My travel to India got a lot of people curious: How did I manage to stay in India for a long period. And, one had even asked me on Facebook: “Why India?”
Well, India appears daunting at first, especially for solo female travelers. The news about the medical student gang-raped on a bus in New Delhi has never left our memories. It shocked the world once upon a time and every time we hear a woman raped in India, we distance ourselves from this country.
When I set off for a backpacking trip in India, I carried a let-us-see attitude and an open mind so I can see how incredible India is, its beauty, warts and all.
After staying in its northern part for 79 days and having visited towns and cities like Dharamsala, Manali, Leh-Ladakh, Agra, and New Delhi, India would always be the top country I’d recommend to those who want a dose of adventures and new experiences.
Here is my own list of reasons why it is indeed heaven for budget travelers and adventurers out there.
1. The Philippine peso is stronger vs the Indian rupee.
Travelers get more value from their currencies here, including the Philippine peso. With the 1.4 PHP/INR exchange rate, you get 140 Indian rupees for your P100. I intended to stay in India for just a month solely for the 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training Course in Mcleod Ganj in Dharamsala. I planned on staying for another week after the yoga course. But in the end, I was able to stretch my budget and extend my stay for a month and three weeks more.
2. Everything is cheap-from the accommodation, food, bus tickets to clothing, trinkets, and even a visit to a beauty parlor.
A visit to the salon in India will cost you less than a hundred peso. To my surprise, in one corner at the Main Square of Mcleod Ganj, an eyebrow threading costs 20 Indian rupees (PHP14) and the underarm waxing 50 rupees (PHP35). The services were ridiculously cheap that I was scared of what the salon staff would do to me. But they turned out just fine. And still afterward, I marveled at how cheap they were. And I had to repeat before I leave the parlor “Seventy rupees, right?”
Others were incredibly cheap too, considering that Mcleod Ganj is a touristy area, mainly because of the scenic Himalayan ranges and the fact that the Dalai Lama resides there. It was the same case in other places like Manali and Leh-Ladakh (although prices in Ladakh were slightly higher ). A complete meal (chapati, mix vegetable, curd, dhal and rice) which you can share because it could be too much for one person will cost you 150 rupees (PHP106). There will be places where it could be 50 to 100 rupees.
Often I’d wish to buy fruits. Guess how much half a kilogram of mangoes in Mcleod Ganj is? 20 rupees. What a bargain!
Sometimes, I would splurge and feast on a sumptuous vegetable sushi, dessert and a cup of cappuccino and still the bill will range between 300 and 400 rupees.
The room where I stayed for 10 more days after the yoga course was 300 rupees (PHP213) a night. It is a room good for two people and with an attached bathroom.
While most public buses in India are rickety and old, you will still be amazed by how affordable their public transportation is. A 45-kilometer bumpy bus ride from Kangra to the Masroor Temple, which Indians claim to be the Pyramid of the Himalayas, costs 50 rupees per person. (I avoided taxis in my stay in India because drivers generally charge more). A tuktuk (rickshaw) is a cheaper option. They charge 30 to 70 rupees a ride.
3. Choose a mountain and you will have story to tell.
You can find so many amazing treks in India. I did at least three short treks in Himachal Pradesh and a 7-day trekking in the Markha Valley in Ladakh. The last one made it to the front page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer!
India boasts of having the huge part of the mystical and glorious Himalayan ranges, from the lush mountains rich of green deodars, high-altitude deserts in the Ladakh region to snowcapped mountain ranges. All look stunning and ethereal.
From where I stayed- whether in Mcleod Ganj, Manali or Leh, I was always treated to scenic views of the vast mountain ranges, forever tempting me to go on more treks.
4. Every place is different. Every town and village in India has a unique trait.
If you are a culture buff, you will enjoy India for its diverse cultures. While Hinduism is a predominant religion, you will revel in the healthy fusion of religions in India. Turban-wearing Sikhs, maroon-clad Buddhist monks, and Hindus’ holy people Sadhus could be a common sight in a usual five-minute walk on the street.
When I went to Leh, a high-desert city in Ladakh, a region in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, I felt I was in another country. The sceneries are out of this world, the culture, the language are so much different from other Indian states. And when I moved to Manali, a hilltop resort town in Himachal Prachesh, the weather and the sceneries likewise changed.
5. It is the best place to try to learn new things like yoga, reiki, ayurveda and meditation.
You can have the best yoga holiday in your life in India, where yoga began 5, 000 years ago. After the 28 days of yoga practice in McLeod Ganj, I learned more about myself more than the basic asana poses. (Read related story) I extended my stay in Mcleod Ganj after my classmates and I chanced upon this Ashtanga teacher Vjay. For the next 10 days, my French yoga classmate and I found ourselves Vjay’s morning classes. His classes could be literally back-breaking so just be gentle on yourself.
In suburbs of Dharamsala like Mcleod Ganj, Dharamkot, and Bhagsu, you can see a great deal of posters advertising courses practically about anything- Ayurveda massage, reiki (healing through energy), cooking lessons, and meditation. Choose whatever you feel will make you grow. More than the parties and selfies, I have chosen to devote a huge part of my travels to learning and gaining new experiences.
6. Traveling in India can recharge your spiritual batteries. One yoga classmate of mine voiced out what she noticed about Mcleod Ganj. “I can feel the spiritual vibe. There is so much positive energy,” she said. And I totally agreed with her. It could be because of the rich Buddhism culture that is present in Mcleod Ganj. It could be the mystical Himalayas, which many cultures have regarded as the “home of the Gods.” “Even the dogs are totally zen,” another yoga classmate jested. But I thought perhaps the dogs were always just sleepy during the day.
In India, I had a beautiful experience of seeing the Dalai Lama. It was a dream that has come true. Pardon me, but I couldn’t help to say: “I feel so blessed.” Read my previous blogpost.
7. You will have a gastronomic adventure in India.
If food makes you happy and it can make or break your travels, then India is for you. Its cuisine offers a wide variety of local and regional dishes. Eating Indian food is like having an explosion of tastes in the mouth. I am at a loss for words how to describe a tasty dish which is sour, spicy, sweet and salty, all at the same time. If you are vegetarian or vegan, then India is heaven for you. I did try to be one in my first two months in India. My favorite is Masala Paneer with butter nan, so flavorful! But often, I go for Thali, a combination of chapati, curd, mixed vegetables in curry sauce, lentil soup, and rice, which to me is a healthier option.
But for days when I wanted something different, I would get, vegetarian sushi, burger, pizza, pasta, humus and falafel and a lot more.
One caveat though in your food adventures in India is food safety. I have met a lot of westerners who got sick during their trip in India which has one of the poorest food safety records in the world. I got sick for one whole day after I ate two samosas in a food stall at a bus station in Kullu in Himachal Pradesh. Be sure to buy a bottle of mineral water instead of the tap water in restaurants.
8. You will enjoy India’s distinct culture, Bollywood in other words.
From the music, dances, movies, and TV shows, Bollywood is its own kind. I am surprised that India has preserved its culture despite the allure of globalization. A Bollywood movie would have 7 to 8 original songs and dances. So before I left India, I found myself humming popular romantic songs which have been repeatedly played in shops, restaurants and public buses.
9. India is photogenic from a lot of angles- Mountains, structures, people, clothing, festivities.
Before I left my country, I made a commitment to take a lot of good photos. And I found myself in the best place. The splash of colors everywhere is beautiful in photographs. It was such a good place to practice.
10. It is a paradise for history lovers.
Traveling in India is like traveling through its rich history. Well, India’s northwestern part was the heartland of the oldest civilization in the world that flourished along the Indus River. I got a taste of history in my trips to Taj Mahal in Agra, India gate, the ancient Qutb Minar, Masroor Temple which is touted as the Pyramid of the Himalayas in Kangra, and the 17th century Leh Palace overlooking the high-desert capital of Ladakh.
I didn’t have the opportunity to visit the other parts of India, but I am sure for travelers, most places in India will never fail to amaze.
The places I have visited in India like Mcleod Ganj, Manali and Ladakh are not as dangerous as it seemed for solo female travelers. But I myself took seriously the warnings I got before leaving for India. Don’t walk the streets at night, especially in big cities. So after sundown, I stayed in the guesthouses most of the time. Mcleod Ganj is an exception though. You can find its streets still filled with tourists even past 9 p.m.
But as in other places, the rule of thumb in traveling is to have fun and stay safe!
(On the visa: I obtained my visa valid for three months from the Indian embassy in Manila. A three-month tourist visa costs PHP2210. But if you intend to stay for less than a month, you may apply for a visa on arrival at any airport of entry in India.)