Back in 1999 I left home for a 3 month, post-graduation trip to Southeast Asia and now, some 12 years later, that trip has yet to end. I’ve spent my time backpacking, working, volunteering and living in over 75 countries as I just can’t seem to break my addiction to the first-hand education that world travel provides.
These days, I also write about my life as a permanent nomad over at my blog – WanderingEarl.com. My posts tend to focus not so much on the sights I visit, but on the human interactions and lessons I learn along the way. I also aims to demonstrate that a life of travel is not some crazy fantasy but a very realistic and rewarding lifestyle option instead.
When did you visit India?
My first visit was back in 2001 and since that visit I have traveled to India 9 more times, with my latest visit being in 2009. In total, I have spent over 2 years in this country with some of my trips being as short as three weeks and my longest lasting almost six months. I also hope to return this year as well and plan to spend at least three months in the country exploring some of the areas that I have yet to experience and returning to some of my favorite spots!
Which regions did you go to?
By this point I have seen a great deal of the country, from the north to the south, east to west. I’ve visited 20 out of the 28 states and most of the states I haven’t been to are in the more remote far North-east region. Some of the states I’ve spent the most time in include Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharasthra and Uttarakhand. And overall, some of my favorite locations are the Spiti and Kinnaur Valleys, Leh, Varanasi, Delhi, Gokarna, Bundi, Udaipur, Kolkata and Cochin.
What made you decide to go to India?
During a trip to Thailand I met another traveler who couldn’t stop talking positively about India. And after hearing his stories, I realized that I needed to travel there myself as I was ready to be challenged in a way that Thailand and Southeast Asia could not provide. For me, travel is about the constant first-hand education that is available to all travelers who are open to learning and I had a feeling that India was going to offer the greatest education possible. And sure enough, within days of my arrival on that first visit, I discovered that this was indeed the case. That education that India offers is the main reason why I continue to return as often as possible.
What is your favorite part of this trip?
This is not an easy question as I can’t think of any experience I’ve had in India that I wouldn’t love to do again. With that said, a few of my favorites include acting in a Bollywood movie, traveling the circuit through Kashmir, spending time at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, wandering the lanes of Varanasi and ‘discovering’ what has to be my favorite destination in the country, the small town of Bundi in eastern Rajasthan. But even going to my favorite mango lassi stand in the alleys of Kolkata, meeting interesting people on a 24 hour train ride, listening to the morning chanting from the ashrams along the Ganges in Rishikesh or just wandering through a market, getting a shave at a local barbershopand enjoying a freshly made ladoo are enough to be considered highlights in my book!
Tell us about your best culinary experience?
The best meal that I have ever eaten, not just in India, but anywhere on the planet was a Gujarati thali from a local restaurant in the city of Ahmedabad. It was such an incredible experience, with several servings of unbelievably flavorful, sweet curries, that I ended up eating at the same restaurant for lunch every single day for a week. To this day I have never eaten anything as perfect as that thali and if I close my eyes right now I can easily picture every item on my plate and can practically taste the flavor!
What was your favorite souvenir from the trip?
This would have to be the Kalachakra Mandala Silver Engraved Tibetan Thangka painting that I bought in a small Tibetan village in the mountains surrounding the Spiti Valley. As soon as I saw it I wanted to have it and that says a lot because, as someone who has been traveling non-stop for 12 straight years, I don’t have many possessions and I rarely pick up souvenirs as I simply have no home to keep them in. But this painting was amazing and I now keep it safe and sound with some family back in the US where it waits for me to maybe one day have a house of my own.
Did you meet any interesting folks on this trip?
Absolutely! Every single day, no matter where in India I happen to be, it is basically a guarantee that I will meet an endless amount of interesting people. After all, every person is interesting if we have a conversation with them as there is always something to learn! And in India, I love the fact that you can walk up to anyone and just start talking and you never know where it will lead. Many times I will start talking to the rickshaw driver or the shop owner or the samosa vendor and before I know it hours pass by, with endless cups of chai being enjoyed, and endless conversation being shared. Everyone has their own unique story and in India those stories tend to be fascinating to travelers from other regions of the world. When it comes to India, I’d much rather talk with people than see many of the major sights the country has to offer. It is these human interactions that tend to the be the most memorable experiences of my travels.
Any advice for those planning their dream trip to India?
The best thing to do before traveling to India is to accept the fact that it is going to be a challenging adjustment. But it is important to do so with an open-mind and a willingness to uncover what lies behind the initial scenes of chaos and intensity. And never forget that every state of India is like a different country, so if you’re not feeling comfortable or enjoying one particular place, just get on a train or bus and head to another. The differences between destinations can be so drastic that you may struggle in one town and absolutely love the next town over!
Also, remember that in India, it’s important not to take anything personal. So when you find yourself in a bargaining session at a shop, once the deal is made, make sure you shake the shop owner’s hand. With business out of the way, it’s not uncommon to find yourself engaged in a conversation for a while, and often times, those that initially get you frustrated will prove to be some of the most interesting and generous people you’ll meet.
The same goes for rickshaw drivers, touts and anyone else you come into contact with. Sure, they want to earn some of your money but at the end of the day, the Indian people are very interested in interacting with you as well. I find that some travelers walk around clutching their backpack as if every Indian is going to steal from them, believing that every person they come across is out to get them. This is a huge mistake! Smile and talk to people and you’ll end up having rewarding experiences that you never could have imagined.
Finally, don’t worry so much about planning your days. India is the kind of place where you just need to walk outside of your hotel/guesthouse, buy a chai from a streetside vendor and see where the day leads. Chances are, every day you’ll end up having some fascinating adventure that leaves you loving this country even more.