5 Places To Visit In India: Mumbai, Varanasi, Rishikesh, Goa and an Ashram

The primary reasons I wanted to visit India was to experience culture shock, to see what a non-Western, one-billion large population lives like, see the on-the-ground images of what an emerging middle-class and developing economy looks like that the financial media talk about. I flew into Delhi with my brother in February of 2012, toured the country at a leisurely pace and flew out in April, two months later. The first few days were quite an adjustment, but after about a week of experiencing a ‘new normal,’ things begin to smoothen out, to a certain extent.  India is overall a safe country and not as challenging a destination as some may think – as we met hundreds of travelers, young, old, solo, couples, from all over the world, who most- using just some basic precautions, I don’t remember anyone claiming a serious incident. One of the most efficient things in this country is the train-system, which can pretty much get you anywhere in India, for quite a cheap fare, safely and for the most-part on schedule.  You can pick and choose which destinations you want to get your taste of India depending on what you prioritize, but below I have highlighted five destinations that I enjoyed and which gave me different glimpses and angles of this complex country: dynamic mega cities, religious towns, hippy-travel meccas, to beaches and mountains. Send me an e-mail and let me know if you have been to India what other spot left an impression on you or if you have not been tell me what you would like to hear more about and hopefully I...

India: What Vaccines do I need, Diarrhea Pills, Losing Weight and Delhi Belly

When I walked into a travel clinic into New Jersey, I quickly felt like I was being up-sold when a nurse listed of a number of vaccines I should get for about $700USD.  It didn’t feel right, so I went home did my research and returned a couple days later and ended up getting Vaccines:  (1) tetanus shot (2) hepatitis B vaccine and (3) polio.  The nurse also gave me a prescription of preventative malaria pills.  She also gave us diarrhea pills, which is the only thing that actually was useful.  Then she asked, “You guys are sure you don’t want to get the Japanese enchipalitis vaccine?” It was $300USD and I didn’t think we needed and asked, “Why, you think it’s necessary for India?”  And she said, “Well, I want you guys to have fun on your trip, not get permanent brain damage, next thing you know one of you is foaming at the mouth and you got to run around in a rickshaw getting to an Indian hospital, good luck with that!” It was the tone of her rebuttal that questioned me even more and I had read in travel forum the night before that it’s quite rare to catch, unless you plan on swimming in a swamp with pigs and then a mosquito from one of those pigs directly bite you also, so I skipped it. Even polio vaccine may have been unnecessary as it is practically eradicated in India, with no new reported polio cases since 2010 in a country of a billion people.  Also, for hepatitis B there is a second-follow up vaccine you...

Why stay in a hotel next to a Lonely Planet selection, but not actual LP pick

There is a phenomenon I’d like to call the “Lonely Planet effect.” When a hostel or hotel is listed in Lonely Planet it inevitably becomes a “hot spot” because thousands of travelers are thinking what you’re thinking, they call ahead, book a spot, the hotel reaches full occupancy and the owners can take advantage of the situation and raise prices more than the rest of the hotels in the immediate neighborhood. What I figured out after a few weeks in India was that you can use Lonely Planet as a ‘compass’  to do your research and reconnaissance and based on where they have listed two, three or four hotels you can take a safe assumption that that is a “hostel or hotel district.” So, when you arrive to town, take a rickshaw from the train station to this “hotel-hostel district.” Most likely you will see the couple hotels mentioned in Lonely Planet, but take a left, make a right or go up and down the streets of the neighborhoods and you see many other perhaps, better-staffed, renovated and affordable hotels that simply didn’t have the luck of being written up by a Lonely Planet author. If you pop-in to two or three places you can figure out the going-price for the area, negotiate a bit, or go with the staff you think are the friendliest and most accommodating. Sure, the Lonely Planet picks may still be good choices, if you want to try that, but with my experience there is a good chance, they may be less attentive on the customer service, because they know other travelers will be...

India Train Travel: How To Buy Tickets, Which Class, Travel Agencies

Trains and how to buy your tickets: trains are the best way to move from city to city in India and the infrastructure and connections are quite good.  There are online sites to buy tickets, but many times they are sold out, don’t take foreign credit cards or difficult to navigate.  Tip: almost anywhere you look you will see a travel agent selling tickets, they ask for a small commission ($1-2USD per ticket depending on price) but well worth the service.  You can go to two or three agents and shop around and use common sense and your instinct to not fall into someone that overcharges, but that shouldn’t be the case.  My best bet was always finding an office with some tech-savvy 20-somethings behind the desk, those dudes are ready to get your ticket with a couple quick-clicks and you might strike up a conversation and ask them for a few travel tips on your next destination. Which class should you book on your train trip? There are several classes on an Indian train but most likely you’ll encounter, the regular coach class or first class, which goes by codes 2AC or 3AC or even 1AC to signify the amount of beds/seats per cabin.  My tip if you have an overnight train-ride or a ride more than 6 hours go for the first class 2AC or 3AC.  It’s not really that much more expensive compared to European standards, say if a coach seat for a 10-hr overnight ride is $5USD and first class is $11USD and you can sleep in a cleaner, quieter, cozier cabin with better access...