India is a strange country. The place where there are hundreds of local languages and many religions in which people live together somehow peaceful (from Hindu, Islam, to Christian, Buddhism, etc…). The place where new rapes are published everyday on media, but also from here we can easily see very kind-hearted, friendly, and open (although too curious) people. The place from where arranged marriage is much more stable than love one. The place where the traditional values are well reserved, although India has had the economic trade with Western for a long time. The place where the vegetarians are major in the population and the Bull is the avatar of God. The place where people shake their heads when agreeing, and say “uhm, ah,…” when they not yet understand something. The place which is very rich of monuments/temples/ruins/tombs/palaces/fortress… thousands of year-old, but also the place in which garbage is everywhere.
The place from where the Buddha got his supreme enlightenment.
And the place where I had an unforgettable time in the South Bangalore, Mysore, Kerela, Hampi (Goa is on monsoon season); and the North Delhi, Agra, BodhGaya.
My sweetie had plan going to Lijiang & Shangri-la before I knew my India trip, so she kept our D90. The only thing left on my hand was a phone with 1.3Mpx. Anyway, I also wanted have more time to see and look, so taking photo this trip was not in priority list. The below photos, hence, are bad in quality. In case you wanna see good photos, I would suggest checking from Google Image search.
It’s difficult to register a SIM card in India. Foreigners need to provide passport copy, passport-size photo, temporary resident certification, and wait from 2-7days. The SIM card price is cheap, only 100-120Rs (1Rs = 0.017usd). However, if you don’t mind about the security aspect, instant owning an activated-SIM will cost 300-500Rs (with above documents). The shop owner will give you his activated-SIM, and bring your papers to get a new one.
Majestic is the biggest, busiest bus stand in Bangalore, with 20 buses every minute. From here, you can go to any area of Karnataka. Inside Bangalore, bus price for each 3 stops is 5Rs (normal bus, very crowded) – 18Rs (Vajra bus, with AC, and clean). So with 20km distance, it costs you around 20Rs-65Rs, which is very cheap. Capability of a bus is from 35-40people, but in rush hour, you can expect 70-80 people in only 1 bus. In case you are curious on how they do that, check this Youtube link.
I have never seen anyone seat on the ceiling, but swing at the bus-gate, bus-tail is popular here.
Taxi Meru gains high review, price is 10-12Rs/km, and you must go at least 10km. However, in Bangalore, we need to call them at least half of a day to order one.
Tuktuk (auto-rickshaw, or risca) has price 25Rs per 2 first km, và 8-10Rs for each next km. After 10pm, the price is 1.5-2times higher. For tourist/traveler, be prepared to bargain with over-price situation from 3-5times higher than original one. Moreover, bargain skill is needed not only in tuktuk.
3 days after my arrival, Couchsurfing Bangalore had a gathering [link here], 25km far from my place.
I chose bus, and this was the first time in India. However, the last stop did not look like what I searched before. And I met the first good Indian guy Ganesh, who clearly guided me, and also the one who texted to check if I got back hotel safely that night.
In this group, there was Saurav, who came Vietnam (also many other countries). He left his job, traveled 1 year, then back to work and save money to continue another 1-year traveling period. It’s interesting how he shared experience about cheap travel. I and my sweetie planed also, but our parents are in a hurry asking us for baby 🙂
From GoogleMaps, I could catch a bus at 11pm in center, but it was not right. After 10+ times calling Meru with busy line, I decided to get a tuktuk. On the way walking, I met the 2nd good Indian. He’s Sagi (not sure if I write correctly), was born, has lived, and worked in Bangalore for 65 years. After several chats, he taught me how to hitch-hike in India. The driver from a hotel/company is requested to catch client at spot X. On the way there, he will lift anyone asking with the same road. Hitch-hiker needs to pay, but it’s very small (around 30Rs for 20km road). This is win-win situation.
I asked for Electronic City bus stop (the info I wrote from GoogleMaps). When car stoped, I was a bit nervous: it’s clear that this is Electronic City, but there is no big bridge like this in the bus stop near my hotel! I recognized that I got lost in a deserted area, in the midnight, also 25km far from my place.
So, the 2nd lesson is: do not trust bus info in GoogleMaps India.
Wandering for awhile, I met a group of 3 young guys, cleaned-up and closed a kiosk. There were many bad news from media, I had no choice but moved a head to ask. And these guys were too kind, walked with me 0.5km to catch a midnight bus to a place where I could find a tuktuk. Moreover, we communicated by body languages, as they didn’t speak English.
I arrived a bridge with many tuktuk after 10mins on bus. They asked me 700Rs, and I could negotiate to 300Rs for a 20km distance at 1am. Just say your price, if they not agree, firmly walk away, and they’ll call you with lower price until suitable for both. Another useful tip, is to catch in a place with many tuktuk, so that they compete together to have us.
The places I visited in Bangalore almost Hindu temples, lake, art-markets with Mithun, zoo, and Nandi hills at weekend.
+ Bull Temple is my favorite one in Bangalore. It’s several hundreds of year-old, very quiet, cool, with a small garden surround. When stepping over the gate, it’s said not to step on the stone edge. It’s the sacred place (where we can see Hindu believers drop their hands to ask for God’s blesses before put into their heads).
+ Gavi Gangadeshwara Cave Temple worships the lord Shiva, with monolithic stone pillars inside, similar to Bull Temple.
+ Dodda Ganapathi, near Bull Temple, one of the oldest temple of Bangalore.
+ Banaswadi Hanuman Temple: Hanuman is a Monkey God, which also appeared in the famous epic Mahabharata, who helped the prince to take back his wife from devil.
+ ISKCON Hare Krishna Temple this was built recently, mostly serves for tourist site, as there is no solemn atmosphere here.
Ulsoor lake appears as a good place on some travel sites, but it’s very normal. There is a far distance compared to Hoan Kiem lake in Ha Noi. People coming here to jog, and walk.
Nandi hill is 65km on the North of Bangalore. There is a small bus from Majestic to Nandi hills, started at only once at 8am (otherwise, we need to get 2 buses to get there). Price is 30Rs. Another option is to ask some more, hire a taxi in early morning (1000Rs in total), in order to catch the sunrise. The trail up there is very winding. When the cab runs fast, it seems only 3 wheels on road, another is off :-s It’s kind of disappoint with the view from the top, because there is only small and dry area below. However, the feeling walking under the foliage on the hill, or seating on the giant rock looking at sunrise is good. The monkeys are daring, and usually steal food. So, it’s better not eat, or secure the food on your backpack.
Mysore is a small town, 170km on South-West of Bangalore, where InfoSys settled its campus. Even IT sector here is not as developed as one in Bangalore, it’s a better place to live, because of the peaceful, fresh, clean, and very less traffic jam; only 1 trade-off: lower income.
I used local train to Mysore (50Rs). It takes 3.5hours to arrive.
In Mysore, I surfed at Sumeet’s house, in a comfortable and cool, quiet place with many flamboyant. Staying 20+ years in US, Sumeet still keeps the Indian traditions. I like talking with him about fresh and organic food, environmental friendly, karma, religion, the difference of education system b/w India and Western, etc… He took me to a restaurant with banana leaf food. And it’s really great!
Local bazaar here looks similar to ones in Vietnam. Everyone owns a small kiosk, and we can see spice, flowers (can been seen in Hindu temples), fruits, color powders, and food. Owner stands in front of his shop, loudly announces his goods. Trading is based on estimation (though we can see mechanical balance), and we can bargain about the price.
From Mysore city bus stand, I took bus to Chamundi Hill where we can see Chumundi devil statue. There is a very crowded temple, a cave which is also another temple, and a big Bull statue. Tuktuk is available here, to lift people from point to point, but in my opinion, it’s better to walk and see.
Mysore Palace is quite nice, and the most attractive point in Mysore. It looks like western one, but when coming closer, it doesn’t. There are many stone/granite statues, wooden goods with sophisticated carving (almost flowers, gods, and people related to religious stories). At first, I though the ceiling was covered by granite, but I was wrong. It’s ivory pieces. There are a lot of paintings about royal lives. I came here in the daylight, then in the evening to see the light-show.
On the south gate, there is a Hindu temple, with ceremony (Youtube link)
When leaving, a security guy whistled, then asked for my ticket. At that moment (8:50pm), I noticed that the ticket was only valid during 7-8pm period. Then, he asked me 500Rs penalty. Quite hilariously, I asked where could I see the rule for this. After awhile, he took me into a room, and made a passing shot: “50Rs, no need to sign”. Then, I realized that, he cheated me, and asked to see his manager. Finally, he let me out without any penalty 🙂
There are a lot of animals inside Mysore Zoo: lion, tiger (Bengal, white, …), leopard, jaguar, pardus, elephant, many kinds of snake, rhino, hippo, antelope, stag, giraffe, zebra, boar, peacock, South-American parrot, pheasant, etc, … The negative point here (which is also common in India) is there are many people who make noises, and ignore the notice board to keep silent near the animals.
Sumeet said he didn’t like going to the zoo. Why human confine animals in cage, just to see them. Why not let them live in their own home, in the nature. This, I agree. However, I also think, zoo is a place where to provide the education about how these animals look like, what are their food, how many of them alive in nature, and how to prevent them from extinct… But it does not happen here. People come just to take the photo, and try to feed them dangerous things!
It would be great if we let animals live in their own houses in nature. If we want to see them, we should build a cage in savanna for example, stay inside this cage, and look for animal (via telescope).
Karanji lake is much better than Ulsoor, but still very far from Xuan Huong lake in Dalat, Vietnam. There are many couples, or friend-groups walk, chat, and enjoy the cool atmosphere here. You can find also a boat to ride. It’s not special, but a good place for local people spent a weekend with their families.
There is an animated place, the horse-race-course. Tourists may not notice, because this place is for local mostly, to watch the racing, and to bet. People smoke, drink a lot here.
I hitch-hiked a car from Mysore to Bangalore, 150km took 2 hours. But when getting down near Hanuman temple, it took 4 hours to come back my hotel in a 20km distance. How terrible traffic here!
Kerela may be the greenest area in the South of India. We’ll head to Munnar, 500km far from Bangalore.
This time, the only time, I didn’t go alone, but with 3 other Romanian colleagues. We decided to rent a 7-seat Innova, with driver. The road passed through Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary, Eravikulam National Park, Munnar, Mattupetty hill, and Idukki dam, then banana plantation before back to Bangalore.
We started at 11pm Friday, and got out Bangalore at 1:30am Saturday, because of traffic jam. There is space, and my friends let front seat for me, so I could close eyes and relax.
When entering new state, the driver made the registration procedure in … 2 hours. I wandered into a small village next by, and saw people in a small out-door market (nearly finished, I guessed). It looked similar to the one in my Mom’s hometown 20 years ago.
On the way going to Chinnar, there are many checkpoints, in order to make sure there is no weapon/trap brought-in, no animal brought-out. However, I was really disappointed about this wildlife sanctuary. There are some notice boards, briefly mention that: “be careful, elephant/viper/tiger pass through”. I think this is kind of … advertising. There is no elephant or tiger able to run from vertical plain rock to the road (even if they really want). Passing 50km, there is nothing else but monkeys and crows. The area is very poor of tree, then how can we find tiger/elephant, or even stag? We may not see animal when crossing the sanctuary, but at least the place should give us the feeling that here is the shelter for wildlife animals. Chinnar, on the other hand, looks like a dead-land.
When looking at above board, I recognized that it is partly similar to the one I saw in Mt Kinabalu, Malaysia, but lack of the best one “Keep nothing but memories”
Entering Eravikulam National Park in early afternoon. Green trees. It’s the start of monsoon, in Kerela. There is a stream, and near by a waterfall. Light rain, with sun, and inside the forest. I felt pleasant.
In late afternoon, we arrived hotel. Lunch and dinner at the same time, then we walked inside the tea plantation. I was scared nothing, except the green-viper, or black-tiger-viper (which is the cause of many dead in India from TV). My colleague said, it’s quite cool now, snake went to sleep. Ok, we knew it, but I wondered if the viper knew the same 🙂
It’s really peaceful and fresh between the tea plantations, without crowd, I could hear the wind blew, enjoyed sunset, looked at smoke from houses/hotels in the middle of mountains… I wondered if is it different from 200 years ago.
The 1st day in Kerela was good. But the 2nd was crazy, because of, of course, the car rental and driver (I don’t know why, but I always have enmity with all tourist service companies).
5:30am Sunday, we walked up to catch sunrise, but too much cloud, so there is no sun but only 1st sunlight. We said to start at 7:00am, but till 8:00am, driver Mustaq was not there. After several calls (to his number +91 948 334 0938) without answer, I called Clear Car Rental company (+91 888 885 5220). Still no ping-back till 9am. Then, a guy from car rental said just wait 30mins, driver will come. That day, we knew that, they used different time system, because 30mins means … 4hours. The driver only showed his face at 2pm. We lost whole morning because he brought car to fix (we didn’t know what did he fix). So, we decided to skip Mattupetty hill, và and Idukki dam. Instead, we would check out banana and coconut plantations.
This Mustaq drove around 2hours, then car stopped, in the middle of nowhere. There are few houses, and shadow of no man. This guy said to wait 2more hours, then we knew that, 2 hours in his language mean an undetermined time. We wandered around, found a local market, got some coconut, water, and peanut. At 7pm, last sunlight, no electric light. We made a joke, that tiger was not in Chinnar because it stayed here, so be armed and ready. We had nice talk about life b/w city and countryside.
1am Monday, another car with some guys came. It took 10mins to fix the power of the car (and we waited from 4pm to 1am next day).
This was not yet the end. When arriving Bangalore at 9:30am Monday, the driver Mustag did not want to subtract our deposit, and even asked for the extra money because we came back Bangalore late. Of course, we argued and said no for this stupid hilarious asking.
Together with the bad experience our colleague encoutered last time, I would like to highly recommend you DO NOT rent any car of Clear Car Rental, and the driver Mustag. In the worse case, if you have to rent a car, deposit only a small amount of money, and always say NO with any further money request until the end of the trip.
Hampi, 350km on the North of Bangalore, is the most amazing village I’ve ever been in South of India. It’s UNESCO World Heritage of stone ruins/temples from Vijayanagara (Victory Snake?) reign. I think the feeling looking at the ruins/temples here is as special as Angcor Wat in Cambodia.
My card could not be used online in India, so I asked my old colleague, Anu to help to book bus ticket from redbus.in (and later on, train tickets for my trip in the North). Without his help, my next trips in India may not be smooth as they were. Thank Anu very much.
The bus is not allowed to enter Hampi, so it stopped in Hospet. Together with 2 backpackers from the bus, we took a tuktuk to Hampi with 150Rs.
Rahul promised to accompany with me, to check out the stone ruins. But when arriving, there was only SOS signal on my phone (and others). So I missed this chance.
Bike, and bicycle are the best ways to travel in Hampi, move between temples/ruins, river, hills and see how locals live. The rent is also very cheap: bike 200Rs/day, and bicycle 40Rs/day.
Matanga hill is a perfect place to catch sunrise. It’s 10mins walking from bazaar. From the hill foot, we can step up the stone to reach the top. There are many trees, bushes around, so I was afraid of … viper 😀
Thungabhadra river is the best place to enjoy the sunset.
Here, in every morning, an elephant (from a temple) comes and has a bath (link Youtube here). He looked very happy this period.
Due to monsoon started in Goa, and I thought the seasides there are beautiful, but not as good as in Cham island, Da Nang, or Rio, so I skipped this point.
Delhi, a 5000-year-old city, one of the oldest all over the world, and has a strong relationship with Agra in Mughal reign.
I was lucky to surf at home of Umesh.
His big family not only shared me a comfortable, cool bed (Delhi was 40 degree C at that time), but also asked me to join breakfast and dinner during my staying. Especially, Umesh’s dad was very interested in Vietnam culture, life, my hometown, and family. He also told nice stories about his childhood, and shared his thinking about getting old. I felt relax when talking and having tea at the balcony in the rainy morning with him.
It was a new thing to see Umesh made ritual for a God.
In Delhi, the best way to travel is metro. It’s very clean (after only airport), very cheap (25Rs for 20km), very convenient (there is no place we can not reach by metro in Delhi), no traffic and and always on-time.
There is a map in every station, easily to read (the price also show on this map).
My colleague told me from his experience that the bottled water may be not clean water. So I bought water whenever I saw a big store, or good restaurant (Western brand). Fortunately, I have no problem with my stomach during my stay in India.
There are 4 places which I think people should see when visiting Delhi: Humayun’s tomb, Red fort, Jama Masjid, and the most luxurious Connaught place.
India is crowded everywhere, especially Delhi railway station. There are 16 platforms, each 300m long, capacity, enough place for 5000 people. The capacity of this station is about 100.000 people, and full all the time. But there is one good thing: besides the time-table (train id, time, platform number), there is announcement each time train arrive/leave, both English and Hindi.
Moreover, we need to be hurry and even push to get in train. There is a video in from Youtube, which is not rare to see.
In Agra, I slept in a hotel room for free, thanks to the kindness of Marc. Even crazy busy, Marc arranged me a good place, 2km far from Taj Mahal.
There are many annoyances in Agra, mostly from tuktuk drivers. They will offer very cheap ride, but ask to visit some souvenir shops. In this case, just ignore, and go ahead. The standard price for each km is 10-12Rs, and the way to bargain is same as Bangalore.
There are 2 good times to visit Taj Mahal: either early morning for sunrise, or evening of full moon. I came to Agra on 10 and 11 of Lunar Calendar, so I chose the 1st option. Among 3 gates, the East one opens at 6am (others open at 9am). I got up at 4:30am, arrived ticket booth at 5am, got line and bought ticket at 5:45am, back to East gate to get line and entered the Taj around 6am. The ticket price is 750Rs. It’s better to take care ourselves, and do not trust any tourist service there.
The Yamuna river behind, now becomes very dry.
There is a documentation movie about the Taj, which contains the very rich info:
Next point is Agra fort. Ticket price reduced from 250Rs to 200Rs if we bought Taj Mahal ticket in the same day.
Besides a fortress, it is also a palace (and a prision), private/public hall, woman market…. The emperor Shah Jahan, who built Taj Mahal, also built the palace. Here is also a place where Shah Jahan was put in jail by his son Aurangzed, and day to day looked at the great tomb Taj Mahal via a window.
40km far from Agra is Fatekpur Sikri, where there is the highest entrance gate (54m) in Asia 54m, with redstone. In order to get here, I came to Agra Idgah bus stand in Agra, catch a small bus (which directly stop in Fatepur bazaar). Ticket price is 25Rs.
BodhGaya is the holy land of Buddhism, where the Buddha got his supreme enlightenment under the Bodhi tree. The place with many pagodas from Buddhistic countries (such as Thailand, Tibet, Buhtan, Sri Lanka, Việt Nam, …)
I took a train from Agra to Gaya, then met a local guy, Gohan who was buying jackfruit. After exchanging some info, he gave me a lift to BodhGaya police station =))
When I was in Bangalore, I share contact with Dinu, and Sanjay. Sanjay offered me a couch, but I could not read his message due to no internet connection. Dinu, the guy who volunteered for a charity school, was busy with his training in Patna, but also took time to come back, and have some talk with me. Thanks to Dinu’s friend, I could find a very new, clean, and cheap guest house (Monika, 120Rs/day)
Mahabodhi temple is the place worship the Buddha, and stands next by the Bodhi tree (it’s the 4th-generation of the original Bodhi tree, and the 2nd generation was in Sri Lanka, which was planted from a brand of the original one) Many monks, nuns, and Buddhists come here to meditate, chant, and learn.
I felt not happy in Mahabodhi temple, when seeing many unconscious tourists. Under the Bodhi tree, they laugh, take photos, shout, and do a lot of stupid things. There is a fake & bad & uneducated monk, who works as a tour-guide. He not only breaks the solemn atmosphere by his noise when explain the stupid things, but also plucks the leaves from Bodhi tree in order to give as gifts to his tourists. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrr
However, I also met many very calm, good, and educated monks, nuns, Buddhists. They come from Thailand, Tibet, Vietnam, and even … Australia.
I’m also proud of a Vietnamese nun, who is called as Mataji (the respectful teacher). Mataji has learned Buddhism for 22 years in Sri Lanka and India. She is now teaching 2 little Indian monks about seating meditation, walking mediation, Buddhism theory, and history. I was allowed to join this class during my 4 days there. What’s a fortunate! Thanks to the meditation, I felt very refresh. Some other Buddhists even asked me to shave my hair, and become a monk 🙂