Trying to fit my two-week trip across northern India and Nepal into a single blog post would be like trying to cram every one of Delhi’s sixteen million people into a Japanese elevator. It’s just not going to happen. My winter vacation was everything I could have hoped for – spoiler alert, the Taj Mahal is every bit as breathtaking as it looks – and so much more. I’ll likely be writing about my trip for at least the next month, so I hope you like reading about curry, sacred cows, and tuk-tuk rides.
Despite being a staunch supporter of solo travel, I decided that my first venture across the Subcontinent would be with a travel company that specialized in small groups. After some pretty exhaustive research, I settled on G Adventures’ “Delhi to Kathmandu” trip. In retrospect, it was the smartest thing I could have done. If I’d wanted to stick to the Golden Triangle (Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur) in India, I probably would have been fine on my own, but seeing as I wanted to experience as much of this chaotic region as I could in a short amount of time, a guided trip was definitely the way to go for me. As someone who’s used to planning every bit of her travels solo, the ease of this trip was something I’m definitely grateful for.
Delhi is madness in city form. Like I mentioned before, sixteen million people occupy this monstrous metropolis, and the general chaos that greeted me when I landed at the airport was a glaring sign that I wasn’t in Japan anymore. I had a day and a half to myself before my tour began, and if I’m honest, during my first afternoon in Delhi alone, the thought that entered my head was, “What on earth have I gotten myself into?” Between the blaring horns, constant barking of dogs, and just general congestion, it was truly unlike any other place I’d been. Tokyo didn’t compare. Neither did London, Paris, Hong Kong, or New York City. I have never felt more like a country mouse in the big city.
Fortunately, I’d scheduled a food walk with a local guide on my first evening, so there was no chance of me curling up in my hotel without venturing out into the city. After some Googling, I figured out the best metro route to my destination and headed out to the nearest station. And promptly nearly had a heart attack trying to cross the street. Lesson number one to be learned in India: traffic rules are more like guidelines. This is what Frogger must have felt like.
Though I’d done some research before I came, what I hadn’t read was that to ride the metro in Delhi, you have to go through a metal detector and get patted down. I’ve never encountered this before, despite living in two countries in which train/metro travel is incredibly prominent (Germany and Japan), so it was a bit of a surprise, though not an unwelcome one. Thankfully, the metro in Delhi is a relative breeze to use, so I made it to my destination with nary a misstep.
And then began the eating. One of the things that I learned on this trip was that Indian cuisine, unlike any other food I’ve had before, is masterful at blending spices and textures together for the best possible interplay. An entirely new spectrum of the word “spicy” has opened up for me.
So many people are paranoid when it comes to eating street food when traveling, especially in India, but I don’t have any qualms about it. The way I see it, you can see the ingredients and how they’re prepared, which is a far cry from whatever happens behind the kitchen doors of a restaurant. I’m eager to try basically any morsel that passes my lips, and my guide welcomed that enthusiasm by throwing as much food as he could at me. “Do you ever stop?” he wondered near the end of our walk. Not if I can help it. As it turns out, skipping lunch was the best thing I could’ve done in preparation.
This was the best possible way for me to start my time in India. In any country, food is my favorite way to experience a culture firsthand, and it’s often one of the parts that makes the greatest, most lasting impact on me. It was a relief to have someone with me who had grown up in the neighborhood we were in and it was obvious that Vibhor, my guide, had as much enthusiasm for good food as I did. Here’s the full run of the food I ate on my first night in Delhi. Everything was bought from hole-in-the-wall joints that I never would have found on my own, and I don’t think I ever saw another Westerner/foreigner during the entire time. Like a good army, I march on my stomach, and I think I could’ve walked to Jaipur after this meal.