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By

Kristin Templin

Kolkata & The Sunderbans

If you are talking to an Indian and mention the Kolkata, the first response is generally a wistful sigh and an explanation about the amazing street food available there.  When you are in a country that is known globally for having delicious food, this says quite a lot!  However, there is more to Kolkata than food.    The city was once the capital of British India and Kolkata is dotted with beautiful colonial buildings that remind visitors of a bygone era.   It is also the location of India’s biggest Durga Puja festival which transforms the city into a giant open air museum.  Adorable blue and yellow taxis whirl around the city like cartoon cars and iconic blue buses ply the streets and a wide variety of bars and restaurants line the streets.

Kolkata is a much-loved destination by expats in India because of the delicious food, beautiful architecture and calm city streets.  Yet, it gets even better!  Kolkata is also the entry point of the famous Sunderbans, a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its incredible biodiversity.   Known as one of the largest mangrove forests in the world, the Sunderbans are home to Bengal tigers, crocodiles, wild boars, deer and a wide array of birds.   While the Sunderbans are located in both Bangladesh and India, the easiest (and cheapest) place to organize trips is from Kolkata itself.

You can opt for an overnight boat trip operated by the West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation.  However, we highly recommend staying in an eco-village located near the park which gives you the chance to help support the local community.  (Our favorite “village” employs women from the local village.  Most of the jobs available in the Sunderbans are very dangerous and this is a safe way for them to make a living and support their families.)

Kolkata is easily accessible from most major cities in India with direct flights from Mumbai, Delhi, and Bangalore.  For onward travel, flights to Port Blair in the Andamans are inexpensive and relatively frequent.  Otherwise, you can grab a train to Darjeeling or even travel overland to Dhaka, Bangladesh!

For more information on West Bengal, please email us at info@realitytoursandtravel.com and we will be happy to help!

The Best Places to Visit in India

India is considered one of the most diverse countries in the world and it is not difficult to understand why.  With over 100 languages widely spoken, a stunning array of landscapes and a plethora of food to choose from, a trip to India is the equivalent of a trip through Europe.  So how do you even being to plan a trip to Incredible India?

The most important thing to consider is what KIND of trip you want.   Are you limited on time but want to see as much as possible?  Are you traveling on a  budget or are you hoping for some luxury?  Do you want to go slow and steady and soak up the experience?    Whatever type of trip that you want – don’t worry!  India has something for everyone.

For budget travellers, India is a dream destination.  Hotels are cheap and hostels are becoming more and more popular around the country.   Starting at around $3 per night for a dorm bed, hostels allow you to meet up with other travellers and usually offer a very social atmosphere.   One of our favorite chains is Zostel. With 36 properties located across India, Zostels are safe, comfortable and centrally located.  Another company that we love is Treebo.  With well-designed rooms and great value rates, Treebo has hotels in over 75 locations across India.  For luxury travellers, India is your oyster!  With fantastic heritage properties, 5-star hotels and gorgeous seaside resorts, India is a country that prides herself on amazing customer service.  Notable chains include Taj Hotels & Resorts, Oberoi, and Neemrana with a variety of beautifully restored fort hotels.  No trip to India is complete without a stay at the iconic Taj Hotel in Mumbai or the quirky Best Exotic Marigold Hotel near Udaipur.

India is also the perfect destination for slow travellers.  Train routes crisscross the country and although some of the trips may be a bit time consuming, they offer a fascinating look into the daily life of India.  The downsides of train travel is that booking train tickets can be a bit confusing (you may or may not need an Indian credit card – this is constantly changing) and tickets tend to sell out very quickly.   If time is of the essence, fast travellers will be happy to know that hiring private cars and drivers is surprisingly reasonable and that flight tickets can be surprisingly cheap on most of the very popular routes.

Top Tip:  Regardless of the type of trip you are taking, it is incredibly important to get a local SIM card.  Without this, it is nearly impossible to use public wifi as a local phone number is often needed for security reasons.   While it is possible to get a SIM card at Delhi’s international terminal,  the shop is usually closed late at night when most international flights from Europe and the US arrive.   For American travellers, make sure that your phone is unlocked as well.

Once you have an idea of how long you will be traveling for and what type of budget you have to spend, you can begin to decide on WHERE you want to go.   Are you a culture-vulture, a history nut or an adrenaline junkie? Do you love beaches, mountains or deserts?  Is soaking up the sun in Goa your idea of a dream trip or is exploring the magnificent forts of Rajasthan more your thing?

Simply put, India has a ton of places to go.  The most famous tourism hotspots include Goa, Kerala, Rajasthan, and the famous Golden Triangle of Jaipur, Delhi and Agra.

Famous for its forts and palaces, Rajasthan really is the Land of Kings.  From the Golden City of Jaisalmer to the Pink City of Jaipur, Rajasthan’s ancient architecture feels straight out of a fairy tale.  The best time to go on a Rajasthan tour is during the winter months of October – March in order to escape the deadly heat.

Goa is hugely popular partly due to its string of beautiful beaches and also for its colorful architecture.   The laid back vibe of this tiny state makes even the most serious of travellers want to slip on some flip flops and shorts.   Palolem is one of the most famous beaches with good reason.  The beach is perfect for swimming and there is an interesting variety of restaurants and bars to choose from.  Further north, Ashwem offers an attractive respite and its close proximity to Panjim (the state capital) makes it an easy destination to reach.

Nicknamed “God’s Own Country”, Kerala is the home of India’s famous houseboats and no trip to the country is complete without a boat ride through Kerala’s backwaters. Alleppey is the starting point for any backwater adventure.  For tea-lovers, Munnar is the perfect spot to enjoy a delicious cuppa straight from the tea plantation.

But did you know that there is so much more waiting to be discovered?  India is comprised of 29 states and each one has something unique to offer.  Gujarat has spellbinding stepwells and one of the largest salt flats in the world.  Punjab is known for its delectable cuisine and the shimming Golden Temple –  Sikhism’s most holy spot.  West Bengal offers a more laid back vibe than other states and its capital, Kolkata, was India’s colonial capital.   Full of beautiful Victorian buildings and known for delicious street-food, Kolkata is also the starting point of any trip into the Sunderbans, a UNESCO World Heritage site or the Northeast.   The Seven Sisters of the Northeast are one of the most unexplored regions of India and have mind-boggling diversity and a fascinating history. Tamil Nadu is the home of Pondicherry, which boasts a quaint French Quarter that looks more like France than India and a plethora of brightly colored South Indian temples.   Mahabalipuram and Auroville are must-sees and provide a glimpse into India’s past, present and future. Finally, Ladakh is THE place to go for epic road trips with stunning scenery.  Its capital, Leh, is laid-back, friendly and has some of India’s cutest stray dogs!

India certainly deserves her nickname of “Incredible India” and throughout my travels as a solo female backpacker, I have always been treated with warmth and kindness.  So what are you waiting for?

Top Tip:  Organizing a trip to India can be time-consuming, confusing and exasperating.  Let us help make it easier.  Simply email us to say what your interests are, where you want to go, a rough budget and timeframe.  We will make your trip become a Reality!

The Top 5 Travel Destinations for Solo Female Travellers

Without a doubt, traveling as a sole female in India presents a few unique challenges compared to other places in the world.   People stare at you, personal space is non-existent and you have to be aware of your surroundings at all times. (You can read more about safety in India here!)

However, India is much safer than the media makes it out to be and there are a number of amazing places in the country that are beautiful AND female friendly!  As the CEO of Reality Tours and Travel and a major travel addict (you can read my bio here!), I constantly have a long list of places where I want to visit.  As soon as I tick one off the list, there are about five more added. I have traveled alone in the north, the south and everywhere in between.

After seeing India pretty much from the top to the bottom,  here is my list of the top female friendly destinations for solo female travelers.

Rishikesh – Without a doubt, Rishikesh is a mecca for female travelers. Not only is it THE place in the world to do yoga, it is also a spiritual place.  It is also one of the best places to go river rafting on the famous Ganges River.  Tourists, yogis and sadhus alike roam the streets and the most dangerous thing you are likely to encounter is a cow heading straight towards you.  You can easily get from the train station in Haridwar to Rishikesh via tuk tuk or take a bus directly there from Delhi.

 

Mumbai – Known as India’s entertainment, business and financial capital, Mumbai definitely has some swag and is a very safe destination for female travelers. The streets of Colaba and Kala Ghoda offer gorgeous colonial architecture and Bandra is the undisputed dining and nightlife center of Mumbai.   It is also the home of some of Bollywood’s biggest names.  There are a number of places to visit in Mumbai for both history-lovers and culture vultures.

 

Ladakh – The region of Ladakh is jaw-droppingly beautiful and the warm Ladakh (similar to Tibetan) culture is welcoming to female travelers. Head to Leh, join up with a tour and make your way to the hotspots of Nubra Valley and Pangong Lake for a Ladakh trip that you are unlikely to forget!  Getting to Ladakh can either be very tricky or pretty straightforward.  Direct flights operate from Delhi or you can take a gruelling 2-day bus trip from Manali.

Hampi – The other-worldly landscape of Hampi is something you must see to believe. The ruins of a lost empire and the relaxed environment of Hippie Island are a reminder of India’s unique past and present.   Getting to Hampi is easily accessible from Bangalore or Hyderabad.   Hotels in Hampi range from backpackers to riverside resorts and there is definitely something for everyone.

Goa – Goa’s beaches beckon sun and sea lovers and unlike in most parts of India, women can wear bathing suits comfortably. Beer is cheap, seafood is plentiful and there are a number of historic sites and yoga ashrams that are worth checking out.  South Goa beaches are a bit quieter than the ones in the north and I highly recommend a trip to Palolem, Calangute or Baga.  There are a number of ways to get to go from Mumbai to Goa including flight, buses, overnight train and a new launched ferry service.

While there are many, many places in India to choose from that are solo female friendly, hopefully this gives you a great start when planning your next trip

Top Places to Visit in Delhi

The temperatures in Delhi are finally dropping and it is time to get back out and explore the city.  Delhi is well-known for its proximity to the Taj Mahal and the Pink City of Jaipur and for its bustling old town but few know of the intriguing history of the city or how cosmopolitan today’s reincarnation is.  Below are our recommendations for the top things to see to get a real feel for the city!

  • Qutab Minar –  Qutab Minar is one of the top sights to see and with good reason.  The 12th-century brick minaret stands at a whopping 5-stories tall and the surrounding structures are some of the oldest surviving Islamic buildings on the Indian subcontinent.   Come early to try and escape the huge crowds.

A view of Qutab Minar on a sunny day

  • Humayun’s Tomb – A precursor to the Taj Mahal, Humayun’s Tomb symbolizes a new era in Mughal architecture. Built at the end of the 16th century,  Humayun’s was the first garden-tomb in India and one of the first examples of red sandstone being used as a dominant construction material. The pinkish-hue of the building and the surrounding gardens provide picture-perfect photo ops and some excellent people watching.

The stunning Humayun's Tomb with fountain reflection

  • Lodi Gardens –  One of the best preserved areas of Delhi,  the tombs of Lodi Gardens were originally part of an earlier settlement.  Built between the 15th and 16th centuries, the buildings represent a variety of different architectural styles and are surrounded by a  beautiful city park. Best of all, it is free to get into!

Lodi Gardens on a cloudy afternoon

 

  • Lodi Art Colony – The quiet neighborhood of Lodi Colony is now the epicenter of Delhi’s street art scene.   Brightly-colored murals cover sides of buildings and showcase India’s past, present and future. The neighborhood is a work-in-progress so make sure to come back often to see the newest works of art.  If you want to know more about the artists and the history behind the project, make sure to join our Delhi Art Tour!The bright colors of Lodi Art Colony
  • Gurudwara Bangla Sahib – One of the most prominent Sikh temples in Delhi, Bangla sahib features a holy pond, community kitchen and museum.  Time your visit around lunch or dinner and you can join for langar. Don’t be shy. All are welcome regardless of religion or nationality and langar is an important aspect of Sikhism.  If you are interested in learning more about Sikhism, make sure to join our Delhi by Public Transport tour which includes a stop at the gurudwara.

Gurudwara Bangla Sahib on a clear day