When I booked my 8-day Golden Triangle tour with Intrepid Travel, I didn’t know what to expect.
I knew the trip would be more than its typical Delhi > Jaipur > Agra itinerary. After all, the company’s all about adventure travel and getting off the beaten path.
But I didn’t know how much more there’d be to India than its classic destinations. I didn’t know our local leader, Harsha, would bring the country and its people to light with her passion. I didn’t know I’d want to feast forever on the food, that I’d so fully immerse myself in a whole different culture, that I’d have experiences that’d make for a lifetime of memories.
I also observed a bunch of things that if you’ve been to India, I bet you’ll have experienced too. Here they are.
(Do you agree? Let me know in the comments!)
10. The deliciousness that is Masala Chai, whatever the time of day
It doesn’t matter what the question is, the answer is chai. The delicious drink – black tea brewed with aromatic spices and herbs – quickly became integral to the happiness levels of my Intrepid group.
Wherever we were – Jaipur’s Amber Fort, Old Delhi’s streets, or Agra’s carpet shops – it brought us together time and time again. If you’ve been to India, I’m sure you too left more than a little addicted to this always-tempting treat.
9. The usefulness of locals to navigate the chaos and reveal hidden gems
Much of India’s charm is in its chaos, but that doesn’t mean it’s the easiest country to navigate. If you found the same, you probably also found that that the benefit of local expertise here is second to none.
Everyone on my trip would have been at a loss without our incredible local leader, Harsha. Not only did she get us safely from place to place, all the while giving us much-appreciated insights into Indian culture, she also acted as a bridge between local and tourist. In just one morning in Delhi, for instance, she got us chatting to the friendliest vegetable seller, explained the rituals of Sikh gurdwaras, and led us to the tastiest paratha breakfast of the entire trip.
Would I have successfully accomplished the above myself? Let’s be honest, probably not. There’s nothing better than having local expertise when adventuring in India.
8. The ever-present background music that’s otherwise known as car horns
Chances are if you’ve been to India, you know what I’m talking about. And that if you brought noise-cancelling headphones with you, you will have patted yourself on the back more than a handful of times.
When in India, it’s almost rude not to honk your horn. After all, why wouldn’t you want to announce your presence and that you’re feeling ANY emotion under the sun to any and all vehicles on the road?!
7. The tranquility of India’s rural areas
Even with limited vacation time, it’d be remiss to visit India’s cities and think you’ve seen the country. Wise travellers know just how magical India’s rural regions can be.
Even on my 8-day trip in the Golden Triangle, Intrepid fitted in a night in Karauli, a part of Rajasthan few tourists visit. The pace was slower here, and the village walk and heritage stay we were greeted with were amazing for exposing our group to an Indian lifestyle far removed from that of Delhi’s.
6. The jaw-dropping experience that is seeing the Taj Mahal for the first time
Like many visitors to India, I was incredibly excited to visit the iconic Taj Mahal. But a small part of me thought it would be so over-crowded or over-hyped that it wouldn’t meet my expectations.
It was every bit as breathtaking as Instagram made it out to be. I could have sat for hours gazing at its beauty – and I did! If you’ve seen it for yourself, you’ll likely agree that no love story, mausoleum or building even comes close.
5. The skill you’ll find within you to eat – and enjoy – curry for multiple meals a day
If you find, like me, that chai becomes your go-to drink, you’ll doubtless find that curry becomes your go-to food. But there’s so much variation in the country – depending on the region, and even if you’re vegan (!) – that it’s unlikely you’ll find it blurs into one samey dish.
And if it does? Well, it’s so damn delicious we don’t think you’ll be complaining.
4. The Old Delhi belief that the more electricity cables, the better
Enough said. Old Delhi – jam-packed with Mughal architecture, street food, and one of the largest mosques in India (the Jama Masjid) – has oh so much charm.
It also… would make your electrician back home cry. The tangled webs of wire spaghetti are as far as the eye can see here.
3. The innate warmth of locals – and their ability, at times, to make you feel like a celeb
Ah, India. If you’ve been, you’ll know it’s not a place where you can melt into the background easily. But embrace it and you’ll discover just how hospitable – and curious – locals can be.
Like the legendary Intrepid guide she is, our leader Harsha facilitated tons of local interactions on our Golden Triangle trip. From drinking chai in a local village home near Karauli to taking us to a local spice market in Delhi, she ensured we came face-to-face with Indian warmth firsthand.
And you? Well, wherever you are, you’re sure to be made to feel special by locals (and, um, perhaps be asked to buy a bangle or two). And if you’re at the Taj Mahal and you HAVEN’T been approached to take at least a selfie or two with a local. Well, you’re doing something wrong.
2. The photogenic nature of Jaipur’s streets – and dazzling Amber Fort
Google “Hawa Mahal” and you have just one example (a distinctive palace example because why not!) of how spectacular Jaipur is. A traveller favourite for good reason, this Rajasthani city is as pretty as it is pink. Discover it for yourself and you won’t fail to be charmed.
Something my group and I also discovered here? That the Amber Fort is beautifully otherworldly. Seriously.
NOTE: Appreciate its splendour and beauty but don’t be one of the elephant-riding travellers there. Wild animals belong in the wild. (Intrepid was the first global tour operator to ban elephant rides on its trips in 2014. Here’s more info on why.)
1. The feeling that no matter how long you travel in India for, you’ve barely scratched the surface
Whether you stay for a week or a month, one thing’s for sure: it won’t feel like enough. I picked an 8-day trip there because I work in North America and don’t have a ton of vacation time. But, like every other traveller in my group (and life!), I left feeling I’d barely scratched the surface.
What do I have my eye on next? Too many options… I wouldn’t say no to a food trip, to going north to yoga capital Rishikesh, to heading south, or to experiencing lesser-known Ladakh. And whether or not you have your eye on similar spots, you likely can’t leave India without feeling a need to return.
It has the craziest contrasts, every landscape under the sun, a million different destinations, a kaleidoscope of different cultures, and, truly, something for everyone.
Travel there and you’ll find out just why a return trip is in order.
It’s time to experience incredible India for yourself. Check out Intrepid’s range of small group adventures there.
(All images courtesy of Intrepid Travel.)