This summer, three friends and I said goodbye to the comforts of Wi-Fi, hot showers and The Missing Bean, and set off for Mumbai in search of an adventure.
We wanted to get off the beaten track, pop the Oxford bubble and see what India is really all about. With these typical ‘gap yah’ aspirations in mind, we decided not to book any transport, accommodation or a proper route, but to wait and see where the journey took us. Below, I have compiled some of our stupid mistakes and accidental successes; the places and activities in South India that are excluded from The Lonely Planet for a good reason, as well as some amazing hidden gems that we stumbled upon.
One of our absolute best experiences in India was renting a rice barge in Kerala. This is how Oxford punting would be in heaven; you sit with your feet up like a fat cat, eating delicious freshly-caught fish while floating past villages and coconut trees in the tropical backwaters.
Goa is also a great place for backpackers on a budget, but if you’re in search of golden beaches and crystal waters, you’ll be disappointed. Palolem, the most famous beach, feels like swimming in murky lake water, and we found a dead chicken in the sea. That said, the views and bays were stunningly picturesque; lined with palm trees, traditional fishing boats, and beachside bars. Being the generic students we are, we couldn’t resist renting a motorbike for just £2 a day, and spent an entire day zooming around the crazy Indian roads, taking selfies, and narrowly dodging cows! When I took to the handlebars, however, I skidded round a corner, crashed into the ditch, and we had to be taken to a local hospital by some friendly Indian holiday-makers.
Transport in India is as much part of the adventure as the destination itself, and we got used to leaping on and off moving trains, with tickets and bags of food often being left behind in the panic. Travelling overnight from Mysore to Bangalore for 30p, on the cheapest train possible, was one of the worst but most amazing parts of our trip. I’ll never forget trying to sleep on a bench with my face pressed against my friend’s trainers, three snoring men dangling off the luggage rack above me, and a smell of sewage so strong I felt like I was drinking it.
Finally, you can’t travel to South India without trying the street food. At first I was worried about getting ‘Delhi-belly’, but sticking to touristy restaurants means you miss out on some of the most delicious meals in India, and despite regularly eating from dirty street stalls, we all remained healthy! Gobi manchuri (spicy deep-fried cauliflower) was one of my favourites, along with dosas (thick pancakes filled with spicy curry) and bhel puri (spicy puffed rice and chopped vegetables, served in a newspaper cone). Generally, as long as the food is freshly cooked and steaming it seems to be safe, and a glass of sweet milky tea from a chai-wallah is the perfect way to finish a meal.
India is wild, loud and beautiful, which is precisely what we were seeking when we set off.