1. Visit the Taj Mahal – duh!
You cannot got to India without visiting the Taj Mahal. I repeat: you cannot go to India without visiting the Taj Mahal.
When going there don’t cheap out and do it on your own. Spend the extra money to get a guide – it will bring your experience to a whole new level. You will not truly appreciate it in all of it’s glory without understanding everything that went into building this phenomenal structure. In fact, whenever we met people who said that they weren’t impressed by the Taj Mahal they all had one thing in common – they didn’t hire a guide.
At first, my friend and I felt that we got conned into having a guide – but after were ecstatic that we had been since it heightened our experience. We were more than happy to pay our guide at the end of our tour.
Read my blog post: Helpful Tips for visiting the Beautiful Taj Mahal.
2. Ride a Camel into the Desert and Sleep Under the Stars
I always say try everything once – and when it comes to riding a camel, one time is all that you need. It’s definitely an amusing (and sometimes hilarious) experience, but not the most comfortable. My friends and I all had a great time riding our camels out into the desert, but an hour ride was more than enough. It’s not as smooth or romantic as riding a horse – especially with all of the snot dripping out of their noses.
The best part about the tour that I did in Jaisalmer was that we actually got to sleep in the desert. We literally laid blankets down on the sand and slept in the open air with the stars above us. It was a breathtaking experience, feeling so small in the world out there in the empty and vast desert. Surrounded by new travel friends, all soaking in the epic experience together was truly remarkable.
You can read more about my experience riding a camel here.
3. Explore the Ganges
This is one place on my India bucket list that, admittedly, I did not do. The Ganges were out of the way on my route, but given just a few extra days I would have visited the Ganges in Varanasi in a heartbeat. I hear that this is one of the most interesting places for observing culture in the WORLD. I will have to come back to India just to visit here (to be honest – I’ll make any excuse to go back to India)!
4. Celebrate Holi Hai Festival
Holi Hai festival was on my bucket list for LIFE – so you can only imagine my excitement when I found out that I would be in India for this festival of colours! Basically, this festival consists of people running around the streets throwing vibrant coloured powders on each other. What’s not to love!?
This is such a fantastic way to celebrate and have fun with the locals. If you are in a big city up North, like New Delhi, then this festival might be a bit to hectic for you – apparently women don’t participate in the festival to stay safe. I also heard that a lot of women get groped at the larger festivals. However, I was in a smaller city, Hampi, down South (where Holi Hai isn’t as big of a deal) and so I experienced the “toned down” version of the festival – which was more than enough for me! It was mainly children running around in the sun spraying strangers with colour and dancing in the streets. Think of it as a sober day-time rave.
Read here for How to Prepare for the Festival of Colours.
5. Take a Cooking Class
If you are like me – you are probably interested in traveling India just for the food alone. That’s why I recommend trying a cooking class while there! At the cooking class I took, I had some of the BEST Indian food! I wrote down all of the recipes, but admittedly would fail miserably when it comes to actually making the dishes.
I find Indian dishes so complicated and confusing so just watching this beautiful art take place in front of me was fascinating. I learned a lot about the different dishes and how they are prepared. Of course the best part was at the end when we got to sit down an indulge in all of the dishes that had made our mouths water for the past two hours.
6. Float Down the Allepy Backwaters
Years ago my sister sent me a picture of the backwaters in Allepy. Once I saw that photo, I knew I had to go there. It was just as beautiful in person as in the pictures. You only need a day to stop into Allepy and take a tour through the backwaters. You will float through the small villages and get a glimpse into the locals lives. It was such a grounding experience, seeing how the locals rely on the river and use it for everything, from washing their clothes to brushing their teeth.
This area if very popular for renting houseboats. I recommend skipping the giant houseboat though and going for the more economic option by hiring a canoe. On the canoe you can fit about four people and will be paddled through the canals. This method is a lot more personal and you can fit down smaller canal lanes than the big houseboats. Plus the sound of a paddle in the water is a lot more soothing than a motor.
7. Go See a Bollywood Movie
My friend and I were feeling a but under the weather (a.k.a. Dehli Belly) one night while in Jaipur but still wanted to enjoy our time in India. We didn’t have the energy to go out and explore but decided that we could handle a movie. We took a tuk-tuk to the local movie theatre and purchased a ticket to the next movie that was playing.
We were soon to find out that in India, a night out at the movies is considered a big big deal. People walking into the movie theatre were all dressed up. once we stepped into the theatre itself, we were amazed. The movie theatre was beautiful with red velvet seats and chandeliers hanging from the ceiling – I felt like we were going to the opera.
Even though we couldn’t understand a word said in the Bolloywood moive, the dancing and singing was so contagious it had us (and the rest of the theatre) in our seats clapping along. The energy in the movie theatre was so positive and the film was so entertaining that we found ourselves enjoying our experience way more than we would going out to see a movie back home. Watching a Bollywood movie in the theatre is like going to see a show – there was even an intermission!
8. Take a Train
When most people think of India the first image that comes to mind is a thousand people crammed in and on top of trains. More often than not, this is not actually the case. Yes, the trains are busy but you actually can reserve a spot and even get a sleeper train where you have an entire ‘bed’ to yourself.
One of my favourite train rides was on a small train that my friend and I jumped on at the last minute (no reservation) and paid about $0.25 to get on. All of the seats were taken and so we found the only empty spot on the train – by the open door. The sun was setting and so we hung ourselves out the open door with the wind in our faces as we enjoyed the colourful Indian sky. India isn’t all that concerned with safety though, so we had to be on high alert for telephone poles smacking us in the face.
9. Practice Yoga
Even if you are not a yogi you need to go to at least one yoga class while in India. Try to attend a class taught by a local if you can. Yoga was created in India and there is just something so special about practicing it here.
I had the best yoga classes of my life here. You would think that yoga would be taken more seriously in India, but I actually found the opposite. It was a lot more playful and athletically challenging than anywhere else that I have practiced around the world. My body went into positions that I didn’t even think were possible!
10. Drink Chai
Above all else. drink Chai.
What other India Bucket list items would you add?