Lessons from India

Lessons from India

1. Heed reports and warnings, but they can be exaggerated

Of all the countries that I wanted to visit, India was the one that made me the most nervous to travel in alone. I heard plenty of horror stories of pickpockets and scams to avoid, sexist attitudes that made it more uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous to travel alone as a woman, unsanitary foods that make you violently ill, and the general grime and crowds everywhere.

And then there were all the warnings: only eat things that are cooked or peeled, avoid meat, don’t make eye contact with men, don’t travel anywhere by yourself after dark.

As a result, my image of India was not altogether great. But after spending about a week looking around, India really isn’t as bad as the picture that I had painted. So far I haven’t had any stomach problems and I’ve managed to avoid any situations that feel unsafe. There is grime and poverty, yes, but it’s similar to that I’ve seen in China and other developing countries.

Of course, I’ve been very careful and it’s important to take precautions, but traveling in India has not been nearly as bad as I feared. This seems to be the general consensus among many other travelers (including a large handful of other solo females) that I’ve talked to as well. As my dad says, live like a optimist but prepare like a pessimist! And sometimes you just have to go see for yourself.

2. Ask your network for recommendations

I came to India without any idea of where to go except for the two biggest cities, New Delhi and Mumbai. Some brief research yielded Jaipur and Varanasi, and I planned to just wing the rest of it. Even though I have many Indian friends and coworkers, for some reason I never took the initiative to ask them for recommendations.

It wasn’t until I had actually gotten to Mumbai that, during brunch with a friend of a friend, I asked for advice. She suggested Amritsar, and the Golden Temple there turned out to be the highlight of my trip. A little too late, I realized that I could have planned this trip a lot better and potentially seen more highlights like it.

So if you’re going to be lazy and not do research, at least ask a couple of friends! And preferably before entering the country.

3. Don’t get hung up on principle

My SIM card saga during the first few days in Mumbai left me with a useless SIM card and a bitter taste in my mouth. I paid for the SIM card and they told me I should be able to use it within a few hours, but 5 days later it still had not been activated. At that point I gave up waiting, but I also didn’t rush to get a new one because of self-righteous principle.

However, an episode in Agra made me realize that not having data was a major inconvenience. My train, which was supposed to arrive at 9:40pm, got delayed for almost 5 hours and didn’t pull in until 2:20am. I got a tuk tuk that couldn’t find the way, and I would have been completely lost if my phone had not saved the hostel phone number by luck.

After all that, I came to my senses – a SIM card only costs $10. Yes, it sucks that the first $10 was wasted, but surely I would pay another $10 to avoid another situation like that in the future. Why was I making myself suffer, just because I was bitter on principle? And the same thing applies to negotiating for tuk tuk rides. Yes, I might be ripped off by 100 extra rupees, but if that’s the fastest (or only way) to go, it’s less than $2.

4. Spend some extra money to get the experience

It’s common in hostels to ask each other how long you’ve been in India and how long you’re staying. In Jaipur, when I told one of my new hostel friends that I was leaving on March 10th, she replied with, “but Holi is on the 13th, you’re not staying?”

Shit. I already spent $75 on the airplane ticket, which I was pretty sure I couldn’t get back. It would be amazing to experience Holi (the festival of color) in India, but it’s also celebrated in Nepal (where I would be flying to), and I could come back another time to do it. At the same time, though, even if I do come back to India at some point, would it likely be around the dates of Holi?

I wavered back and forth on whether to keep my original plan or make adjustments, and finally decided that I should stay for Holi. It’s the things you don’t do that you regret, after all, and while money can be regained, the same cannot be said for experiences.

5. Seriously, though, look up the holidays

In addition to looking at a map before booking, which I previously learned. Totally my fault for not realizing Holi was so close.

Looking up holidays would have also helped to avoid the struggles I had at Adams Peak. You think I would have learned then…but naw.

6. Boldly explore (while still being respectful)

I often hesitate to do things for fear of being told off, even though they’re most likely fine/nobody would likely care. I like to say that I’m trying to be respectful, but if I’m honest, fear of reprimands is closer to the real reason.

Part of the reason why I enjoyed the Golden Temple so much, though, was because I explored beyond the highly trafficked tourist areas. It was while wandering in the kitchen that I met locals that taught me more about the temple.

That doesn’t mean barging into places, because respect is still important. I still took care to avoid clearly blocked off areas and to get a nod of permission before entering if I wasn’t sure about a particular area. But I can definitely be a lot more bold than I have been, and asking for forgiveness is not the worst thing in the world.

7. Allow plenty of buffer time

You can’t necessarily count on anything being exactly on time, but I’ve found that trains in India are especially bad. My train to from Jaipur to Agra was delayed by 5 hours. And my train from New Delhi to Varanasi, which was scheduled to arrive at 6:15am, didn’t pull into Varanasi until 4pm (that’s 10 hours, count ’em!)

I’m not necessarily complaining, because sleeper trains are still moderately comfortable and all the train time is wonderful for blog post writing productivity. But I’ve definitely learned not depend on the arrival time or to schedule anything within a full half day after a train is scheduled to arrive. And it’s probably smart to pack one more meal than you think you’ll need. Maybe two.

India Wrap Up

Alvida goodbye India

India is a huge country and a popular destination, but I knew next to nothing about it. I had heard plenty of stories about traveling in India, mostly centered around upset stomachs, solo females being kidnapped or attacked, and complete craziness.

All these stories had me worried, I’m not going to lie. India is so large and has so many cultures that I feel like it would take several months (if not years) to be satisfied with seeing, but I didn’t want to commit such a huge chunk of my trip to it, especially without getting a feel for it first. So my plan from the beginning was to stop by in India for two weeks to dip my toe in and decide if I wanted to go back at a later date.

Because I only had two weeks, I figured that I would just go to the biggest cities (primarily Mumbai and New Delhi) and didn’t research much else. However, I soon realized that there was much, much more to see, and I was more interested than I originally thought. So two weeks became almost three, and I have an ever growing list of places I still want to visit (including Goa, Hampi, Udaipur, and Jaiseimer).

In terms of the warnings, I feel that it’s necessary to take precaution, but India is not as bad as the rumors make it out to be. A lot of the poverty, crowdedness, and grime, as well as all the things we have to look out for as tourists, are similar in India to any other third world country.

It may also be that I’ve made many trips to china before and seen similar conditions, so it’s less striking to me. But from conversations with other tourists, there is a general concensus that things are not as bad in India as they are made out to be. Especially considering that there were a large number of solo female travelers in India – totally unexpected, but totally awesome!

As a woman, there certainly were plenty of times when I felt uncomfortable, but (thankfully) never downright unsafe – even when I was riding in a tuk tuk by myself at 2am with a driver that was lost. I deliberately bought the least flattering clothing that I could find, and still I was often stared and occasionally jeered at. Sometimes the stares are uncomfortable, and I don’t even want to know what they might be thinking. But even when I stare back, they don’t bat an eyelash – and so, I’ve learned that unfortunately, avoiding eye contact does seem to be the best.

In culture and beauty, India is hard to beat. Even what little I saw at the tip of the iceberg – the Taj Mahal, the Golden Temple, Jaipur, and Varanasi – was completely astounding.

And in terms of food, India is home to many great cuisines. However, most everything I could find was fried or drenched in curry sauce. The curry is delicious, but after the first few days I found myself escaping frequently to Chinese stir fry and subway sandwiches (yes, the fast food. But no shame – they make perfect packed meals for long train rides) just for some non-sauced vegetables.

All in all though, India treated me very well. No stomach bugs, no assault (except during Holi, but I guess I signed up for the experience), and only one lost phone in Varanasi (still unclear as to whether I misplaced it or it was swiped, but it was about time to ditch that old android phone anyway).

There WERE a fair bit of frustrations, from trying to get a SIM card to booking bus tickets. Anything administrative seemed to be inefficient and to lack any sort of urgency. But I guess that’s just part of being a developing country with more than a billion people to sort out.

I will definitely be back in India in the future, though! Don’t know when, but I’m hoping for an Indian wedding. Gotta get in good favor with all of my single Indian friends! 😉

Misc India Observations

  • People tend to stand in line behind you very, very close. Very close.
  • There are special ladies-only areas and services, like the ladies-only line in the train station (which saved me about an hour)
  • In all the ads, all the people are white. Some Indians are so light-skinned that I think they are Caucasian until they start speaking in fluent Hindi.
  • Paperwork takes forever and you have to prod them in person to make sure that it’s done.
  • People stare and don’t look away when you stare back.
  • Never book connecting travel depending on one leg to get to the destination on time. My train from New Delhi to Varanasi was delayed by a whopping 10 HOURS.
  • Boys walk down the street holding hands.
  • The national anthem before movies in theaters.
  • Cows are everywhere, sometimes just chilling in the dividers in the middle of the road.
  • When traveling between states, get a SIM card and make sure it works (is activated) in the state you’re in, or else it will never work
  • Autos in Mumbai have meters, but they don’t in any other places. In New Delphi and Mumbai, use Uber.
  • The student ID card discount can be steep, e.g. 200 rupees vs 1000 rupees for a ticket.
  • Serving alcohol needs a special license, and it is pretty strictly enforced.
  • You can buy fireworks from the street and set them off whenever, wherever. There are guidelines to do them before 10 pm, though.
  • Carry mandarins (~5 rupees each) to give to begging children. They might not be happy with it, but at least it’s food and not money that they might have to pass on to someone else.
  • Triangle kites fill up the sky, especially at twilight.
  • There are open public urinals for men in many places.

Celebrating Holi in Varanasi

Varanasi friends after Holi celebrations, India

I originally had tickets booked for March 10 from New Delhi to Kathmandu, but then I realized that Holi was on March 13th. Naturally. I wavered back and forth between going as planned, and celebrating Holi in Kathmandu instead, or changing my route to stay and spend Holi in India. In the end I decided to eat the loss and rebook. Who knew if I would be in India again, and at the right time of year? And as the saying goes, we regret the most the things that we do not do.

After looking at my options, Varanasi seemed to make the most sense. It was one of the cities I had originally wanted to go to but had omitted because it was so far out of the way. Even more perfectly, there was a way to go directly from Varanasi to Kathmandu for relatively cheap. Something also seemed poetic about celebrating Holi in a holy city. So Varanasi it was!

I had my reservations, though. My Indian friends all told me that it was not safe for a girl to go out alone on Holi, because men can get drunk and…well, nobody gave me specifics, and I wasn’t sure I really wanted to know. I figured that I would meet other people to celebrate with pretty easily though, and I did: one guy from my train ride to Varanasi (which was delayed for a whopping 10 HOURS – even for India, that’s pretty bad), and four other guys from my hostel.

Even before the day of Holi itself, the city had already started preparing for it. The 11th, 2 days before Holi, coincided with the Indian election, so there were processions going though town with orange and green powder. And on the 12th, bonfires were set up all throughout the ghats, as it is  part of tradition to burn the idol of Holika the evening before Holi.

Idol statue to be burned for pre-Holi celebrations in Varanasi, India

From the time I arrived on the 11th (and I’m sure for a few days before that as well), mischievous little kids were already dropping colored water balloons on unsuspecting tourists all up and down the waterfront. Thankfully we avoided getting pelted, and we learned that we had to be ready to defend ourselves. The day before, we prepared by buying colored powder and arming ourselves with water guns. And I had thankfully brought plastic bags, which were perfect for protecting our phones from assault.

Stall selling colored powder for Holi in Varanasi, India

Stall selling water guns in Varanasi, India

All of the Holi celebrations happened before noon (after which all the drunkards would obediently make their way home and all the colored powder would magically disappear? Wasn’t sure how this was supposed to work), so we got up early and made our way to the central ghats.

Perhaps because we started too early or because we walked down the water front, we didn’t encounter anyone for the first 30min. As soon as we turned down the side street to go into the ghats, though, that was quickly remedied. And by the time we got to the central ghat area, we were already thoroughly soaked.

At this point I should also note that we didn’t encounter a single local woman participating in Holi festivities throughout the day, only older local women who were clearly out roaming about for spiritual reasons and not play. The local women apparently stay at home to celebrate, because it’s not safe out on the streets. This I knew, as I said. But I only got more nervous when, on our way down the waterfront, at least two middle aged Indian men pointed at me and said “protect the ma’am” to my male companions with some urgency.

Guess I was going to see first hand soon enough.

The festivities started out with no problem, just water fights, though arguably with dirtier ammo than usual. It didn’t take us long to learn that our water guns were basically useless, when the locals would splash us with water bottles – or worse, entire buckets filled with liquid from an undisclosed source, but which we strongly suspected could be straight from the Ganges. And in at least one occasion, we confirmed that the water balloons were being filled with gutter water.

The first big fight we found was, ironically, back down on the waterfront. It was between a group of locals and a group of Japanese tourists.

Holi on the waterfront in Varanasi, India

Soon, some kids from the houses overhead joined in too, raining water balloons on us from at least 4 stories above. It was pretty high – by the time they made contact, they seriously hurt. Thankfully we avoided most of them, though one of the Japanese guys got pelted smack in the back of the head. Ouch!

Down another alley later, we happened upon a group of local men rocking out to music. I think it’s safe to assume that some alcohol had already been consumed, especially since one of them was shimmying around in a bra.

Craziness on Holi in Varanasi, India

I took my phone out of its plastic bag to take a quick video, which was a complete mistake. A couple of the men started towards me, and even though I turned to ran, they did this delightful thing where they rub their hands with wet powder, and grab your face from behind to smear it wherever they can reach. Then, while I was still recovering from that, someone stuck a silly string can in my face and let loose. So much for trying to keep things out of my eyes and mouth. And to make matters worse, my plastic bag got filled with powder, which completely defeated the purpose of having a bag in the first place.

After that, I got considerably less excited about Holi. I don’t think I was the only one, either. We had all gotten up early and none of us had had breakfast, since nothing in the way of food was open. Even though it was only around 10:30, we had all gotten our fill of having things shoved in our faces.

To relax a bit, we made our way to the main ghat, Dasaswamedh Ghat, and simply found a place to sit down. Even while we were there, though, we weren’t safe. locals came up to us to wish us a “happy Holi” with their hands in prayer, and then immediately smeared our faces with color. Some also went in immediately after for a double hug, one on either side.

Many also asked us for selfies. Here is a silver man – many people painted their entire faces, and sometimes their entire heads, with silver, which the powder apparently doesn’t stick to. The silver feels to me like it would be even worse, at least from what I remember of what happened to the actor who played the tin man. But it’s only once a year, I guess.

Silver paint for Holi in Varanasi, India

It was around this time that I started feeling uncomfortable. Both while we were sitting down and on our way back to the hostel along the waterfront, it seemed like more men made a beeline straight towards me, the girl. Or perhaps I was being targeted the same amount as before, but I was simply fed up and tired of ingesting chemicals and potentially lethal water. The sheer volume of people coming up to us had also increased, which didn’t help.

I was extremely grateful for my male companions, who graciously allowed me to use them as human shields (sometimes not entirely voluntarily) to hide behind or burrow into. It didn’t stop the men who got through from holding the hug a liiiittle longer than normal or sneaking in a kiss on the cheek, though. Normally they have no reason to come into physical contact with foreign girls, so I guess Holi is a great excuse.

So, in the end, I get it. For the most part, the men do not mean any harm, but the lack of inhibitions and the general craziness of the event can make for some very uncomfortable situations for women. I can protect myself from attackers, but it’s different dealing with roughhousing, when you don’t want to hurt someone – you just need them to stop. I definitely wouldn’t have gone out on Holi by myself, and I am extremely grateful for my new friends!

Varanasi friends after Holi celebrations, India

Photo credit to one of these lovely people with much better selfie skills than I.

As with anything, it’s the people who make the event. This was a great group that it was worth going to Varanasi just to meet!

I survived Holi, but my clothes didn’t. All the clothes I brought with me were quick-dry sportswear, so I purposefully went out to buy a set of Holi clothes for less than $3 to throw away afterward.

Post-Holi celebration picture in Varanasi, India

And the aftermath of Holi on the waterfronts the day after:

The aftermath of Holi in Varanasi, India

Glad I wasn’t around for whatever happened here:

The aftermath of Holi in Varanasi, India

The Holy City of Varanasi

Boat floating in the Ganges at Varanasi, India

Varanasi is the holiest city in India, and people from all over the country make the pilgrimage here to bathe in the Ganges or get cremated along its banks. The city also has a reputation for being among the craziest and dirtiest in India.

Both for its religious and cultural significance, I felt I should visit Varanasi to get a better sense of India. Even so, I crossed it off my list midway because it was to far to get to. However, when I readjusted my schedule to stay in India for Holi, it looked like the most logical place to go because it is also closer to Nepal (my next destination). Varanasi was back in the plan!


The waterfront along the Ganges is one long, open walkway, with occasional temples and tucked away staircases leading up to alleys (ghats) within. It’s a beautiful place to take a stroll, and it takes about 45 minutes to walk from the bottom (Assi Ghat) to the burning ghat at the top.

The waterfront of the Ganges River at twilight in Varanasi, India

Waterfront at night, Varanasi, India

With every 10 steps you take, someone will ask you “Boat? Boat??” You can go on a boat ride at any time, but the most popular times are at sunrise and for the evening ceremony at the main ghat at 6:30. There are various types of boats available for hire, from huge ones that are filled with up to 30 people to smaller rowboats that you can hire just for yourself.

Boats drifting along the waterfront of the Ganges River in Varanasi, India

Boats drifting along the waterfront of the Ganges River in Varanasi, India

Boats drifting along the waterfront of the Ganges River in Varanasi, India

The Ganges is infamous for being contaminated with everything from feces to dead bodies, both in ash form and whole. Despite that, many people still use it as they would any semi-clean water source, washing their clothes and bathing in it.

People bathing in the Ganges River, Varanasi, India

People doing laundry in the Ganges River, Varanasi, India

Sunrise along the waterfront

On my second day in Varanasi, I went down to see sunrise along the waterfront. I wasn’t sure if it was something you had to book with a specific company in advance, but the previous night’s stroll along the waterfront taught me that there are always people offering, “Boat? Boat??”

We went down to the waterfront just before 6am in preparation for sunrise at 6:15, and picked the first boatman that accepted us for 100 rupees ($1.66) per person.

Boat on the Ganges River at sunrise, Varanasi, India

We started out on the boat while it was still dark, and watched as the sky slowly turned lighter and the sun came out.

Floating candles at the waterfront at night, Varanasi, India

Waterfront at dawn, Varanasi, India

Kedar Ghat from the water, Varanasi, India

The sun rises on the opposite bank, casting a strong golden glow over all of the buildings. The other side of the river is curiously devoid of anything. It’s easy to remember which side of the river you are on, that’s for sure.

On the way back up the river, we got some good silhouettes of other boats. As with hot air balloons in Bagan, tourists soaking up the view somehow become part of it themselves.

Boat on the Ganges River, Varanasi, India

Boats on the Ganges River at sunrise, Varanasi, India


Ghats are alleys and steps leading down to the river. Every 50 feet along the waterfront, there is a ghat that that leads to the city inside.

The inside streets/ghats are very narrow, with crazy turns and wires hanging overhead.

Narrow ghat/alleyway in Varanasi, India

They are also very difficult to navigate. Google maps is not always correct in terms of what streets exist, what passages don’t go through, and how to get around to certain places. But it is fun to get lost in them.

Narrow ghat/alleyway in Varanasi, India

You pass houses, shops, guesthouses, restaurants, everything. Including cows and people carrying wrapped up dead bodies down to the waterfront for cremation.

Cremations – Aartis

Varanasi is known for the cremations (aartis) along the Ganges, which mainly take place at two burning sites. No pictures are allowed, out of respect for the families. After witnessing two distraught, weeping men that had to be led away because of their grief, I totally understand why.

Pictures of aartis from a distance:

Burning ghat in Varanasi, India

Aarti cremation at night from a distance at Varanasi, India

Except for a section with a few metal grills set up, the location of the cremation fires is not clearly defined. They appear to be mostly randomly positioned based on what space there is available at the time.

The cremation fire starts with a bed of stacked firewood. After a procession through the ghats, the family lays the stretcher with the wrapped up body on the wooden bed. They then cover the body with smaller sticks in a teepee, almost covering it but not quite. Finally, someone dressed in a white loin cloth/saree ritually lights the fire with a torch made from a bunch of sticks.

The fire is left to burn down all the way, until all that’s left is a pile of ashes. For the most part you can only see the wood, but occasionally as it burns down you can see shapes in the fire that resemble familiar body parts. That’s when it hits home that you’re witnessing a cremation. Even with no connection to the person who passed and no understanding of the ritual, it’s a sobering experience. And thankfully still a respectful one, despite the large tourist presence.

Boat floating in the Ganges at Varanasi, India

Varanasi definitely earned its reputation for craziness. But as with the rest of India, it’s not as crazy as I expected. It’s a city that at once has a strong presence of death but is also vibrant and teeming with life. An inexplainable, magical combination that is well worth the visit to witness.

The Golden Temple in Amritsar

Reflection of the Golden Temple at twilight, Amritsar, India

The Golden Temple in Amritsar is hands down my favorite spot so far, and the first tourist location that I think I’ve ever gone back to more than once. The beauty, the vibe, and the people make it a place where you could stay for hours and want to visit twice in one day.

I went a total of 3 times, all at different times of day:

The Golden Temple, Amritsar, India

Reflection of the Golden Temple at twilight, Amritsar, India

Reflection of the Golden Temple at twilight, Amritsar, India

The Golden Temple at night, Amritsar, India

Reflection of the Golden Temple at night, Amritsar, India

The Golden Temple (or more formally Harmandir Sahib, the “Temple of God”) is the holiest Sikh temple, as it houses the holy scripture. After the death of the 10th Sikh Guru in 1708, the holy scripture became the 11th and last Guru, and is treated like a living being (more on that later).

Everyone, regardless of caste, faith, or background is welcome to visit, eat, and sleep at the Golden Temple. This is reflected in the architecture of the temple: whereas most temples and shrines require you to climb up, the Golden Temple is sunk down so you descend stairs to enter. It was deliberately designed this way by the 5th Guru, to symbolically bring everyone down to the same level. In addition, there are entrances on all four sides, to welcome people from all neighborhoods and of all origins.

The only things that they ask are to

– Take off your shoes
– Cover your head (and shoulders and knees, as with other temples)
– Refrain from smoking, drinking, or engaging in other unpure activities within the temple

Sounds completely reasonable!

At the center is a literal golden temple where the holy scripture is kept during the day. There’s always a long line to enter, but it’s worth it because it’s as beautiful on the inside as it is on the outside. Pictures are not allowed, but the entire inside is embossed with gold and intricately painted. There are also live musicians inside, whose verses are broadcast throughout the entire temple.

This golden structure is surrounded by a large pool of water (or holy nectar) that also contains several large koi fish. Visitors are welcome to go into the water if they wish, and there are gender-segregated fenced off areas for people to strip down to their underwear and go for a quick dip.


The Golden Temple is famous for its Langar, the worlds largest community kitchen that serves free vegetarian meals for anyone who wants one. It’s not located in the central temple area, so I wasn’t able to find it the first time I went. But right outside the gate behind the Golden structure, there is a building to the left, with people handing out metal plates and utensils in front of it.

Langar, community kitchen, at the Golden Temple, Amritsar, India

All you have to do is file in to the building and grab a seat. Within about 10 seconds, various people (all volunteers) come by with water, chapatis (which you receive with both hands palms up), daal, kheer (a delicious sweet rice pudding), and some sort of vegetable curry (carrot, when I went). The two dining halls can seat 5000 people at once, and somewhere between 50,000-100,000 people are served every day, 24/7.

Langar, community kitchen, at the Golden Temple, Amritsar, India

Food at the langar, community kitchen, at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India

Dish washing

After the meal, you hand your dirty plates off to more volunteers, who have an efficient and effective dish washing system down to a science.

First, a line of men dump out the contents and collect all the dishes in a massive bucket.

Bucket of dirty dishes at the langar, community kitchen, at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India

Bucket of dirty dishes at the langar, community kitchen, at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India

Once the bucket is full, they carry it to one of the first troughs and dump all the dishes in the water. Immediately, the men and women (at different troughs – this, as with all other activities, is gender divided) grab the dishes and wipe them with soapy cloth, placing the finished dishes on a rack above the trough. The first 20 seconds is a cacophony of metal against metal and a flurry of activity and splashes. But miraculously, within a minute, all of the dishes in the trough are done and everyone patiently stands back to await the next bucket.

Dish washing trough at the langar, community kitchen, at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India

The water here is green because of the daal:

Dish washing trough at the langar, community kitchen, at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India

From that rack, the dishes are carried to the next stage, a trough of soapy water. The same thing happens there: volunteers along the side scrub each dish and the finished ones on the rack above, and then they are shuttled to another soapy trough. Repeat.

Finally, for the last stages, the dishes go through two more troughs of clear water to rinse them off. So in total, all the dishes and utensils are washed 5 TIMES! Talk about clean!

Stacks of dishes at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India


After helping out with the dishes for a while, I wandered into the kitchens to see how all the food was made. With so much food, you can only expect massive containers:

Kitchen pots at the langar, community kitchen, at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India

Small kitchen at the langar, community kitchen, at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India

I tried my best to be inconspicuous and stay out of the way, but one of the men approached me and happily said, “this is the small kitchen, do you want to see the large one?” And he led me to another kitchen with even bigger pots – you could literally boil a full grown man in them. Maybe even three at once. All of these pots are heated with wood stoves.

Large kitchen at the langar, community kitchen, at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India

Wood stove at the large kitchen at the langar, community kitchen, at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India

Then the man offered me a bowl of chai and patiently waited while I finished. He just dropped all his work so he could show a random guest around – this is the best place ever.

Guest houses

Anyone can sleep around the permimeter of the pool, but the temple also has guest houses where people can stay for free. There are three in total, with one reserved for foreigners. Not intentional segregation, but because there were incidents in the past where foreigners’ cameras and other valuables went missing.

Guesthouse at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India

Guesthouse at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India

Night Ceremony

Because the holy scripture is treated like a living being, it also has to rest! So every night at around 10pm, the following ceremony ensues:

A palanquin is decorated and carried inside the golden structure where the holy scripture is kept during the day:

Palanquin for the Holy Scripture at the Golden Temple, Amritsar, India

The holy scripture is placed on the palanquin and carried out:

The Holy Scripture put away at the night ceremony at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India

It is then carried up the stairs to the main temple (see the man in white walking up the stairs with the Holy Scripture on a pillow on top of his head, below), where its bedroom is located. It is literally a bedroom with a bed, on which the holy scripture is placed. And there it stays, until the morning ceremony when it is carried back out to the golden structure to be displayed.

The Holy Scripture put away at the night ceremony at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India

Once the holy scripture is at rest, a deep cleaning of the entire temple ensues. The banisters are wiped down, the carpets are shaken out and rolled up, and the floors are meticulously swept.

I swear, this has to be the cleanest place in all of India. Even during the day, with thousands of people milling about, the floors are completely spotless. I wouldn’t say they’re necessarily clean enough to eat off of, since it is a public space, and it IS India. But I would certainly have no problem rolling around or sleeping on them.

There’s the Golden Temple in a nutshell! I really loved this place. In large part because of what it is, but I also think it made a big difference that I took the time to try to understand it and explore. Just goes to show that knowing the story behind a place is important in order to fully appreciate it.

But in any case, the Golden Temple definitely has a magic that makes you want to go back again and again. If I find myself in India again, it’s definitely on my list of places to revisit!

Wagah Border Ceremony

Soldier march at the border ceremony at Wagah, on the India-Pakistan border

Amritsar is very close (32km) to the Pakistan border, and it is a popular departure point to see the flag lowering ceremony at Wagah. The ceremony happens every day just before sunset. Both sides open their respective gates, perform an aggressive march that symbolically flips off the other side, lower their respective flags, then shut the gates. All in front of a grand stand of people, on either side.

The hostel I was staying at organized tours to the border every day, so I signed up and squeezed onto a tuk tuk with 6 other people. We had our own mobile music video entertainment, it was quite a fun ride.

Tuk tuk to the Wagah border, Amritsar, India

Included in the border tour was a stop at a Hindu temple beforehand. I’m not sure why it was part of the tour, but it was hands down the strangest religious structure that I have ever been in, so I’m including it in here too.

Imagine a mirror/fun house drawn up by an aspiring maze designer that moonlights as a museum curator. Now imagine someone converted it into a Hindu temple, with statues and altars everywhere.

Mandir Mata Lal Devi, the crazy Hindu temple in Amritsar, India

Mandir Mata Lal Devi, the crazy Hindu temple in Amritsar, India

Can someone tell me what’s happening here?

Hindu painting at Mandir Mata Lal Devi in Amritsar, India

There were even crawl spaces.

Cave at Mandir Mata Lal Devi in Amritsar, India

This place had some identity issues, but it was actually really fun to walk through. Statues and pictures of this woman were everywhere, and the driver explained that she was a guru who had built the temple. If a place like this is the legacy you leave after death, that’s not half bad.

A portrait of Lal Devi, the female saint, at Mandir Mata Lal Devi in Amritsar, India

After that fun side excursion, it was on to the border! Cars had to stop 1 km away, where there were many street vendors selling food, Indian flags, and Indian flag face paintings.

Dropoff point near the India-Pakistan border

From there we walked towards a massive Indian flag, which our driver said was the largest Indian flag in existence.

Indian flag at the India-Pakistan border at Wagah

Along the way, we had to show our passports and go through security twice. Bags are not allowed, and neither are lighters and power banks, which could potentially be explosives. We did get patted down, but not very thoroughly – they patted down our pants, but didn’t check our jacket pockets at all.

And then we were there, in the stands! Only half of what looks like will eventually be a stadium is built, with the other half under construction.

The gate  between India and Pakistan:

Gate at the India-Pakistan border at Wagah

Foreigners were directed to a separate line that filed into the section closest to the border, so we got the best seats and could peek over to the Pakistan side. Our view was partially obscured by trees, but we could see that they had a stadium as well, though much smaller. Fewer people go to the Pakistan side, and they apparently charge as well, which means an even smaller crowd.

Pakistan side at the border ceremony at Wagah, on the India-Pakistan border

We got there about an hour and a half before the ceremony, so there was a lot of time to kill. But vendors walked up and down the stands selling water and ice cream. And loud music played the entire time (on both sides – and it was hard to tell because I was on the India side, but I think India wins this one, with the better speakers). It was just like waiting for any ball game.

Grand stands at the border ceremony at Wagah, on the India-Pakistan border

At some point, more entertainment started, with Indian flags that ladies could stand in line to run with in a circle.

Girls running with Indian flags at the border ceremony at Wagah, on the India-Pakistan border

That evolved into a dance party, also ladies only. I’m curious if men would be turned away if they tried to join?

All-female dance party at the border ceremony at Wagah, on the India-Pakistan border

Eventually the soldiers came out, the men wearing big fanned hats. One by one or two by two (I couldn’t really figure out any rhyme or reason), they marched to down to the gate and struck aggressive poses before standing off to the side. A man in white riled up the crowd, telling us when to cheer and when to be quiet for Pakistan to take its turn.

Female soldiers at the border ceremony at Wagah, on the India-Pakistan border

Soldiers with fanned hats at the border ceremony at Wagah, on the India-Pakistan border

Soldiers with fan hats at the border ceremony at Wagah, on the India-Pakistan border

The march involved first kicking a leg high, almost into a midair split, then stomping down with a lot of arm swinging. At the gate, they gave another high kick, and then looked menacingly at the Pakistan side with quasi-bodybuilder poses. My favorite was when they reached up to adjust their hats, then flicked their hands out with a glare. Like flipping the bird and splaying the hands in a “WUT-WUT,” only the dignified, military version.

Soldier march at the border ceremony at Wagah, on the India-Pakistan border

After about 8 rounds of this, they lowered the flags simultaneously. The Indian flag was carefully folded and carried into a closed room on the other side of the stadium.

Putting away the flag at the border ceremony at Wagah, on the India-Pakistan border

Then the gates were abruptly shut, and people started pouring out of the stadium. A very unexpected and rather anti-climatic ending.

That was it, the border crossing! Just like it is in online videos, and it’s been the same for more than 50 years, since 1959. I’m sure the experience as an impartial third party is very different from the experience for those with nationalistic pride. But it was very interesting to see the way conflicts evolve and are still remembered today.

The Taj Mahal

Reflection of the Taj Mahal at sunrise, Agra, India

Couldn’t come to India without seeing the Taj Mahal! The Taj Mahal was commissioned by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan for his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. It was completed in the 1600s, taking 22 years and costing 32 million rupees at the time. It is now commonly referred to as the “symbol of undying love,” for good reason!

The Taj Mahal is located about 4 hours outside of New Delhi at Agra. Despite all the tourists that must flow through Agra, the city appeared to be less developed and tourist-friendly than the others I’ve been in. But I guess that makes sense because the Taj Mahal and the nearby Agra Fort are just about the only things people go to Agra to see.

I booked a room in a hostel about a 30min walk away, and set out at 5:30am to see the Taj Mahal at sunrise. Both the East and West gates open “at sunrise,” while the South gate doesn’t open until later. However, the Taj Mahal complex isn’t large, so it’s easy to walk around to whichever gate you want. Even the ticket offices are beautiful:

Ticket office at the Taj Mahal, Agra, India

Ticket prices are 40 rupees for locals but 1000 rupees for foreigners. I guess they have to pay for maintenance somehow, and foreigners are relatively price insensitive because it is the Taj Mahal. And we did get a water bottle and shoe covers with the ticket, to offset the cost very, very slightly.

At 6:30, the gates still weren’t open, and long lines had formed outside. There were 4 separate lines: general ladies, high value ladies, general gents, and high value gents. The difference between general and “high value” wasn’t extremely clear, but I figured that I had better be high value after paying for a much more expensive ticket. Turns out that both lines funnel to the same place, so “high value” doesn’t actually mean squat (and, ironically, was the longer line). But the gender separation does matter, since you get roughly patted down by someone of the same gender.

After the pat down, all bags had to be placed on an X-ray machine to be screened. I grabbed my bag as it came out of the machine and was all set to go, but the guard stopped me to inform me that my bag was too big to be taken inside. It seems it doesn’t matter what you actually have in the bag (which they know because they just saw an X-ray scan) – bags above a certain size are just all unacceptable. I’m not sure what that threshold is, but it looked like anything that was big enough to hold a 1L water bottle (read: anything functional) was not allowed.

What happens when you have a bag that’s too big? You have to exit and walk about a quarter mile to the locker room to deposit your bag. You would think the locker room could be a liiiiittle bit closer to the gate, but apparently not. And on the way back in, you do get to cut the line a bit, but you have to go through security again. So be forewarned, leave the bags at home!

Locker room outside the Taj Mahal, Agra, India

By the time I entered, tourists were already everywhere. For a place like the Taj Mahal, I guess it’s the same no matter how early you go.

Entrance gate to the Taj Mahal, Agra, India

The early morning lighting was stunning, though!

The Taj Mahal at sunrise, Agra, India

The Taj Mahal at sunrise, Agra, India

The grounds are a big part of the beauty, and wonderfully designed. Even though the place was teeming with people, you could take shots that made it seem like there was hardly anyone there at all. Plus the beautiful reflection:

Reflection of the Taj Mahal at sunrise, Agra, India

In terms of what there is to actually see, though, the Taj Mahal fell a little below expectations. The inside was mainly a room with two tombs, enclosed within a gate made with the same marble as the rest of the building. To its credit, the stone inlays on the inside were much more detailed, with intricate little flower petals and leaves. But overall, the Taj Mahal is definitely more impressive and majestic from far away than up close.

No pictures were allowed inside, but here are some of the rougher stone inlays on the outside of the central tomb:

Stone inlays at the Taj Mahal, Agra, India

On either side of the tomb, there are also two identical, mirrored mosques. The one of the right side is mostly fenced off, but the one on the left is open for exploration. Unfortunately the mosques aren’t maintained quite as well, with wasp nests in the domes and bird poop all over the floors. But they’re still beautiful structures in their own right:

Mosque beside the Taj Mahal, Agra, India

Mosque beside the Taj Mahal, Agra, India

Mosque beside the Taj Mahal, Agra, India

It only took about 2 hours to see everything (though I skipped the museum), and I took my sweet time ambling around. About 75% of that time was spent taking pictures from every angle.

The Taj Mahal, Agra, India

The Taj Mahal was extraordinary, but at the same time I wonder if it stands above all of the other beautiful sights I’ve seen, as a world wonder. Regardless, I’m glad that I was able to see it and cross it off my list! Traversing the world, one wonder at a time.

Jaipur Old City Highlights

Hawa Mahal facade in Jaipur, India

Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan, is also known as the “Pink City.” This is because of its pink walls, which were painted in 1876 to welcome the Prince Albert during his tour through India. There are many beautiful buildings in the Old City (most of them pink), with these highlights:

Hawa mahal

One of the most famous of the old buildings is the Hawa Mahal, built in 1799 so that the royal ladies could have a good view of the city festivities without being seen. It’s basically one large wall with almost a thousand little windows.

Hawa Mahal facade in Jaipur, India

Some say that the inside isn’t worth seeing, but I thought it was a nice experience. There are 5 stories total, and the architecture is beautiful but also illogical. The inside is not symmetrical, so you may be able to climb up one side but not the other.

Stained glass on the inside of the Hawa Mahal in Jaipur, India

The inside of the Hawa Mahal in Jaipur, India

What is with this wall of windows? Who knows…

Walled window at the Hawa Mahal in Jaipur, India

And I’ve never before encountered a passageway that made ME feel large.

Squeezing through a hallway inside the Hawa Mahal in Jaipur, India

This is the most impractical building ever, but it also has a bit of whimsical charm, kind of like Hogwarts.

View from the top of the Hawa Mahal in Jaipur, India

Jantar Mantar (Observatory)

Janta Manta observatory in Jaipur, India

Jantar mantar was built around 1730, and consists of enormous instruments to track and measure celestial objects. There are numerous sundials, including this enormous one that is precise to the second:

Sundial at Janta Manta observatory in Jaipur, India

Other instruments also utilize shadows to measure the altitude of the sun and other stars. And I’m not entirely sure what this one is, but it’s beautiful, and it has a counterpart that is the exact opposite cut out, the half of the time when the shadow falls in the gaps.

Instrument at Janta Manta observatory in Jaipur, India

Last but not least, these instruments tell you the position of the constellations in the sky, if you look at the angle of the shadow and trace it up to the tip of the instrument. There’s one for each constellation, and each instrument faces a different direction with a different degree of incline.

Horoscope locator at Janta Manta observatory in Jaipur, India

All of the calculations it must have taken to get these instruments just right! An astronomy nerd’s dream. I have to admit, though, they also kind of look like water slides to my unsophisticated eye.

Albert Hall Museum

Albert Hall museum is the biggest museum in Rajasthan, so we figured we’d check it out. It was also built for Prince Albert’s 1876 visit, and named after him as well.

Albert Hall Museum in Jaipur, India

The building itself is gorgeous, and inside it’s a strange blend of different cultures. There are copied frescos of different types of art, from medieval scenes to Chinese paintings. And the first wing is a collection of what appear to be random artifacts from around the world. I suppose that’s all a museum is, in essence, but I think what made it weird is that there were so few pieces for each display that it seemed more like an eclectic person’s attic on display.

For instance, the entire collection of medieval art:

Medieval painting collection at Albert Hall in Jaipur, India

But at the same time the museum had a mummy in the same room, a few feet away. This is also a bit surprising, since I understand mummies to be quite rare and difficult for museums to acquire.

Mummy at Albert Hall in Jaipur, India

The bulk of the museum is dedicated to Indian artifacts, though, especially those of the Rajasthani region. Things I found most interesting:

Basically everything in this armory room:

Weapons display at Albert Hall in Jaipur, India

An intricate little foot tall panel, carved out of marble:

Carved marble plate at Albert Hall in Jaipur, India

This model of a badass lady heroine who singlehandedly killed 3 robbers:

Badass heroine model at Albert Hall in Jaipur, India


Shops line the streets all throughout the old city, and there are markets for virtually any kind of good imaginable.

Vegetable market in Jaipur, India

Fireworks: Did you know you can buy fireworks in India for <$5 and set them off yourself?

Buying fireworks at a market in Jaipur, India

Sari market:

Sari market in Jaipur, India

Traditionally, shops are padded with mattresses, so that customers can sit and get comfortable for potentially hours. The shopkeepers pull out piece after piece to show to the customer to give a tailored experience. Even though shops may not be as traditional as before, you still get the same sort of feeling:

Inside a clothing shop at the bazaar in Jaipur, India


Amer Fort and Jaigarh Fort

Palace gate at Amer Fort near Jaipur, India

Jaipur was founded in 1726, but before then the regional capital was the nearby Amer, since around 1000AD. Amer Fort was built around 1600, and it was used as the royal palace from until the18th century, at which point the royal family moved to the City Palace in Jaipur instead. Jaigarh fort is an army fort that was built in 1726 (just as they left Amer for Jaipur?), and it sits above Amber Fort to protect it.

Amer Fort near Jaipur, India

Because Amber Fort gets very crowded very quickly, I went with a few new traveling companions before 9am. You must climb some steps to reach the fort, so it was the perfect time to go, before the sun got too hot. Or you could opt to be carried instead on colorful elephants:

Elephants climbing Amer Fort near Jaipur, India

Elephants climbing Amer Fort near Jaipur, India

The steps lead up through the royal gate to an open courtyard where I’m guessing festivities used to occur.

This is also where you buy tickets, which as expected are not cheap for foreigners. But they are really generous to students, whose tickets are 1/5 the price. Damn Penn for putting an expiration date on our IDs, and stupid Jessica for not bringing mine anyway.

There are also guides milling about in this area, costing 300 rupees ($5) for a 1 hour tour. Initially I walked around the fort myself thinking that I didn’t need one. But it’s like a labrinyth inside without any specific route, so I was afraid that I might have missed something (I did). A friendly security guard inside did lead me around for a little bit, but then he turned around and asked for a tip, and cursed me when I wouldn’t give him one. So I went back outside to get a guide – there are audio guides for 200 rupees ($3.33), but for an extra $1.5 you can ask all the questions you want. Definitely worth it! Here is all of the information I learned from the guide:

Up above the courtyard there is an assembly hall, where commoners used to see the king and ask him to help them sort their problems.

Audience hall at Amer Fort near Jaipur, India

And to the side of it is a beautiful hall of archways, where the king’s ministers used to sit.

Minister seating at Amer Fort near Jaipur, India

This overlooks the beautiful garden outside Amer Fort:

Garden at Amer Fort near Jaipur, India

This is the elaborate entrance to the palace, painted with all natural vegetable colors:

Palace gate at Amer Fort near Jaipur, India

And immediately inside is the mirror palace, where the king used to sleep in the winter time. Tapestries would be hung in the archways and the room would be lit with oil lamps, which twinkled in the mirrors like the night sky.

The Mirror Palace at Amer Fort near Jaipur, India

The Mirror Palace at Amer Fort near Jaipur, India

Opposite the mirror palace is the summer palace, with some beautifully light Muslim art. I think one of the best parts of the tour was hearing the guide point at hooks on the ceiling outside the room and say, “a swing was here. The king would make love on the swing during the monsoon, with rain falling outside.” Such a vivid mental picture that I now can’t erase!

The summer room at Amer Fort near Jaipur, India

The summer room at Amer Fort near Jaipur, India

There was also a Turkish bath and massage area, and the guide explained that all the masseuses were transgender. Excuse me? Yep, heard that right, the masseuses and security guards were all transgender. We had a bit of communication breakdown when I tried to ask the guide more about it, but he did say that transgender people have more power. Supposedly because they did not have “female parts.” Thoroughly confused but also thoroughly amused.

A view of Jaigarh Fort up above:

View of Jaigarh Fort from Amer Fort near Jaipur, India

The Queen’s quarters. One of the kings had 12 queens and 315 concubines. Each queen had her own apartment with its own secret staircase that she could use to visit the king. The first queen, at least, was somewhat special, with her own jacuzzi in her quarters. But God, that sounds terrible, living in close proximity with your husband’s 11 other wives. Also, none of these rooms had any roofs – I don’t think they all fell away over time, I think they just never existed.

The Queens' quarters at Amer Fort near Jaipur, India

The women were also not allowed to leave the palace or be seen by outsiders, so they could watch the outside world and the assemblies but only from behind these walls:

Screened archways at Amer Fort near Jaipur, India

Screen at Amer Fort near Jaipur, India

Through the screen at Amer Fort near Jaipur, India

And finally, the water lifting system, which I completely missed while exploring on my own. The system pulled water up from the reservoir below using 7 different levels of water wheels and pulleys. Finally, at the final level, a gigantic crank connected to gears that moved a wheel of water pots. The water was carried into the palace one pot at a time, enough for 2500 royals and servants to use. And Hindus all bathe in the morning…that’s a lot of water.

Water lifting system at Amer Fort near Jaipur, India

They also had to feed all those people , which they did using these gigantic pots!

Cooking bowls at Amer Fort near Jaipur, India

There was also a beautiful temple with carved marble walls right outside the palace, but no pictures were allowed, unfortunately.

From there we hiked up to Jaigarh Fort, using a path that started underground but then intersected with a road. Visiting Jaigarh Fort first and then walking DOWN to Amber Fort would be a much smarter course of action and was what we intended to do, but the driver brought us to Amber Fort first and we didn’t know any better.

Tunnel from Amer Fort to Jaigarh Fort near Jaipur, India

Jaigarh Fort itself is pretty huge, but it’s main draw was its view:

The view from Jaigarh Fort near Jaipur, India

Jaigarh Fort near Jaipur, India

It also has the worlds largest wheeled cannon, which rumor has it took 4 elephants to rotate and was only fired once as a test.

A day of visiting forts – utterly delightful and fantastic!

Hostel Food Tour in Jaipur

Moustache Hostel food tour in Jaipur, India

I arrived at the Jaipur in the late afternoon, with plans to spend a restful evening in to finish some writing and catch up on sleep. But instead I ended up joining a street food tour set up by the hostel (the Moustache Jaipur), which promised 10-12 dishes with explanations (probably the best part) and the chance to make new friends (okay, actually the best part) for 500 rupees ($7.58). Sold!

Come 6:30, I met up with our gracious food guide from the hostel and the other food tour participants. Except for an Italian couple, the other 4 were all solo female travelers. How unexpected, especially in India, but also how totally awesome!

Disclaimer: for all the food names below, I simply scribbled what they sounded like and jotted down whatever ingredients I could catch, so they may or may not be misspelled or just factually inaccurate. Please correct as needed.

Dish #1: Something that sounds like Cholei Olshay? (total butchery, I’m sorry!)

Pancakes stuffed with different things (cauliflower, cheese, onions) and paired with a chickpea sauce.

Dish 1 on the Moustache Hostel food tour in Jaipur, India

Dish #2: Puri

Gigantic deep-fried, inflated puff. Our instructions: “poke it with your finger and let the steam come out.” Paired with the same chickpea sauce.

Puri on the Moustache Hostel food tour in Jaipur, India

Dish #3: Dahi Puri

Smaller puris filled with sweet yogurt and tamarind sauce.

Dish on the Moustache Hostel food tour in Jaipur, India

Dish #4: Alupeki (nothing resembling food shows up when I search this, so I’m not sure this is what it’s called)

Fried potatoes in a chickpea sauce.

I tried to take pictures of this one but the lighting wasn’t good enough. And frankly it wasn’t very appealing looking food (sorry, somebody had to say it), just picture a bowl of chunky brown mush. Delicious though!

Dish #5: Vegetarian Roll

A burrito-esque roll with noodles, capsicum, onions, spices, sherry sauce, vinegar, and probably some other ingredients I didn’t catch.

Vegetarian Rolls on the Moustache Hostel food tour in Jaipur, India

Dish #6: Momo

Dumplings with chicken or cabbage and onion stuffing.

Momo on the Moustache Hostel food tour in Jaipur, India

Dish #7: Vada Pav

For some reason I have no notes on this one, maybe because I was in too much of a rush to eat it. But it can be summed up as a vegetarian Punjabi burger.

Vada Pav on the Moustache Hostel food tour in Jaipur, India

Dish #8: Paneer Tikka

Cottage cheese marinated in yogurt and some spices, dip in a mint and capsicum yogurt sauce.

Punjabi food stall on the Moustache Hostel food tour in Jaipur, India

Dish #9: Kulfi

Ice cream on a stick made from cream and milk, with cardamom and saffron. Tasted a little like chai ice cream, looked a little phallic.

Kulfi on the Moustache Hostel food tour in Jaipur, India

Wait a minute, that was only 9 dishes…but we were all so stuffed that I don’t think any of us minded.

I can see why our gracious guide tried not to partake in the food, though. It’s a lot to eat all at once, especially since he gives this tour regularly. A lot of it was also very heavy and greasy, which made me break out and interfered with normal intestinal functions the day afterward. But it was delicious and also great fun, so it was an evening very well spent!

Cheers to new friends 🙂

Moustache Hostel food tour in Jaipur, India

Kulfi on the Moustache Hostel food tour in Jaipur, India