas - The “blue room” that celebrates the monsoon season

Chhavi Niwas - The “blue room” that celebrates the monsoon season

On the 5th floor is a room decorated all over with concave mirrors (similar to the Sheesh Mahal at Amber Fort). When you visit they will close the doors and light a cangle causing each of the small mirrors to reflect the candle light and the entire roof illuminates.

The Shobha Niwas is a sitting area for the Maharaja and is elaborately decorated.

On the ground floor is the dining room used to accept and entertain guest and dignitaries. This is still the room used to host many of the world’s important political figures. It is one of the rooms inside the Chand Mahal where photography is not permitted.

The view over City Palace from the top of Chand Mahal

The view over City Palace from the top of Chand Mahal

 7.    Hawa Mahal: (map)

Probably the most iconic building in Jaipur with its unmistakable terracotta façade – which is actually the rear of the building! The façade of the Mahal is close to the street, which makes it very difficult to photograph! The best views of the building are actually from across the street in 2 small cafes. Whilst most people pull up in a car and take a quick photo from the street, I would recommend visiting either the Windview Café (map) or The Tattoo Café (map). Both have much better views directly at the façade. Even better, you can sit and enjoy some local staples while enjoying the view. We visited with Indian locals and they told us that the dishes at Windview Café in particular were the typical dishes they would eat as snacks – Masala Maggi Noodles, Aloo Tiki burgers, etc.

Hawa Mahal was built as part of the City palace to give the women a place to watch life going by outside. There are 950 windows looking out on to the street and the breeze circulating through the windows kept it cool and provided the building with its name - Hawa meaning breeze in Hindi.

If you wish, you can enter the Mahal for R50.

 The street in front of the Hawa Mahal façade is worth taking a walk along, with many small bazars, local shops and street sellers. If you are interested in streetscapes and local culture it is certainly worth half an hour or so.

The facade of Hawa Mahal seen from the street

The facade of Hawa Mahal seen from the street

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 8.    Bapu Bazar: (map)

I love visiting local markets in any city I visit, so I always try to seek out the authentic places where locals shop. Bapu Bazar in Jaipur is a typical Indian street market with loads of shops selling anything from textiles to samosas. Naturally they will quickly identify a tourist and look to bargain at far higher than normal prices! It’s a great place for a photo walk or to sample local street food. Quick word of warning – steer clear of the Panni Puri unless you have a far stronger stomach than I do!

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 9.    Jal Mahal: (map)

The iconic “Water Palace” of Jaipur sits by itself in Mansarovar Lake. In the winter the lake can dry out, but summer monsoons quickly fill it again. The Palace is not accessible to visitors, but there are several places to get a nice view. Because the water is usually very calm and flat, the Palace often creates a nice reflection in the right light. It is also illuminated at night, which makes it look great against the water.

The illuminated Jawa Mahal reflecting in the lake.

The illuminated Jawa Mahal reflecting in the lake.

 Places To East:

We ate the majority of our meals at Fairmont Jaipur and certainly even if you are not staying at this hotel, I would thoroughly recommend visiting for dinner to try the Thali.

 Plan to have a bite to eat at Windview Café when you want to take photos of Hawa Mahal – the Aloo Tiki burger is really good and the food is really cheap!

 One other place we went for dinner was Palladio Café and Bar (map). The food and service are “ok” without being outstanding and the prices are pretty steep for India. But the décor and atmosphere is really impressive! The bar area is decorated similar to the Chhawi Niwas in the City Palace, with elaborate blue and white walls. Outside, tables are seated around small fires and fairy lights. The food is Italian cuisine.

Palladio Cafe and Bar at night.

Palladio Cafe and Bar at night.

 Traveling In India:

India is one of my favorite destinations for travel, but there are some things to take into consideration.

Be sure to check your visa requirements, as all foreign visitors require a visa. Check your requirements online and you can often get your visa processed online.

Speak to your doctor before traveling to India as there are some important diseases to be aware of. In particular some visitors may require proof of yellow fever vaccination as part of their entry requirements. It would be worth making sure your vaccinations for Hepatitis, Diptheria, Tetanus and Typhoid are up to date.

“Traveller’s Diarrhea” is common for visitors to India. Whilst most people think it is the fault of eating something, it is far more common to be caused by water – drinking water, even ice in drinks, poorly washed salad and foods that contain water (like Panni Puri). Be cautious of what you drink or check that what you’re eating doesn’t have water in it. I always travel with a small medical kit that includes anti-diarrhea medication and rehydration tablets.

Malaria and Dengue Fever can be significant problems in India, especially around the monsoon season. There are prophylactic medications for malaria, most of which have side effects. However there isn’t for Dengue Fever and the prevention of avoiding mosquito bites is probably the best way of avoiding both. I always use insect repellent and mosquito nets. It’s a good idea to spray your room when you leave to prevent mosquitos waiting for you when you get back!

Staying connected in India can be a bit of a challenge as it isn’t as easy as most countries to pick up a SIM card at the airport. In order to get a local mobile sim, you need paperwork from your hotel (a police letter). You will then need to present this, copies of your passport and entry visa when you purchase a sim card. It will take at least 1 business day for the sim to be activated. If you are visiting only for a couple of days, you are better off using roaming.

There is an undeniable level of poverty in India and some people find it confronting. But there is also an incredible beauty in the country. Travel to India is an “experience”. There are few places so deep in culture and where you can truly immerse yourself. It is a place to explore and certainly Jaipur is one of those cities that has an amazing amount to offer to visitors looking to experience authentic culture.



























 

God's Own Country - Kerala, India

 
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Contributor:
 Nicola

Nationality:
 British

Social Links:
Instagram: @nikkiinwanderlust #nikkiinwanderlust

Age Group:
 30-40 years

Gender:
 Female

Travel Style:
 backpacking, luxury, adventure, relaxing

 

Destination: Kerala, India

After a hectic couple of weeks in the golden triangle and Varanasi, and with my newly accidentally dyed pink hair from Holi celebrations, we took a domestic flight down to Kerala in Southern India for some chill out time.  The contrast of Kerala to what we had seen in the jungle and the cities was dramatic. It was so lush and green here, and the calming effects of being surrounded by water was felt in the atmosphere. 

We decided to stay in a small hotel next to the sea called 36 palms. It has a lovely swimming pool right next to the sea, Ayurvedic massage treatments and they can also arrange cooking lessons and other activities. The local yoga school also run early morning and evening yoga sessions - they come to the hotel so that you can do the class on the outside area next to the pool and right by the sea. The sound of the waves can be heard throughout the yoga session which adds to the experience.  There is a small restaurant that does cheap home cooked dinners which were absolutely mouthwatering. Kerala is abundant with freshly caught fish, deliciously flavoured with Indian spices. Kerala also has strict alcohol laws - the locals generally don’t drink alcohol and only the larger hotels sell it, so this was also a nice opportunity for a bit of a detox!

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We organised a beautiful tour of the backwaters with a small local company called Muziris Holidays - Mr. Lal, the owner, was an amazing guide, and very proud of his beautiful Kettuvallam (also called a Rice Boat), which transported us around the stunning tropical backwaters of Kerala.  As we were the only ones on the boat, we also had the opportunity to drop off at a small village in Cochin where a family showed us how their house, and how they make garments to sell using a loom which was subsidised by the government, as well as sampling the fruit, herbs and spices in their garden.  The boat trip was definitely a fantastic way to experience the backwaters and a highlight of our time in this stunning part of India.  

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During our time here, we also took the opportunity to walk along the coastline - it was a great way to see everyday life in the fishing villages. The enormous Chinese fishing nets are dotted all along the shoreline, and are a unique sight in India. They were introduced by Chinese explorers in the 14th century, and can require up to six fishermen to operate them.  Women laying small fish out to dry in the sun that the men had caught, was also a regular sight. 

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The people in Kerala were very friendly, and visitors are received with a warm welcome.  The backwaters of Kerala are so calm, tranquil and tropical - it was the perfect end to a very busy trip in India. 

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Incredible India Part 2 - Mumbai

 
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Contributor:
Andy

Nationality:
Australian 

Social Links:
Instagram: @andymtravel

Age Group:
30-40 years

Gender:
Male

Travel Style:
Casual, photography

 

Destination: Mumbai, India - May, 2018

Inspiration:

India had always been a destination that I had planned to travel to, so when the opportunity to combine a trip with my love for sport, it seemed like the perfect timing! The Indian Premier League cricket tournament held each year has rapidly become the highlight of the indian sporting calendar. Through an association with Australian clothing company, Big Dogg Clothing, I had the opportunity to meet with many of the players and go to games.

I also took the opportunity to ensure I had time to dedicate to seeing the sights and experiencing the culture of one of the most fascinating travel destinations in the world. My second stop on a 18 day tour around India was India's biggest city - Mumbai.

Getting There:

I flew into Mumbai on flydubai before getting a car to Pune. I then came back to Mumbai the same way. Getting around India with Uber proved to be really easy, clean and not expensive when converted into foreign currency. There are definitely cheaper ways to travel internally through India, but if you have a schedule to keep and just want to get from one place to another, Uber or private taxis is a great option.

Getting around Mumbai was a similar story. There weren't anywhere near as many rickshaws as there are in other parts of India, but Uber worked well and there are loads of local taxis. I didn't have any great issue catching the local taxis - they were relatively clean and very cheap.

Local Knowledge:

I was fortunate to meet someone living in Mumbai over Instagram before I travelled and made a good friend - local photographer Atul (Instagram, @atuljoshiphotography). It's always great when travelling to meet new people along the way and Atul was able to give me a few insights not Mumbai and take me to the Mumbai Press Club for dinner, where he has access through his job with Times of India

Where To Stay:

I chose to stay at the Taj Vivanta (map)- it is close to Whankhede Stadium for the cricket and in a nice area of Mumbai on Nariman Point - close to places like Gateway of India, Colaba Causeway and Girgoan Chowpatty.

The Taj Vivanta was a breath of fresh air compared to Sagar Plaza in Pune. It is a genuine 5 star property and the staff are wonderful. I couldn't fault the service of the staff and they helped me arranged shipments to Delhi, booked cars and sorted out issues with my sim card.

There is a very nice pool, fitness centre and spa - which in the Mumbai summer of 44 degrees and high humidity is a welcome sight to com back to.

The rooms are excellent and the buffet breakfast was one of the better ones I had in India. There are certainly cheaper options to stay in Mumbai that you may consider, however if Taj Vivant is in your price range, you wont be disappointed.

What To Do:

There is a small observation deck (map) close to the BMC Commissioner building that looks directly at the facade of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. Its a great spot to go and visit at night when the BMC building an date terminus are both brightly lit up. The BMC building changes colour each night. Its a great spot for some night photography in Mumbai.

Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus facade illuminated at night

Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus facade illuminated at night

The Colaba Causeway (map) is a busy street (Shahid Bhagat Singh Rd) that is lined with shops, restaurants and street sellers. At night especially it becomes very busy and there is plenty of street life. You will get hassled by people trying to sell all sorts of different things. It isn't clean by any stretch, its Mumbai.

The Gateway of India (map) is probably Mumbai's most iconic landmark. It is on the water's edge in front of the Taj Palace Hotel. The structure was commissioned to commemorate the landing of King George V and Queen Mary in 1911. It overlooks the Arabian Sea and for many years it was seen as a ceremonial "gateway" into India. Following Indian independence in 1948, the last British soldiers left India after marching through the giant arch. It is a very popular tourist attraction and becomes extremely busy later in the day. Entry is free, but you do need to pass through a small security check point. If you want to get photos without a crowd, you're much better off coming early in the morning. Boats leave from the docks close to the Gateway to go on tours of places like Elephantra Island.

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There is an enormous outdoor laundry known as Dhobi Ghat (map). Its a functioning laundry that does the washing for hotels and hospitals in Mumbai, but it has also become a popular tourist atttaction. To get a good view of the vast rows of "Dhobis", go to the flyover bridge at Mahalaxmi Station (map).

I ended up using my flag to combat the heat and humidity

I ended up using my flag to combat the heat and humidity

An obvious highlight for me was attending the IPL game at Whankede Stadium (map) - a famous cricket ground on Marine Drive. It was incredibly hot and humid, with the game starting at 4pm. We spent a lot of the first innings trying to find a spot to watch that wasn't in the sun. The crowd in Mumbai was one of the most intense I have ever seen at a sporting venue and something I will never forget. The team owners supply a flag to everyone, so when Mumbai scored a boundary or took a wicket, the entire crowd was a sea of blue flags.

Eating:

I had a great meal after the cricket at Mumbai Press Club (map). If you know someone working in press in Mumbai who can get you access to this restuarant, the food is really good and a great price.

Mumbai was the first place I tried some genuine street food. The beach area known as Girgoan Chowpatty (map) is extremely popular in the evenings during the summer, with lots of families, couples and groups of friends coming to enjoy the water. Lots of food vans set up near the beach making all sorts of local fare. I had a dal and a fresh mango juice. There are all different sorts of fried samosas, burger type things and grills that I have no idea what the names are. If you want to venture into a bit of street food, this might be an option!

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Just off the main road of Colaba Causeway is a place called Bademiya. There are actually 2, one is a sit down restaurant, the other is more of a street shop. It had been recommended as a good place to get a grilled kebabs. You order from the street shop and they will cook your meal literally in front of you. The chicken and lamb kebabs come with a small amount of salad and some sauces. I ended up waiting next to a man from Saudi and we ended up spreading our meal out on the bonnet of his hire car and enjoying a street side picnic! Not far from here are some other more western restaurants like Leopold Cafe that is very popular for tourists. If you ant to try some authentic Indian in the Colaba Causeway area, go to Delhi Darbar - the original in what has become a chain of popular restaurants.

Must Do:

Mumbai can be an overwhelming city - the sheer number of people is intense. On a warm evening, go down to the foreshore of Girgoan Chowpatty (map), where thousands of locals flock to enjoy the beach. Its a place where young couples come and are free from displaying affection in public. Families bring children to swim and play in the water. Large groups set out rugs and blankets up closer to tech road and sit for hours enjoying the food and lights. For a tourist, there is simply an overwhelming volume of people! It is not recommended to swim in the water and I wasn't interested in finding out, but many locals do 

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Must See:

My must see in Mumbai was somewhere that I doubt features in many tourist brochures! I stumbled across a really nice sunset spot by pure accident, which is why its my "must do" - because sometimes just being spontaneous when you travel leads to some of your best memories. I didn't have much luck finding a good sunset at either the Girgoan Chowpatty or Gateway of India, so on my last night in Mumbai just started walking from the hotel, waiting for a rickshaw to drive past and go looking for somewhere along the water. No rickshaws came and I just ended up waking to a little place called Kasav Point (map). The road came very close to the water and a really small "bay" with lots of fishing boats. The beach area was absolutely filthy, covered in rubbish and worse (perhaps one of the reasons it doesnt feature in tourism brochures). There was a group of kids playing football, who all wanted their photo taken. Along the "beach" were some building and a group of young boys were making dinner up on the rooftop of one of the buildings. They invited me up to get a better view for photos and have something to eat. I went up for the photos, but politely declined the food. Was a really great spot to take some unique sunset photos in Mumbai. Whilst I wouldn't recommend it for everyone, if you are into trying something a bit different, this is a for you. The area along the street is a small local market selling fresh fish and other foods. I later found out that this was also the site where the people involved in the Taj Palace bombings entered Mumbai.

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Number 1 Travel Tip:

Many people had warned me about security and safety in Mumbai - theft, assault, etc. For me personally, I did not find this to be an issue. However, I met up with 2 ladies travelling from Northern India who did say that were subjected to frequent insults regarding their "asian" appearance, as well as sexual harassment. Unfortunately, it certainly appears that as a Western male, travelling in India is more comfortable than for a females. As general advice, based purely on my experience, I would suggest travelling in a small group with at least 1 male companion.

5 Word Travel:

An overwhelming number of people.

Excess Baggage:

Somewhere that didn't have a chance to visit was the Dharavi Slums. It is possible to do "guided tours" of what is regarded as the worlds largest slum/informal settlement. I've read some people suggesting that visiting the slums is unethical and that seeking "entertainment" from the unfortunate situation of others is poor taste. I tend to believe it is entirely personal preference and it is more to do with one's intentions. Probably the biggest thing that struck me in India on the whole was the overwhelming poverty and in particular child poverty. It put a lot of things in perspective for me and I hope influenced my life in a positive way. I believe that visiting these slums, if done in a way to gain a broader undetsanding of teh situation huge populations of people find themselves in and to educate yourself, then it is both worthwhile and ethical. I did a similar tour of the informal settlements in Soweto, South Africa. It was confronting, somewhat depressing, yet at the same time inspiring. I do feel that I spent a lot of time in India out walking the streets, markets and local areas to see and understand the enormity of substandard living and poverty. I didn't do that for entertainment, rather to get a better understanding of the situation so many people have found themselves in. This is only my opinion and I respect the opinion of those who do not want to visit these places.

Incredible India Part 1 - Pune

 
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Contributor:
Andy

Nationality:
Australian 

Social Links:
Instagram: @andrewmarty_

Age Group:
30-40

Gender:
Male

Travel Style:
Casual, photography

 

Destination: Pune, India, May 2018

Inspiration:

India had always been a destination that I had planned to travel to, so when the opportunity to combine a trip with my love for sport, it seemed like the perfect timing! The Indian Premier League cricket tournament held each year has rapidly become the highlight of the indian sporting calendar. Through an association with Australian clothing company, Big Dogg Clothing, I had the opportunity to meet with many of the players and go to games.

I also took the opportunity to ensure I had time to dedicate to seeing the sights and experiencing the culture of one of the most fascinating travel destinations in the world. My first stop on a 18 day tour around India would be Pune.

Getting There:

I fly into Mumbai with flydubai. Where I can, I prefer to fly with flydubai as their rates are always the best and I dont tend to need add ons like inflight meals or entertainment, so I prefer to pocket the savings.

I had originally planned to fly into Chennai, however the team playing in Chennai had been forced to move their games due to ongoing protests that had begun to affect the cricket games. So, instead I moved my flight to land in Mumbai and transfer from there to Pune, where Chennai would now play their home game.

Landing at Mumbai airport was far less dramatic than I imagined. Perhaps it was because it was 6:00am, but there was almost no crowd and getting through immigration was really quick. As Australian passport holder, I require only an online visa to enter India - be aware you need to complete this process at least 4 days prior to travel and the online form is quite long. You dont really receive any offical visa or even a pdf - only an email which you can print and take with you.

I spoke to a lot of people about internal transport in India. I had initially intended to use trains as my main way of getting from city to city, however was warned against this for several reasons - there can be long delays, lots of cancellations, they are extremely crowded during holiday times (when I was there) and that using private cars can be far easier. In some situations, even the process of booking train tickets can be a frustrating process - see the review on Agra! So, with that in mind, I actually found using Uber to be a really reliable way to get around India! It was safe, relatively clean and not too expensive. I caught an Uber from from Chhatrapati Shivaji Airport (Sahar International) (map) to Pune for Rs3,600 ($50) and it took just over 3 hours. It was an easy drive and we stopped on the way for food. 

Local Knowledge:

I always like to stay connected when I travel - partly to keep up on social media and sports results (no seriously.....), but mostly to remain contactable for family. So I try and get a sim card in the country I land in and load it with internet data. India was one of the more difficult places I have found to get a sim card - so be prepared to use your home sim and pay for some roaming! The shop at the airport weren't open until 10am which was the first problem. Next even at teh shops in Pune, I required a letter from the hotel (police clearance form), my passport, the print out of my visa and a passport photo - so have all these things with you. Even when purchased, the sim card took 2 days to activate. The coverage from my Vodafone sim was average at best. The only positive was that the internet was very cheap!

Where To Stay:

I stayed at Hotel Saga Plaza (map) and found it to be overall very disappointing. The hotel is quite dated, with old furniture and fittings. The rooms are adequate and if you are just looking for a place to sleep it may be sufficient. The disappointing aspect for me was that the staff appeared to show very little interest in their guests, to the point of ignoring you at the front desk - which is not something i had encountered to that extent in many hotels before!

Depending on your budget and expectations, I would likely look elsewhere in Pune. For the same price you are likely able to find somewhere better.

What To Do:

Pune is largely an academic city, with many top Universities. As a consequence the city is home to a lot of younger people either studying or working.

I found the easiest way to get around in most cities in India was via rickshaw - they are cheap, easy to find and for themes part faster than anything else. 

I caught a rickshaw to the Raja Dinkar Kelkar Museum (map) - which is a quirky collection of everyday items used in Indian life  - everything from spoons, typewriters, doors, artwork and statues. Its an interesting look back at how cultures in Indian have lived over time. Cost is Rs200 for foreigners and extra to use a camera (Rs500). The museum is open from 10am to 5pm.

From there I went to Shaniwar Wada Fort (map)- a palace once occupied by the Peshwar rulers. It was built in 1732 and largely damaged by fire in 1828. The huge fort walls and remained as did the enormous gateway, which was built so large because at the time, the rulers would arrive to the palace on the back of elephants. It is an easy walk around the walls of teh fort and lots of local families come of an afternoon to enjoy the gardens. Entry is Rs200 for foreigners and the gates are open 9am to 5pm

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Somewhere unique to visit close to Pune, which I dignity have time for is the Osho Meditation Resort. There are a long list of conditions, costs and procedures associated with entering the resort as a day guest. It is a luxurious property based around the practices Oshu (Bhagwan Three Rajneesh) a flamboyant "guru" who advocated sex as a pathway to enlightenment!

There is a fun nightlife scene in Pune and somewhere nice to visit on a weekend evening is Classic Rock Coffee Company (map)- a really laid back venue that hosts a lot of live music, including from local performers. It has a very chilled atmosphere and is a great place o go for a drink with friends or to meet people.

Eating:

Pune is a great place to try some traditional Maharashtran cuisine. Definitely find a restaurant serving traditional Thali style meals - you are presented with a large metal plate and the server will come and offer a range of foods which are placed around teh plate and eaten by hand. The dishes are vegetarian and range from very mild to moderately spiced. You will generally have rice, a range of dal, vegetables, pickles, chutneys and breads. It is an experience in itself to not just try the food, but the serving and eating. I ate at Shabree (map) and the food was full of flavour - definitely worth a try when visiting Pune.

There are a number of street food options everywhere in Pune. For the most part during my stay in India, I resisted the temptation of trying the genuine street food from the small stands. I normally love sampling all sorts of street food when I travel, but since i had a tight schedule and cricket games to get to, I didn't take the risk!

Pune has quite a strong food culture with cuisines from all over the world.  It is home to India's only dedicated food magazine - Trofii, so this will be a good start if you are visiting Pune and looking for some culinary inspiration!. I was lucky enough to have dinner with the magazine's director & editor, Vidhya (Instagram: @vidhyatiwari) who shared a lot of insight into the food scene in Pune and India.

Must Do:

My favourite thing to do in almost any city I travel to is to get out and walk around. I will usually try to find out where the local markets are, as thats usually the best place to find as many local people and get a great insight into a city's culture.

Shree Shiva Chhatrapati Market (Pune Yard Market) (map), the local market in Pune is relatively small and is not somewhere to visit for vegetarians or those who get a little queasy. Compared to some other markets I would visit in places like Bangalore, this market isn't really a on the same level. But for me its more about getting out, walking the streets, meeting local people and chatting with them about their lives.

Must See:

My main inspiration to visit India this time was the cricket! So my first IPL really was a highlight! Due to circumstances, this match had been shifted from Chennai to Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium. The stadium isn't actually in Pune and the traffic getting from Pune to the ground meant I probably could've stayed in Mumbai and driven from there! That said, the experience of being in the crowd for a game featuring MS Dhoni's Chennai (who would go on to win the tournament) and Virat Kholi's Bangalore was unforgettable. The atmosphere in the stadiums is intense and the passion the fans have not just for teams, but for individual players is incredible. If you love sport and even more, if you love cricket, make a point of visiting India during the IPL!

Number 1 Travel Tip:

A huge concern for travellers visiting India is staying healthy! For the most part I avoided getting really sick by only drinking bottled water/juices/soft drinks (make sure the seals are genuine and haven't been refilled), not drinking ice cubes, avoiding salad and not eating at the small food stands. I still ate at a lot of local restaurants and cafes and had few issues.

I did take with me all the precautions in terms of electrolytes and immodium in case there was an issue, I got me vaccinations up to do date before I flew and was cautious about hygiene. Standards in India will range from genuine 5 star luxury to literally seeing people defecate in the street next to a restaurant! If you are careful and do a few basic things, you should be fine. I will write a blog on "staying healthy in India soon".

Excess Baggage:

Whilst I never felt unsafe in Pune, or in India for that matter, taking care when crossing roads and in traffic is a priority! The roads are busy, nobody indicates and a short toot o the horn is the only warning you will get as a rickshaw or taxi flies past you!

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