+91 9820822253 info@realitytoursandtravel.com

Category

Blog

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!

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

The Spices of Indian Food

Dear readers,

After a scrumptious Dharavi Cooking Experience, getting hands on and learning how to make Indian dishes, we thought: why not pay homage to the ingredients that make the cuisine unique–a post in appreciation of some of India’s most beloved spices?

India boasts a diverse range of regional cuisines where varying spices and ingredients are used. Indeed, the basis of all dishes is the masala (which means “spice” in Hindi). The richness, the layers of bright, full-bodied and powerful flavours that a medley of spices brings is unbelievable. The ratio of each spice in a masala mix is tailored to one’s taste: it can be blended to evoke balance, or to enhance and emphasize particular flavours. Here are some essential spices found in Indian cuisine:

Turmeric

Turmeric is the spice that gives curry its characteristic yellow hue. It is loved for its potent antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.  The chemical compound cucurmin is present in turmeric, which lends this spice its medicinal powers. Studies have shown that curcumin can suppress inflammatory molecules and stimulates one’s antioxidant enzyme capacity. Many Indians swear by turmeric boiled in milk as a home remedy to fight colds and infections.

Chili peppers

What really gives Indian dishes that “spicy” kick? None other than the chili pepper. Chilis are high in vitamins and minerals, particularly in vitamin A and C, immunity boosting nutrients. Also, capsaicin, an active compound of chili, is effective of relieving pain and congestion (that all too-familiar feeling of a runny nose after consuming a dish with chilis). Chilis are also known to have antibacterial and anti-fungal effects, good for ridding harmful bacteria in the stomach.

Cumin

Cumin, a spice native to Egypt, is one of the world’s most loved spices. It’s a spice that is versatile and can be used in various kinds of dishes, with its peppery, nutty  flavour. Rich in iron and fiber, cumin boasts a myriad of health properties–particularly in reducing inflammation and gas as well as aiding digestion. Here in India, jal jeera (cumin water) is commonly consumed to promote digestion; simply boil cumin seeds, let the mixture cool, and drink on an empty stomach first thing in the morning.

Black and white peppercorns

The peppercorn: a familiar spice that is used not only Indian cuisine but also in Asian and Continental cuisine. In fact, records show that the peppercorn has been used in Indian cuisine since 2000 BCE. Peppercorn contains piperine, a chemical property which is known for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.

Cloves

This flavourful spice is known for its antioxidant and antibacterial properties, being used in various forms of ancient medicine. It is filled with nutrients, aiding digestion and reducing inflammation. (In fact, my mother swears by cloves as a means of curing tooth infections.) Did you know that cloves were transported in the 13 and 14th century to China, India and many more places? It’s no surprise that the spice is a culinary basis in Indian cuisine.

Black and green cardamom seeds

Cardamom (my favourite spice) is found in either black or green varieties. They come from the same plant family but are processed differently: green cardamom is taken whole and harvested before reaching maturity, while black cardamom seeds are extracted and dried. Generally, green cardamom is preferable to flavour sweet dishes and black cardamom is preferable to impart a stronger, deeper flavour.

This powerful spice is also known to help reduce blood pressure, improve breathing (by relaxing airways), and aid digestion (and potentially heal ulcers)!

Cinnamon

Ah, there is nothing quite like the aroma of cinnamon. Its use can be raced back to ancient Egypt, and its medicinal properties have been valued for centuries. What’s at the heart of the health benefits and soothing scent of cinnamon? Cinnamaldehyde: an active compound that is responsible for cinnamon’s potent health benefits. This particular compound has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Cinnamon is also believed to aid in controlling sugar levels by reducing one’s resistance to insulin (a hormone integral to regulating blood sugar as well as energy levels and metabolism)

Mace

Not many people know what mace is: mace is a spice derived from the outer coat of a seed of nutmeg. It’s a flavour that can been described as a mixture of pepper and cinnamon–more aromatic than nutmeg itself. Records indicate that mace had been used by the Romance in the 1rst century A.D. It was so valuable that in the 14th century, half a kilogram of nutmeg was worth as much as 1 cow or 3 sheep!

Bay leaf

A particularly fragrant spice, bay leaf hails from the Mediterranean and is known for its distinctive aroma. The Greeks and Romans used bay leafs to crown accomplished and revered individuals. Besides flavouring stews, curries and more, bay leaf is also commonly used in cosmetics, soaps, and medicine. Its numerous health benefits include aiding digestion, reducing swelling, and fighting fungal infections to name a few.

Coriander

Ground coriander is included in many Indian spice mixes for its distinct flavour. Coriander has also been touted by various cultures over the centuries for promoting digestion. It is known to have diuretic properties, alleviating gas and promoting smooth digestion. Did you also know that coriander was believed to prevent food poisoning? In fact, coriander seed oil has antimicrobal and antibacterial effects.

Has all this spice talk inspired you to use a few (or all) in your next meal? Get hands on and learn more about how to use them in classic Indian dishes on our Dharavi Cooking Experience!

 

Is India Safe?

Dear readers,

We are well aware that India has a reputation for being unsafe and that women in particular should not travel alone. However, this is not the full picture. India is a country replete with culture, experiences and, of course, people.

People, people everywhere. This means that you’ll be hard pressed to find yourself alone when travelling. Plenty of people does mean that there will be those who are not so friendly, those who may not have the best intentions. Here are few common conceptions that we’ve heard about travelling around India:

1. “But there are pickpockets, bag snatching, and scams everywhere!”-  Unfortunately, this can happen everywhere you go not just in India; any traveller can be a victim of theft or scams. The main way to prevent this is by being mindful of your surroundings and avoid flashing/carrying too much cash on you at once, ensure you keep money in different places (don’t put all of it in your wallet or bag for example), and stay vigilant of your bag and wallet. That being said, I’ve been travelling solo around India and have never had an issue. In crowded areas I put my bag and belongings in front of me and hold onto it tight.

Avoid talking to people who aren’t official guides, people who approach you and claim to know the best hotel/shop/restaurant (could be getting commission for bringing you).

2. “I’m a woman and I’m afraid of being sexually harassed…I’ve heard that India is the worst!” – We completely understand the fears and reservations women have regarding safety in India. The news is constantly showcasing events and cases; India’s treatment of women has been condemned not only internationally but also within the nation. Protests against sexual harassment, rape and more have drawn widespread attention subsequent legal changes over the years.

This means that if ever you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation, do not be afraid to make noise and get peoples’ attention. There will always be others to step in and help when needed. Also, be sure to let people know where you’re going if you’re heading somewhere alone. Ensure to respect dress codes and be mindful of attire; many parts of India are conservative, so ensure to dress accordingly to avoid unwanted attention. Do research about where to stay, which neighbourhoods are safe and well connected. India’s a place where you’ll quickly learn the balance of being assertive and being open, especially when travelling alone.

3. “I couldn’t manage taking public transport, rickshaws, and local trains myself” – This is a huge misconception! Train travel is seamless, comfortable and fun. We’re talking about the overnight train journeys or shorter train rides between neighbouring cities. For example, I took the train to get from Udaipur back to Delhi. The train ride was a fun experience, as I had the company of a large family travelling with kids. The kids were curious and playful and I found myself entertained for most of the ride. The family insisted I sample all the delicious homemade food and snacks they had.

Public transportation in  metropolitan cities is generally easy to use and easy on the pocket. Delhi has a reliable, clean and safe metro system to take you all over the city. (Did we mention it’s air conditioned?)

Mumbai has local trains that offer respite from hours of being stuck in traffic. You can get around almost every large city in India via public transport.

Rickshaw rides are also fast and easy to navigate. Know the average prices and route between locations beforehand so you can effectively haggle. But sometimes you don’t feel like engaging in the haggling process with taxi or rickshaw drivers (yes, we understand as it can be intimidating). Luckily, Uber and Ola operates in most cities here in India. Simply download the mobile application and input your destination and go at a pre-determined price.

The points above are, however, applicable to anywhere you travel. No matter where you go, where you stay, any traveller–and even local–may face these issues. Indeed, safety issues are not unique to India and common-sense precautions should be taken. Be vigilant, wary, but also open to new experiences along the way. You’ll realise that most people you encounter are warm, helpful, and hospitable.

We hope this helps clarify a few things about travelling around India!

Exploring Maharashtra with Reality Tours

Hello readers,

Just before summer heat kicked in here in Mumbai, we were busy creating a new experience for you. After a few enquiries and subsequent research, we found out that magnificent ancient cave temples existed not too far from Mumbai. And so, we hopped on a train to Aurangabad to see the sights and stories waiting to be discovered.

Early on a Saturday afternoon, we convened at Dadar Train Station for the Janshatabdi Express train to Aurangabad. We sank into our comfortable seats and armed ourselves with snacks, water, music, and books for the 6 hour train journey. The lull of “chai-chai-chai- kopi-kopi-kopi” came through the aisles as we slept and intermittently woke up to enjoy the scenery.

We arrived at night and were eager to settle into our beds at Zostel. Upon arrival at the hostel, conveniently located close to the train station, we were delighted by not only the design and but also the cleanliness of it. Zostel is the oldest and largest chain of hostels all around India. If you’re looking for a reasonable price for a clean bed and shower, (and to meet like-minded people) Zostel is a good and trusted option.

We quickly got ready for bed as we had an early start the next morning to begin our Maharashtra Trail adventure.

Day one: Ajanta Caves

To fuel our 3.5 hour road trip from Aurangabad to the caves, we stopped by a dhaba (roadside restaurant) for breakfast. Our energy levels shot up after we filled ourselves with poha (flattened rice) and jaggery-sweetened chai. Then we hopped back into our car for a bumpy ride towards Ajanta.

When we arrived, the sun was shining brilliantly above us and we hopped on a tourist bus to get into the complex.

A short ride and a few steps later, we were greeted by a spectacular sweeping view of Ajanta caves. It inspired jaw-dropping, “ooo-ing” and “ahhh-ing” all around us. What stood before us was a vast gorge encircled caves housing Buddhist Art dating back to 2nd century BC. In fact, the Ajanta is far older than its  Ellora Caves.

I’m almost certain we took 15,000 steps or more that day, walking in and out of each cave, up and down the Ajanta Cave complex. We took in the ancient art remaining in the caves and learned about the symbolism in the artwork and sculptures. What a memorable experience! (Tip: ensure you bring plenty of water, as there are no shops in your immediate surroundings)

Day 2:  Ellora Complex, Devgiri Fort, and Bibi Ka Maqbara

First thing in the morning, we hopped into a rickshaw to get us to Ellora Caves. Feeling the crisp morning breeze as our rickshaw cruised through the city roads and outskirts was a treat. Our ride was smooth and before we knew it, we arrived and walked into a whole other world.

Ellora Complex was nothing short of astounding: a fascinating mix of 34 structures from Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism. We were filled rapture and wonder staring at some of world’s largest monolithic structures. The detailed structures have been chipped and carved over the course of 500 years. The sheer scale and diversity of the complex reflected how various religions had lived in harmony in India’s past.

After exploring an array of remarkably intricate rock-cut caves, temples, and chapels, we took a break and enjoyed a hearty meal. The Ellora Complex could have easily taken a full day of exploration. However, we had a few more stops to make in Aurangabad to ensure we made the most of our time.

To burn off some calories from our lunch, we paid a visit to Devgiri Fort–a glorious 16th century fort overlooking the city. In the spur of a moment, we decided to take an hour to hike up to the top; though we panted and heaved all along the way, the journey was well worth it. At the end, we were rewarded with a stunning view of Auranagabad. The hike up and around its ruins was a sweaty and fun activity. It was the highlight of our day, as we bonded over the burn in our legs and feeling of accomplishment.

Our last stop on our tour around Aurangabad was the famous Baby Taj–also known as BiBi Ka Maqbara. Wandering into the tomb was surreal; we felt like we were in Agra entering the renowned Taj Mahal complex.  The structure was indeed a replica of the Taj! We learned about the details of its creation along with some stories associated with it. (And we posed for a few photos and selfies while we were at it, of course!)

Needless to say, after hours of walking through historic monuments, taking in ancient religious art, and clicking photos galore, we called it a wrap.

Our recce to Aurangabad was what led to the creation of our Maharashtra Trail. We experienced first-hand all the sites, the food, the history of Aurangabad–one of Maharashtra’s best kept secrets. Here we have put together the best itinerary and plan for a weekend trip from Mumbai: perfect for anyone looking for an interesting and action-packed weekend getaway!

Keep your eyes peeled for another blog post about our travels to come.

Much love,

AK

Who Run Reality? Girls!

Dear readers and fellow travellers,

Today marks International Women’s Day! (Though in Reality, every day is Women’s Day.) We asked our girls who run the Reality Tours Mumbai office what the day means to them.

Here’s what our formidable ladies have to say:

Evelyn, Reservations Manager

Every day is Women’s Day! I don’t think this day should be only for a day. I believe in gender equality. It is no doubt that women have contributed to our society and we have proved time and time again that we are no less. I’m proud to be a woman!

Simran, Tour Guide

I think Women’s Day is particularly important because we need to celebrate togetherness. Together we must remember our moments and achievements together. We–both women and men–need to support one another to achieve our goals to become successful, to live our dreams.

Think of Mahatma Jotirao Phule and his wife Savitribai Phule who started the first school for girls in Pune in 1848. We are celebrating all people who have helped the plight of women. We are celebrating our sisterhood. Happy Women’s Day!

Laxmi, Tour Guide

Women represent strength, courage, love. Today we celebrate women’s day, but really, it’s not just a single day!

Priya, Tour Guide

We celebrate women’s day to give importance to the women in our world. It’s a reminder to treat each and every woman respectfully every day, not only on this particular day. As I came from a Hindu medium school, it was difficult for me to speak English at first. But with the help of Reality I learned to speak English and day by day, I’m getting better. So thank you to Reality for empowering women like me!

Divya, Tour Guide

It’s important to celebrate our achievements, to remember how we demanded for our right to vote, to hold public office and much more. Every day is Women’s Day! We should be recognised for our achievements without regard to divisions–be it national, economic, cultural, political. We should be able to express ourselves no matter how we look or where we come from. We should never be ashamed of our true selves. We deserve to have the freedom to make our own choices and be respected for them. Happy International Women’s Day!

Swathi, Tour Guide

Every day is Women’s Day. It’s not just one day for us to talk about. We need to constantly strive towards a better world, a more balanced world where women and men are treated equal. I’m a proud woman and tour guide, having the independence to go where I want to go and be who I want to be. Today I stand with my sisters, my girls, as well as the boys and men around me. We all need to work towards achieving equality. Let’s not forget that! Happy Women’s Day to all.

 

 

Planning Your Trip to India?

Happy New Year everyone! A new year means more opportunities to explore, new destinations to visit. And of course, India should be on your list!

To make your trip to India easier, we’ve put together a few helpful resources to aid you in choosing transportation, finding accommodation, and more nitty-gritty elements needed to build the perfect itinerary.

1) This is not a secret but we love Lonely Planet. Use this as a guide to learn about different cities, the must-see attractions, the best restaurants and more.

2) What’s our favourite, affordable way of interstate travel in India? Travelling by train! Train travel in India is organized, reliable and fairly simple to navigate. This is a great way to experience typical local means of transportation as well. Avoid paying extra to booking agents and book your train tickets directly here.

3) Looking for the lowest flight rates within India? Make My Trip is our search engine of choice here in India. They always have promo codes you can take advantage of at any time of year.

4) Don’t feel confident in haggling with auto-rickshaw drivers? Have no idea what is a reasonable rate? Ride-sharing apps such as Uber and Ola are your best friend. Simply download the applications on your phone and you can book a ride in any major city to take your straight to your desired destination:

4) Looking for authentic, locally-guided tours in Mumbai, Delhi, all over India? We have you covered. Not only does your money go to fund our educational programmes via Reality Gives, but also your guides are trained to provide you with the best experience, showing you the real India: www.realitytoursandtravel.com

Should you go North, South, East or West? Have no idea where to even begin? We’re happy to do all the planning, organizing, booking, and more for you. Simply fill out this form–http://realitytoursandtravel.com/plan-your-trip/

We’ll put together your dream itinerary, catering to your tastes, needs, and budget. Let us make your trip to India memorable.

A Practical Packing List for Your Trip to India

Hello travellers,

We’ve curated a shortlist of things that may not necessarily be on the top of your list of things to have on hand while travelling. We are certain that these items shall prove useful—whether you’re in accessible or remote areas, travelling in a group or solo, irrespective of your situation.

Charcoal tablets:
We swear by these pills that have, many a time, been life-savers for inopportune/ unfortunate stomach bugs caught on the road. Just take one or two and within a few hours, you’ll be feeling just fine. The charcoal binds to toxins and pathogens so that they get flushed out of your system quickly. They are also affordable and widely available.

Mosquito repellent:
These buggers are everywhere, whether you’re travelling during monsoon season or dry season, up in the hills or in the bustle of cities. Ensure to apply repellent generously, to prevent yourself from catching Dengue fever or from scratching yourself silly. From our experience, the strong kind (not the natural oil-based repellents aka citronella oil) work the best.

Hand sanitizer:
Sometimes you’re in a hurry, sometimes you’re somewhere without full toilet facilities. Especially if you’re eating with your hands, it’s essential to carry some form of hand sanitizer. Maintaining hygiene shouldn’t fall on the back-burner while you’re travelling.

Toilet paper:
If you’re planning on taking public transport, long bus rides, train rides etc, carrying a roll of toilet paper will enhance your sense of comfort. You’ll be hard-pressed to find toilet paper in public washrooms; if you don’t fancy using a bucket of water to cleanse yourself, then just do it! (Wet wipes are also a practical option.)

Appropriate attire:
This may seem like a no-brainer but we’re giving you a gentle reminder about dress code in India. India is home to temples, mosques and religious sites galore. Hence, we recommend travellers to err on the side of caution and dress modestly, to ensure you can visit places without hassle. Ensure to bring scarves, shawls, long sleeved tops, and long pants to cover up when needed (also to fend off mosquitos!)

We know this is not the most enticing of packing lists, however, it is a valuable checklist for those “you-never-know” or “did-not-think-this-would-happen” moments. So without further adieu, happy packing!

What Is It Like Travelling Solo as a Female in India?

“Wait, you’re all alone? I could NEVER travel all by myself.”

I can’t relay the number of times I’ve heard people say this to me, a solo female traveller. And every time, I return their question with a smug smile and respond: “but of course you CAN!”

India can be a daunting country to visit: the disorienting traffic and number of people, the (at times) overwhelming smells, the astounding beauty, the hospitality and warmth, the sheer diversity. It is nothing short of an exhilarating and rewarding hodgepodge of experiences.

But is it truly safe? Yes it is—partially because there will always be people around. You’ll find that you’re actually hardly ever alone.


SURPRISES AND KINDNESS

As a lone female traveller, I’ve found that time and time again people go out of their way to point me in the right direction. Several strangers have taken me or dropped me off exactly where I needed to be, out of kindness and concern. Strangers will offer you food and snacks on trains and public waiting areas. Meandering about the streets of different towns, you’ll likely get invited by families to join them for chai and a snack, even homemade mealswhich are always authentic.

I remember while I was travelling solo around North India, in the pink city of Jaipur, I stopped by a popular neighbourhood chai stall. Only locals were milling about, shouting their orders from all corners of the space. I was staring up at the menu painted on a board and could not read a thing.

A kind man with his family noticed me and quickly stepped in, taking me under his wing. Before I could protest he had ordered tea along with a plate of buttered bread for me. Standing in front of his family, I sheepishly obliged. When we had finished off our chai and bun-maska (a buttery, creamy centre enveloped by a warm soft bun), I thanked him profusely, and he scoffed at melooking almost insulted that I had even thanked him. “Enjoy the rest of your trip around India,” he replied.  Then he walked off with his kids in a hurry. This is just one of several examples of benevolence I encountered.

SELFIES AND STARES

Yes, you’ll be stared at and approached by all sorts of people. Staring can be responded in two ways: smile or ignore. I find that smiling opens a window of opportunity for conversation and connection. Ignoring is effective if don’t want to engage. Do draw attention if their stares make you uncomfortable. Making a scene is always effective at warding off unwanted action.

This also means that you shouldn’t be surprised when asked to take selfies with groups and strangers. I find that most people who do approach, do so out of curiosity towards foreigners. Some have rarely if ever seen a lone female travellerlet alone a foreigner.

Again, two things can happen: you can accept their request and share a few laughs. However, if you’re uncomfortable or tired of it, don’t be afraid of refusing with a polite “nay.” People will respect your wishes.

As in any other country, any other city, any other community, take note of behavioural norms and safety precautions. General safety precautions include being wary of how you’re dressed (cover up or dress according to where you are), avoiding being out alone at odd hours in an unknown neighbourhood (common sense, no?), letting people know where you are (always).

For example: in a city like New Delhi, unfortunately reputed to be an unsafe city, make a point to dress conservatively and avoid venturing out past a certain hour alone. Even if you do, be sure that you have safe and reliable means of travel, that people know where you are going and can reach you.

Do your research, know your options:

On that note, these days ride-sharing apps like Uber and Ola make travelling around cities simple: just book a ride and you’re on your way. No need to haggle, no need to worry about safety, a straightforward solution to ensuring you get to where you want to go.

I know, you’re thinking “I can just take Uber everywhere?” The answer is a resounding, “yes!” I find that cities in India are at times more technologically savvy than other places in the world. You can order anything to be delivered to where you are. Everything is now at your fingertips: you’d likely have connectivity in all cities and even in remote areas up in the mountains.

But don’t shy away from taking trains and public transportation! In New Delhi, the metro system is an absolute life-saver. Air-conditioned, cheap, reliable, it makes travel easy (especially if you want to avoid traffic). There’s also a women’s only compartment, which is heavily enforcedby women within the compartment and officers alike.

In Mumbai, riding the local trains is an experience every visitor needs to partake in. This way, you circumvent the city’s notorious traffic, making getting around faster. Moreover, auto rickshaws in Mumbai run by the meter, at any time of day (note that you can’t take an auto down South).

Lastly, hiring a local guide is an amazing way to navigate and explore a city. You’ll get insider information and the security of being guided by someone from the area: all the contextual details to enhance your adventures and exploration.

What are you afraid of?

Sureyou may get caught, as in any other part of the world, in an uncomfortable situation. In these cases, don’t be afraid to reach out to security or policemen. But trust that people in India will treat you as a guest, always ready to lend a helping hand.

Follow your “gut” feeling and err on the side of caution. Be wary of scams, be wary of your surroundings, but ultimately be open to new experiences. Take an auto-rickshaw, learn to haggle prices, fend off shop vendors. Be open, but be firm.

Travelling alone will teach you to learn the art of balancing being kind and open, to being assertive and brave. It’s an artful dance between adventure and sensibility, a life skill that travelling alone as a woman in India will also impart.

So come ready to be taken spontaneously through the streets by a well-intentioned stranger, come ready to be treated to copious amounts of food, come ready be asked to take selfies.

Come ready to be swept away by the nation: teeming with love, with historical and natural beauty, full of contrasts and contradictions, but consistent cups of sweet masala chai.

1 2