Travelling, as we all know, has its highs and lows. Unfortunately, when we’re out there, sometimes we get so stuck on dwelling on the little things which are going wrong, that we forget how lucky we are to be able to travel in the first place. I know that I, all too often, find myself complaining, even if it’s just in my head. Maybe I should make it a resolution to go just one day without moaning about something, even if it’s just an internal gripe.
Once you accept that things won’t always go off without a hitch, you’ll cope much better. Trust me. Because in the end, most of it is magical. Nearly every cloud has a silver lining. Nearly. And at the end of a bad day, you just might find something which will make you smile. I always do.
In no particular order regarding their amazing-ness, here are my top ten most grateful moments from my two trips to India these last couple of years… As far as I can think of right now!
- Volunteering with the Saheli Trust, and returning to Dehradun!
I can’t write a list like this without an extremely honourable mention to my Saheli family. My second Workaway placement, and the first outside of Europe, I couldn’t have asked for a more amazing group of kids to be working with, or a more welcoming group of women to live with. I spent two months in Dehradun at the shelter last year, and returned for a couple of days to visit before traveling to the South of India this year. It was a joy to see everyone again, and the kids’ English has definitely improved leaps and bounds since I last visited!
After staying for just a couple of days, I can’t shake the feeling of having gained brothers and sisters in the double digits, and though I’ve always been an only child, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ll always go back to Dehradun – the welcome I received, and continue to receive, is irreplaceable.
- Getting my money back after being scammed in Agra!
Now, not sure this one quite counts as India, seeing as I sorted it out only once I’d moved on to Thailand last year, but it all started in Agra, so here it is. After a lot of faff with ATMs and card readers whilst visiting the city of the Taj, I ended up trying to take money out of a “broken” ATM, which I guess never logged my account out, and several days later, once I’d flown to Bangkok, I checked my balance in a café to find that I’d been relieved of more than £400. Not ideal. Suppose I just paid someone’s rent for the next few months.
Thankfully, this was not my main bank account, but a prepaid currency card account I’d arranged with Thomson Travel Agent before I left. After filling in a fairly simple incident report, I received the money back from Thomson a couple of weeks later without even having to involve my insurance at all. I was eternally thankful – definitely recommend Thomson for a currency card if anyone is dithering between options! I also have a FairFX card, and both provide replacement cards which can be kept at home and then sent to you, and great customer service.
- Taking time out in Srirangapatnam
Whilst walking around Srirangapatnam, a little town built as a fort by Tipu Sultan, an hour outside Mysore, I was pretty much driving myself into the ground trying to get around all the important spots marked on the map, and so it was lovely to take a while to sit at a ghat (set of steps leading down to a river) by the river Cauvery, dangle my feet in the water, and just chill out for a change.
Surrounded by elderly Indian women laying out their laundry, families bathing, and worshippers visiting the riverside temples, I have rarely felt so peaceful! There’s also something about the smell of temple incense which makes me feel calm… Sometimes you just need a break!
- Laughing until my sides hurt on the bus to Varkala!
It wasn’t until this moment that I realised how little I actually give in to being amused. In our technology age of laughing emojis and memes, you don’t often get that belly-aching laugh which goes on and on. I was taking a bus from Alleppey to Varkala with a couple of guys who had been staying in my Alleppey homestay, after the boat I had intended to take to Kollam turned out not to exist in the off-season. Oops.
Anyway, these guys worked in Delhi; one was from Bangalore and the other was French. The French guy, magically, had perfected the head bobble. You know the one. It means yes, no, I don’t know, maybe, okay, thanks… I could go on. Whenever I try it, it seems stilted and doesn’t come naturally. But this guy had it down! Something about him doing it in conversation with the overly enthusiastic bus conductor made us all laugh until I genuinely felt tears leaking from my eyes. It’s the little things. It’s those moments I’m most grateful for.
- Visiting tea factories in Ooty!
Anyone who knows anything about my travels in India knows I love a good cup of chai. Preferably cardamom, served in a tiny paper cup and costing me 10Rs, or even better, costing me nothing because it’s part of unlimited tasters after a tea factory tour! I toured two tea/chocolate factories on my visit to Ooty, which weirdly were next to each other and clearly competing with passive aggressive signs.
I win. Don’t hate the player, guys, I just really love tea! And I bought enough to satisfy a small army during their tea breaks so, there’s no downside really. Seeing the tea-making process was really interesting and the scenery around the factories was breath-taking!
- Walking to the end of India in Kanyakumari!
I have wanted to visit Kanyakumari since I first went to India last year, but seeing as I was based in the North and moving fairly swiftly to South-East Asia, I didn’t go south at all. I was determined to make Kanyakumari one of my stops this year, and I’m so glad I did! As soon as I arrived, I could tell there was something special about the southern-most point of India.
Walking out onto a viewpoint or rock path until I was surrounded by sea was amazing – a couple of Kanyakumari’s main sights, the Vivekananda Rock Memorial dedicated to a Hindu wandering monk, and the Thiruvalluvar Statue of the Tamil scholar, are off the shore of the town, and visiting these was a brilliant trip on my second day in Kanyakumari. Though it was quite a bit busier than a lot of places I visited (Kanyakumari is extremely popular with domestic tourists and those following a pilgrimage) I was sad to leave at the end of my visit!
- Taking time out in Varkala
Anyone who knows me will know that I’m really not one to sit on the beach for days at a time. I get bored very easily, and much prefer the kind of traveling which keeps me constantly on the go. But burn-out is a real thing, and that’s why I extended my stay in Varkala this year to take advantage of the lovely location, weather and chilled out vibe. Varkala is a backpacker beach town in Kerala, and the hub where the majority of accommodation and restaurants are is along a dramatic cliff edge.
I stayed in a bamboo hut backing nearly directly onto the cliff face (not as dangerous as it sounds) at an extremely reasonable price due to it being low season. The town is peaceful and the backpacker area is basically a ghost town out of season, although the main beach is popular with Indian tourists too. I’m glad I took a bit of time out towards the end of my trip to just chill out, watch sunsets, do some rooftop yoga, and watch the world go by without worrying about catching yet another bus…
- Surviving the night bus to Alleppey!
I made the slightly foolish decision of, in my own words, “seeing how far into Kerala I can get in a day”, with the aim of making it to the backwaters in record time. This resulted in a non-stop journey from Ooty to Alleppey spanning one train and two buses, and ending with me wandering around the streets of Alleppey, scared, lost and sleep-deprived at 4am. Nightmare. I took the toy train to Mettupalayam, a bus to Coimbatore, then another bus directly to Alleppey. This was a public interstate bus, not a nice, comfortable coach. Is there any such thing in India? If so, I’ve yet to discover one.
This doesn’t seem like a wonderful story so far. The wonderful part is that I got to the end in one piece, and after a lot of wandering around, jeers from numerous rickshaw drivers, and half a meltdown, a kind homestay owner offered me a room for 600Rs per night, which was later taken down to 500Rs. And it had Wi-Fi. Bonus. Not all heroes wear capes.
- Being rescued from the heat by a kind family at the end of a disastrous day in Rameswaram!
My day in Rameswaram was probably one of the biggest disasters I experienced during my travels this year, but to be honest, that was entirely of my own doing. I bought an unreserved train ticket at 5am, and made the foolish error of going back to my hotel and waiting until just before 6am to go and get on the train. MISTAKE. By that point, it was sardines-in-a-tin standing room only… I coped for an hour, but couldn’t do nearly four hours of it so got off at a random stop, and waited for a bus instead. A further few hours later, I arrived in Rameswaram and caught two further buses to the edge of Danushkodi, the abandoned fishing village I wanted to see most that day.
Stubborn as I am, I went for walking 4km into the village, ruined by a cyclone in 1964, rather than paying for a seat in one of the vans which make the trip. Not only that, I was determined to make it to the end of the outcrop to see “Adam’s Bridge”, the 30km of sand banks and reefs stretching to Sri Lanka. Not really sure what I expected to see, but walking alone an outcrop of sand with no seeming end gets pretty monotonous after a while. I was hungry, tired, probably suffering from sunstroke, and running out of drinking water, and just about ready to quit when I heard a car coming up behind me and optimistically stuck my hand out to get the driver to stop.
I had no idea how much further the “Land’s End” point was, but the family in the (blissfully air-conditioned) car offered to give me a ride there. Ironically, it turned out to be no more than five minutes further, and really not that much to see. It was beautiful though. I have always been drawn to the feeling of liminality which comes with being by the sea, and there’s something magical about Danushkodi.
To my shock and eternal gratitude, the family who had picked me up then offered to take me all the way back to my hotel in Madurai – a four-hour journey – on their way back to Trichy. They also took me for lunch and refused to let me pay them anything for that or petrol. There really are good people in the world!
- Actually making my connecting flight from Mumbai to Abu Dhabi on my return home!
This was very hit and miss this year! On my return from India, I flew from Chennai to Mumbai, to Abu Dhabi, to Heathrow, and both the transfers only gave me 1.5 hours to get to my next flight. When you factor in plane delays, navigating a new airport, security checks and passport control, this adds up and I was left practically running to the gate, making it just in time for the final call to board my flight from Abu Dhabi to Heathrow. My guardian angel has certainly been working overtime this year…
Have you experienced an uplifting moment whilst travelling? Let me know about it in the comments!