India

So as I mentioned in this post, I recently went to India for 10 days. It was an incredible experience! I have done a fair amount of travelling, but India is probably the most unique place I’ve been (in terms of just being a really different culture than the U.S.).

We spent half of the time in New Delhi and the other half in Kolkata. The photo above is of the neighborhood we stayed in in New Delhi, called Paharganj. We decided to take advantage of the opportunity to get an inexpensive room and booked a hostel in this “backpacker” (that’s usually code for “cheap”) neighborhood.

The sign that says “Smyle Inn” is the door to our hostel. The thing in the foreground is, obviously, a cow. They really do just roam the streets – it’s kind of cool. You’ll just be walking around and turn to your left and, hey, there’s a cow staring at you.

We timed our visit to be there during a holiday called Holi. It’s a festival where everyone goes out on the streets and puts color on everyone else. Either in powder form or mixed with water in spray guns and water balloons, it’s crazy – you can’t go out on the street without getting covered in tons of colors!

It’s a very cheerful and friendly festival – there’s a lot of hugging and shaking hands with strangers. It’s a little bit intense if you’re not comfortable with the area (or with strangers touching you!), but it was an awesome experience. This is me after about 20 minutes of walking around:

Fortunately we knew to expect it so we brought clothes that could get color on them – if you didn’t know about the festival you’d be in for quite a shock! Some people chose to observe from the rooftops, which is probably a smart way to go. Certainly cleaner.

There’s stray dogs everywhere in India – this one apparently got into playing Holi as well! The day after Holi we took the opportunity to just walk around New Delhi. We went to the zoo, which was really nice – we only got to see about a third of it, though, because we were walking down a path and a guy on a motorcycle came up and said “You shouldn’t go this way. There’s an emergency at the zoo – a white tiger has escaped.” Yes, seriously. A tiger escaped while we were at the zoo. My favorite part is that the guy then said “You can go down that road and take a left to leave or take a right to visit the other parts of the zoo.” Like we’re going to just casually stroll around the zoo while there’s a tiger on the loose!

Photo from the zoo. Escaped Tiger not pictured.

We later read in the newspaper that they had found the tiger and put it back. If anyone got eaten they didn’t report it.

I think one of my favorite things about India had to be the food (I’m sure this comes as a great shock to you all). There’s food everywhere – tons of restaurants, street carts, and outdoor markets selling spices and fresh fruits and vegetables everywhere you go.

Being vegetarian is incredibly easy in India. Not just at Indian food restaurants, either – there’s such a large vegetarian culture there that almost every restaurant has a “veg” and “non-veg” section of the menu. They even consider eggs to be “non-veg” so the only animal product you have to worry about is dairy. Even that isn’t too hard to avoid – we didn’t ask too many questions and so probably did accidentally eat some ghee (which is clarified butter) in some of the dishes, but overall it was easy to find tons of veggie options without obvious cheese in them.

We popped into a McDonald’s at one point to see the differences and the most obvious one is: no beef! On the value meal menu the #1 is the “McVeg.” Can you imagine that here in the states? It cracked me up. They do have chicken and stuff but no Big Mac.

After New Delhi we took an overnight train to Kolkata, which is a somewhat bigger city. Here we used some Starwood points and stayed in a nice hotel, with a great lily pond in the middle:

I popped outside at dusk for like 30 seconds to take the above photo and got like 15 bug bites. (So far no malaria, let’s keep our fingers crossed!)

Walking around Kolkata was quite an experience – there’s just people everywhere. Working, shopping, eating, you name it, there’s humanity (and dogs, and some cows) everywhere you turn. It’s one of the last places to still have “human rickshaws:”

We didn’t take one because it just seems so bizarre to me to let another person pull you like that – but apparently they have tried to outlaw them and the rickshaw pullers strike and protest to keep doing it. At least they have a way to make a living, which is more than many people can say.

There’s no particular story behind the above image, just thought it was a cool photo. In the outdoor markets you can buy clothes, food, air conditioners, fabric, tools – pretty much anything you can imagine. Even live chickens:

I’m pretty sure if those guys shook a Magic 8 Ball it would say “Outlook not so good.”

We mostly ate Indian food (I mean, what else are you going to do, you’re in India!) but at one point we stopped in a Pizza Hut for lunch. This menu item struck me as funny:

“Exotic vegetables” – corn, broccoli, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers…yeah, pretty much the least exotic vegetables I can think of in the U.S.! Another interesting food quirk is that the government regulates pricing of certain staple foods – so a bottle of water can’t be sold for more than 20 rupees, or a bag of chips for 10 rupees. The amusing bit was the hotel mini bar:

If you notice, they do the usual mini bar thing of charging a lot – a can of soda is the equivalent of three bucks, Perrier is about six…but then if you look down at “cookies” and “chips” they are like 15 cents. (Right now about 45 rupees equals 1 dollar) I bet they sell a lot more cookies and chips than other things!

To wrap up this long post I just want to show you my cookbooks – in a couple of the bookstores we stopped in they have this series of small cookbooks that cover a ton of different types of cuisine and cost about two bucks each – perfect for travel because you can fit a bunch in your luggage!

I chose several vegetarian ones, along with some that cover specific side dishes or cuisines. So far I haven’t had a chance to try them out, but hopefully I’ll be able to find some awesome recipes and share them with you guys. Wish me luck!

Have any of you ever been to India? What did you think of it, any great stories? If not India, what’s the most exotic place you’ve travelled (or dream of travelling)?

 

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