Upon arriving in Delhi, I was picked up from the airport by Janice, Leesa and Tracy. How exciting it was to see Janice again after a year apart. I had spent much of the past week avoiding anyone coughing or sniffling as I didn’t want to get sick just before my holiday. Imagine my horror when I discovered all 3 girls were coughing and sniffing away.

According to the India Lonely planet guide, 25% of travellers develop respiratory problems when travelling around India and my travelling companions for the next 10 days had already lucked out in that area.

From Delhi, we flew to Goa for some sun and surf. I had a Aloo Dosa at the airport and really relished my first Indian meal in India.

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Upon reaching Goa, we were picked up by Sunny (Sandeep) who was to become our driver for the next few days. We stayed at Casa Sea Shell hotel in Fort Aguda.

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The other girls have been in Siliguri for the past 2 weeks, as part of their ‘Hands on India’ initiative to provide free Chiropractic healthcare to the local people. Tracy was pretty tired of Indian food by then so Tracy ordered ‘spaghetti bolognaise’. I had garlic and cheese naan and shared Aloo Sag and Chicken Tikka with Janice.

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We had a late start the next day, heading out to breakfast at 11am before exploring the shops along the street that we were on. We shopped till lunch time, buying a few pairs of short and tops here and there.

 

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At lunch, Tracy began to experience cramps and nausea. Considering the only item she ate the night before was the bolognaise, I’m guessing there was something dodgy about it. Tracy went back to the room to rest while we finished lunch. I had Aloo Gobi with Paratha and Janice ordered Goan sausage Chili Fry. We shopped a little bit more after lunch before heading back to the hotel to lounge by the pool.

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By dinner time, Tracy was feeling better so we headed to a nearby karaoke restaurant where we had curry and cocktails.

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Later that night, it was Janice’s turn to suffer from stomach cramps and bowel problems. We suspected the sausage chili fry.

The next day we headed to Anjuna Flea Market where Janice, Leesa and Tracy bought handmade quilts and a few dresses.

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After a few hours, the merchandise all started to look the same so we headed to a makeshift cafe for refreshments. The weather was really warm and the large crowds made walking around the market quite uncomfortable.

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We hadn’t had lunch yet as we had told Sunny to pick us up at 3.3opm. By 4pm, he still hadn’t arrived so we caught another taxi back to the hotel. The taxi driver was a terrible driver. He was far too fond of the brake and drove really fast. I fell asleep but could understand why everyone was feeling car sick.

Once we got back to the hotel, Janice, Tracy and I headed out to lunch while Leesa rested in the hotel room. She was still feeling nauseous from the car ride. After lunch, we lounged around the pool. Not long after that, Leesa puked up the fries and coke she ate by the pool.

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Leesa was still nauseous the next day so with one woman down, we headed to a tropical spice plantation where we went on a spice plant tour and went on an elephant ride.

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After the spice plantation, we headed to Old Goa to see the famous ‘Bom Jesus’ church which houses the body of St Frances Xavier.

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The next day was Christmas day. Merry Christmas! We headed to Monkey Beach for a snorkeling and dolphin watching excursion. It got off to a shaky start as the motor of the boat that we were on kept dying and it took us ages to get there. I only saw 2 dolphins and they were pretty far away.

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The visibility of the water wasn’t great and we kept getting bitten by things called ‘collars’. We spent alot of time in the water, coming out to have a BBQ on the beach.

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Overall, it was a really relaxing day and a novel way to spend Christmas.

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That evening we headed out for our Christmas dinner together before stopping by our favourite scarf shop to say goodbye to our new found friends.

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On our last day in Goa, we headed to the Dudh Sagar waterfalls which are the second highest in India.

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Dudhsagar stands for ‘Ocean of Milk’ and they are situated in Bhagwan Mahavir national park which is popular among trekkers.

 

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The national park is also popular with monkeys, much to my sister’s dismay.

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Goa is a typical tourist hotspot much like Penang or Phuket. It’s pretty much the ‘Bali’ for Europeans. Its famous for its weather and beaches. Janice and I haven’t had a relaxing holiday like this in years. The girls and I didn’t always feel like we were in India since it was so touristy.

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We think the beaches in Australia are far better but it was pretty novel to see cows sunbathing and walking along the beach.

One of my favourite parts of the holiday was sitting in the taxi whenever we ventured out of the beach area and seeing how the locals lived. It is not a place I would return to now that I’ve been there. There are many other parts of the world to explore.

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We left Goa on boxing day and headed to Delhi. We caught a taxi to our hotel in Paharganj, which is a backpackers area.

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It reminded me of Khao San road in Bangkok or Thamel in Kathmandu but dirtier. It isn’t the area for everyone and it’s particularly dodgy at midnight. Our hotel wasn’t too bad. It was noisy in the morning but it was clean and had hot water.

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The next day we had breakfast at a restaurant opposite our hotel. The food was excellent but Janice will suffering from bowel problems and had to stick to mashed potato and plain naan.

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After lunch, we tried to catch a taxi to Akshardham Temple but instead were taken to a local tourist bureau where we ended up hiring a private car to take the girls on the ‘Golden Triangle’ tour. Our driver was a very nice and accommodating man called Sanjay.

In spite of the horrendous traffic, at my request he took us to the Akshardham temple. I was pretty keen on seeing it as a colleague had recommended it, describing it as Delhi’s rival to the Taj Mahal.

This is what it was supposed to look like.

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Instead, it looked like this.

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It was Sunday so the queue to get in was horrendous. Visibility levels were poor because of the pollution and sand around it.

Sanjay also stopped by the India gate for a photo opportunity.

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We headed to Agra at around 5.30pm, stopping by McDonalds for dinner. I had an Indian potato cake burger which was really novel. We arrived in Agra at approximately 11pm, checking into Hotel Sidhartha which was 2 minutes walk away from the Western Gate of the Taj Mahal.

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Janice and I had the worst sleep that night. The area we were staying in was pretty noisy as it was but there was a Muslim festival in the city so the mosque and music were blaring all night. Not to mention there was no hot water in the hotel! Needless to stay, we didn’t feel we were looking our prettiest the next day.

All complaints were forgotten the next morning when we finally feasted our eyes on the beautiful Taj Mahal.

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The entrance itself was quite grand.

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We hired a professional guide to take us around the Taj Mahal and give us the history on it. He also gave us tips on the best places to take photos.

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Most of the time he took the photos for us.

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The Taj Mahal is not in the least bit overrated. It is the most beautiful piece of architecture I have seen on my travels thus far.

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The Taj Mahal was built by the Mughal Emporer Shah Jahan for his third and favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal to whom he made a promise that he would not marry again. She died giving birth to her fourteenth child.

It took 22 years for 20,000 men to build the Taj Mahal. It is made of incredibly strong marble and the intricate designs in the marble were carved on, not painted. We went to a shop afterwards owned by descendants of the men who did the carvings and the art is still carried on today.

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The white marble is painted red so that they can see what they are carving and semi precious stones around ground into shapes to put into the carving. While I liked the blue and green semi precious stones, it was the orange coral that glows when you shine light on it.

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We didn’t tire of looking at the Taj Mahal or taking photos of it.

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After the Taj Mahal, our guide to us to a restaurant for breakfast. Aside from Janice, we all had ‘Thali’.

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After breakfast, we went around the Agra fort which is a pretty impressive. We probably would have been more impressed if we hadn’t just seen the Taj Mahal.

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The time for me to say goodbye to the girls was fast approaching.

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After lunch, Sanjay drove me to the train station where I was to catch the train back to Delhi. I said goodbye to the girls and headed off to catch my train.

When I was younger I used to wonder why my mum’s sisters used to cry every time we left Singapore, especially when we went back for family holidays every year. Having said goodbye to Janice for the third time in 18 months, I wouldn’t say it gets easier but I manage it better, especially when I know I’ll be seeing her again in 9 months!

The train station was pretty hectic but I booked myself a first class ticket so I only had to share the cabin with one other. It happened to be a Japanese guy who just couldn’t get it through his head that I wasn’t Japanese, despite me repeating that I couldn’t understand him (In English).

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All through our travels in India, we were generally greeted in Japanese or asked if we were Nepali. I began to wonder if it was easier just to pretend we were.

Upon arriving in Delhi, I checked into a 3 star hotel for a night of luxury (for a backpacker) before heading out early the next morning for a Tuk Tuk ride around Connaught Place and other parts of Delhi.

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Delhi can be a culture shock to those who haven’t done much travel around Asia. It really reminded me of Malaysia or Bangkok but 10 or 20 years ago. It is a hectic and busy city, with dangerous drivers, terrible traffic and sadly, alot of poverty. It made me realise yet again, how truly fortunate I’ve been.

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