Delhi, Agra & Amritsar
My local friend Shiv told me to avoid his hometown at all costs unless you have to go through Delhi to get somewhere else. There is no doubt that certain people come into your life for a reason. I met a wonderful lady named Rhea in Dharamshala who then invited me into her home in Delhi for a few days to explore the city through a local’s point of view. This would be the only way I recommend visiting Delhi. It just so happened to be on the same week as my birthday, what great timing!
My friend and I caught a Volvo bus from Amritsar for 800 rupiah ($11.50). The bus dropped us off on a highway at 5:30am where we conveniently caught an Uber to our friend’s place. Note to all travelers: Uber is the cheapeast means of transport in Delhi, a third of the cost of taxis and very efficient. The metro is also affordable if you know where you’re going. Get a token for a one way journey or a reuseavle card to add money to if you’re staying for longer.
Her family was extremely hospitable, her house was amazing and the food they served us was nothing short of superb. From morning chola puri to delicious types of dhal for lunch and all the local spots for dinner, I felt as though I put on at least five pounds of happiness while staying with her. She spoiled me with delcious red wine and three different types of birthday cake, each time feeding me the first piece, as is Indian tradition.
While in Delhi I didn’t do much sight seeing, instead we walked around the main bazaar to the Handloom Hatt Market for silk and around the the Central Cottage Industries Emporium. There was so much shopping to do in Delhi, but it was all too stressful for me. It seemed as though things were more expensive and the shop owners were that much more aggressive, always heckling you to buy something.
On my birthday I pampered myself with a 1500 rupiah ($22.50) spa manicure pedicure which included a thirty minute massage and two coffees at Elvis Salon. My friends took me to a lovely dinner at Soda Bottle Opener Walla for a modern twist on Indian food and treated me to loads of wine into the early hours of the morning. It was a lovely way to ring in my twenty seventh year on this planet!
The next day my friend and I went for a massage, but instead of the deep tissue we asked for they wanted to give us something deeper.... a happy ending. We both kindly declined, only after my friend had hot oil and a finger inserted into his bum hole. My boobs were massaged for a couple minutes while the woman complimented me on my body, I didn’t know how to respond so I decided to hightail it quickly out of the spa. Thankfully our local friend went back and got our money back after giving them the low down on how inappropriate they were. Note to all travelers don’t go to Explore Day Spa, we should have known by the name...
There are a few bars to hit up including Rasta, PCO and Hoots. If you get a chance you should also check out the Bangla Sahib Sikh Temple and the Iskar Temple. Other than that Delhi is in your face and not the nicest place to spend more than a night or two, unless you are staying with a lovely local family.
Transportation out of Delhi:
The easiest way to get to places from Delhi would be by bus. Use www.makemytrip.in or www.redbus.in to book your transport. The trains tend to fill up so you have to book them multiple days in advance.
Where to eat:
- Alkauser - Paneer Kathi Roll is divine - If you eat meat this is the place to go, but they also have delicious vegetarian food!
- Soda Bottle Openerwalla - Delicious twist on Indian food. A bit more expensive, but delicious!
- The Big Chill Cafe - Cool vibes and good food!
- Blue Door Cafe - If you feel like splurging this place has an amazing menu!
- Milk shake stand - there’s no sign, but it’s been around for 100 years. Near the main underground bazaar.
- Nirula’s - an old ice cream chain in Delhi. Try the hot chocolate fudge!
Many people take a day trip to Agra from Delhi because you do not need more than one day to see the sites. However, if you would like to visit the Taj Mahal at sunrise I recommend staying at Big Brother hostel. This hostel is less than a kilometer from the Taj Mahal and located conveniently right next to the ticket booth.
You can start to queue at 5:15am in order to be the first one in line. Bring your passport, pay 1000 rupiah, grab your shoe covers and walk down to the Taj to enter before everyone else gets in. I was lucky enough to be one of the first ones in and got the Taj Mahal to myself before all the mayhem began.
The sun was rising lighting up the pastel pink sky with monkeys running around everywhere. I followed a private tour guide to hear what facts he had on the Taj Mahal and wandered around the premises for a couple of hours before heading off to find breakfast. After you see the Taj, you can visit the Red Fort or go for a ride down the river at sunset, but we chose to just hang out before our bus.
Where to stay:
- Big Brother Hostel - 120 rupiah ($2) - Good chill out rooftop and perfect location for the Taj Mahal .
Where to eat:
- Good Vibes Cafe - Chilled out restaurant around the corner from Big Brother Hostel, good food and decent prices.
- Shankara Vegis Rooftop restaurant - Delicious Thali and curries with a view of the Taj Mahal and strong cold Kingfisher beers!
- Samosas stand across from Bob Marley Restaurant - This Milk and Sweets shop across the street does amazing fresh samosas and serves them with two types of delicious sauces. 10 rupiah each (15 cents)
A bus from Agra to Rishikesh was 1000 rupiah ($15). Be sure to get a sleeper bus for extra comfort. Enjoy your time in Agra, but be weary of scams. There is no need to pay for a tour into the Taj Mahal unless you want additional facts on the palace.
The city of Amritsar is one of the most colorful and unique places in India. Full of Punjabi locals who are known to be the tallest people of India with their colorful turbans and beautiful sarris.
We spent 200 rupiah total ($2.50) on two local buses to get us there in just over seven hours. There is only one direct Volvo bus that leaves from Dharamshala at 5am, but we couldn’t be bothered waking up that early. Don’t forget to pack snacks and water for the journey!
While in Amritsar we stayed in Jugaadus’ hostel. This hostel was unreal. The owners are Sikh, meaning they offer breakfast, chai, laundry, snacks and tours all based on donation. The staff there including Vicky, their tuk tuk driver, made sure our stay was entertaining and easy. Be sure to read the book that Sanjay wrote about India, he gives reasons for many of the Indian quirks we find to be quite strange.
The streets of Amritsar are full of crazy things. Men ironing on the street, big stalls of peanuts, monkeys on leashes and much much more. This monkey lurched at my face and scared the living daylights out of me, but the locals found it quite entertaining. Around the temple you will find beautiful markets that look brand new and a bit European in style.
When visiting Amritsar you must go visit the Sikh Golden Temple at night. There are four entrances to the temple meaning everyone from any walk of life is welcome. I was astounded when I saw 750 kilograms of gold built so intricately sitting in the middle of a massive holy lake. They have a ceremony every night where you can stand among the rainbow of colors and watch as they complete their daily rituals.
The most impressive part of this temple is the langar, or Sikh food hall, that feeds up to 100,000 people in one day all for free. The amount of food produced and the efficient process of continuously feeding thousands of people twenty four hours a day is absolutely incredible. The langar is run by volunteers serving, cleaning, cooking, etc. You can even volunteer for a couple of days and sleep at the Golden Temple if you wish. I had a friend stay a few nights and was in charge of making the chapatis!
Our tour guide, Gorro, taught us everything we needed to know about the Temple, Sikh religion and the Punjabi people. This free tour was offered by the hostel and shouldn’t be missed when you visit. They take you into the kitchen where you see the massive chapati machine and all the volunteers doing their duties. You queue to enter the dining hall, you queue to collect your dishes, you queue to get your chai out of the massive steel containers, you queue to get fed, you queue to hand your dishes back into the line of volunteers all waiting to collect your dirty plates. You won’t believe how efficient this place is run until you see it! ABSOLUTELY AMAZED!
Be aware you will be asked for multiple selfies when visiting and you must bring a scarf to cover your hair, even the men! They give you bandanas at the temple if needed.
We also took one day to go to the Border Closing Ceremony at the Pakistan and India border. It was a very strange experience, but patriotic to say the least. As we arrived by tuk tuk a local chased after us just to paint Indian flags on my face. I gave him ten rupiah for good karma and embraced the weirdness that was about to ensue. I felt as though I was at a sporting event with a stadium full of locals cheering, dancing and heckling the Pakistanis.
It was 150 rupiah ($2.50) for a tuk tuk to and from the border. Definitely an experience you shouldn’t miss, but do yourself a favor and avoid the toilets. It looked as though someone threw fireworks in every toilet, I’ve never seen so much poop in my life.
Vicky took us to the funny temple on the way home. It was a funky maze resembling a carnival of some sort with crazy sculptures of all of the Hindu Gods. You had to crawl, walk through water and be blessed with tika, flowers and sweets while going through the temple. As we walked through the maze all of the locals stopped in their tracks and stared as though we were aliens. We finally arrived at the exit and a crowd of people were waiting to take pictures with me. There were babies in my arms within seconds and about twenty locals with their phones out snapping shots. They even played a special drum set as I danced away towards the tuk tuk... Oh India, I love you.
Where to stay:
- Jugaadus’ Hostel - 450 rupiah ($7) per night - donation based hostel, great location and amazing tours offered daily.
Where to eat:
- Kulcha stand across the street from hostel - 30 rupiah (50 cents) for an amazing breakfast out of a clay oven!
- Golden Temple - free meal and incredible experience! The rice pudding was delicious.
- Dosa stand on the street corner near Jugaadus’ hostel and the street food stand across the street.
While in Amritsar you can take a village tour offered by the hostel which gives you a look into the life of village families outside of the main city. From what I heard it’s a great experience and you even get to milk a cow!
Enjoy Amritsar and embrace the weirdness!