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Responsible travel products include water bottles

Round-up of responsible travel products includes filtered water bottles, reusable straws, zero waste containers

EVERYONE CAN TAKE STEPS towards being a more responsible traveler and supporting sustainable tourism. It just takes some thought and research about your choices. Ecotourism and eco travels can mean a number of different things, from the places you choose to go, to the gear and products you take with you, to how you travel. For example, are you carrying a filtered water bottle instead of single-use plastic water bottles that you throw away? Are you making eco friendly choices – such as choosing reef-friendly sunscreen, carrying a reusable straw, and packing some zero-waste products like collapsible Tupperware?

In this post, travel bloggers review their favourite eco friendly travel products, and make suggestions and recommendations for how you can be a more responsible traveler. These are all products you can use at home and take with you on the road, and they are all the best products we could find in their category. If you want to purchase any of these products, click the links or Amazon ads below. 

Reusable water bottles

Starting with a reusable water bottle is a good first step, so here’s a selection you purchase from Amazon at various prices. Trustworthy names include Nalgene, Kleen Kanteen, and Brita, to name a few.


Lifestraw Go by Bret and Mary of Green Global Travel

Plastic pollution has become an increasingly important environmental concern over the past decade. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch has grown to an estimated 80,000 metric tons covering approximately 1.6 million square kilometers, halfway between California and Hawaii. But, as travelers who frequently visit remote places where potable drinking water can be difficult to come by, how do you stay hydrated without buying bottled water and contributing to the plastic pollution problem?

As a teen, I learned my lesson about the importance of quality H2O the hard way. While camping and hiking in north Georgia (the southeastern U.S. state, not the country), I ran out of drinking water. So I simply filled my canteen from what appeared to be a crystal clear, remote mountain stream. The intense dysentery that resulted remains one of my worst early travel memories.

But these days I know that microbiological water bottles are essential backcountry camping gear, and they’re great for world travelers as well. The Lifestraw Go is extremely affordable and very effective. The bottle boasts a 2-stage filtration process that removes 99.9999% of all waterborne bacteria and parasites, lasting up to 264 gallons before you’ll need to replace it with a new filter. And when we’re in a place where potable drinking water is available, we simply remove the filter and use it like a normal water bottle. No need to buy bottled water ever again!

Best of all, for every LifeStraw product purchased, one child in a developing country receives clean drinking water for an entire school year. Their “Follow the Litter program” has already provided safe drinking water to more than 629,000 children in Kenya and India.

Buy Lifestraw Go here.

Tip provided by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett of Green Global Travel

GRAYL water bottle with filter is a recommended responsible travel product. Photo credit Kristen Gill Media.

GRAYL by Kristen Gill

I tested my GRAYL water bottle extensively in Nepal, Mexico, Europe, North and South America, and the Middle East, and I can attest that the GRAYL is easy to use, lightweight, convenient, and reliable.

GRAYL makes safe, clean water from any freshwater source, be it river, stream, waterfall, or hotel room tap. Admittedly, it can take some getting used to at first, but the water from these sources, once purified, is just as good, if not better, than pre-packaged, single-use plastic bottles of water.

My favorite thing about the GRAYL purifier is that it works quickly and is discrete so you don’t have to awkwardly pump with a filter.

I just hook it on to my backpack or carryon hand luggage, and know that I’m safe wherever I go since I know I’ll be able to confidently find a water source and be able to hydrate.

It also makes me feel better to know that I’m not littering the earth and oceans with tons of unnecessary plastic bottles, which have become a real problem.

A GRAYL water bottle creates a healthy, stress-free way to stay hydrated!

Buy GRAYL bottle here.

Tip provided by Kristen Gill, Travel Expert and Journalist

Water Bottles with Filters
Water bottles with filters are really handy, especially in locations like India, Asia, and Africa, so here’s a selection you purchase from Amazon at various prices.  Trustworthy names include Water-To-Go, Grayl, Lifestraw, and Drinksafe System, to name a few.


Water-To-Go filter bottles are great for travel and an ideal responsible travel product.

Water-To-Go by Vicky of Earth Changers

Having worked in travel since the mid ‘90s, in ski, adventure and activity holidays, not to mention transatlantic Caribbean and European mass-package beach holidays, and travelled independently solo all over the world, I’ve certainly been through my fair share of reusable water bottles.

Since the mid 2000s I’ve worked in responsible tourism, often in developing countries, and often in remote destinations. So whether I’ve been volunteering on or visiting sustainable development projects, hiking iconic treks on charity challenges like up Kilimanjaro, supporting projects in cities like Delhi, working in conservation and safari guiding on reserves, places where water is not often or necessarily clean, I want the best filter bottle I can get.

Which is why I now work with Water-To-Go. They came to me when I first launched my start-up Earth Changers, which focuses on positive impact tourism for communities and conservation, and I truly believe there isn’t a better water bottle which aligns with what we do and where we go.

In such developing destinations, public service refuse collection and recycling are also not necessarily readily available, so of course we want you to avoid single use plastic and carry your own bottle instead, but you might quite possibly need a filter too. But this is no ordinary water filter bottle! No, it’s a Portable Water Filtration System Bottle, using NASA developed technology no less!

This eliminates well in excess of 99.9% of all microbiological contaminants including viruses, bacteria, chemicals and heavy metals from any non-salt water source instantly. The filters aren’t just strong enough to remove bad smells, tastes, protozoa, chlorine, and fluoride, but even typhus, cholera and hepatitis. So you can tap those rivers and streams and rehydrate with pure clean safe water where ever you are, whilst avoiding adding to plastic pollution.

They’re FDA-approved BPA-free too and have been independently tested against international recognized standards by industry specialists including The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (UK), BCS Laboratories (USA) and Bangalore Test House (India).

Technically, three different (1 traditional and 2 nano) technologies are forged together in one filter: Mechanical (a tiny pore size stopping contaminants passing through); Electrical (by a positive charge to reduce the pore size further and attract contaminants like a magnet, trapping them inside the filter); and Activated carbon within a membrane.

So they keep you safe, hydrated, save you money and protect the environment from the damage. Win-win-win! The perfect travel companion for Earth Changers where ever you go!

Water-To-Go offer a 15% discount on water bottles and products with “EARTHCHANGERS” discount code here. Various designs and colours are available to choose from, and there’s more coming.

Tip provided by Vicky Smith from Earth Changers.

Reusable bottle and carry bag by Ella of World Travel-Able Blog

The more I travel, the more I realize how important it is to take care of our beautiful planet! It’s not that difficult nowadays because there are so many options, especially to avoid single-use plastics.

I have a few items that I always carry around with me, whether in my city Barcelona, or when I travel. I always have a BPA free reusable bottle with me. I use one that I can squeeze depending on the amount of water I want to carry with me. It’s very useful as it adapts to my needs.

When I go to the airport, I always squeeze it because I know I am not allowed to pass through security with water. So I just take a small quantity with me and empty my bottle before I reach the security gate. I can fill it in with tap water once I am inside the terminal. Which saves me a lot of money when I travel!

The other thing I always take with me is a reusable cotton bag. I have several ones depending on my mood, my activities or the clothes I wear. I also use other items too but those two are basics I never leave the house without!

Tip provided by Ella Travels World Travel-Able Blog

More responsible travel reading on Breathedreamgo Responsible travel products: Daypacks and carrybags

To avoid single-use plastic bags when you travel, pack a reusable carrybag or a small backpack or daypack. There are lots of places that still use plastic or don’t have recyclable bags available. Take it with you and use for shopping, day hiking, and traveling. Ideally, get one that can easily accommodate your reusable water bottle, bamboo cutlery, and foldable tupperware,, and you’re all set. 

Steripen and a reusable water bottle are a great responsible travel duo. Photo credit: Steph Dyson

Steripen Adventurer by Steph of Worldly Adventurer

I’ve been using the Steripen Adventurer for four years now, and it’s never let me down. Travelling in South America, tap water is generally a no-no, so my Steripen and wide-necked water bottle have saved me plenty of money. More importantly, though, I’ve avoided contributing to the growing environmental crises brought on by our addiction to single-use plastic bottles.

Unlike other water filters on the market, the Steripen sterilizes the water using UV light, zapping out practically all viruses and bacteria. It also does this fast: in 48 seconds for half a litre and in 90 for one litre. Although it’s not suitable for water with visible debris (you’ll want a filter for that), it’s efficient and practical for travellers with access to otherwise unsafe tap water.

It’s one of the more expensive options but for the ease of use, you can’t beat it. It comes with detailed user instructions and the batteries last for around 50 treatments (although mine have definitely managed longer). The only point to note before you buy is that the batteries are an unusual size and difficult to find on the road, so be sure to stock up with extras before you go.

Buy Steripen Adventurer here.

Tip provided by Steph Dyson, Worldly Adventurer

Ecofriendly TOMS shoes are great for travel. Photo credit: Jeremy Perkins, Unsplash.

TOMS Shoes by Flora of Flora the Explorer

I first discovered TOMS shoes when travelling in the U.S., and these lightweight slip-on shoes have been a constant element of my travel wardrobe ever since. Made primarily from canvas and organic cotton, TOMS are wonderfully comfortable, perfect for hot temperatures, suitable for a range of activities and work with any outfit from casual to smart.

But the main reason I love TOMS is thanks to their ‘One for One’ policy: for every pair of TOMS sold, the company gives another pair to a child in need, and so far they’ve been able to donate 86 million pairs of shoes to children around the world. The TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie says his company’s mission is to help improve lives through business, and as TOMS expands into different products they’ve also started to help impoverished communities with sight-saving eye-care, safe water systems and and safe birth practices.

Buy TOMS shoes here.

Tip provided by Flora of Flora The Explorer 

Collapsible tupperware by Nora of The Professional Hobo

I recently started going everywhere (while traveling and at home) with a “zero waste” kit in my purse. It’s a selection of specially-chosen ultralight/compact tools that mean I never use any kind of single-use products, plastic or otherwise.

A big part of my zero waste kit is my collapsible tupperware. I use it whenever I get street food, order take-out, or can’t finish my meal at a restaurant. Because it’s collapsible it takes up relatively little space, so it’s always in my purse. This is important because sometimes I’m out for longer than I anticipated, or I see a delectable street food calling my name, and I can whip out my tupperware and order it, knowing I’m not generating any waste in the process.

When coupled with my spork (a full-sized spoon on one end and fork on the other) which fits into my tupperware when collapsed, I’m ready to eat anything, anywhere, anytime!

Tip provided by Nora Dunn of The Professional Hobo

Bamboo toothbrush by Karen of Wanderlustingk

One of my sustainable travel products is my toothbrush! We often forget about our teeth when it comes to sustainability, but in the past couple of years, there’s been an explosion of brands offering high-quality toothbrushes made from 100% recycled plastic that decomposes as well as non-plastic toothbrushes that made of bamboo. In many cases, the packaging is also made of paper to ensure that the box that your toothbrush comes in doesn’t generate more plastic waste.

Paired with a vegan-friendly toothpaste, your teeth will be shining and you’ll feel good every time that you take care of your teeth! I have a toothbrush that is made of 100% recycled plastic, which does just as good of a job cleaning my teeth as a non-sustainable toothbrush. The great thing about buying a toothbrush is that you’ll get plenty of use out of this eco-friendly product after you come home from your trip!

Buy Recycled Plastic toothbrush here. Buy Bamboo toothbrush here.

Tip provided by Karen Turner, Creator & Owner, Wanderlustingk

Shampoo Bar by Annika of Midnight Blue Elephant

One of my favourite eco-friendly products when traveling is a shampoo bar. Not only do they obviously come without plastic packaging and I can store them in a cute tin can but they are super practical if you are traveling with hand-luggage only. I am currently trying the shampoo and conditioner bars from STOP THE WATER WHILE USING ME!, an awesome German company. Not only do they make eco-friendly products but generally promote a more conscious water consumption as it is quickly becoming one of the scarcest resources in the world.

In addition, reef protection is very important to me as a diver so I make sure whenever I go into the water to use sunscreen that is reef-friendly. Two of my favourite products are Biotherm Waterlover and the products of Stream2Sea. They not only make sunscreen but have a whole range of reef-friendly products – a must for any mermaid above or below the surface.

Purchase Shampoo bars here.

Tip provided by Annika of Midnight Blue Elephant

Reef friendly sunscreen

Sunscreen is a good idea for keeping your skin protected, but if it contains oxybenzone and octinoxate it’s damaging to the environment, and especially coral reefs. Tip: Some sunscreens are labelled reef-friendly, but you still have to check the label to make sure they don’t contain oxybenzone and octinoxate. 


Diva Cup by Alissa of In Locamotion

I can’t recommend menstrual cups enough for traveling menstruators. A menstrual cup is a small device, typically made from medical-grade silicone, that is inserted into the vagina during menstruation to catch the blood. It is removed, cleaned, and reinserted throughout the cycle, and can be reused for years. I use the Diva Cup brand, though there are many brands available with cups of various shapes and sizes.

Menstrual cups are invaluable for travellers for a few reasons. They are eco-friendly, generating no waste beyond the initial packaging. They are also very cost-effective, requiring no additional expenditures after the initial purchase (approximately 30 USD). And they’re convenient—no need to pack stocks of pads and tampons for use during travel. Finally, I feel that there is something empowering about using a menstrual cup, which combats the pervasive opinion is that menstruation is gross or embarrassing. Menstrual cups necessitate comfort with one’s blood, allow menstruators greater agency and awareness over their bodies, and normalize menstruation as the natural and healthy process that it is.

This post goes into more detail about sustainable menstrual products, including menstrual cups, reusable pads, period underwear, and more, and the pros and cons of each during travel!

Purchase Diva Cup here.

Tip provided by Alissa Murray of In Locamotion.

OrganiCup by by Andreja of Adventurous Journeys

OrganiCup is a younger and greener version of DivaCup. And If you haven’t live in some sort of cave for the last decade you probably heard of at least one version of the cups. But OrganicCup is probably the greenest version you can find on the market at the moment. OrganiCup is made from 100% medical grade silicone, it’s certified with the Vegan Society and the company assures, they don’t test on animals! It comes in a nice package from recycled materials with a cute little bag in natural beige color, to keep your cup safe.

OrganiCup is always with me, no matter where I go, not only when I’m traveling. Since I got it for myself I saved tons of time and money. No more running around and searching for pads and tampons in third world countries! I clean it when I take shower and I boil it after my period is finished. OrganiCup holds up to 3 tampons worth and can be worn for up to 12 hours. You can easily order it from the OrganiCup website and If you’re not satisfied after 90 days they will give you a refund. OrganiCup lasts years and it’s also a great present for your friends — not just travelers and eco-conscious consumers.

Tip provided by Andreja Jernejčič Adventurous Journeys

Modibodi Period Proof Underwear by Emma of Small Footprints, Big Adventures


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Sunrise yoga by the river at Devaaya, in Goa, India

Best places to visit in Goa, India

GOA IS ONE OF THE most well-known tourist places in India. It has some of the most famous beaches and has been beloved by both foreign and Indian tourists for a very long time. I actually avoided Goa on my first few trips, but eventually learned to appreciate it, and even find a few places to love, too. In this post, I am rounding up all of the best places to visit in Goa that I’ve discovered. Here you will find information on things to do in Goa, best beaches in Goa, best times to visit Goa, recommendations on beach resorts, and 10 top offbeat things to do.

If you are planning to travel in India, let us help you! We offer itinerary planning, India for Beginners custom tours, and much more to make sure your trip to India is filled with more magic … and less madness. Best times to visit Goa

Goa is a tropical state, warm all year ’round. There really are only three seasons — which could be described as winter, hot, and monsoon — and all of them are enjoyable in their own way. Winter is probably the ideal time to go as the weather stays warm while North India gets cold. From October to March, it’s a great tropical beach destination. December to March is high season, however. And Christmas to New Year’s is crazy busy, with rates soaring up to match peak demand. April to June is very hot, and monsoon is usually mid-June to September. Some people love Goa in the monsoon, when the rains make everything even more lush. But a lot of beach shacks close down, and it can seem deserted in some places. 

One of the best places to visit in Goa is Fontainhas in Panjim

Top 10 offbeat places to visit in Goa

Tiny, tropical Goa on the south west coast of India, was an obligatory stop on the hippie trail of the 1960s and became known internationally for wild, full-moon parties on the beach. Though there is much more to Goa than hippies on the beach, it’s a reputation the state has never been able to shake. But the truth is, there’s a lot of great places to visit in Goa!

I spent two weeks touring the state and looking for places to visit in Goa and experiences that show the more interesting, sophisticated and discerning side of Goa. What I discovered is that Goa is a historical, cultural, wellness and leisure treasure house.

For starters, Goa has a completely unique flavour in India due to colonization by the Portuguese. In fact, the Portuguese have influenced Goan culture for hundreds years, and as a consequence the state has a large population of Catholics and a profusion of Portuguese designed churches and gracious old homes. I love these charming homes, painted in bright colours, and dream of someday owning one with a wide white verandah on a hill overlooking the Arabian Sea.

A thali of Goan style fish at Ritz Classic in Panjim

Goa is also a cultural hub, with writers and artists from all over living there, or wintering there. There’s a palpable sense of multiculturalism and being at a crossroads of the world. “Everyone comes here,” my friend writer Anuradha Goyal told me. She moved to Goa after living in some of India’s biggest cities. Even the food in Goa is good!

So here are some of the highlights of my tour. I hope they give you an idea of all the things you can see and do in Goa that don’t require shaking your groove thang on the beach. Though you can still do that if you want, at beaches like Calangute, Baga, Anjuna and the hippie stronghold, Arambol. (The all-night-long full-moon raves of yesteryear have been outlawed, however.)

One of the many colourful Portuguese houses in Fontainhas, Panjim, Goa

1. Places to visit in Goa: Panjim and Fontainhas

Panjim (also known as Paniji or Panji) is the capital of Goa, a small city of only 100,000 people. It strategically and picturesquely occupies the spot where the mighty Mandovi River meets the Arabian Sea. I started my tour with three days in Panjim, which most tourists bypass. I fell in love with this small city, with the colours of the houses, the expanses of water, the colonial character and the thriving arts scene.

Directly behind my hotel, the Panjim Residency (which faces the Mandovi River), is Fontainhas, Asia’s only Latin Quarter. The Portuguese moved here, and settled around a spring-fed tank, fountain, in the 18th and 19th centuries and many of the houses remain in good condition. The epicentre of Fontainhas is the beautifully restored Panjim Inn and Art Gallery.

Even after dark, I felt completely safe wandering alone around Fontainhas. I ate on the balcony of the Panjim Inn, and stopped by the quirky Venite Bar. The area reminded me a little of both Havana and New Orleans, especially by the way light spilled into the streets from small, lively restaurants, and the by the way everything was enveloped in the warm tropical night air.

Romantic outdoor dining at Mustard, Goa, India.

2. Mustard Cafe

There’s much more to Goan cuisine than beach shacks that serve up Goan fish curry and western favourites like pizzas and fries. In fact, there’s a growing foodie scene and a range of fine dining restaurants. One beautiful evening my friend Anuradha Goyal of the travel blog Inditales and I went to Mustard Cafe, in the Calangute area.

Seated in a candle-lit outdoor courtyard, we sampled a rich, spicy and delicious combination of Bengali and French cuisine, spiced with Goan flavours. Owner Poonam Singh told us she wanted to please both the people who like continental food and those who are happiest with a traditional Indian cuisine. The alchemy works, and I enjoyed every rich, flavourful dish I savoured.

Mustard was my favourite restaurant in Goa, for the romantic ambience and really flavourful, satisfying food. It’s obvious a lot of care, research and attention to detail has gone into every dish. I also liked the live music, a soulful singer named Vamsee Krishna who covered Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah (making me, a Canadian, feel very at home!).

3. Goa Arts and Literature Festival (GALF)

One of the most surprising things I learned about Goa is how artsy it is. Numerous artists, writers, photographers, designers — and bloggers — make their home in Goa. As a consequence, there’s also a lot of arts events and festivals. I happened to be in Panjim for the Inaugural Function of GALF, which was held at charming and historic Maquinez Palace.

The speakers referred to Goa as a peaceful cultural centre of India. They talked about how writers interact warmly at GALF, and how the festival provides a stress-free place to relax. They also referred to the multicultural aspect of Goa: “From a sand and surf destination to a place where east and west meet.”

After listening to the opening night speakers — poets, artists, authors and journalists — I only wish I had time to attend the entire festival.

GALF highlights a couple of countries each year, and in 2015 it was Singapore and Bangladesh. (I hope they put the spotlight on Canada one of these days as we have many fine homegrown and immigrant writers from Michael Ondaatje to Rohinton Mistry.)

The bar at Koi in Calangute, Goa

4. Koi Asian Dining & Bar

The most sophisticated of the fine dining restaurants I experienced in Goa, Koi is a journey through Southeast Asia. Owner Shefali and her team lavished careful attention to detail on Koi to create a chic restaurant right in the heart of bustling Calangute. From specially designed crockery to stunning murals to an inspired and comprehensive menu, Koi takes a bespoke approach to fine dining.

Though not on the beach, Koi is a destination restaurant with a stunning interior space and garden seating. My lunch date Anuradha Goyal of Inditales and I sampled an array of their dishes, focusing on vegetarian and fish. I was particularly delighted to find Japanese favourites like sushi on the menu — though we both agreed that the Thai curry was the most outstanding dish. But I also loved deep fried sushi, crackling spinach and sticky rice.

Kudos to Koi for creating a sophisticated space that serves inspired Southeast Asian cuisine that’s both beautifully presented and full of authentic flavour. A visit to Koi is a journey through the Spice Route of Asia.

The casket of St Francis Xavier at Bom Jesus in Old Goa, India

5. Places to visit in Old Goa

The 15th century Church of Bom Jesus is the centre of the UNESCO World Heritage Site called Old Goa. Several churches and a cathedral range around a wide expanse of lawns and gardens. This was the power base of the Catholic Church during the Portuguese colonial era.

Bom Jesus is known for being the final resting place of St Francis Xavier, who died in China in 1552 and wanted to be buried in Goa. After his remains were shipped to India, it was discovered his body miraculously showed no signs of decomposition. The body apparently has remained intact and is now on display in a glass casket that sits above eye level in an alcove to the left of the altar. I was actually quite reticent to visit this church, as I find this quite ghoulish, but the casket is tastefully removed from close inspection. Thank goodness.

The other churches, and the general area, are quite lovely and of course historically significant. I enjoyed walking leisurely among them and stopping for a cold drink at a simple stand under a huge tree with a massive canopy. Goa is lush!

Feet-in-the-sand fine dining at La Plage, Goa, India

6. Things to do in North Goa: La Plage and the boutiques of Ashvem Beach

According to the Love Guide to Goa, La Plage is the epicentre of chic in this small state. Imagine a French restaurant on the beach with cuisine inspired by it’s tropical location. You sit under a beach umbrella with your feet in the sand, admiring the view of the shimmering ocean as you nibble on beetroot and mango carpaccio.

The thing I liked most about La Plage was that they have fun, and they don’t try too hard. In fact, they make chic look easy.

I sat down with one of the owners, Serge, who’s originally from France but has spent 18 years in Goa. He told me they redo the look of La Plage every year. When I was there, the theme was bordello and the colour was black.

They also change about 60% of the menu. “It’s good,” Serge said. “Every year when you walk in, it’s a new place.”

La Plage started out with just six tables, and it’s grown in size and sophistication over the years. The menu is a unique blend of both local ingredients and classic French cooking techniques. I tried beetroot and mango carpaccio, filet of tuna in soy sauce, and seared mackerel filets in a tomato / caper sauce. The fish of course is straight from the sea, bought fresh every day. Every dish was note perfect and so was the setting.

It’s also fun to walk down Ashvem Beach and see beach boutiques selling designer beach wear — including one owned by Jade Jagger. Ashvem Beach is the epicentre of chic in Goa indeed.

The yoga shala at Ashiyana Yoga retreat in Goa, India

7. Ashiyana Yoga

Ashiyana Yoga was perhaps the biggest surprise of my Goa odyssey. It’s a lush, serene and gorgeous yoga retreat just back from Mandrem Beach, across a quaint bridge over a slow river. I have almost always headed to the Himalayas for yoga, and had no idea that Goa could be so yogic. Three short days at Ashiyana Yoga was long enough to be truly a transformative experience.

What makes Ashiyana so special? I had the wonderful opportunity to ask the founder himself, Chris, who was there during my stay. He told me his heart spoke loudly to him when he found the property — even though it was not exactly what he was looking for — and that he started small to create a “home away from home for stressed-out westerners.”

Over time, the retreat grew to encompass numerous styles of rooms that range from simple beach huts to truly fantastic suites. I was given the fantasy-like Jaisalmer Suite, and it was my first hint of the magic to be found here. How did they know about my deep connection to the Golden City? My second clue was a treatment I received shortly after arriving from the healing hands of Renita. She used craniosacral therapy to release a tight neck muscle that was paining me for months.

My room, the Jaisalmer Suite, at Ashiyana Yoga Retreat in Goa, India

I truly loved just about everything about Ashiyana. The hearty, vegetarian buffet meals, the lush location, the community feeling that imbues the entire compound and of course the yoga. There are several yoga shalas throughout the property. The biggest, enclosed in mosquito netting and surrounded by rain forest, is where the drop-in classes take place. Most people go to the morning class at 8 am, before breakfast, and the afternoon class at 4 pm.

Ashiyana also holds well-regarded yoga teacher training modules; and an on-site spa offers a wide range of treatments, including Ayurvedic treatments. You could easily book in here and not need to leave. Nor want to. Highly recommended.

Interested in travelling to India for Yoga? Please read my Complete Guide to Yoga in India to have all of your questions answered. 8. Devaaya Ayurvedic Retreat

Ayurveda is usually connected with Kerala, but Goa has at least one serious Ayurvedic treatment centre: Devaaya Ayurvedic Retreat.

I dropped in to Devaaya just for one day and night while driving from North to South Goa. Devaaya is picturesquely set on Divar Island, which is just about in the middle of the country, east of the capital city, Panjim (Panji). It’s a pleasant drive as you pass Old Goa and have to take a ferry over to the island. Divar Island has a rustic charm that reminded me a bit of rural France. You can feel the pace slow down as soon as you set foot on the island.

The ferry crossing to Divar Island in Goa, India

We drove along some country roads, past tiny settlements, until we came to the Devaaya. Enclosed by a wall, Devaaya is made to look like a Portuguese village, surrounded by fields and rivers. Guests stay in brightly coloured small houses dotted throughout the property, which features many amenities such as a large swimming pool, tennis courts, a gym and much more.

In the centre is a large and gracious building, which is where the Ayurvedic treatments are given. It’s one of the nicest Ayruvedic treatment centres I’ve ever seen, and the treatments were excellent.

While I found the accommodation a bit tired and the decor dated (the rooms need a make-over), and I was disappointed with the food (some of which didn’t seem healthy, nutritious nor Ayurvedic to me), I loved the outdoor sunrise yoga and the Ayurvedic treatments.

Devaaya offers a very high standard of Ayurvedic treatment, at least equal (or in some cases, better) than anything I have experienced in Kerala.

9. The Beach House

The Beach House is, yes, on the beach. But it is not in any way a typical beach resort or even yoga retreat, especially for Goa. From the 1970s architecture to the serious approach to holistic health, to the emphasis on juicing and detoxifying, The Beach House has more of a California vibe. And it’s definitely for people who are serious about their health and want to undertake a rigorous program.

The home of a former pharmaceuticals executive who built it for his retirement, The Beach House has a nice location, but the steel-and-glass architecture might put some people off. The rooms are in a similar steel-and-glass building, with dark tinted..

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The Rocky Mountains, Alberta, Canada. Photo Credit: digitaldust via Compfight cc

Canada Travel Guide: Where to go in Canada, Canada tours, sightseeing, and more

If you are planning a trip to Canada, you need to read this! Canada is a big country, with extreme seasonal changes, and this post covers everything you need to know about Canada. We can help you discover the most beautiful places in Canada, the best things to do, some great Canada tours, a packing list, and much, much more to get you ready for a visit to Canada. We also cover whether you need a passport for travel in Canada and all about the Canada tourist Visa.

Canada is one of the world’s most desirable tourist destinations. The second largest country on earth, Canada is blessed with abundant natural resources and wildlife, four distinct seasons, dynamic cities, culinary delights, pristine wilderness regions, and more outdoor adventures than you can shake a paddle at. Here are some ideas for sightseeing, places to visit in Canada and more.

Common questions about travel in Canada
  • Do I need a passport to travel to Canada?
  • Do I need a Visa to travel to Canada?
  • What is the Super Visa?
  • Do I need travel or health insurance to travel to Canada?
  • When is the best time to visit Canada?
  • What is food in Canada like?
  • What are the top places to visit in Canada?
  • Canada packing list
  • Tips on travel to Canada from India
  • Train travel in Canada

Coming soon

  • What are the top Canada landmarks?
  • What are the best Canada tours?
  • Are vaccinations needed to travel to Canada?
  • Is it safe to travel to Canada as a solo female traveller?

Canada’s symbol: the red maple leaf

Do I need a passport to travel to Canada?

If you are travelling from the USA to Canada, you need a passport. This rule changed several years ago – previously, visitors from the USA were exempt from needing a passport. You also need a passport to travel to Canada from India, UK, Australia, and every other country. Some nationalities need a Visa, too, please check the link in the next paragraph.

Do I need a Visa to travel to Canada?

If you are visiting Canada from India or other countries that require a Tourist Visa to Canada (or other kind of Visa), read this post carefully. First, click here to find out if you need a Visa. Choose your country from the drop-down menu and click GO. From this page, you will see links to apply for several different types of Visas.

If you don’t know which Visa you should be applying for, you can choose the Come to Canada Wizard.

Next, click here for the Government of Canada’s Visit Canada page. This is where you will start your Visa journey. On this page you will see several links. From here, click through to the How to apply page. On this page, you can choose to apply online or on paper. There’s also a list of questions and answers, and another drop-down menu, which should answer all of your questions. You can also go through an online questionnaire to determine if you are eligible to apply.

You can also get information here on Canada’s International Gateway.

There are numerous requirements that must be met to visit Canada. To see the entire list, click here. Some of the requirements include having a valid travel document, such as a passport and being in good health.

Note: To apply online, you must have access to a scanner or camera to create electronic copies of your documents to upload, and a valid credit card to pay with.

What is the Super Visa?

Canada is of course a proudly multicultural society. There are about 1.2 million people of Indian heritage living in Canada (and many more from just about every country on earth), and the government has a “Super Visa” available to the parents and grandparents of Canadian citizens and permanent residents.

The Super Visa really is Super — if eligible, you can get a multi-entry Visa, valid for up to 10 years, that allows you to visit your family in Canada for up to two years without renewing your status.

Visa officers consider several things before they decide if you can come to Canada on the Super Visa, including your ties to your home country, the purpose of your visit and proof that your child or grandchild in Canada meets a minimum income threshold. You also need to have valid Canadian health insurance coverage for at least one year and an immigration medical exam.

For a full list of requirements for the Super Visa, click here.

Do I need travel or health insurance to travel to Canada?

If you apply for the parent or grandparent Super Visa, valid Canadian health insurance coverage is one of the requirements: You must show proof that you have private medical insurance from a Canadian insurance company to get the Super Visa.

The health insurance must be valid for a minimum of one year, provide a minimum of $100,000 coverage and it must cover health care, hospitalization and repatriation. To learn more and get a quote, click here for information on health insurance for the Canadian Super Visa.

Travel insurance is not always a requirement for visiting Canada, but it is certainly a good idea. Depending on the policy, travel insurance can cover trip cancellation and interruption, protection of travel baggage and personal effects plus emergency medical bills. It can also offer assistance if you have a travel or medical emergency such as language interpretation, access to a doctor on call and a 24/7 emergency call service. If you are applying for a Visa or Super Visa, health insurance is mandatory for the duration of your trip, as mentioned above.

To learn more and get a quote click here for information on travel insurance for visiting Canada.

Canada’s Ice Hotel

When is the best time to visit Canada?

Canada has an extreme climate, from very warm and humid summers to very cold and snowy winters. It’s a good idea to research your specific destination and find out what the weather will be like, so you can be prepared.

The warm, summer temperatures start in May and last until September. In June, July, and August, most of the country is very warm, sometimes even hot. The east coast doesn’t get as warm as central Canada in summer, and Newfoundland rarely gets above 25 C.

Many people love to travel in Canada and go sightseeing in the fall, especially September and October, because of the fall colours. The leaves change from green to gold, red, orange, and yellow, creating a beautiful burst of colour.

Generally, winter temperatures start in November and last until March. During these months you will need winter clothing (see the packing list). Depending on where you are, October and April can also be chilly. To see snow, December through March are the best months in most of Canada. The west coast – Vancouver, the Gulf Islands, and Vancouver Island – tends to be warmer, and winter can sometimes be chilly and wet but not snowy.

What is food in Canada like?

Canada is blessed with teeming oceans, wheat-filled prairies, fertile farmlands, abundant game and many meat and dairy farms. It’s a veritable food basket. The food scene in many of the major cities –  especially Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal –  is hopping, spawning celebrity chefs and internationally renowned restaurants. Canada’s multiculturalism gives rise to ethnic food of every hue.There is no end to the fresh and delicious food available in Canada. If you are vegetarian, or vegan or have any specialty dietary requirements you should have no problems, especially in the major cities. Read How to find vegetarian food in Canada.

What are the top places to visit in Canada?

There are so many fun, exciting, and adventurous places to visit in Canada, it’s hard to pick the best. Vibrant cities, charming small towns, the beauty of rural Canada, magnificent national and provincial parks, three coastlines, two oceans … and of course a vast wilderness.

Maritimes and Newfoundland

Nova Scotia: Journey to the Ocean

Seafood tour of the gentle island

Learning to see in Newfoundland

People of Halifax are Titanic Heroes


A day at Canada’s magical Ice Hotel

Om sweet Om at a Yoga ashram in Canada

Peace, Canadian style: Staying at the John Lennon / Yoko Ono Peace Suite in Montreal


Ontario’s Highlands

Algonquin Park

Discovering Ottawa

Cherry blossoms in High Park, Toronto

Art of the Canadian landscape

On the edge at Niagara Falls

A fantastic walk through Canada’s culture

What’s so special about the CN Tower


Polar Bears in Churchill


Getting high in the Canadian Rockies

Staying at Canada’s castle hotels

British Columbia

Experiencing Canada’s sacred forest in Vancouver

Spicy, wild & spectacular: A week in Vancouver

Discovering the sacred spirit of Whistler

Flight of fancy over Vancouver’s water world


First time visitor to Canada eh?

Winter in Canada, what to do?

How to find vegetarian food in Canada

An epic journey across Canada by train

A taste of India in Canada

Packing list for Canada

The weather can change abruptly in Canada, so wearing layers is always a good idea as temperatures can change surprisingly quickly. Everyone loves snow, and it’s fun to see, especially the first time. But if you come to Canada in winter, or travel to a cold place such as the Rockies or the Yukon, you need to make sure you have the right clothing.

Summer / Spring / Fall list (April to October)

  • Short-sleeved t-shirts
  • Long-sleeved t-shirts
  • Wind cheater jacket
  • Light wool socks and cotton socks
  • Wide-brimmed sun hat and cap or beanie
  • Jeans and shorts
  • Summer dresses for women
  • Bathing suit
  • Walking shoes (closed toe)
  • Walking sandals and flip flops

Winter (October to April)

  • warm boots
  • wool socks
  • a thick winter jacket (ideally down-filled)
  • a waterproof jacket or wind cheater
  • a wool scarf, hat and gloves or mittens
  • Clothes for layering: long sleeved undershirts made of merino wool, silk or cotton
  • Clothes for layering: leggings made of thermal and/or silk
Tips on travel to Canada from India

As a Canadian who lives a large part of each year in India, I have a unique perspective to offer visiting Indians. In fact, many of the blog posts about Canada on this site were written specifically with visitors from India in mind.

You will find that Canada is a clean, safe, friendly country to visit with an abundance of outdoor activities, a unique culture and vibrant, diverse urban landscapes. The Indian tourists I’ve interviewed have told me they are most impressed with how clean and well-maintained everything is! And they were most excited to visit places like the Columbia Icefields to walk on the snow.

Go through the links above in the section of getting a Canada tourist Visa carefully. I have helped people in India apply for a Visa and here’s my advice: make sure you follow every step and supply every piece of information needed, exactly as outlined, and you will greatly increase your chances of obtaining a Visa. Don’t do more or less. Do it EXACTLY as they require.

Important Links

Best road trips in Canada?

Canada is a great place for a long and scenic road trip! There are several drives that are routinely listed among the most scenic in the world. They include:

  • The drive along the coast of Lake Superior in Ontario
  • The Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia
  • The Icefields Parkway through Banff and Jasper National Parks in The Rockies
  • The Sea to Sky Highway along the coast of British Columbia, from Vancouver to Whistler

Just be aware that Canada is HUGE and driving distances can be very long. However, road conditions and amenities in most places are excellent.

Train travel in Canada?

The train in Canada runs from coast to coast, and it’s one of those iconic things that unites the country. As well as VIA Rail services for everyday travel, there are a number of luxury trains in Canada that offer tourists a trip-of-a-lifetime. Foremost among them is The Canadian – a luxury train that runs between Vancouver and Toronto, with a stop in Jasper, Alberta that I highly recommend. The Ocean is another luxury train experience in Canada – it runs between Montreal and Halifax.

You can read about my experiences taking these legendary trains here:


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I carry a backpack and a take a carryon suitcase for travel in India

Packing for travel in India: What you need and what you don’t

UPDATED MAY 2019. Over the past 13 years, I have packed for about 11 lengthy trips to India, and packed for travel within India innumerable times. After a lot of experience, I have developed a packing for travel in India checklist, and know what to bring to India. Below, I have also narrowed down a list of top travel essentials for India, too. So please benefit from my experience, and follow my packing list advice!

What you must pack for travel in India

These days, you can get a lot of things in India that you can get at home. It was very different when I started travelling in India in 2005. But still, there are some items that are either hard to find, or expensive, or don’t fit. Here’s what you absolutely need to pack for travel in India

  • A backpack or day pack and carryon suitcase. Unless you are going five-star all the way, you will be happy you can easily carry everything you brought on your back. There are going to be times when the taxi can’t get closer than a 10 minute walk to the train station because of the crowds and you have to get out and walk.
  • A roller carryon or spinner suitcase. I travel with a combination of daypack and carryon suitcase, rather than a full-sized back pack. This combination works better for me.
  • Very comfortable sturdy walking shoes. India’s infrastructure is often lacking. The roads and sidewalks are a jagged obstacle course, and there is sometimes an open sewer spilling its gruesome contents across your path. You will want a pair of closed toe shoes.
  • Walking sandals. It’s hard to find sturdy, well-made and comfortable walking sandals in India, and these will be your go-to shoes.
  • Flip-flops. For the beach, in the shower, around your hotel and in other predictable settings. Don’t go barefoot in India.
  • Swim suit. Indian women don’t traditionally wear swim suits, so it’s hard to find a good selection. The imported ones are super expensive, too.
  • Deodorant, hair conditioner, tampons, sunscreen, Deet mosquito repellent. I recommend bringing all of these with you as you may not get the quality you’re used to in India.
  • A sheet sleeping bag. For taking the train in India and questionable hotels.
  • Good quality suitcase locks and cable. You will need to be able to use the cable to lock your bag to your train or bus seat.
  • To keep as healthy as possible on the road, take heat-resistant probiotics (one per day), either oil of oregano or GSE (grapefruit seed extract), rehydration salts, tea tree oil and homeopathic remedies for digestion and respiration issues (Indian cities are highly polluted — try to get out of the cities and enjoy some offbeat places in India).
  • Contact lenses and lens solution. You might not find what you need in India.
  • Prescription drugs. Almost everything is available in India, but it may not be exactly the same.

If you are planning to travel in India, let us help you! We offer itinerary planning, India for Beginners custom tours, and much more to make sure your trip to India is filled with more magic … and less madness. 

Travelling to India: a packing checklist
  • Get professional and up-to-date advice regarding vaccinations, antibiotics, and anti-malarial medication.
  • ORS (oral rehydration salts) packets and activated charcoal capsules. If you do happen to get Delhi belly, these will be your best friends. Make sure you stay hydrated – it’s the dehydration that makes you sick.
  • Small bottles of hand sanitizing gel and small kleenex / tissue packets. I don’t walk out the door without these in my bag. You will find out quickly why they’re both integral.
  • Earplugs and head phones. You will need them, take my word for it. India is a noisy place!
  • Electrical adapter.
  • Headlamp or good-quality small flashlight (for reading on the train and power outages)
  • Resteasy bed bug spray
  • Quick dry towel. I found 101 uses for this. Also useful is a sarong or piece of cloth.
  • Money belt. I didn’t use it a lot, but I was glad I had it.
  • A daypack and/or a small-ish bag you can carry very safely. The kind that’s got a wide strap and  fits under your armpit is perfect for crowded situations such as bazaars and railway stations.
  • Reusable water bottle. Please don’t add to India’s plastic bottle pollution problem
  • Small thermos. I have a great little thermos I call the “bullet.” I fill it up with tea on the road.
  • Mesh laundry bag.
  • Underwear. I do not like the bras in India. I will always make sure I have a lot of comfortable cotton bras to choose from when I go. And let modesty be your guide.
  • Modest clothing. It is not really a good idea to wear scanty clothes in India. I know some people do it, but I personally think it is unsafe and disrespectful. When in Rome and all that. In fact, I recommend bringing very few items of clothing and making a beeline for Fabindia (the Gap of India). Indian clothes are inexpensive, colourful, comfortable and they suit the climate and the culture. Indians will appreciate your attempt to bridge cultures and show respect and they will be even more open towards you.
Check out my posts on What to wear in India and Shopping in India. Things you can get in India

When you are packing for travel in India, you need to know about the things you DON’T have to bring. Some things I recommend getting in India as they are either more cost-effective, more suitable, or better quality.

  • Aside from shoes, underwear, bras, jeans, and a swimsuit, you can get a lot of great clothing in India that suits the climate and culture. 
  • Whether you go for costume jewelry or precious gems and gold jewelry, you cannot beat India for bling. You will find amazing jewelry in every price range. Just be careful buying the real stuff. Make sure you are buying from a reputable jeweler
  • I buy almost all of my toiletries in India: creams, lotions, face wash, lip balm, etc. I like Biotique and Himalaya Herbals, but there are others as well.
  • Sarong, scarf, shawl. Sarongs, scarves, and shawls come in very handy when travelling, and you will not find more variety than in India. Personally, I have an embarrassing number of pretty scarves in silk, cotton, chiffon, etc.
  • Blingy sandals. There are stores filled with jeweled flats and you will want to buy them all. Be aware they are often not that comfortable, though.
  • They may not be practical or particularly safe, but the embroidered bags in India are fun and handy, especially for shopping and the beach.
  • A sun umbrella. It’s very useful to carry an umbrella, and you can find them in India with a special coating that blocks the sun’s rays.

For travel in India, these are 10 of my favourite and most useful items.

If you travel in India, you need to pack these essential items

For travel in India, these 10 essential items are some of my favourites, and most useful. Clockwise list of top 10 essential items for travel in India:

  1. Plastic bags that seal. There are so many uses for good quality plastic bags, I bring about about five each in three sizes. They keep humidity and insects out of your snacks stash, toiletries and electronics. Throw a silica bag in with your electronics when you are travelling during the monsoon.
  2. Crocs. I held out because the traditional style is so darned ugly, but the company now makes dozens of stylin’ shoes, including these beauties that I am wearing — and loving — every day in India. Comfy, cool and waterproof. What more could you ask for? Since writing this, I have also discovered Skechers! Now a big Skechers fan too.
  3. Thermos cup. I call this “the bullet” as it is indestructible and completely water tight. Made by Mountain Equipment Coop in Canada, but I’m sure you can find other makers. Particularly useful for long train rides: just ask the chai-walla to fill ‘er up. Update: You can now buy this kind of thermos in India.
  4. Steripen. I bought the small travel size Steripen, which uses ultraviolet light to kill all bacteria and other bad things in water. Expensive, but well worth it as most travel illness is caused by waterborne squigglies.

Update: Since writing this, there are a lot of new water filters on the market such as Lifestraw and Grayl.

  1. Modest yet comfortable bra. Very hard to find in North America, never mind India. I searched around and stocked up on a few different styles before leaving. For the ladies, I HIGHLY recommend this! You have to wear a modest bra in India, that covers and protects you fully, believe me. The first time I travelled in India (for six months) I had a bra crisis. Not fun. Leave the lacy, frilly, see-through bras at home.
  2. Laundry leaves. The little orange packet is full of little slips of paper soaked in laundry detergent. It takes up very little room, will not make a mess, but will really come in handy when you have to wash your unmentionables in the sink.
  3. Earplugs. Have you ever seen a Bollywood movie? I love India, it’s full of life … but quiet it is not.
  4. Cable locks. The cables are pictured here but not the locks (sorry, forgot to include them). Invest in some good quality suitcase locks and steel cable, for locking your pack or suitacases while travelling by train or bus; and to heavy furniture in hotel rooms. You will be glad you have them.
  5. Insect repellant. I like Watkins, which is a cream. It doesn’t smell and though it does contain DEET (necessary), it doesn’t seem particularly toxic. There are night-time mosquitoes in India that can carry malaria; and day-time mosquitoes that can carry dengue fever. I also have a small travel size bottle of Watkins that I refill and always have in my purse … and don’t hesitate to use whenever I see even one mosquito, because unlike me, they never travel alone. You can buy Odomos in India that seems to work well, too.
  1. Sunscreen. I have very fair skin and I just don’t really trust Indian made sunscreen. I’m not sure the industry is as well regulated as it is in North America.

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Great Himalayan National Park. Photo credit: Jitaditya Narzary

22 offbeat places to visit in India now

INDIA IS THE SEVENTH largest country in the world, and has one of the oldest existing cultures. There are so many amazing places to visit in India that it would take several lifetimes to see them all. After five years of travel in India, I still feeling I am scratching the surface of travel and tourism destinations. Yet so many people go to the same places: Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, the Taj Mahal, and Goa. There are so many amazing offbeat places to see in India! Listed below are just some of them.

There are also just as many good reasons to visit offbeat places in India. It bolsters the local economy and encourages local entrepreneurs, especially women (when it’s well managed), it can involve the entire community, and it eases the burden on overly touristy areas. Plus, it gives tourists a more authentic cultural experience and an opportunity to transcend typical tourism and really get to know the local people and culture. So next time you travel in India, and are looking for the best places to visit in India, please take a responsible tourism approach to India and consider some of these on the list.

If you are planning to travel in India, let us help you! We offer itinerary planning, India for Beginners custom tours, and much more to make sure your trip to India is memorable and magical.  22 of the best offbeat places to visit in India now!

Thachi Valley, Himachal Pradesh, India. Photo credit: Shubham Mansingka

Thachi Valley, Himachal Pradesh

Thachi Valley is a little known region in Mandi District of Himachal Pradesh. It is blessed with the magic of offbeat places to visit in India, there are no tourists to be seen, no shopkeepers trying to sell them souvenirs. The joy of exploration lies exactly in places like Thachi Valley, where nature reigns supreme and the only sounds that you hear are of nature itself – rather than the honking of horns!

Among many ancient temples in Thachi, the Bithu Narayan Temple is the presiding deity of the valley. The architecture was beautiful and the wood carvings on the small temples looked very intricate. The unforgettable thing here was the 11 headed stone statue of Lord Vishnu. We were among the towering deodhar trees and the aroma of nature was refreshing. 

How to Reach Thachi Valley from Delhi? A Volvo Bus to Manali and getting down in Aut where you might sometimes find a direct bus to Thachi Valley crossing through Balichowki.

Shubham Mansingka is a professional travel blogger from India focusing on culture, trekking, food & heritage. His stories and photographs have been published in many reputed newspapers, magazines and online mediums. He chronicles his trips on his award winning travel blog TravelShoeBum.

Kumaon Village homestays, Uttarakhand

Kumaon is a world of its own. There’s so much vivid beauty to savour that it makes you want to live in the mountains forever. Well, I got to experience the true-blue Kumaoni village life at a couple of authentic homestays in Almora district.

My sojourn at Deora village was exceptional in many ways. My homestay was the traditional double storey Kumaoni house with two rooms and a porch on the first floor, the kitchen and the cattle space were underneath. It was a small, basic room with just a bed. The porch had a nice, cozy lounge space with some books on the shelf and a traditional fireplace called Bukhari. Contrary to what I was used to, the bathroom was a little away from the house. The doors and windows of all Kumaoni homes are vivid blue or green.

I woke up to the scent of a wood fire. The moment I peeped out of the window, I was asked if I wanted tea. Of course, who wouldn’t want tea in such a beautiful setting? So, I stepped down to enjoy the smoke laden tea. While I sat on the outdoor chair sipping my tea, I could see the members of the homestay family around the fire. They smiled at me shyly. One of the women of the house was ploughing the lawn and I chatted with her.

It was nice to learn that whatever they served me on my plate was hundred percent organic and homegrown. They didn’t buy anything from the market. It was my privilege to enjoy authentic Kumaoni meals, which were simple, yet exceedingly delicious. And to be surrounded  by lemon and malta trees.  

I loved the fact that they offer their guests local experiences without the touristic frills. I can’t thank Yogendra, my host, enough for crafting an amazing local experience for me. This is one of the best offbeat places to visit in India

Renuka Walter is a travel blogger, writer and a digital influencer. She shares her travel stories on Voyager For Life, a solo female travel blog.

Khecheopalri Lake, Sikkim. Photo credit: Wendy Werneth

Khecheopalri Lake, Sikkim

Sikkim is a small Indian state bordered by Nepal to the west, Bhutan to the east, and Tibet to the north. It has historically been separate from India and still feels more like the former Himalayan kingdoms nearby than India itself.

Sikkim is home to many mystical places, including Khecheopalri Lake. Local Buddhists and Hindus alike consider Khecheopalri Lake to be sacred. The lake water is said to have curative properties and can only be used for rites and rituals; no bathing, fishing or other recreational activities are allowed.

The surface of the lake is remarkably clean. It is said that, as soon as a leaf falls on the lake from one of the surrounding trees, the birds instantly swoop down to clear it away. A boardwalk lined with prayer wheels leads out to the lake, and prayer flags flutter all around it.

But, while the lake was beautiful, the best part for us was staying in tiny Khecheopalri village. A 20-minute scramble uphill from the nearest road, the village has 23 houses, about 100 residents and one monastery. There are no roads or transport in the village and most of the houses are wooden, creating a picturesque scene.

We spent two nights relaxing there, chatting with the 12-year-old boy at our homestay who can speak five languages, eating simple vegetarian Indian food, playing cricket with the other kids and enjoying the peace and quiet.

The lake is located about 30 kilometers northwest of Pelling. The journey takes about one hour by taxi. Then, from the taxi stand, it’s about a 15-minute walk to the lake.

Wendy Werneth is an intrepid world traveler, vegan foodie and animal lover. She is the author of the book Veggie Planet and the creator of the award-winning vegan travel blog The Nomadic Vegan, where she uncovers vegan treasures across the globe so that you can be vegan anywhere and spread compassion everywhere.

Kinnaur, Himachal Pradesh. Photo credit: Divyakshi

Kinnaur, Himachal Pradesh

If I close my eyes and think of one place that can make me happy even when I am not present there, it has to be Kinnaur. 

A lesser frequented district in Himachal Pradesh, Kinnaur is primarily known for its apple orchards, dangerous roads, deep gorges, and beautifully carved, intricate wooden temples. Very different from other touristy districts, Kinnaur has a distinct culture: It is a mix of Buddhism and Hinduism.

Some villages worship trees and even protect trees and cordoning of Van vihars. Some worship ‘local goddess’ idols, which are brought out only during public fairs and processions. The temples are built in wood and are exemplary examples of craftsmanship. Especially the famed Badrinarayan temple of Batseri and the Chandrika Kothi temple in Kalpa. 

Even Kinnauri marriages are different. The brides are dressed in a unique manner – almost head to toe in silver. But the real magic of Kinnaur is its natural beauty.  Hike up to the source of the Baspa river off Batseri or dip your feet in its chilling waters in the last village on the Indo-Tibet highway, Chitkul. 

The best season to go is the apple season of course: end of September you will find the orchards laden with apples like stars shining on trees. The route to Kinnaur via NH 22 is long: from Chandigarh to Shimla to Sangla to Chitkul to Kalpa but worth every hiccup. 

So while you are there do not miss the glorious sunrises over the Kinner Kailash range, meet the Kinnauri shawl weavers and gulp down juicy apples!

Divyakshi is a travel blogger and social media consultant who loves traveling to offbeat places to collect stories, memories, experiences and in the process find her self. She blogs at QuirkyWanderer.

Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh. Photo credit: Nishabh and Nirali

Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh

Jabalpur in the state of Madhya Pradesh, India is one of the most underrated destinations in the country given that it has much to offer to every kind of traveler. It’s easily one of the best offbeat places to visit in India. Easy access to wildlife sanctuaries in Kanha and Bandhavgarh, an awe-inspiring waterfall where one can see an entire river forcefully tumbling down a cliff at Bedaghat, an opportunity to ride the same river a bit ahead with the boatman navigating his way through the sparkling marble rock formations on both sides. This while regaling you with witty couplets or a musical routine, which you’ll definitely want to take back to your family living room.

If that’s not your thing, consider spending time haggling for prices in the numerous artisan shops lining both sides of the streets for marble sculptures of varying sizes. Add the charm of ancient temples, some in half ruins and other managed by pandits whose ancestors have been taking care of the temple for several generations, and you’re basically covered.

The town itself has a unique charm to it. If you’re vegetarian like us, it’s easy enough to lose yourself in the lanes of the old town around Kamaniya Gate which comes alive in the evening. If you have a sweet tooth, head over to Badkul for a Khoya Jalebi, which they’ve been serving customers for over a century.

The Narmada Aarti at Gwari Ghat, which starts sharp at 19:00 every evening, is a must do. Although it happens on a smaller scale than the Ganga Aarti in Varanasi, it just means you do not have to fight for space just to view it. You can leisurely sit on the steps of the Ghat and feel spiritually connected to the place and to what is one of the holiest rivers in the Hindu religion.

All in all, Jabalpur has a lot to offer and is well connected by flights, trains, and highways.

Rishabh & Nirali had an arranged marriage and connected through their mutual love for travel. They started Gypsycouple.com as a platform to share their experiences traveling as a new couple and now they help inspire couples and vegetarian luxury travelers to get the best out of their next trip. 

Great Himalayan National Park 

The Great Himalayan National Park (GHNP) is sort of an enigma in the Indian tourism circuit. Located in the Kullu district of Himachal Pradesh, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014 but still, most people draw a blank when the name is mentioned. Nevertheless, smaller components of the park, such as the Tirthan Valley and Sainj Valley are better known and have good tourist facilities.   

GHNP is unlike the usual national parks in India. Although birds and animals can be seen, it is not exactly a wildlife destination. It is a Himalayan utopia, a combination of valleys and mountains, covered with dense vegetation. Numerous well-marked trekking trails make it a delight for hikers and both short day hikes and strenuous long trekking expeditions are possible inside the park. 

The delights are not only limited to trekking. The ecozone of the park has dozens of villages with their unique culture, cuisine, festivals, and temples, which also makes it a cultural and ethnographic delight. They are also some of the friendliest people you will ever meet and many of them have turned their traditional homes into homestays. The rivers are rich in trout fish and angling is also a popular activity.   

Jitaditya Narzary has been to most parts of India but prefers to focus on the Indian Himalayas and the North East. 

Sanchi, Madhya Pradesh. Photo credit: Michael Turtle

Sanchi, Madhya Pradesh

Today, we know Buddhism as one of the world’s major religions. But that may never have happened had it not been for the Indian Emperor Ashoka. In the 3rd century BC, he spread Buddhism across India, taking it from a small faith to the official religion of an enormous country. As he did so, he erected grand Buddhist monuments across the land.

The most incredible of these monuments that remains is the Great Stupa of Sanchi, about an hour’s drive from Bhopal, the capital of Madhya Pradesh. The enormous stupa sits at the top of a hill, with a terrace around the structure that you can walk on. Most interesting, though, are the stone gateways at the four cardinal points. They have beautifully-detailed carvings that tell the spiritual story of Buddhism and also historical events of the time.

Visiting Sanchi is about more than just the one stupa. There is a whole complex of Buddhist sites in the region, both historical and contemporary. Also in the area are the stunning Udaigiri Caves, with statues carved into the rock faces; the 11th-century Hindu temple of Bijamamdal that was converted into a mosque; and the palaces of Islamnagar.

Sanchi is one of India’s World Heritage Sites and, if you base yourself in Bhopal, you can easily visit another in the area – Bhimbetka Rock Shelters. Here you’ll find cave paintings that stretch from 30,000 years ago until the Medieval period, telling the history of humankind in the region.

Michael Turtle has been travelling the world full-time for more than eight years and shares his stories from the road at Time Travel Turtle.

Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Photo credit: Danielle and John, TwoFortheWorld

Andaman and Nicobar Islands

Remote, intriguing and breathtakingly beautiful, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands are off-beat India at its best. Clustered in the Andaman Sea, this forgotten archipelago has close to 600 islands, though only a handful are inhabited and even fewer are set up for tourists. It’s home to one of the world’s last uncontacted tribal people. The cultural and colonial influences are absorbing. Dense jungles edge sandy beaches lapped by a turquoise sea. The skies go on forever.

Like us, most tourists fly into the capital, Port Blair, from one of several hubs on the Indian mainland (we flew from Delhi). A couple of days in and around Port Blair is plenty to get oriented with the story of the Andamans, before exploring further afield on South Andaman and its nearby islets, or ferrying to the picture-perfect islands of Havelock and Neil.

Things move slowly here, so time is important if you’re looking for adventure. There’s plenty to be had, from jungle trekking to secret beaches and hiking up mountains, to mangrove kayaking, scuba diving and exploring haunting penal colony ruins.

We loved the freedom of hiring scooters to explore the lush, green landscapes of Havelock and Neil, searching out tiny, family-run restaurants and beaches with no one on them. No matter where we were though, we ended each day by the sea with a camera: Andaman sunsets are the most spectacular we’ve seen.

We were first drawn to the Andaman Islands for their reputation as a scuba hotspot. What we found was an extraordinary, far-flung, low-key paradise still flying largely below the tourist radar. Word is getting out though. Now’s the time to visit.

Danielle and John are two incurable travellers searching out epic and off-the-beaten-track nature and urban adventures at TwoForTheWorld.

Basar, Arunachal Pradesh

Basar in Arunachal Pradesh redefined the word ‘offbeat’ for me. Can you imagine a place in India that reminds people of the Amazon Forest? And that can’t be found on Google maps?

When I finally visited Basar, it changed so many perspectives for me. The vegetarian food on my plate was limited to just rice and vegetables boiled in bamboo sticks. The only hotel was a government hostel. The attractions were completely novel experiences. The treks were the most unique I’ve experienced. And the Galo people, who live there, were the warmest people I’ve met on my travels. They did not have much exposure to the outside world – it was like traveling back in time.

I was in Basar to attend the Basar Confluence, an eco-friendly festival that’s still in its infancy. I attended the third edition and fell in love with the Galo songs performed on stage. I also appreciated that chips in plastic bags and plastic water bottles were not allowed, and even coffee was served in bamboo cups.

Basar is such a pristine and special place — truly one of the best offbeat places to visit in India — that I worry about promoting it. If it becomes a popular destination, will it be ruined? Will cement houses start replacing wood huts, and the raw character disappear?

The Basar Confluence takes place in November, and I highly recommend that you go. Before it’s too late.

Abhinav Singh is a travel blogger with 20 years of experience in writing for India’s leading magazines and newspapers. He has traveled to more than..

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On the Ganga River in Rishikesh, 2019. Photo credit: Siddhartha Joshi

I finally have the travel blog of my dreams! And now … it’s all about you …

BREATHEDREAMGO IS ALL ABOUT transformation … and now the site itself is transforming. There are lots of changes underway — new home page design, new guides, newly updated and expanded content, new affiliate partners — but the big change is the underlying shift.  Driving all of this change is a new focus on helping others travel through better site navigation, extensive guides, the ability to book travel directly on the site (via affiliate partners) or through me, via the India for Beginners custom tours … and much more to come.

Our purpose is to encourage you with inspiration and information to live your travel dreams.”

I started travel blogging in 2005 – I’m truly one of the old-timers – and I now feel the stars are aligning: I feel healthy, positive, and supported. And I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to be a successful blogger – both from successes and failures, from fans and foes, from trial and error … and from endless learning.

With an amazing team of people, I’m putting everything I’ve learned into practise now and working on improving all aspects of Breathedreamgo (following an illuminating SEO Audit last fall). Thanks to everyone who contributed to helping me get here, including and especially:

  • The Department of Canadian Heritage, Government of Canada for funding Breathedreamgo
  • Chris Richardson of RTW Labs, who offers the best WordPress management service available for travel bloggers: highly recommended!
  • Victoria Ward, my sister, who is my biggest ally and supporter plus the SEO and Affiliate Manager for Breathedreamgo
  • Kathryn Barlow, of kbarlow designs, a very talented designer whose expertise covers web development as well: highly recommended!
  • My friends, especially the Roncesvalles trio, who helped out with so much of the design
  • Siddhartha Joshi, who took the “mermaid” photo of me on the Ganga – which is now my signature photo and by some miracle, matches my brand colours
  • My supporters and readers, in India, USA, UK, Canada, and Australia (and around the world)
  • And my family, who feel like pillars to me.
Living nine lives in one

So, welcome to Breathedreamgo version 9.1! Ha, I’m actually kidding about version 9.1 … but it does feel as if Breathedreamgo has had nine lives. And me, too. I could be the poster girl for coming back from the brink of disaster, or rising like a phoenix from the ashes … or whatever metaphor works for someone who has felt on numerous occasions as if their life was over. If this is you, here’s my hard-earned advice. 1) Never ever ever ever ever ever give up. 2) Change your personal story.

My personal story is that I started travelling and blogging to recover from a terrible phase in my life punctuated by trauma and loss. That dreadful period went on for about 6 years, and I thought my life was over. I was sunk in a deep depression. But something in me was fighting back and seized on the idea of travelling to India in late 2004. And it worked!

I travelled in India for six months in 2005 and 2006, and started travel blogging on Travelblog.org … and the rest is history. Since then, my life and blog have evolved and transformed again and again.

The most recent transformation started almost two years ago when I received funding under the Canada Periodical Fund Program, Business Innovation Component, Department of Canadian Heritage, Government of Canada. In the first round of funding, I transformed my blog to a “multi-contributor digital periodical.”

The second round of Canadian government funding was to help “monetize” my site and make it commercially viable. Previously, I had seen my blog more as a platform for my writing than as a business. I thought of myself as a creative person – a writer – not an entrepreneur. That was an important phase of my life because I had never before explored my potential creative talents, never stretched my creative wings, and never followed my heart.

Moving forward with purpose and confidence

But it was time to move forward – and to do so, I had to get beyond an ingrained negative and self-limiting personal story. Luckily, with help from many sources, I was able to find / grow the confidence to believe I can be successful – and give Breathedreamgo the chance it deserves to reach its potential, too. I also had to switch my mindset from creator to entrepreneur.

Don’t hustle: align

Some of the changes are already evident, and others will be coming in the next few months or so.  

  1. The biggest and most important change is that I am methodically going over all the content on the site, and updating it and expanding. I’m creating very comprehensive guides on a range of topics. Six are already featured on the home page, and you will see more to come. Please check out and share the following guides – and if you can link to them from a website, I would really appreciate it. It helps build authority for these pages
  1. With my friends Anjani and Ujjwal from Cloud Itineraries, I have created India for Beginners custom tours. These custom itineraries are designed to give first time visitors to India the amount of hand-holding they feel they need – from planning, to booking, to being available 24/7 during your journey.
  2. I signed up with MediaVine and I’m now running ads on Breathedreamgo. This is the preferred company for many bloggers, and they are great to work with.
  3. With my Affiliate Marketing Manager Victoria Ward, we’re looking for like-minded affiliate partners for the site. We are only going to work with companies and brands that we feel offer great value and service, and that fit with the Breathedreamgo brand. Novica is a perfect example. It’s a fantastic company that sells fair trade products made by artisans in India.
  4. I hired a young travel blogger from India, Tanisha, to help with Breathedreamgo on Pinterest. We are busy creating lots of beautiful new Pins and putting our strategy together. Pinterest can be a major traffic driver – which will help us meet our various goals for the site.
  5. I’ve revived my Travel Newsletter and I try and make it brief, uplifting, inspiring, and helpful. Please sign up in the sidebar.

And lots more new things to come as I again pour my heart and soul into Breathedreamgo, my labour of love. Thanks so much for reading, following, supporting and coming on this journey with me. I appreciate you all. 

In memoriam

In the last two weeks, the world lost two incredible women, who both inspired women to travel: Evelyn Hannon of Journeywoman and Rachel Jones of Hippie in Heels. This is a big loss for all of us, and of course especially their family and friends. 

But I have to say, this is a big loss for me personally. Evelyn was a mentor to me when I first started out as a travel writer and blogger. I had lost my own Mother, and Evelyn supported me the way my Mother would have — by encouraging everything I did, attending every gathering, and giving me the confidence to take the risks and just do it!

Janice, Evelyn, Mariellen and Nora at Toronto’s first travel tweet up 2009

Rachel inspired me with not only her enthusiasm for travel in India, but for taking her blog to the next level in terms of professionalism and business savvy. Her success showed me what could be done, and gave me hope, courage, and motivation. 

Both Evelyn and Rachel will continue to inspire women to travel, to go after their dreams, and to turn their dreams into reality. So if you need a kick in the behind just meditate on this: we’re all going to leave this world and we don’t know when. Do not put your dreams on hold for “some day.” There might not be a some day.

Me with Rachel and Anna of Global Gallivanting in Goa in 2016

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TheTaj Mahal will not disappoint you no matter how many photos and images you’ve seen.

A guide to the Taj Mahal: photos, history, information and travel tips

THE TAJ MAHAL in Agra, India is everything and more than you imagine. It is one of the few times in life when no matter how much you have heard or read; no matter how many photos you’ve seen; no matter how much history and information you’ve been exposed to — nothing compares to actually seeing the Taj Mahal in real life.

The Taj Mahal is the world’s most beautiful building. “A teardrop on the face of eternity,” as Rabindranath Tagore said. Nothing prepares you for the size (enormous), the colour (translucent white), the symmetry (perfect). I have seen it four five six times, but every time I walk through the gate, I am just as overwhelmed as the first time.

Mariellen Ward at the Taj Mahal in Agra, India in 2006, while on her first trip to India.

Falling in love with the Taj Mahal

Seeing the Taj Mahal in real life (after all those images and photos) is a bit like falling in love. You feel bowled over, and unsure of yourself. You’re not sure which way to look — but you can’t get enough. You try to measure the size of the experience and your feelings, and you can’t. And you try and separate the myth from the reality, and it’s impossible.

Even though the Taj Mahal is actually a tomb, a mausoleum, it still has the power to uplift visitors and send them into a state of euphoria. I have seen it many times, as they walk through the massive red gate and behold the building for the first time. It’s one of those very moving human experiences, like seeing people in the arrivals hall of an international airport, that restores your belief in humanity.

Every angle is ideal for taking a photo of the Taj Mahal

The history of the Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal is a mausoleum, the most magnificent in the world, and a symbol of love. The story behind the building of the Taj Mahal and the history is part of the structure, part of the experience. The Mughal emperor of India, Shah Jahan, began building it after the death of his beloved favourite wife Mumtāz Mahal as a monument and testament to his love for her and a symbol of harmony, purity, and spirituality as well. 

Do you feel called to India …  but also daunted, and don’t know where to start? That’s why we created the India for Beginners custom tours. Designed especially for first time visitors to India, we will help you see India, your way – your style, your dates, and your budget.

Shah Jahan was the fifth Mughal ruler after Babur, Humayun, Akbar, and Jahangir. He ruled from 1628 to 1658 and built many splendid monuments in Agra (and in Delhi after moving his capital there). He had six wives, but his third wife, Mumtāz Mahal, meaning “beloved ornament of the palace,” was his favourite. She died on 17 June 1631 giving birth to their 14th child.

A grief stricken Shah Jahan began construction on the Taj complex within the same year of Mumtāz Mahal’s death. The principal mausoleum was completed in 1648 and the outlying buildings and gardens were finished in 1653.

One of the most poignant notes in the story of the Taj Mahal is that Shah Jehan’s son, Emperor Aurangzeb, usurped the throne and had his father imprisoned in the Agra Fort. For the last eight years of his life, Shah Jehan stared out across the Yamuna River at the monument be built to his deceased wife. 

Interesting facts about the Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 and was cited as “the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world’s heritage.”

The statistics about the length of time it took to build, the number of workers, the amount of marble (quarried from Rajasthan) are as remarkable.

  • The mausoleum is entirely clad in luminous white marble. A Mughal poet compared it to early dawn or to a cloud.
  • The marble changes colour depending on weather conditions and time of day, and seems to have many moods.
  • The minarets at each corner tilt slightly outwards. In case of an earthquake, they will fall away from the tomb.
  • The Taj Mahal took 22 years to build and cost the equivalent of more than US $1 billion.
  • Approximately 20,000 labourers from all over Asia worked on the building.
  • More than 1,000 elephants were used for transporting marble.
  • The surface was adorned with of 28 types of precious and semiprecious jewels. 
  • It’s probably a myth that the artisans had their arms cut off after building the Taj Mahal.

Photo of Mariellen and friends at Taj Mahal, Agra 2006

The reality of an overburdened monument

The Taj Mahal is one of the world’s great tourism attractions, one of the wonders of the world, and it is almost always crowded. I understand why everyone who comes to India feel they must see it; and I agree it is truly spectacular. However, I also feel the need to point out that the emphasis on tourist attractions like the Taj Mahal contribute to over-tourism, and prevent other attractions and regions of the country from benefitting from tourism.

The Taj Mahal is sheer magnificence in an overburdened land: it is located in Utter Pradesh, one of the hottest, poorest, and most overpopulated states in India. Around it is extensive grounds, surrounded by a buffer area that is meant to protect the Taj Mahal from smog: no industry and no cars are allowed within several kilometres.

But then, when you get away from the Taj Mahal zone, and enter the city of Agra, you are confronted with the reality of life in Uttar Pradesh. Agra is famously chaotic in a land of chaotic cities, and the infrastructure is a disaster. I always recommend that people visit Agra — don’t let the stories of challenge deter you — but stay somewhere really fabulous, like the ITC Mughal. If you’re going to splash out just once in India, this is the time and this is the place.

Alternately, you could actually skip the Taj Mahal — believe it or not — or at the very least, also visit some of the lesser known monuments of India, and less touristy places. Check out some ideas in these post:

The Taj Mahal, Agra, India is an image of history

Tips for visiting and seeing the Taj Mahal

To see the Taj Mahal in all its glory, you have to get up early, and preferably on Monday to Thursday. The Taj Mahal is closed on Friday, and crowded with domestic tourists on the weekend. Ideally, you should be in line when it opens. 

You can only take a few items in with you, everything else will be confiscated. Just bring your camera (but not a tripod), water bottle, some tissue, and your wallet with passport. Make sure you bring a hat and sunglasses, the sun is glaring and there’s very little shade.

NOTE: Drone photography is STRICTLY prohibited. Seriously, don’t even think about it.

You can buy tickets ahead of time, but even  better, book a tour and let the guide do everything for you. 

Ticket prices and timings

The Taj Mahal opens 30 minutes before sunrise and closes 30 minutes before sunset during normal operating days. It is closed on Friday. 

Tickets are available at both Western Gate and Eastern Gate one hour before sunrise and up to 45 minutes before sunset.

NOTE: Your ticket is valid for three hours. 

You can also buy tickets online here

  • Foreign visitors: 1,100 rupees + 200 rupees for visiting the main mausoleum (optional)
  • Visitors from SAARC and BIMSTEC countries: 540 rupees + 200 rupees for visiting the main mausoleum (optional)
  • Domestic / Indian visitors: 50 rupees + 200 rupees for visiting the main mausoleum (optional)
  • No entry fee for children below the age of 15

Night viewing of Taj Mahal is available on five days in a month i.e. on full moon night and two nights before and two after the full moon. Tickets are available 24 hours (1 day) before Night Viewing between 10 A.M. to 6 P.M. at Archaeological Survey of India

A view from the other side

Getting up early, before dawn, and seeing the sunrise over the Taj Mahal from the other side of the river is really worth it of you spend two days in Agra. You can also see the Taj Mahal from the Agra Fort, which is a spectacular place to visit. 

The Taj Mahal at sunset from the other side of the river.

Also recommended in Agra

Agra is of course famous for the Taj Mahal, but as it was the seat of the Mughal Empire, there are many other incredible wonders to behold there. There are also some wonderful thins to do and see that would not be classified as “wonders” but that are still pretty wonderful. Please check out my blog Discovering the soul of Agra… to read about Wildlife SOS, Sheroes Cafe, Chambal Safari Lodge and more. 

Fatehpur Sikri

I went to Fatehpur Sikri was with a wonderful guide, Ajay Narayan Bari. He’s soft-spoken and erudite, and knew Agra inside and out. It was a great introduction to another spectacular wonder of Agra. Fatehpur Sikri is an abandoned city that was built by Emperor Akbar, and it’s well worth visiting, though it’s about 40 kilometres from Agra. Be aware that Fatehpur Sikri has the most annoying and persistent touts I have ever encountered. This is one place you need a guide!

Akbar’s Tomb, Agra Fort, the “Bay Taj”

All of these monuments are on the Top 5 list for Agra, and for good reason. There are all fascinating and well-maintained buildings of great historical significance. Plus, they are really beautiful.

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Sign up to The Travel Newsletter in the sidebar and follow Breathedreamgo on all social media platforms including Instagram, TripAdvisor, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. Thank you!

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At the Taj Mahal on my very first trip to India, 2006

Is travel in India safe? My top 20 tips for women travellers

IS TRAVEL IN INDIA safe for women? Is the concern over travel safety for women tourists justified? What are the most important travel safety tips for female travellers who visit India? These are some of the top questions and top concerns women have when planning a trip to India.

Travel in India is different than many other destinations. It’s not for everyone. You need to be ready, you need to feel confident, and you need to exercise caution and common sense. But if you do feel called to India, I wouldn’t hesitate. I would, however, prepare, do research and practise “safe travel strategies.” That’s why I put together these 20 safety tips for women travelling in India.

Why am I qualified to write about travel safety in India?

I have travelled across India for more than five years in total, over the past 13 years — most of it solo. I now live in Rishikesh, in North India. In all that time, I have rarely felt unsafe, and I personally do not feel India is particularly dangerous for female travellers.

I do think, however, that India is uncomfortable for women. I have often felt uncomfortable by unwanted attention, especially staring, and I’ve been followed in the street a few times. The worst thing that’s happened was that I was groped in Old Delhi, while riding a bicycle rickshaw. I had my telephone stolen from my purse by a group of women, who surrounded me at a temple in Mumbai. An Uber driver drove me around behind the airport for 30 minutes, to increase the fare – that was nerve-wracking. But I have never felt seriously threatened or really unsafe.

When I am asked the question, Is India safe? I answer: that’s not the right question. Anything can happen anywhere. It’s not about WHERE you travel, but HOW you travel.

I’m a big believer in caution … but fear, not so much. The media has incited fear among many women travellers, and I don’t think feeling fearful is a good way to approach travel or life. Although I do not hesitate to pursue my travel dreams in India, I am always careful about my planning – to make sure I don’t arrive on a train platform alone in the middle of the night for example. And I am cautious about my dress and deportment.

So please read on to have all your questions answered about travel safety in India. And follow my top tips for women travelling in India – and travel with confidence.

Going to India? Read my Ultimate Guide to Travel in India for a comprehensive overview of everything you need to know – includes a guide to the resources on this site for travellers to India.

Common questions about travel safety in India
  • Is India safe for women?
  • Is it safe to travel in India? Is India safe to visit?
  • Is India safe for female travelers and tourists?
  • My top 20 travel safety tips for women travelling in India
  • Is New Delhi safe for female travellers?
  • India is an experience: it is not for everyone

At Bateshwar in Uttar Pradesh

Is India safe for women?

When I was my planning my first trip to India back in 2005, I don’t recall any particular warnings about travel safety for women. Nothing beyond the usual cautions. Most of my concerns were about feeling lonely and overwhelmed, getting sick or lost.

But all of that changed after the Delhi Gang Rape in 2012. A 23-year-old student got on the wrong bus in Delhi on the night of December 16, 2012, and was brutally raped and assaulted. After a courageous struggle in hospital, she died 13 days later of massive internal injuries.

The horror of this assault, and the young woman’s brave fight for life, gripped the nation – and the world – and dominated the media for many weeks. It was horrible and exciting to be in India during this period. This terrible incident broke open a pandora’s box in India – and suddenly everyone was FINALLY talking about the issue of “eve teasing,” sexual assault, and the safety of women. There were massive protests, especially in Delhi, and the government was put under intense pressure to make changes. The brutal death of a young woman was an awful price to pay to get all of these issues out in the open.

Since then, there’s been a (much needed) spotlight on the status and safety of women in India. And since then, many people started wondering if India is safe for female travellers.

Is it safe to travel in India? Is India safe to visit?

While foreign travellers in India are often uncomfortable, and usually suffer from Delhi-belly and overpaying for souvenirs and autorickshaw rides, etc., I don’t think they are more at risk for theft, violence, and/or rape than many other countries. I have never seen any statistics that demonstrate India is more dangerous, or less safe, for women travellers than many other countries.

Having said that, I also strongly encourage using caution, common sense, and practising “safe travel strategies.” Below is a list of my top tips for women travelling in India, and no doubt there are other good safety tips too.

Is India safe for female travelers and tourists?

India is often singled out for the treatment of women. While India certainly has its share of social problems and gender inequality, I think it’s important to understand the difference between growing up in India as a woman, and visiting as a female tourist.

I agree that India needs to address gender inequality on many fronts, and especially at the most basic, intrinsic level: The attitudes toward women and rape need complete transformation. Women should be treated with respect, and be allowed to live free from fear, harm, or oppression. That’s the ideal, and India should strive to meet it in every way.

I think it’s also important to understand that a certain amount of media bias, stereotyping, and sensationalizing is at play. The negative media attention that India has received since 2012 has created a perception that is not entirely based on statistics or reality.

This is a problem for several reasons. One, the sensationalizing of these crimes against women in India is skewing perception – and missing the big picture. I think it is making India seem more dangerous for female travellers than it actually is, compared to other countries. Two, it is taking the spotlight away from the worldwide problem of violence against women. There is a worldwide rape crisis, and it is not confined to the East, or to developing nations, or to “over there.” Most assaults against women happen in the domestic sphere, by partners and exes – not strangers. And that is what we should be focusing on.

The truth is: The world is not safe for women anywhere. And, you should definitely NOT go somewhere that makes you feel uncomfortable. But it is a good idea to separate media sensationalizing and perception from statistics and reality.

India is a challenging travel destination, there is no doubt. I always encourage first-timers to join a group or go with a knowledgeable friend. There is a learning curve to being in India, no doubt about it. I am always the first to admit, a bit of hand holding goes a long way, as do caution and common sense. This is why I started the India for Beginners custom tours.

If you are planning to travel in India, let us help you! We offer itinerary planning, India for Beginners custom tours, and much more to make sure your trip to India is filled with more magic … and less madness. 

Top 20 travel safety tips for women travelling in India

1. Go to India with an open mind and heart

Be cautious, but don’t be nervous. Be open, but don’t be naive. Yes, India is overwhelming to the first-time visitor and most people experience culture shock. (You can spot first-timers by the deer-in-the-headlights look they have on their faces.) I have said in other posts on this blog that India is like the cave Yoda sends Luke into: you will only find what you bring with you. So, don’t bring fear. Most Indians are the nicest, friendliest and most helpful people you will ever meet. Even when they are trying to part you from your rupees, they are mostly very nice about it.

2. Do your research on India

Travel in India is just not the same as going to the Caribbean, Greece, or even Thailand. It is massive, diverse, traditional, ancient … and it can be an overwhelming travel destination. Knowing as much as you can about the culture can help prepare you. For example, many tourists go to Rajasthan, but that doesn’t mean the desert state is westernized. Far from it – Rajasthan is one of the more traditional states in India. Wearing a tank top and shorts is just not appropriate in Rajasthan and can invite unwanted attention. On the other hand, in certain parts of Mumbai, like Colaba and Bandra, wearing revealing western clothing is much more acceptable.

Read books about India, and by Indian authors, and watch movies about India. India has a rich historical and cultural past and it is still largely a traditional society, in spite of all the mobile phones, Bollywood glamour and Levi jeans. Find out as much as you can about Indian society, as it will make travel easier. Many foreigners get frustrated by the way business is conducted in India — but it is futile and a waste of energy to get hot-and-bothered. It is also not culturally acceptable to express anger or to cast blame in public. Much better to try and understand, show some respect for an ancient culture (that is much wiser than the west in many ways) and go with the flow.

3. Adjust your expectations about India

If you are from a western country like Canada, the U.S., the U.K., Germany or Australia, you cannot come to India and expect that you will freely be able to do all the things you do at home. You have to accept reality: India is a traditional society in the throes of great change. It is very wise to play it safe, as I do, and wear loose, modest clothes; refrain from overly friendly behaviour with unknown men; and be very cautious about moving around at night. Travel in India is different than other destinations, and travel safety should always be a concern.

4. Be confident, not polite!

This is a top tip for women travelling in India and elsewhere. I’ve had many online discussions with women who travel regularly in India and other challenging destinations about staying safe. Most of them stress that how you carry yourself plays a large part in your experience. If you are confident, you are less likely to attract unwanted attention they say, and I agree. Apparently, rapists look for women they perceive to be easy targets; women who don’t look like they will put up a fight.

As a Canadian, I come from a culture of politeness, but sometimes in India – often, in fact – polite doesn’t work. If I feel someone is harassing me for whatever reason, I have become very adept at either becoming very cold and ignoring them, or becoming quickly angry and saying “jyao,” loudly, which means “go” in Hindi. I wrote a blog post about the need to sometimes appear rude to stay safe. Unfortunately, you do have to keep your guard up in India, it’s not always easy to know who to trust. Local friends come in very handy, and so does travelling with a trusted travel company.

Read this post to brush up on basic Hindi for travelers

5. Watch how you relate to men

In India, you have to be careful about how you relate to some men – specifically, less educated men working in service, transportation or hospitality. In other words, if you are overly friendly with an autorickshaw driver, you could inadvertently be giving him the wrong signals. It’s unfortunate that foreign women are sometimes seen as more “available” than Indian women, too – which doesn’t help.

Again, realize that much of India is still a traditional society, and in certain parts of society the genders do not mix. Many of the men in India are just not that sophisticated when it comes to flirting and dating, etc. Obviously, there are lots of educated and well-travelled men in the modern metros, like Delhi and Mumbai, who understand the signals we take for granted in the west. But lots don’t and will take your friendliness as an open invitation for sex. Err on the side of caution. As a tourist in India, keep safety in mind at all times.

6. Use transportation strategies

I have travelled all over India, on overnight trains, in countless autorickshaws and taxis, and sometimes even on the backs of motorcycles. I have never felt in danger and never felt unsafe, but I am cautious and I have come up with a couple of strategies, especially for travel at night. To start, get someone to pick you up at the airport when you land. Many good hotels and guest houses will arrange this for you.

Also, when leaving a bar or restaurant, get someone to walk you to an auto or taxi. Or call someone, and loudly tell them the number of the taxi, so the driver can hear. Plan your travel so you don’t arrive in the middle of the night; and try to have someone meet you at the train station or airport. Many hotels and tours offer this service. Always let someone know where you’re going, and stay connected to friends and contacts via social media.

Check out my post about travelling on Indian trains, planes, and automobiles

7. Carry a mobile phone

Getting a local SIM card and carrying a mobile phone is essential for both safety and convenience, I believe, as India is a mobile phone obsessed nation. Everything is done via text message, including train tickets, taxis, and manicure appointments, and you need it to communicate with drivers. You can buy a cheap phone, or get a SIM card for your regular phone, when you get to India.

Prepaid rates are very cheap for text, data, and talk time. Just make sure you have a copy of your passport and Indian Visa, and a passport sized photo with you when you go to the store to get the phone or SIM card. There’s a lot of free WiFi available in India, in places like airports and cafes, but you need a local number to log in. 

TIP: Always carry extra photocopies of your passport and Indian Visa, and extra passport photos. You can get passport photos in India very cheaply – a sheet of 16 cost me about $3. 

8. Wear Indian clothes

Indian clothes are light, comfortable, inexpensive and appropriate to the climate and the need for modesty. I usually wear the three-piece salwar kameez, or Punjabi suit; or a kurtah and trousers when in India. But wearing Indian clothes is a bit controversial among my Indiaphile friends. Some say it just draws more unwanted attention; others say it draws respect and protects you. I am in the second camp. I am a big believer in the “when in Rome” philosophy of travel.

Not only do I wear Indian clothes, but I also wear Indian jewelry, and sometimes I even tell people I am married to an Indian man and that I live in Delhi. The family is the strongest social structure in India. As the wife of an Indian man, I am perceived as Indian, as part of the society — an insider — and even more importantly, as someone whose movements are probably closely tracked, and who will be missed. I feel my gold Indian ring draws a veil of protection around me … it works for me.

Read What to wear in India and  Guide to shopping in India

9. Change your attitude

I think our attitude and level of confidence plays a big part in our experience of travel – and studies have shown that men attack women they perceive to be vulnerable. If you are seriously afraid to visit a country, it’s probably not a good idea to go. Pushing your comfort zone is okay, if you know you are up for it. But if you are really fearful, you may find yourself having scary experiences. That’s how life seems to work, from my experience. Not always, of course, but a significant percentage of the time.

10. Find other like-minded travelers

It’s easy to meet other travelers in India, especially at hostels, in favourite traveler destinations like Rishikesh, Pushkar, Goa, Manali, Dharmasala, Varkala Beach, etc. Plus, you can find travelers through online forums and by using hashtags on social media. Just be careful not to reveal your location in real time – later-gramming is a good idea, even your Instagram stories. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of creeps online (as we all know). 

TIP: Be careful how you relate travel experiences online. It’s always a good idea to show cultural respect – I wrote a post about Responsible Travel Writing that is worth reading. This Instagrammer in India found out the hard way that making uninformed and ill-considered judgements about India online is not a good idea. 

11. Don’t take it personally

It’s part of the culture in India to ask a lot of personal questions. Don’t take it personally! It’s up to you what you share. They’re not asking because they’re compiling a dossier on you. Nothing bad will happen. The only thing I’m careful about is where I’m staying. I will not tell strangers where I’m staying.

12. Learn some Hindi

If you are travelling in North India, check out my post on Basic Hindi words and phrases for travellers. Though many people in India speak English, a little Hindi can go a long way to making you feel more comfortable and in control.

Read this post to brush up on basic Hindi for travelers

13. Ignore staring and unwanted attention

Like all women, I get unwanted attention everywhere, including in Toronto where I live. In India, it is more culturally acceptable to stare, so yes, lots of staring! My best advice is to ignore it. Most of the time, it’s harmless. However, if you have a gut instinct that something is off, pay attention. Always listen to your intuition. Move away from the person or people staring, and if you need to, seek help.

Always remember that social shaming works REALLY well in India, much better than in the west. If someone is bothering you, speak up, you will be surrounded by aunties and uncles in a heartbeat. They will beat on whoever’s bothering you until you almost wish you hadn’t said anything, ha.

14. Say no to (some) selfies

A lot of people will ask you for selfies. At places like the Taj Mahal, it’s part of the experience and very endearing. Everyone is dressed up, in a good mood, it’s a special occasion. I have MANY photos of me with my arms around groups of young women at tourist spots in India. But it can get tiring. I have a firm rule: no selfies with boys or men. I only take selfies with girls, women, and families.

15. Don’t give money to beggars

The best advice is to not give beggars money. They are usually part of a syndicate and the money goes to the rich guys on top. Giving them money only encourages this type of criminal behaviour. Much better to give to credible, authorized charities. The one thing I do is hand out food on the street, if I have leftovers; or if I am eating peanuts and a child asks for them, things like that.

India is a unique travel destination, it’s not a holiday resort. It’s for people with an adventurous spirit who want to see the world. In fact, coming face to face with the poverty in India is an eye-opening experience for many people. It humanizes it, and you find out that many of these people are happier and more content than you ever imagined.

16. Find sanctuaries in India

The crowds (and heat and noise) in India can be overwhelming. My best advice is to take breaks. Find sanctuaries. Get out of the cities, go to ashrams or countryside resorts, villages or the beach. South India, especially Kerala, is a gentler land. Or, seek nature: go to a national park, tiger reserve, bird sanctuary, or trekking in the hills. Splash out on a five-star hotel. Do what you need to do to tune India out every now and again.

TIP: Interested in travelling to India for Yoga? Please read my Complete Guide to Yoga in India to have all of your questions answered.

17. Don’t worry (too much) being “ripped off.”

There’s a wonderful video about a rich guy who gets out of his car and bargains hard with a coconut seller on the side of the street. Then he goes and buys an expensive soft drink from a store – and of course doesn’t bargain. It was made by an actor to show that these people are very poor, and we shouldn’t be bargaining them down. I don’t worry about getting “ripped off” by poor people on the street. I just consider it tourism tax to help the needy.

Shopping for expensive items like rugs and jewelry is another matter. You DO need to do your research, and shop around.

18. Pay (some) attention to travel advisories

The various government advisories about travel in India don’t say “don’t go to India.” Most often, they advise caution. In this map of the world’s most dangerous countries for tourists, India is listed as “avoid some areas” and I agree with this. In a couple of cases, the attacks..

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Jal Mahal Palace, Jaipur, India

Transformational travel experiences from travelers to India 

INDIA IS NOT LIKE other destinations. It’s more challenging, more colourful, more intense, more …. everything. And it’s because of this that travel in India can be both extremes of frustrating and magical. But more than anything, travel in India has the potential to be life-changing. 

Well, it certainly changed my life! I arrived in December 2005 for a six-month trip, not knowing what would happen … and everything happened. I recovered from depression and found a new man, a new family, a new home, a new career, and a new life. So, I know from my own experience how travelling in India changes people. These people concur. Their stories demonstrate the power of travel to heal people, transform lives, and broaden perspectives.

India gets a lot of bad press, but these stories defy the stereotypes and show another side to the story, another perspective. Thanks so much to everyone for contributing such heart-felt, inspiring and very moving stories! Read on to find inspiration. 

If you are planning to travel in India, let us help you! We offer itinerary planning, India for Beginners custom tours, and much more to make sure your trip to India is filled with more magic … and less madness.

Helen Suk at the Taj Mahal in India

Finding peace in India

My heart ached. My soul was empty. Nothing mattered anymore.

Almost one year after the murder of my older brother John, I made the journey to India. Maybe, I thought, it would help me accept the shocking loss. A shift in perspective was needed and I knew India – a deeply spiritual country with a radically different approach to death – could be the catalyst for this. And I needed to go alone.

India had already been on my travel list so, of course, I visited the Taj Mahal, a glorious structure. Goa, Dharamsala, Haridwar and Rishikesh also left me spellbound. But it was the holy city of Varanasi where I found the strength to finally pull myself from the tidal waves of grief.

For Hindus, the Ganges River is believed to have purifying properties. Pilgrims bathe in its sacred waters in the hopes of being cleansed of sin, and the ashes of loved ones are scattered here to liberate their souls from the cycle of rebirth.

For tourists, the ghats where bodies are openly cremated can be a morbid, even gruesome, experience – a sharp contrast to the taboo treatment of death in Western cultures. We are terrified of mortality. We hate talking about it. Sometimes, we even refrain from reaching out to a friend who’s suffered a profound loss because we’re so afraid.

After Varanasi, I learned just how unhealthy our death-phobic culture is. Death may be omnipresent in Varanasi but so too is joy. For me, this was unexpected. In fact, it’s not unusual for funeral processions to include singing and dancing. Why wouldn’t participants be happy when their deceased loved ones are about to be brought closer to heaven? 

I had spent months imagining the last moments of John’s life. In Varanasi I was able see that, as horrific as his death was, it was also a beginning. Finally, in India, I laid John’s soul to rest.

Helen Suk is a Toronto-based travel writer and photographer. A passionate explorer, she encourages others to seek new experiences and see the world in a new way. She also provides travel tips on her blog, Not Without My Passport.

Ellie and Ravi of Soul Travel Blog found love in India

Finding Love in India

Some places that we travel to leave their mark more than others. We like to think that every place we visit changes us in some way, but in some countries that change is much more profound. In the case of my travels to India, they have completely changed my life. 

Before my trips to India I would get nervous. Family and friends were never particularly understanding of why I insisted on journeying half way across the world to solo travel India. But once I settled into the chaotic peace, I would find myself more and more at home in India, learning to live by the moment and surrender just a little bit of that hard-wired need to be in control. 

In 2017 my travels in India took a turn for the unexpected. A day before I was due to leave India after a month of travelling there, I met Ravi in his hometown of Mumbai. Over chai and wandering around Colaba, posing for touristy shots in front of the gateway, we discovered a connection we knew we wanted to grow. I didn’t see him again for another four months. Fast forward two years and we’re living on the other side of the world in Toronto, Canada, and have travelled many places in India and around the world that are new to both of us, and we’ve been able to see places differently through each others’ eyes.

Finding love in India has shown me that the typecasting around gender roles in patriarchal societies (which India is considered) are not always true. Both of us are a long way from home – in many senses, which has taught us to be kinder, more flexible, and more understanding. I have learned a lot about what it truly means to be close to ones’ family – even on the end of a phone, and Ravi has learned to make the perfect poha. I have learned that far from trying to scam people (the traveller stereotype), most Indians are incredibly kind. Back in India we have been pleasantly surprised by the number of people who accept us openly as a mixed ethnicity couple, vs the number of people who judge for breaking the mold. 

Ellie & Ravi are an Anglo – Indian couple writing about mindful travel on their blog soultravelblog.com, they help conscious travellers find the best inspiration for their next sustainable trip. 


Finding enlightenment in India

It was my dream for most of my life to go to India. Around the age of 18, I was deep into Yoga, practicing and learning and even almost dedicating myself fully to be a yoga teacher.

Paths in life changed and this ever dream stayed in the dreams box until four years ago when I suddenly had the opportunity to go there. I saw myself with a one-way ticket to India with no plans, not much money, lots of fear and no idea what to expect. I was actually expecting the worse and also all my family and friends, it was that time when several cases of harm against women were busting in every media channel.

It was a time of change in my life where I was searching my passion and I was desperately needing a new path to follow more aligned with my true needs. The problem was, I was so disconnected from myself that I had no clue what to do. I then said to myself I would use the journey in India to reconnect and to find myself again. I would only leave India when I had at least a little clue about what to do with my life.

I never thought I would stay almost four months in India because at the beginning I was feeling very overwhelmed with everything, from the noises, the people, and especially the heat… Cause I was crazy enough to do my first India trip in the hottest months.

Suddenly, I remembered that I always wanted to attend a Vipassana meditation retreat and, what better than doing it near the place Buddha found enlightenment?

Those were the hardest 10 days of my life, the retreat is a silent journey where you sit to meditate for 10 hours per day, with a very strict schedule starting at 4 am! With lots of struggles I could finish the entire course and it was a few days after when I realized something had happened: I was feeling great!

India was not overwhelming anymore and I was starting to hear my feelings and my thoughts in a different way.

The days became an exciting journey, and India started to show me its beauty, in every train ride I made, in every person I have talked to, take a picture with or cross a smile. Every day was a new option to learn more about myself, to surrender to the rhythm of a country that was carrying the answer I was searching for a long time.

It was in India where I could accept my needs and what my heart truly wanted, and that was sharing my knowledge and experience with others to promote their own growth. It was in Kolkata where my blog started to have a shape and what is now my own business based on my passion. India gave me the freedom to be myself again. 

Gloria Apara of Nomadicchica.com. Gloria Apara is a native of Santiago Chile with more than 20 years of travel experience, having traveled through Asia, Europe, and South America, Gloria has a wealth of travel knowledge and experience to share. A physical therapist by profession, and writer and photographer by passion, Gloria set out to make her dreams come true and created NomadicChica to inspire others to travel and empower women travels with her knowledge.


Couchsurfing in India and learning to trust

“How can you trust strangers in a country with such a high rape rate?” 

This seemed to be the common mantra among my friends when I told them how I and my Malaysian wife Kit used Couchsurfing, a popular hospitality website, on most of our trips to India.

Hitting up random people on a website and asking them to stay in their homes with them didn’t seem like the best idea in a nation that carries an international reputation of “rapist men” who treat their women like crap.

These are, however, big misconceptions about the subcontinent: to us, couchsurfing in India has just helped to get closer to the hearts of some of the world’s most hospitable, amazing families and people. It helped us changed our ideas about India. And in truth, I believe that you won’t know India well without experiencing its family atmosphere. And after having stayed with more than 100 Indian hosts over the years, we can safely say that Couchsurfing was a fantastic way to do so.

On our first Couchsurfing experience in India, back in 2010, we found ourselves in Kochi, Kerala: our first host, Nigel — a single man, truck-driver by profession and living alone in a townhouse — seemed the perfect character for a Couchsurfing horror story. Someone perfectly fitting the stereotypical image that our friends had in their minds.

But it turned out that Nigel was just the perfect host: we cooked together, he insisted we talked and partied until late at night, took so many pictures together, and even let us sleep in his own room while HE took the couch. We absolutely had no issues throughout our couple of days stay with him.

Later on that same trip, we stayed with another Couchsurfer and his family in Aurangabad. After a day out at the Ellora Caves, I returned home extremely sick in my stomach. I couldn’t even move from the pain: I had caught a horrible food poisoning. And what did our Couchsurfing host and his family did for me? They let me rest on their best bed, feeding me the sweetest mangoes and porridge with milk especially cooked for myself and bought me some very good medicines out of their own pockets. They took care of me for the whole of the next day, putting me back on my feet to continue my trip through India.

To this very day, I speak almost every week to a Couchsurfer I stayed with in Lucknow, Ryan. Such a friendly, open-minded guy with a big heart. He helped me buy train tickets, anticipating the money, even before we met in India for the first time. This stuff doesn’t happen everywhere in the world.

Truth be told, Couchsurfing in India taught me a lot about the reality of this much-misrepresented country: the people are good, caring and friendly. They love foreigners and take pride in showing them the true loving heart of India. And I’m sure I would have never been able to understand this, if I had only stayed in guesthouses and hotels with other tourists.

Marco Ferrarese of monkeyrockworld.com. India is a place for rebirth … and birth!

India was the craziest and most amazing place I have been. India also had the single biggest impact on my life by giving me two beautiful daughters.

We arrived in Bombay as newly-weds and working expats. We already knew that we would have to have an in-vitro conception, and before arriving in India we had visited several specialists in Europe. We didn’t think of having IVF treatment in India, but after living there a while and researching the subject on the internet, I learnt that India is a major worldwide destination for exactly this treatment. We decided to give it a try.

On my first visit to a clinic in January, I was told I probably had a bicornuate uterus and may not be able to conceive, even with IVF. Imagine my surprise. I was 32 years old and had visited a gynecologist several times but had no idea of this problem.  Now, here on my first visit to a fertility clinic I learnt that my uterus might not be able to hold a baby.

A Hysterosalpingographic  X-ray confirmed that the inside of my uterus was the shape of a heart. However they could not tell whether the problem was a bicornuate form of the whole uterus or whether there was a septum dividing a shape which was otherwise more normal.  To find out, they carried out keyhole surgery. I went under the anaesthetic not knowing whether they would find the situation inoperable or whether they would be able to cut out a septum and leave me all set to go.

Luckily for me, it was a septum.  They cut it out and I woke up with a balloon inside me to prevent it from re-growing. Three weeks later I was back in the clinic for the IVF treatment and another three weeks after that, I was confirmed pregnant.  This was just three months after my first visit to the clinic.

The IVF clinic in India was a tiny suite of two rooms opening directly onto small a public yard.  The waiting room for husbands was an external verandah facing a typical Bombay rubbish dump, and before Christmas that same year, now living in a different country, I gave birth to our wonderful healthy twin girls.

India is indeed a wonderful land of magic, and if you want to learn more about our IVF in India story go to our blog.

Ania from The Travelling Twins.

Life-Changing experience India:  Three months solo hiking in the Indian Himalayas

The global media has always been on India’s case – it’s never safe. As a third-generation Indian Malaysian girl, it was thrice as hard to convince my parents that I planned to travel through the high mountain passes in the Indian Himalayas as my first solo trip, after quitting my job in 2016.

It was the raw and undiscovered India I wanted to see – the rugged landscapes and the people who live in their shadows. I had read books about various Himalayan ascents and knew that travelling to these places would require an immense slow travel pace, perfect for my first solo trip. In those three months, I traversed four mountainous states, climbed many mountains, and explored the remotest regions in the Himalayas.

One of my most memorable encounters was when I was in Uttarakhand and I made a seven kilometre trek and climbed a high rock, which brought me to a shrine dedicated to the Hindu goddess, Kali. It was a random hill and I was told that a German woman has been living there, off the grid, for the last 25 years. We chatted in Hindi – she speaks it fluently, while I don’t – and the encounter left me awestruck. I asked what made her leave everything behind to come here and stay here, and she said it was the landscapes and the simplicity that drew her to this place, and the spiritual connection she found with the mountains in the Garhwal region.

Here I was thinking myself as the hardy traveller roving through the region and then I met this German woman. It proved that the choices you make, no matter how ludicrous it sounds to others, might be the perfect one for you. Two years later, I returned to India but this time to bicycle travel as I wanted to find carbon neutral ways to see India and experience the slow life and the traditions of these remote cultures which are often forgotten and sped past.

By Pashmina from The Gone Goat. Pashmina writes about her adventures to inspire others to be outstanding in their own way. She writes about hiking, adventure cycling to inspire people to take up adventures, they thought they could never be part of.

Katie Dundas in Armitsar, India

Experiencing community in Amritsar

Amritsar’s Harmandir Sahib, known in English as the Golden Temple, is the most holy place to those of the Sikh faith. It attracts pilgrims from all over the world who come to worship — as such, it tends to be completely crowded, day and night.

The Harmandir Sahib is the jewel of Amritsar, a bustling city in North India, and is a must-see for anyone visiting. I was really excited to spend some time there, but also very overwhelmed. The sea of crowds was really intimidating, especially due to the sanctity of such a special place — everyone here seemed to know what they were doing, except for me!

However, as I learned more and became more comfortable, I started to really appreciate the unique and important role of this place. A shining example of this is langar. Langar is a community kitchen in Gurdwara’s, where volunteers cook and offer vegetarian meals to everyone, regardless of background, religion, or caste, at no cost. Learning and participation of langar was one of my most incredible experiences in India. Langar is based on equality, and the idea that everyone in a community is equal.

After taking a plate, you sit in a long room with hundreds of others who have come for the meal and for the community connections. Volunteers walk up and down the aisles, dishing up freshly baked roti, dal, and vegetables. The food is wholesome and nutritious, but, more importantly, langar acts as nourishment for the soul and for the community. The concept of dining together, helping others who may not be able to afford a meal, and equality for everyone is so important, and something I would love to see more of throughout the world. If you ever have the chance to visit Amritsar and partake in the langar, it is likely to be one of your most profound experiences in India.

Katie Dundas, The Accidental Australian.

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Photo of temple elephant in India by Shalu Sharma.

If you learn basic Hindi, you will find it goes a goes a long way when traveling in India

This is a guest post by Indian blogger Shalu Sharma, who published a book called “Essential Words and Phrases for Travellers to India.” To learn basic Hindi words and phrases you will need, and to buy the book, read on.

As long as you know English, there will be few communication issues in India. Most Indians know some English, however some will not be able to converse as fluently as you would prefer including taxi drivers, waiters, porters and hotel staff. This is where some basic Hindi words, phrases and sentences can come handy. You can learn Hindi through English, and basic Hindi words for beginners, quite easily. 

If you are planning to travel in India, let us help you! We offer itinerary planning, India for Beginners custom tours, and much more to make sure your trip to India is filled with more magic … and less madness. 

Where exactly is Hindi spoken?

Hindi can be spoken in most parts of India, especially the urban areas. It is the main language of the states of Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan. Hindi is the national language of India and it is thought that 60% of India’s population speak Hindi. The other 40% can understand Hindi to some extent.

In most North and Central Indian states where Hindi is not the main language — such as West Bengal, Gujarat, Punjab, Odisha, Maharashtra and states in the North East — you should be able to get away with speaking Hindi. People belonging to these states have no objections to Hindi and Hindi is even taught as a secondary language.

In some South Indian states such as Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka many people will respond if you speak Hindi with them. However, two South Indian states where Hindi is not spoken, and even discouraged, are Tamil Nadu and Kerala. But, in recent years, even people from these states are watching more Hindi movies than ever before and getting to know the Hindi language. So if you were to polish up on some Hindi before going to India, it will prove to be a valuable asset no matter where you are going.

Hindi can be quite challenging for the average English speaker. It is a phonetic language, so it’s spoken as it is written. Hindi uses a lot of English words so you can often replace Hindi words with English. For example, there are no words for “station” or “doctor” in Hindi (if there is one, I am not aware of it and have been speaking Hindi all my life). Some other commonly used English words include railway, hospital, train, cycle, motor, bus, cricket, karma, thug, guru, jungle, bungalow and so on. [NOTE: some of these English words originated in India.] If you are stuck on a Hindi word, then replace it with its English equivalent.

Below are some common Hindi words, phrases and sentences widely used in India. Just pronounce the words the way they’re written.

Basic Hindi words, phrases and sentences

Hello – Namaste or Pranam

Hello Amit – Namaste Amit ji (ji at the end of the name is used to show respect)

Me – Mai

I am from USA – Mai USA se hum

Mine – Mera

This is mine – Ye mera hai

Yours – App ka

Is this yours – Kya ye aap ka hai

Who – Kaun

Who are you – Aap kaun hai

Clothes – Kapra

Where are my clothes – Mera kapra kaha hai

Tea – Chai

I need a cup of tea – Mujhe ek cup chai chahiye

Water – Paani

I need a bottle of water – Mujhe ek bottle paani chahiye

Food – Khana

Give me food – Mujhe khana do

Do you speak English – Kya apa English bolte hai

Speak slowly – Dheray boliye

Yes – Haa

No – Nahi

Please – Kripya

Thank you – Dhanevaad

More basic Hindi sentences

How are you – App kaise hai

I am fine – Mai thik hu

Nice to meet you – Aap se milkar khusi hui

Who are you – App kaun hai

What is your name – Aap ka kya naam hai

My name is Mariellen – Mera naam Mariellen hai

Where are you from – Aap kaha se hai

I am from Canada – Mai Canada se hu

Where is the station – Station kaha hai

Where is the bus stand – Bus stand kaha hai

Where is the toilet – Toilet kaha hai

Can you help me – Kya aap meri madaad karenge

What’s this – Ye kya hai

I want to buy this – Mujhe ye kharidna hai

How much is this – Ye kitnay ka hai

Lower the price – Daam kum kijiye

There are some things that make learning Hindi challenging. Hindi has gender nouns (masculine or feminine); it is perhaps the most difficult part of learning Hindi. Also, the various states of India speak Hindi differently. For instance, my Bihari Hindi is different from Hindi spoken in Delhi. It’s only when we write Hindi that we use the formal methodology. Finally, though India is a country where English is spoken widely, it is still useful to learn some basic Hindi for your travels to India. I suggest you memorize some of these key words Hindi words and phrases and don’t be afraid to use them. – Shalu Sharma

Recommended language learning courses and apps

I’m currently researching the best courses and apps for learning Hindi (and other languages). I’m looking into Doulingo at the moment, and will update this space as I try out others and find out which are the best. – Mariellen

Learn Hindi language faster

I found this video by Karl Rock really helped pinpoint the specific challenges that English speakers face when trying to learn Hindi. Watching it could really help you learn basic Hindi faster. – Mariellen

How To Learn Hindi Faster Than I Did! - YouTube

About the author

Shalu Sharma is the author of “Essential Hindi Words And Phrases For Travellers To India.” Shalu is also the editor and founder of ShaluSharma.com, a blog about travels to India. Originally from Bihar, she speaks Hindi at home.

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