So I officially decided that, despite my trip to India being more than 6 months ago, I couldn’t resist not recapping the incredible experience I had abroad. I will most likely do 3 blog posts on the trip in order to avoid bombarding you all with too many photos. I hope you enjoy!
Back before my friend even got engaged, she always told us that her wedding would be in India. Now, when you hear things like this you kind of allow them to slither out of your mind quickly, deeming them a fantasy that will never turn into a reality (the wedding abroad part, not the engagement! that was happening for sureeee). So when said friend got engaged in December of 2014, we knew reality arrived…we were going to India!!!
I promptly purchased my tickets back in April and planned on spending the entire winter break in India followed by two weeks in Europe. Although Europe eventually had to be cancelled because of my sister’s birth and MCAT studying, India was still on for the winter holidays. And then…I started school and promptly forgot about the trip in a swarm of organic chemistry and biology. My last final was on December 22nd and my flight to India was the following morning on the 23rd. I had grand plans to begin packing weeks ahead but of course my suitcase was completely empty less than 24 hours before the trip. I also stayed up until 1AM (i.e 8 hours before my flight) practicing my bridesmaid dance…but that’s another story…
In all honesty, I was soooo stressed out to the point that I wasn’t even looking forward to going any longer. I just wanted the trip to be over already so I could resume my life. WOW how mistaken and misguided I was with these feelings! My vacation to India ended up being the most incredible, amazing, and unforgettable trip of my life. I fell in love with the country and the culture. I still miss it often.
(layover in Dubai)
So anyway, I flew Emirates (♥♥♥) – 12 hours to Dubai, 1 hour layover, 3 hours to Delhi. I adore this airline, the food was on point and the seats were so comfortable. I spent most of the time catching up on Homeland.
I didn’t sleep at all the entire time on either flight in hopes of avoiding jet lag and essentially just passing out in exhaustion upon arriving in Delhi. Well friends, that didn’t happen.
I arrived and was transported to the house where everyone else was already staying. I of course was the last to arrive to India thanks to my crappy final exam schedule. About 15 of us were staying at a friend’s huge home in Delhi, which proved to be so much fun. I’m pretty introverted, but living solo in NYC has made me much more open to social situations, and I loved being with my closest friends 24/7. It was the evening of the 24th by the time I arrived, showered, and sat down for dinner. I hadn’t slept in over 24 hours but felt completely wide awake. Some friends were planning on heading out to a local club to celebrate Christmas Eve, and I absolutely could not resist joining!
(my gorgeous friends and I)
We all ended up going and staying out late into the night…and then I accidentally stayed up until 4AM hanging out with new friends back at the house as well! Oops….so much for sleeping. I was awake for 30 hours at that point and still going strong! But I eventually went to sleep regardless, only to wake up 4 hours later to go on the most incredible, eye-opening tour of one of the most famous markets in New Delhi – Chandni Chowk.
It was true cultural shock (in a good way). We scheduled a 4-hour tour (highly recommend this one if you ever find yourself in Delhi) and arrived at the market before the heavy crowds set in.
I was immediately struck by the elaborate network of electrical cords draping the streets. Seriously, I’m so baffled and impressed because everything still works!
Needless to say, the market was intense and intimidating. As obvious tourists, we received our fair share of stares but no one was bothered by it. This being the first time I was truly immersed in Indian culture, I was initially intimidated and guarded. But I quickly realized my friends and I, led by our incredible tour guide, Dhruv, were in great hands.
The only thing I remained cautious about was street food…I was so scared of getting Delhi belly! But Dhruv was knowledgable and led us into a tiny restaurant he deemed safe and quite delicious.
We each received a small plate of food and a side of interesting dessert before setting out again into the narrow streets of Chandni Chowk.
We quickly stopped by a small Hindu temple and awed at the beauty of it.
Hinduism is such a beautiful religion and I was grateful to witness it for myself.
Our next stop was a short climb to a private roof of Dhruv’s friend (I told you, this tour was so personal and absolutely incredible). There, we learned about the crazy cool sport of pigeon flying!
Ok, how do I describe this unique activity. Well, the owners essentially keep small pigeon farms on their rooftops, and they train the birds to fly and return when called.
The “game” portion of the activity is as follows: if a pigeon is caught by someone on another rooftop, the owner of the captured pigeon has to capture someone else’s pigeon. At least that’s how I understood it. But mostly it just seems like a fun activity.
We all watched in awe as the pigeons obeyed the unique calls of their owner, flying far out of eye sight only to promptly return when their owner screamed out yet again. These wild man calls could be heard echoing from rooftops all around us, and the skies were filled with flocks of pigeons. Check out this video if you’re confused…
Who knew that pigeons could be trained so well?!?
Keeping with the theme of strolling on rooftops, we made our way down and then up again to a roof overlooking one of the market’s centers. By the way, India is notoriously known for its hot temps, but Delhi in the winter is lovely! It never went above 70 degrees and usually remained in the low 60s. Perfection.
(Can you tell that this center used to be one large home with a central courtyard?)
We spied men bathing on rooftops, women busily hanging laundry, and children running through the streets.
(free from schoolwork, finally hanging out with friends, and traveling the world…my smile says it all)
I was plummeting into a deep love affair with India already, but our tour was only halfway done.
We made our way down back into the now-crowded streets filled with people buying fresh vegetables, spices, and anything else you can imagine.
(I borrowed some of these photos above from a friend who took gorgeous photos with her DSLR camera)
There were cows and donkeys everywhere! I remember one of my close Indian friends telling me how cows casually stroll the streets in India and I had the hardest time visualizing this.
Well, now I understand!
Our tour guide encouraged us to hop onto a donkey-pulled cart, and we all fearlessly obeyed. It was seriously so much fun.
(that’s a donkey…right?)
One of my favorite parts of the tour was the long-awaited ride in a rickshaw!
My friends had already experienced the wild madness that comes with riding in a rickshaw, and it was finally my turn.
We raced through the bustling streets, honking loudly as we skillfully navigated the maze of vehicles on all sides. I may have subtly screamed a few times but I mostly couldn’t stop laughing…it was so much fun!
We arrived at the spice market portion of Chandni Chowk, and my nose immediately picked up the sharp scents of unknown spices. Chandni Chowk is well-known for its spice market, so of course I had to purchase a few gifts for my family.
And then…Dhruv AKA the best tour guide in the world did something none of us expected…
…he welcomed us into his home! And wow was it stunning. The outside of the building failed to give us any hint of the ornateness that lay within. We drank chai tea and chatted about the history of his family home, and eventually made our way into the dining room for a lunch lovingly prepared by his wife.
Yup, homemade Indian food eaten on traditional copper dishes. I absolutely adore Indian food, and the authenticity (and deliciousness) of the meal left me speechless. Oh and did I mention Dhruv took photos of us during the entire tour and later shared them with us? B.E.S.T.
All in all, Dhruv made an effort to immerse us into the world of Old Delhi, which comes with its share of cultural shock and sensory overload in the best way possible. As I mentioned previously, I would highly recommend going on this tour if you’re interested in seeing India from a local’s perspective! I’m not affiliated with the tour in any way…I’m just sincerely thrilled with the positive experience we had.
We left Chandni Chowk market in awe of what we just experienced. But our touristy adventures weren’t over yet!
We hopped into rickshaws and headed to Red Fort.
This wondrous structure used to be the home to an emperor, but it is now a museum for curious tourists like us.
We were all pretty exhausted at this point, and luckily for us “foreigners” there was no line. Perks?
We entered the fort and peacefully strolled around the gardens.
(note to self: don’t sit on the ground even if it’s in front of a pretty door)
Many locals kept approaching, asking to take a photograph with us! This continuously happened throughout the entire trip and we found it so amusing. It appears that many of the locals don’t often see tourists, I guess? I swear at times I felt like a celebrity haha.
(we have no idea who this person is)
And then, after an hour or two of casual walking, we decided to call it quits and returned back to our house. What an adventure!
This post is already way too long, so I’ll leave it off here. Next post = wedding festivities + trip to Taj Mahal!