Northern India can be a crazy place. If you’ve never been anywhere like it before, the sheer volume of people is likely to be a little overwhelming at first. There are people everywhere. Some live in prosperity, but many live in poverty. The bustling cities are a constant reminder of the good and the bad within humanity.
One minute you can be holding babies, taking pictures and having dinner with a wonderfully kind family in their own home. The next minute you can be moved to tears as a child follows you home begging for food. How those who have, and those who have not can live in harmony is truly staggering. Then again, perhaps harmony is not the right word.
Delhi is busy. Definitely overcrowded, but teeming with activity. In our stay we saw true wealth and true poverty. The gap between the two is a chasm. It’s often heartbreaking, but really something you need to see to understand this country better.
Tourist attractions like Qutur Minar and the Lotus Temple are a must see. You can really get a sense of India’s rich history at Qutur Minar, and the Lotus Temple gives a glimpse into India’s bright future. Our favourite activity was a walk through the Lodhi Gardens. The really beautiful greenery is a welcome break from the often unattractive city. When eating, ask the waiter to recommend a curry dish, you won’t regret it! We recommend going vegetarian, the flavours are incredible.
The Taj Mahal in Agra is the main tourist attraction in Northern India. It’s probably one of attractions that you expect to be overhyped. It’s not. The Taj Mahal is every bit as incredible in person as you might hope. The attention to detail is astounding. You will have to pay the tourist price (it’s about 50 cents for Indian citizens, but $6-7 for tourists). Happily this means you get to go to the front of the queue to get in. The tour guides will tell you that by going with them you get to skip a 4 hour queue, but this isn’t true. Tours are around $6-7 per person. Personally, we thought a tour wasn’t necessary and a little reading up before was sufficient to understand the story behind the Taj. Be warned, the outside is the attraction, the inside is rather disappointing.
Jaipur has similarities to Delhi. It’s still very busy and there are masses of people. Some of the attractions are really special. The Amber Fort and the City Palace are terrific insights into Indian Royalty. The real highlight of Jaipur for us was the elephants.
We went to a whole village of elephants where they lived among humans in their own shelters. The elephants were well treated and extremely friendly. Feeding, washing, painting and riding the elephants were really special experiences. You’ll be amazed at the amount of food these things can put away! It’s not cheap, at around $50 per person, but it’s one of those experiences you might never get again.
After the bustling cities of northern India, a different experience in the desert town of Pushkar is welcome. Definitely try to ride the camels. We did an overnight camel safari that we’d highly recommend. You spend around 4 hours going through the desert on your camel to what can only be described as ‘glamping’. It’s almost a resort right there in the middle of the desert. Camels are surprisingly comfortable to ride, but be warned: after a few hours your thighs and man parts take a bit of a battering.
There’s a few ways you can travel around Northern India. Sleeper and daytime trains are popular, but we find them difficult to recommend. Coming from England, we found the disorganisation astounding. Twice, we were given the wrong ticket and had to pay again. Boarding the train is also quite the spectacle with people climbing in windows to get seats. It’s also common for locals to throw their bags onto moving trains to reserve seats. The trains are also incredibly slow. For a similar price, similar journey time and lower stress, you can get a nice A/C bus and have a relaxing journey. There are bus stations in all of the above places.
If you’re travelling to the south of India, I’d recommend you get a flight. We spoke to two girls who were about to embark on a 40 hour train journey from Agra to Goa. Doesn’t sound fun. Here’s my guide to the South of India.
Northern India is a great adventure. There’s plenty to do and you’ll be physically and mentally exhausted by the end.
You’ll be in awe of the buildings, heartbroken by the poverty and leave with a real sense of our humanity’s brilliance and our flaws.
Our advice? Experience the urban, remember the rural.