This was originally published on Erin Ireland’s website, itstodiefor.ca; it has been edited and republished with her permission.
Since reading Shantaram, a 1000-page book set in India, I felt desperate to visit. The charming, quirky personalities, the vast uniqueness of the culture and the beauty of the land described in the novel left me daydreaming about what it would be like to experience it for myself.
But, I was hesitant. Despite hearing so many wonderful things about India, I’d also received warnings that it might not be the best place to explore alone. I’m going to be honest: I was always that traveler who preferred to be solo. I never felt guided tours were for me.
Intrepid Travel’s 8-day India Vegan Food Adventure completely changed my impression of guided tours. I expected travel companies to take their guests to the touristy restaurants, the safe bets. Without this tour and our absolutely incredible Indian guide, Chetan, I never would’ve been the guest in FOUR Indian homes, eating incredible home-cooked meals. I wouldn’t have felt comfortable eating at the street food stalls we visited (foreigners are often advised to avoid them for fear of travellers diarrhea or food poisoning), nor would I have been able to arrange/communicate the swapping out of certain ingredients to make dishes vegan, like chai (our guide carried around vegetable oil and soy milk for those restaurants that didn’t have vegan options). I felt 100% safe.
I truly commend Intrepid for being ahead of the curve and offering these Vegan Food Adventures. The world is asking and they are delivering! And good news, Intrepid Travel has just launched vegan tours in Italy and Thailand, too.
It’s now been about several weeks since I got home from our eight-day trip to India’s ‘Golden Triangle’ (Delhi, Jaipur and Agra) and I can honestly say it was more fascinating than I could’ve possibly imagined.
Here are are my favourite trip experiences, top meals and travel tips for India:
Top 5 bites
These are really hard to narrow down. Every single night during dinner, I’d tell my travel partners that this was the best meal of the trip. Here goes…
- A home-cooked meal at Komal’s house in Rohini, Delhi (Komal is a tour guide and friend of the Intrepid family; read more about her here). We ate jeera rice, deep fried okra in spiced tomato sauce, homemade chapati, aloo gobi, and a bean dish. The second best part was watching the dinner be cooked by Komal’s mom!
- Masala dosa, vada (a savoury fried snack), sambhal lentils and coconut chutney from Hotel Highway Xpress in Behror (a tiny town between Delhi and Jaipur).
- Masala dosas and thali sets at Om Sarvana Bhawan, a popular restaurant in Delhi’s Karol Bagh neighbourhood.
- A home-cooked meal at Kaliani’s house in Agra (Kaliani is an Agra local and regular dinner host of Intrepid guests): thali sets including baby zucchini, green beans, daal, potatoes in gravy (a taste of medieval Mughlai cuisine), eggplant, beets, chapati, rice.
- Soy chai from Mr. Shyam (a chai wallah with 35 years of experience in Delhi): made with fresh-crushed green cardamom and ginger root, this was the most fragrant, delicious chai I’ve ever tasted! We couldn’t get enough!
Top 5 experiences
Again, really hard to narrow down as so many of these experiences were so unique and couldn’t possibly be replicated!
- Rolling chapati dough at the Gurdwara Sikh Temple in Delhi – this beautiful temple and its volunteers provide meals at no cost to 19,000 people daily. People from every faith and background can participate in the dough rolling and receive free food. I’ve never seen pots so large! What an incredible experience.
- Taj Mahal at sunrise – we woke up at 3:45am to get to this world wonder when it opened. We were the first ones in and it was magical (it was also the best time for pictures, obviously!). The red, hazy sunrise was out of a book and the two dozen monkeys who scurried over the Taj Mahal wall in our direction was a fun surprise!
- Being a guest in four different Indian homes, eating home-cooked food. Nothing is as authentic as the cooking of moms and grandmas, and that’s what we got. I’m still dreaming of the intense flavours. Even though we were provided recipes, they won’t taste the same at home in Canada!
- Watching a Bollywood Movie in theatre; the movie experience is totally different in India! The theatre was beautiful. I felt like we were at a play. Thanks to translations from our guide, we understood the plot and got totally into the movie.
- Staying at the Kanota Castle, a heritage hotel dating back to the 1800s, which remains the home of royal descendants to this day. Also living on the property are several horses, two emus (and their babies!), multiple peacocks, chickens, eight dogs and a wild monkey or two. The luxurious rooms with original hand-painted ceilings were spacious, clean and regal.
Top 5 travel tips for India
- Bring a roll of toilet paper (you can buy special travel TP if you’re packing light). Not all the public washrooms offer it.
- Pack hand sanitizer for those times you want to eat but aren’t able to wash your hands (or the times you pet the stray cows hanging out on the side of the road…they are everywhere!).
- Order rupees from your bank at least a week before you depart (my bank didn’t have rupees in-house, so they had to order them in). You could also try a money exchange centre if you’re doing this last minute.
- Pack conservative clothing, especially if you’re a woman. It’s legal to reveal shoulders and knees in India, but it’s not respectful of their culture. Cover knees and shoulders at all times.
- Apply for your India Visa online here well in advance (mine was approved in just two days, but you never know). On their site, click “e-visa application” (orange button at top-left corner of page). You’ll need a recent coloured photograph of yourself (minimum dimensions are 350 pixels wide x 350 pixels height, size less than 1MB in JPEG format). Ask for a paper version (to bring with you) and a digital file sent to your email.
Ready to eat your way through India, Thailand or Italy on a vegan food trip? Check out Intrepid’s NEW range.