If you read the title of this post in your best Arnold Schwarzenegger voice (and I certainly did), then mission accomplished!
I finished strong in India, by visiting the Taj Mahal. I had heard so many mixed opinions about the Taj Mahal and Agra (the city where it’s located), that I had considered skipping the cherished mausoleum. Logic ultimately prevailed, and I booked a hostel in Agra. It was an interesting day, one that was at times both overwhelming and underwhelming. In the late morning, some fellow travelers and I headed to the Taj’s southern gate, and after pushing through hordes of touts and shop-owners, we were finally admitted into the site. The palace was far more spectacular than I had imagined it would be. I couldn’t tell you anything about its history, but just seeing the massive, white-marble structure was enough to make my jaw drop. However, I found that the building became boring after about an hour or so, and was far more enjoyable on the outside, than it was on the inside. I was also a little bit bothered (but not much) that foreigners were charged 750 rupees for entry (roughly $11.75), while Indian citizens only paid 20 rupees (30 cents). 750 rupees may not seem like much on the surface, but it can go quite a long way in India.
After the Taj Mahal, we walked through Agra, eating street food and visiting random neighborhoods. Our walk took a turn into a small slum, where we were greeted by dozens of children shouting “hello!” to us. It was a very inviting and friendly place, especially compared to the tout-heavy area we had just come from. Later that day, I took a bus to Delhi, the capital of India. Here I am in Delhi, sitting in a dirty hotel room, waiting out my last few days in India. It feels surreal that my three-month trip in South Asia is coming to a close in just a few short hours. Very soon, I’ll be on a plane to the Middle East, far away from the sights, sounds, and smells of India.
It’s really been a wild ride. When I finished the Southeast Asian leg of my journey, I figured that a few months in India would just give me another country to explore. I think I under-estimated how intense my experience would be. The few months felt like years. Time never flew by in India; every day felt like a week, because I was constantly bombarded with new things. Whether good or bad, I saw sights I never thought I’d see, tasted foods I never thought I would taste, heard sounds…well, you get the picture! On every sensory level, India was the craziest place I have been to. The trip was life-changing in many respects, as I was able to see a way of life that is virtually non-existent in my home country. I highly recommend everybody come here, simply because it will make you rethink many things. What you think about depends on you; however, you will not leave without having learned something new about the world.
I can also tell you this, though: it won’t be long before I return.
Why will I be returning to India, a country that I’ve already spent so much time in? There are multiple reasons.
For me, India is located in a very ideal part of the globe. It is not too far from Southeast Asia, a region that I desperately want to return too. Additionally, it borders several countries that I would like to visit in the near future, for example: Bangladesh, Nepal, and Pakistan. It is the perfect Asian “middle zone;” it’s a very cheap place to hang out for a little while, before heading to nearby country. India is also very big, and I was certainly not able to cover as much of it as I would have liked to. Many regions, such as Kashmir, the Himalayas, and (frankly) the entire eastern half of the country have not yet been seen by yours truly. Finally, India is still a developing country. Therefore, it will be nice to come back intermittently just to see how much it has “developed.”
So, I’m going to new horizons. Next time you hear from me, I’ll probably have just celebrated New Year’s in Lebanon.
Hasta la vista, India!
Photo Credit: Lisa Berkman
Traveling allows you to see truths about the world and humanity that were impossible to see before. A number of these truths are pleasing to behold: beautiful landscapes, diverse cultures, and delicious food. However, many of those truths are incredibly unpleasant; once you see them, you will never forget them. I’m talking about the dark side of humanity, the side of rampant poverty and corruption, as well as the animalistic drive to survive. As the most recent portion of my trip has been in India, I’ll be focusing primarily on that country. However, many things I am about to say are prevalent throughout much of the world.
The truth is, there are more desperate people in the world than I ever could have imagined. These are people who know nothing about the kind of life I live in the USA. All they see is a guy who goes to an ATM and pulls out their entire year’s salary in one go. They look at me and make assumptions about my privilege, level of wealth, and social status. To be fair, they are mostly right. I am privileged because the color of my skin. I am (inside an impoverished country) a wealthy person. Some of these people have absolutely nothing. Money is so scarce, that it starts to become the only goal in people’s lives. Let me share a very disturbing conversation that happened to me recently:
I was sitting on a rooftop restaurant with a group of fellow travelers, and our waiter began talking to us. I’ll paraphrase. In the creepiest way possible, he said “I didn't have any friends until I started making money. Now I am earning a wage and finally I have friends.”
He said this quite seriously, and it bothered me for many reasons:
1) The fact that the only way this man could make friends was by having money.
2) Anyone who befriends you just because of your money isn't a real friend.
3) Quite possibly, this is a common mentality to have, where it isn't worth being friends with someone unless they can benefit you financially. There is so much poverty, that people have to frequently resort to using others for survival. I know it happens in the USA as well, but the way this man described it sounded disturbingly parasitic.
4) There were five of us trying to enjoy a meal, and what the guy said totally dampened the mood. As privileged travelers, we could not truly relate to what the man was saying. I noticed the vibe in the room go dark all of a sudden.
5) The man stood creepily by and watched us for a good portion of our dinner.
You may think, ah whatever. Isolated incident, right?
Nope, I run into people like this on a daily basis. Men will just come over to me and ask incredibly personal questions about my financial, personal, and romantic life. The whole while, they leer at me as if they expect me to tell them I’m a billionaire playboy who throws cocktail parties every weekend. Benevolent tourists have created an expectation (at least among uneducated people) that everybody from the West is Jay Gatsby. I might as well wear a tuxedo and throw $100 bills from my hotel window. Also, too many of my fellow female travelers have been harassed while walking about. They have been groped at, stared at, and even been crudely asked for sex by passers-by.
How can I go back home and ever look at my life the same way? I've seen some really sad things: things that cannot be changed without a complete overhaul of the system.
Sure, you’d think the government could do something. No. Many governments are corrupt. It is very common for police officers and government officials to take bribes. Heck, if you have money, you can probably get away with anything. I've met several travelers in Southeast Asia and India who have had encounters with police. Not one of them ended in a conviction or acquittal; they all ended with the foreigner paying a few dollars in bribe money. I’m not saying that every single police officer and government worker is corrupt, but it is a serious problem. If you’re interested, there is a site called ipaidabribe.com, where you can get a taste of the problem’s extent.
Now, all of this stuff I said may sound negative, but I’m about to throw a positive spin around it. The above spiel is one of the reasons why you should travel. Sure, go for the beaches. Go for the food. Go for the fun. But most of all go to expand your horizons. You should see the good and the bad stuff, because it will help you understand the world in a richer, fuller way. The more you can see the big picture, the less things seem “weird” or “difficult.” You can learn to appreciate what you have, on an even deeper level.
I've always been a pretty avid thinker, but I have seen things while traveling that have entirely changed the way that I think about the world. There are things that have to be experienced to be understood. To be totally honest, I can’t find the words to put everything in writing. Some things cannot be summed up into a few words. However, by exposing ourselves to the realities of life, we can face the world head-on with an open mind. If you are already somebody who thinks outside the box, consider travel to be the next logical step in your development.
Costa Rica, Mexico, and Pakistan have been added to the "Nationalities I Have Met" page, bringing the total to 62!
Lucky number seven. This is the part where I feel well-traveled, have little money left, and am exceedingly conscious that my trip is finite. I'm not quite at the end, but I can see an end in the (relatively) close future. Every destination is being accounted for. Each purchase is being scrutinized.
With an exception of two days in Sri Lanka, the past month has been spent entirely in India. Upon flying to Madurai, I gradually made my way up north. Eventually, I hit Mumbai, the clear turning point of my Indian adventure. I was no longer alone; rather I found myself in the company of other travelers. Because foreigners tend to visit the north of India, it is much easier to find backpacker hostels there. Right now, I am in the state of Rajasthan, and to be honest, I've met more travelers in the past week than in the whole rest of my time in India. This is a pleasant change from the long, often lonely days spent in the southern regions of the country, where I was sometimes the only foreigner for miles. Rajasthan has a high density of beautiful sites and friendly local people. In many ways, it is the perfect place to laze away my final days in this country. There is no shortage of things to do, foods to eat, and streets to wander around. Additionally, I finally have a steady stream of Western amenities such as comfortable beds, WiFi, and fellow adventurers to speak with.
I will be in India until the 31st of December, and then plan on flying to the Middle East. My first destination will be Lebanon, a small country where I shall spend ten days, including New Year's. From Lebanon, I will fly to Jordan, where (if budget permits) I hope to see the ancient city of Petra. For those who are unaware, Petra is often considered to be one of the most beautiful archaeological sites in the world.
Thankfully, the Indian Rupee stretches very far, especially compared to the US Dollar. My seventh month was the cheapest yet, beating my previous record.
Accommodation - $182.09. Average of $6.07 per day. It's nice, because I am finally able to book accommodation on the internet again. In the south of India, hostels were very rare. However, the state of Rajasthan is littered with bargain rooms.
Food and Drink - $168.85. Average of $5.63 per day, or $1.88 per meal. It is definitely a challenge to stay away from high-priced tourist restaurants. Nevertheless, eating on a budget is pretty easy, just as it is anywhere in India.
Alcohol - $14.46. This continues my trend of drinking very little alcohol in South Asia. Although liquor was very cheap in one city (Daman), it was illegal in the entire state of Gujarat. Besides, I just haven't had much of a desire to drink in India.
Transport - $42.86. Transportation costs are negligible in India. I honestly can't believe that this includes multiple buses and trains, including one 36-hour train ride. But it does.
Miscellaneous - $54.54. Includes things such as toiletries, laundry, ATM fees, souvenirs, etc.
Total amount spent - $462.60. Average of $15.42 per day. This was my cheapest month ever, and I could have done it for cheaper! It constantly amazes me how far Western currencies can get you in India.
Once more, thank you to Simon and Erin, the creators of Trail Wallet. Their app continues to be my #1 budgeting tool. If you feel so inclined, check out their journey at neverendingvoyage.com. Unfortunately, my iPod recently decided to die on me. Therefore, the rest of my trip expenses will be recorded with old-fashioned pen and paper.
In my travels, I've understandably tasted some of the finest cuisines known to mankind. The first country I started off with was Thailand, a country known for its delicious street food. From there, I eventually reached Vietnam, with its tasty pho and banh mi sandwiches. Then I went to Singapore, which had an incredible variety of good eats, pulled from many different Asian countries. I was living full and satisfied, and thought I was at the top of the food chain. Oh, how very wrong I was.
Admission: my first time ever trying Indian food, was in Singapore. That’s right. Despite the thousands of Indian restaurants that exist in the USA and Southeast Asia, I had never had Indian food. The night before flying to India, a fellow at my Singapore hostel suggested we try out a new Indian restaurant down the street. We ordered a take-out meal of rice and chicken with some gravy, and took it back to the hostel. The guy showed me how to properly eat it with my hands, and after a while, I finally tasted the joy that was Indian food. It was the tip of the iceberg, in the sea of food I would soon be swimming in.
Indian cuisine is by far my favorite cuisine, for many reasons. It’s filling. It’s fun to eat. The spices are incredible. However, the greatest thing about Indian food (and what I will be focusing on in this article) is how much variety exists in it. The taste changes as you move throughout the country. It changes drastically. Just as there are dozens of languages in India, there are dozens of cuisines. For example, rice dishes are a staple in southern India, while northern India tends to use bread as a staple. The meals are pretty much endless, and you could feasibly eat something new every day. Sometimes, the dishes are state-specific; others are city-specific.
I’d like to talk about my personal experience with this incredible cuisine, by breaking it down into categories. I’ll share some of my favorite dishes with you, all of which are delicious. If you get a chance, you should try them all!
There is no way I can talk about Indian food, without getting this prominent category out of the way. There are many different kinds of Indian breads, most of which are used to dip into some delicious curry dish.
Roti – This is perhaps the best known of the Indian breads. It’s your standard flat, unleavened bread, which is often dipped into a delicious dal (sauce made from lentils and spices) dish.
Naan – It’s a delicious type of flat-bread that vaguely resembles a pita. It is often served buttered, and can be eaten along with a variety of dishes and dipping sauces.
Paratha – This is probably my favorite Indian bread. It is sometimes stuffed with cheese, potatoes and onions (aloo paratha), and other various foods. The parathas in the north and south differ greatly from each other. I personally prefer the southern paratha (also called “parotta”) which is doughy, layered, and wholly satisfying to eat!
Dosa – This large, crispy flat bread made up a significant chunk of my diet during my first month in India. It is made from rice batter and black lentils, and is indigenous to southern India. A delicious variety is the ubiquitous “masala dosa,” a dosa stuffed with potato curry. The food is then dipped in sambar (a lentil-based stew) and chutneys (condiments of varying spice levels and ingredients).
Puri – This is a deep-fried bread, which I personally love. Many people consider it to be too oily (and indeed, it is very oily), but it tastes fantastic when served as “puri bhaji” (puri with an accompanied potato dish).
Chapati – It is sort of like a roti, except cooked with whole-wheat flour, and smaller. It serves pretty much the same function as a roti, and is quite tasty.
Pav – It’s a small roll, usually buttered. This is used to dip into the amazing “pav bhaji,” a spicy tomato sauce dish.
Rice dishes tend to be popular in southern India. It can be cooked with any variety of curries and spices. Here are a few specific meals you might find at a roadside restaurant.
Rice Thali – A “thali” is usually one staple food, surrounded by many condiments. Rice thalis are pretty popular. You get a large scoop of white rice, and many different curries/vegetables/dals to mix it together with.
Pulao – More commonly known as “pilaf,” it is rice cooked in a seasoned broth. I’m a particular fan of “paneer pulao,” pilaf cooked with paneer (a delicious Indian cheese).
Biriyani – It’s another variation of rice cooked with spices, usually with a stronger taste than pulao. Sometimes, it is served with meat or cheese.
Bisi Bele Bath – This is a little-known rice and lentils dish, with origins in the state of Karnataka. It is made with spicy masala, and is among the best rice dishes I have eaten.
If you are on a budget, or just want something less fancy, there is no shortage of street food in India. Usually, the foods are deep fried, prepared quickly, and are very cheap. Different cities have different types of street food, but here are a few varieties I can recommend.
Vada Pav – This dish is very popular in Mumbai. It’s a sandwich made of a small bun, various sauces/spices, and a stuffed potato filling, sort of like a knish.
Samosa – It’s a fried pastry that can be filled with various vegetables, meat, and spices.
Idli Sambar – Particularly found in the south, this is a rice pancake that is commonly eaten for breakfast. You dip the idli (pancake) into the sambar (lentil sauce).
There are several drinks indigenous to India. They can be found at restaurants, street stalls, and liquor stores. Here are a few of the most popular ones.
Masala Chai – This is a delicious, ubiquitous tea, flavored with various spices and herbs. It is usually sweetened, has milk in it, and costs no more than a few cents.
Indian Filter Coffee – Coffee is actually just as popular as tea (if not more so) in certain states, such as Tamil Nadu. It has chicory in it, and is usually served sweet.
Lassi – This is a delicious, sweet or salty yogurt drink. It is often infused with fruits such as mango. In some states, it is even infused with cannabis (bhang lassi). They are sold at government approved shops, and are 100% legal.
Kingfisher Beer – This is the most popular Indian beer. It’s ok.
Indian Chinese Food
Surprisingly, India is home to some of the best Chinese food I have eaten. Instead of just trying to “do” Chinese food, many of the dishes blend Indian and Chinese food, and are delectable!
Chili Chicken – It’s exactly what it sounds like, and tastes fantastic.
Manchurian Chicken – Chicken with various vegetables and spices. It’s really spectacular.
Vindaloo – This is a curry dish, popular in the state of Goa. It is usually served with meat, particularly beef (rare for India, as beef is not eaten in many states).
Alu Gobi – It’s an awesome spicy cauliflower dish.
Chicken 65 – This is a spicy, deep fried chicken dish, from the south of India.
Sweets – This refers to Indian sweets/candy. They can be found at a lot of shops, and vary in terms of sweetness, crunchiness, and flavor intensity.
This has only been a small sample of Indian cuisine. There are many, many variations of each dish, and lots of dishes I haven’t tried yet. Every state has its specialties, and it is impossible to try everything. I hope you try some of the foods I have mentioned; each and every one of them is a small part of the most amazing, gargantuan, flavorful cuisine on Earth!
I've now had custom clothing made for me in two countries: Vietnam and India, and I have some thoughts to share on the experience.
The first time I had clothing made was in Hoi An, Vietnam. Hoi An has recently become a very popular tourist destination, as it is a UNESCO World Heritage site. One of the things that the city has become beloved for is its numerous tailor shops. Travelers flock from far and wide to buy shirts, pants, shoes, and anything else you can think of (except socks - nobody would make me custom socks!). I was no exception to the rule. During my stay, I was fitted for a pair of pants and a shirt, excited to actually own some custom-made threads. The clothes left something to be desired.
The problem with buying clothes from a touristy city is that the shop keepers are well aware of what the city has become. They know that budget travelers are going to try to find the cheapest shop on the block, without scrutinizing the quality. Many shops (such as the one I bought from) don't even stitch the clothing themselves; rather, they send their fabrics to a factory to be sewn. No doubt, each shirt, pair of pants, and pair of underwear becomes part of an assembly line. There is no love involved. The clothes that I bought were just...ok. They were cheaply stitched, and the pants even ripped within a week. I had paid $30 for an outfit that I could buy anywhere for much less.
Now don't get me wrong. There are certainly quality tailors in Hoi An; however, they tend to be quite expensive. People usually spend a bit more if they want to buy nice suits and dresses. I'm sure many of you have found good, cheap tailors in Hoi An, but as the city gains more and more tourists, they are no longer the norm.
Now, let's contrast this with my experience in India.
In the town of Daman (where nary a foreigner has dared to go), there is a bustling marketplace. I set off on a shopping trip, where I decided to buy the fabrics myself. I selected two different colors, and paid 400 rupees total ($6.50). Then I took the cloth to a local tailor, where I paid a 300 rupee "stitching fee" for each shirt. The total cost for both shirts? 1000 rupees ($16). Nobody pressured me to buy anything: I was simply another patron in a small city.
You know what? I had much more fun buying the fabrics myself and skipping the middle man. The shirts were hands down the best looking clothes I had ever bought. Coming from someone who usually doesn't care about what I wear, these are threads that I can be proud of. I can point to my shirts and say "I had these made in India."
I guess my point is: if you are going to buy custom clothes, shop in the lesser-known towns. Unless you are looking for fancy, upscale designs, you are better off leaving the tourist trail. Not only will you have a wider choice of materials, more care and dedication will be put into your stuff. I feel very old-fashioned for saying this, but stick with the "mom and pop" tailor shops.
If you have ever gotten clothing custom-made (particularly in Asia), I'm interested to hear what your experience was. Feel free to comment!
I was sitting in a bar in Daman, India, when it hit me: I’ve become completely accustomed to traveling.
The first few months were something of an initiation process. I’d never really been away from home before, and had never truly been on my own. Regardless of whether you work full time and have an apartment, the fact remains: When you are in your home city, you usually have a steady group of friends and/or family to fall back on. Whether it’s your relatives, your roommates, or even your co-workers, somebody is always there to bail you out.
There I was in some obscure Indian city, likely the only non-Indian person for miles (seriously, nobody spoke English, and everybody stared at me), and enjoying a drink with the local people. It was a stark contrast from Mumbai, a city full of tourists, modernity, and Western amenities. Although I love Mumbai, this bird had decided to fly. I was now off the tourist path, and back on the road.
I think that getting off the beaten track is an extremely important thing to do. The whole “backpacker” route is fun, but it doesn’t quite teach you independence. You usually stay at hostels full of other foreigners, have easy access to wi-fi, and can call on anybody for help. When you travel off the beaten path, it’s different. Sometimes, you will be the only foreigner in a city. Sometimes, you will not be able to talk with anyone, outside of non-verbal communication. Sometimes, you have to stay at the most shady-ass hotel on the face of the Earth. Sometimes, it can get lonely. But most of the time, it is an incredible, rewarding experience.
By getting off the tourist path, I had created my own path. Nobody could stop me, and nobody could help me. Whether I had dug my own grave, or jumped through the gates of Eden, this was the road I had chosen.
New situations take time to adjust to. I think until I had this realization, I had subconsciously relied upon returning home to a comfy bed, warm shower, and personal safety. Sure, it probably won’t be long until I see my family and friends again. However, I will never think about home the same way again. Even when I must take on a steady job, steady friends, and a steady living environment, I’ll always feel somewhat removed from the situation. True independence is doing exactly what it is that you want to do. No more will I live for other people; this is my life to with as I see fit. Deciding to travel was step in the right direction. Actually traveling and being on my own, has solidified the theory.
The motto of this website is “Home is Everywhere.” I have never believed that more than I do now. “Home” is all in my head. If I can be confident and happy in any environment, the world is my stomping grounds. When you learn to take your own path in life (not one that others put before you), everywhere becomes home. You become king or queen of your castle, and nothing can stand in your way.
There I was, sitting in the common room in my hostel, trying to recover from an uncomfortable bout of bronchitis. All of a sudden, in came a few fellow travelers, accompanied by an Indian man.
"I am from Bollywood, and am looking for extras to be in a movie," he told us.
I may have been sick, but there was no way I was going to turn down this opportunity. In fact, I had promised myself that I wouldn't leave Mumbai without being in a Bollywood film. The man led the small group of us to a minibus which already held about a dozen tourists.
"It's half an hour away, and you'll be working overnight," he said.
Factoring in the dense Mumbai traffic, the trip ended up taking an hour and a half. We were led to a small changing room, where each of us was given a suit or dress to wear. Then they provided some meager snacks, and took us to the set.
As somebody who wants very much to be a film director, I must say I was impressed by the set. It was a lavish outdoor bar/dance floor with brightly colored China lamps, sparkling beads, and neon-yellow dragon balloons. The scene was already on its seventh take when we arrived, so none of us knew what to expect.
I was among the first of us to be called up to be an extra. They had me sit by the bar and bob my head to music, while the main actors (at least I assumed they were) danced. It was all very tacky and cheesy...but then again, it was Bollywood. After one take, they rearranged the scenery, and then sent us back to the set's outskirts.
Like any film production, this was mostly a waiting game. We sat mostly in silence as slowly but surely, each of us was called up to do our bits. Finally, we were all called up for a dance scene.
The dancing was fun, but with two minor hitches. Right before we began, one of the actors had a seizure, and had to be carried out by doctors. The other problem was my bronchitis. After three or four takes of energetic dancing, I found myself wheezing up a storm. I decided to take it easy for the last few takes, which helped somewhat. We took a break, during which we were treated to free dinner.
The second half was a bit more stressful, because they had to keep doing certain takes over and over again. When the lead actress threatened to leave, the director decided we should take a break to let things cool down. After some cups of tea, we resumed being background scenery. The drawn-out process lasted until 6:15 in the morning, just before sunrise. Weary, but with a sense of pride, we were paid 500 rupees (about eight dollars) each, then were driven back to our respective hostels.
When Babbu Jawani finally comes out, I'll be anxiously scanning the film for an appearance by yours truly!
My name is Yonah Paley. I quit my job in the United States to travel. I also write movies and do photography. As I backpack across the world, I share stories, philosophy, and travel tips.