Did you ever think about buying a motorbike in India? And riding it across to South East Asia? But you are struggling to find the information that you need, to embark on such an epic adventure? I will tell you exactly what you need to know (and do).Read More
There are so many things to do, to see and to eat in Delhi - that it might be hard to figure out where to even begin.
Here is a list of must see things in Delhi - from the main attractions to the lesser visited places. To make it easier, I’ve turned it into a 4-day itinerary for you - to get the most out of your visit to Delhi.Read More
Who doesn’t like Indian food? The Indian cuisine stands out from the rest of the world in cooking methods and -obviously- taste. I already start drooping only thinking about Indian food.
And what better place to start exploring the delicious foods of India than Delhi - the place where you’re most likely to enter India.
I’ve explored all different kinds of food in Delhi over the past few weeks and listed the best 15 for you. They are to die for.Read More
To get to know a country and its people, you have to know what they believe in. How they worship.
India is the birthplace of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. Religion has been a major part of the country’s culture. And it still is.
In Delhi, no less than 8 different religions have their place of worship. This list contains the best, most famous and/or most impressive place of worship for each of those religions in Delhi.
Welcome to a religious tour of Delhi!Read More
Delhi is HUGE. Sprawling over 1,484 square kilometres, this is a city of massive proportions. Filled with impressive buildings from the Mughal area, there is so much to see in Delhi.
You could literally spend weeks exploring all corners of Delhi.
Unfortunately, most people only visit the usual suspects such as the Red Fort, Jama Masjid, Qutub Minar, India gate and a couple of other favourites.
If you’re looking for a more unique, slightly insane and quite random experience in Delhi - try out these 6 things you can do in Delhi too!
Have a fire paan
Chewing paan is a long-standing tradition in India. A paan can literally be bought on almost every street corner all over the country. It is made from a betel leaf, wrapped in a triangular shape. It is filled with a mixture of dried fruits, spices, sugar and mukhwas (the Indian version of an after-meal-peppermint).
Ayurvedic science claims that paan is very effective in curing colds, coughs and headaches. I claim that it looks revolting.
After chewing the paan, the reddish remainder is spat out on the street. The paan-spitting problem is in fact that bad - that you’ll find signs in the metro stations about it. Stating that spitting is prohibited and punishable with a 200 rupee fine.
I’ve had many occasions in which I had to dodge a stream of betel juice coming from someone’s mouth towards my feet at full blast. Many rickshaw drivers have bright red grins and horribly stained teeth. The streets are filled with big splotches of the red stuff. Gross.
OK, so far for my disliking of paan.
In 2017, two men going by the name of Mr. Prem and Chunni Lal decided to step up their game of Paan selling. After 45 days of experimenting they came up with the perfect new recipe.
I seriously wonder what the fails were in those 45 days though.
They invented fire paan - which then quickly gained popularity in the larger cities.
Special cloves are added on top of the normal ingredients and set on fire. The paan is shoved into the ‘victims’ mouth - thereby extinguishing the fire instantly. Apparently the cloves give a cooling sensation.
I wouldn’t know because I didn’t try it. I chickened out, I’m sorry!
BUT! I did try the ice paan. Another brilliant variation of this disgusting substance.
The moment the vendor shoved the paan in my mouth - I knew I messed up. The ice was so cold on my teeth that my eyes started tearing immediately. In a desperate attempt not to swallow any of that stuff - I stood on the side of the street, spitting an almost constant stream of that goo on the pavement. Charming.
Ugh. Why the hell did I do it.
Oh right, that’s it: indulging in culture and all that. Ticking the bucket list. Done. Now you go and do the fire paan!
How to get here?
You can buy a paan almost everywhere, but the particular paan shop I had the honour of sampling is on Connaught Place. Odeon Shukla Paan is located next to the Middle Circle in between C-Block and D-Block. Best reachable by getting off the metro at Rajiv Chowk.
2. Float around in a gondola inside a mall
Yes, that’s right. No need to go all the way to Venice. Delhi’s got it all baby!
The Grand Venice Mall in Greater Noida, takes shopping to an entire different level. The gigantic mall is built completely in Venice style.
I didn’t quite get why they added a replica of the leaning Tower of Pisa though. Now do you want Venice or Pisa - make up your mind people!
But apart from the random Tower of Pisa replica, they’d actually tried to reproduce Venice. The mall has two separate ‘canals’ in which you can make a ride in a gondola.
I can promise you - this activity is absolutely absurd.
The gondola was in fact powered by an electrical propeller, so the long oal the ‘gondolier’ was holding was just for mere decoration. Literally everything about this experience was fake. As soon as we took off, the ‘gondolier’ burst out into a full-blown serenade - supposedly some kind of Hindi love song.
Zipping through a canal inside a mall in Delhi, India - with fake Venetian buildings, and an Indian guy dressed up as an Italian gondolier singing a Hindi love song to you, was all a bit too much. I literally could NOT stop laughing, it was hysterical!
All-in-all a pretty expensive 8-minutes experience, but so worth it!
Good to know
Photography is not allowed inside the mall. Banning phones was probably a bridge to far, so everybody is clicking away on their phones. It explains the low quality pictures accompanying this post - my phone has a terrible camera unfortunately.
A gondola ride will set you back 300 rupees (per person), so you better enjoy that mesmerising chanting to the fullest.
The place is apparently pretty crowded during the weekends with families hanging out here. I went around noon on a weekday and there was not a single soul!
How to get here?
The Grand Venice Mall is all the way in Greater Noida. From Central Delhi, take the blue metro line to Botanical Garden Metro Station. This will take approximately 40 minutes and will cost you 36 rupees. This is the metro station closest to the mall, but still more than 20 kilometers away from it! Best option is to take an Uber from there to the mall. There will be an army of Uber cars waiting at the metro station, and they it will cost some 350 rupees for the 30-minute ride.
3. Go and sample Delhi’s best toilets
Wait, what? Yes! This place actually exists. It’s called the Sulabh International Museum of Toilets.
At the moment, India is on the greatest toilet-building spree in human history. The current prime minister, Mr. Modi cleared $US 20 billion to built no less than 111 million toilets within 5 years.
Kudos for that Modi!
So what better to do in times of toilet-popularity than visit this museum! This quirky little museum has a pretty impressive collection of photographs, objects and, of course, toilets on display.
The museum shows the development of the toilet system over the past five thousand years. There are even toilets on display that will show you how emperors and queens did their thing.
Obviously, after the visit, I just HAD to try the ‘regular’ toilets that were just outside of the museum. I was expecting something incredible. A golden seat perhaps. Some nice decorations. It wasn’t though. Best to stick to just looking at the toilets in this place.
How to get there?
Take the Magenta line to Dashrathpuri. Pay no more than 20 rupees for the quick rickshaw ride to the museum. It’s open 7 days per week, on weekdays from 8 am to 8 pm and on weekends from 10 am to 5 pm.
You can find more info on the museum on http://www.sulabhtoiletmuseum.org
4. Be haunted at the Bat Cave - Agrasen ki Baoli
Want to visit one of Delhi’s most haunted places? Check out the bat cave, or going by it’s real name: the Agrasen Ki Baoli. This monument is Central Delhi’s oldest and is surrounded by the modern high build of Connaught Place.
According to the tales, it was King Agrasen, who lived during the time of Mahabharat, that built this stepwell. There is no real evidence to prove this, but it is thought to be from the 14th century. The 3 stories and 108 steps going down to the well are well impressive.
But interesting history aside - we come to get haunted! The well is now dry, but is said to have contained black water. The black water would call out to people and ask them to sacrifice their lives. Which - according to legend - many did.
So.. I didn’t see any black water that I was drawn to. But the screeching of the bats hanging from the ceiling inside were pretty daunting to me.
This place is visited by plenty of people, but not a lot of them descend all their way down to peek inside. Just make sure you won’t get shat at by the bats and cover your nose for the smell.
How to get here?
Tucked away in a quiet street, the Agrasen ki Baoli is only a short walk from the outer ring of Connaught Place. Get out at Rajiv Chowk Metro Station to reach Connaught Place. Take the F-Block exit from the metro station.
5. Walk into a giant monsters mouth
The Jhandewalan Hanuman Mandi temple can be found inside this gigantic Hanuman statue. No less than 108 feet tall it literally towers over Delhi. Hanuman is the monkey god and seen as a symbol of strength and energy in Hinduism.
The entrance of the temple is the open mouth of a Raskhas (monster) - right in the process of getting killed by Lord Hanuman. Walking into the temple through this mouth is weird enough - but it get’s even more interesting.
The temple inside is divided into different levels. On most levels, you’ll see different shrines where devotees come to pay tribute. At the lowest level however, lies the entrance to a (man-made) cave.
Right down at the entrance of the cave is a rather terrifying representation of the Goddess Kali, and crouching through the rest of the narrow, low-ceiling cave, you’ll pass more statues. At the end of the tunnel there is light. Ah, no that’s another story.
At the end of the tunnel, you’ll exit through yet another monster’s mouth.
During the evening Aarti (a Hindu ritual of worship), there is even more action. The arms of Hanuman’s giant statue move back, the chest slides open and the statues of Lord Shri Rama and Devi Sita appear in sight. Pretty cool huh!
How to get here?
The temple is a few minutes walk from Metro Station Jhandelawan, which you can reach by taking the blue line. You can’t miss it really.
6. Get your inner Sheldon out at the National Railway Museum
The National Railway Museum is perhaps not ranking very high on your to-do list in Delhi.
It is located at walking distance from the embassy area in Delhi though. Which means that if you are in the area to sort out a visa for whatever-country, it’s a short worthy hop to the open-air museum.
And let’s be honest - India has got a pretty impressive railway network. Something you may expect after 160 years of railway experience. The museum provides a nice glance back in time and showcases the Fairy Queen (the oldest working steam locomotive in the world) and a variety of other steam, electric and diesel locomotives.
They even have the Morris Fire Engine - which is running on rubber tyres. Oh, Sheldon would have been delighted.
Going on a weekday, you are likely to have the place pretty much to yourself - making it a quiet escape from the hustle of Delhi. Now that alone should be enough reason for you to visit.
How to get here?
Unfortunately this part of Delhi (Chanakyapuri) is not connected by metro line yet (it’s being built at the time of this writing). You’ll have to get here by Uber or auto-rickshaw. Or just stroll here when you are in the area to get a visa at one of the embassies here.
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Ever since my good friend Mandy Alting told me about Zanskar, many years ago, it was very high on my list. In fact, it was one of the main reasons why I came to Ladakh in the first place. Unlike most other valleys in this part of the world, Zanskar gets completely cut off from the outside world due to snowfall in the high passes up to 6 months out of the year.
The only way to reach it, in summer time, is to travel over 250 kilometers on a non-paved, very rough road.
And once you’ve managed that - you’ll have to leave Zanskar over those same 250 kilometers all the way back. Oh dear.
The result is that not many people make it all the way up there, and village life remains very untouched. This will all change in the near future, when the connecting road to Manali is finished, and you will be able to reach Zanskar from the south side. Some say the road will be finished this year, but most likely it will take another year or two.
For the poor locals in the area, the new road is great news and it will bring more visitors and business to the area. For me as a traveller, I am so glad I came now - before the rest of the world discovers the beauty of Zanskar.
Starting from Kargil which is -for now- the only way in and out of Zanskar, the first 60 kilometers of road will lead you into Suru valley. The villages here are muslim villages which are dotted among wide green valleys and surrounded by snow-capped mountains.
When that paved road ends - the fun starts. For me on a motorbike that is; if you are sitting in a jeep, or worse, a bus, brace yourself for an endless bumpy road.
It takes around 4 hours to travel the 120 kilometers of tough road to reach Rangdum - a very small settlement with one guesthouse and a monastery. To keep things still fun and save my poor back, I decided to cut the journey in half and spend the night here.
The morning light which shines over this part of the valley was just magical - and seemed a good omen for the rest of the hard journey.
For the first 60 kilometers of that second day, there is not a single village so you will find yourself driving for almost 3 hours in complete wilderness with nobody but you. I was mainly hoping my motorbike wouldn’t break down and I would get stuck somewhere hoping for any help to come.
Surprisingly perhaps, but my Royal Enfield Himalayan stayed royal and loyal and didn’t let me down.
Passing mountains with snaking glaciers, fields full of yak and the occasional river crossing, the scenery was magnificent and the road horrible. The last 10 kilometers towards Padum (the ‘capital’ of Zanskar) was newly paved which was a very pleasant change for my sore body.
This stretch of some 100 kilometers of road took again 5 hours, but because I left early, I decided to continue to Cha - deeper into Zankar valley.
Supposedly only 40 kilometers, I figured it would take me another 2 hours of driving.
The road after Padum made the way until there seem like an absolute breeze. The tiny, narrow road, hugging the mountains was an absolute disaster. It shifted between full on, sharp rocks, thick layers of loose Sahara-like sand, to steep-steep-steep inclines and steep-steep-steep drops - usually over a combination of loose boulders and slippery sand.
My bike was bumping and flying all over the place and it took all of my willpower and strength to not launch it off the edge.
Close to the village of Itchar I made one fatal mistake. There was a split in the road and no sign as which road to take - and I chose wrong. The dirt road snaked up onto a hill with incredibly steep hairpin curves, with loose sand and large rocks in the corners.
On one of the left corners, I lost my speed in the sand and the bike fell to its left. Luckily, I managed to get it back up again and get back into the saddle. OK - I can DO this. But then the next curve was even steeper and my little 411 cc bike couldn’t handle the incline, and there it went again.
But this time, the bike fell to the right, face down. There was no way I could lift it back up again alone, so I had no choice but to take my helmet off and go and sit next to the bike. And wait.
After some time a jeep approached me - full of monks. As soon as they saw me, they jumped out of the car and came running to me.
Besides myself, it took another 3 monks to get the bike back up again.
It was all for nothing.
I dropped the bike twice. On the wrong road!
I would have completely regretted this poor decision to head towards Cha, but even after this, I simply couldn’t. I felt like Zanskar only truly began after Padum. Until Padum, it was beautiful - yes. But afterwards, it became breathtaking. Narrow gorges with an emerald-blue Zanskar river raging below, and villages perched in between the mountains with green barley fields surrounding them. I couldn’t get enough of it.
This love for the surroundings pulled me through a violent sand storm that I drove straight through, horizontal rains, bumpy, bumpy roads and a whole lot of dust.
My final test of endurance came just before I reached the village Cha, where I was planning to stay the night. An excavator cut open the entire road and the road workers told me it would be at least another two days before I could pass.
I had no choice but to turn around, drive 3 bumpy kilometers back, park the bike, and walk up again. With all my luggage - 2 backpacks, helmet, motorbike spare parts and repair tools. By that time, one of my leather boots that I’d bought in Manali had taken a hard blow and it had completely fallen apart.
I’d ‘fixed’ it with a strap three times around the boot to keep the bottom of the boot attached - but completely covered in dust, sweaty, tired, with broken boots and looking like a packhorse I entered Cha.
The locals where eyeing me and my rough appearance a little bit suspiciously at first, but then a man came walking towards me. He took half of the luggage I was carrying and started walking towards the village.
I was too tired to argue, so I just followed him. He brought me to his house, warmed up some water on the stove so I could wash myself and made me some hot chai.
What a trooper!
So I spend the night in a traditional Ladakhi home. The next morning I took my daypack and continued my journey on foot, since the road really ended here in Zanskar. I hiked past a side river of Zanskar river to Phuktal Monastery.
The water was of such a deep blue colour that it almost seemed unnatural. After some hours of walking, I reached Phuktal Monastery - partly set in a cave and spilling out below with small buildings to house the monks. The setting of that monastery was just magical and it didn’t take long before one of the monks approached me.
After an entire photoshoot and several cups of hot chai, I made my way back to Cha and set off on my motorbike back over that god-awful road to Padum.
Then my next challenge arose: fuel. Padum is the only place in Zanskar valley which has a petrol station - without a motorised pump though so they employed a guy who is manually pumping the fuel in your vehicle by turning a gigantic wheel. It is notorious for running out of fuel, which, when I was in desperate need of some, happened to be the case.
When the petrol station runs out, more fuel is ordered but since that truck has to come from Leh, it easily takes 4 or 5 days before it finally gets to Padum. I had no interest in hanging around Padum for so long, so I spend hours in search of fuel.
In a small shop I met the local Botany teacher (I did not expect that) - a young, glassed and energetic man who took me on a tour through Padum, visiting all his friends, students and family in search of petrol.
The staff of the guesthouse I was staying at were also very helpful in my quest, and 1,5 day later we managed to scramble together 3,5 litres of petrol; coming from 3 different generators, a car and a secret petrol stash. Adding this to the little fuel I had left in my tank, we said our goodbyes and all hoped that it would be enough to make the long journey back to Kargil.
The next morning I was planning to leave early, but it happened to be Zanskar Festival - so I decided to stay the morning and watch the traditional dancing, singing, sword fighting and yak performances.
Around noon I left Padum, but was unpleasantly surprised by two road blocks, which forced me to ride 25 kilometers extra via another dirt road. All I could think of was the precious additional fuel this was costing me.
So when I reached Rangdum 5 hours later, I was too low on fuel to make it to Kargil. Again…
Luckily, I met a villager who promised me to look for fuel in the tiny village and he succeeded! An hour later he managed to arrange 4 liters for me - plenty to reach Kargil. He invited me into his house and many cups of hot chai and fresh apples later I left him, his lovely wife and twin boys of 7 years old.
The next day I rode to Kargil, where I bought new boots (one size too large but hey - it’ll do), treated my loyal bike with 3 litres of brand-new engine oil and bought a new watch since the one I had unfortunately broke in one of the motorbike-dropping-events.
Ready for the next 200 kilometers to Srinagar, Kashmir!
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The houses in Ladakh mostly come in a white colour, with wooden framed windows and depending on how much money the owner has to spend - decorated with beautiful wood carvings. The hallways and stairs are barren from the inside and you’ll have to wear your shoes not to get freezing feet.
Sometimes the walls are decorated with paint or children’s drawings, but usually you’ll find nothing on the walls. The living room and kitchen are my favourite places of the Ladakhi house: colourful, warm and cozy because of the beautiful carpets and cushions on the floor and the (often) skilful carved low-tables to eat on.
So this is where you take your shoes off - just outside the living room. They don’t have such things as tables and chairs - you’ll sit cross-legged on floor cushions. The ceilings are always decorated with colourful cloth - or in this house, simple green mesh.
The kitchen is the star of the room. It will consist of one, or sometimes two cabinets with a double gas stove on it, and an open shelf construction where all the pots and pans are displayed - carefully arranged by type, colour and purpose. Most of the cooking is done on the gas-stove, but there is always a stove with runs on cow- or yakdung and which is used to heat up water for bathing and to keep the kettle on. Outside the house or on the roof is where the people dry the dung before it can be used as burning fuel.
The bedroom consists of several thin floor mattresses and blankets and its where the entire family sleeps together. In my case, I had the honour to take the floor mattress right next to a blanket with drying yak-cheese. II woke up with a vile, sour, taste in my mouth.
It’s great for midnight snacking though. Especially when the snoring of the head of the family keeps you awake. For hours.
The ‘toilet’ is on the second floor, and consists of two or three holes. Whatever you drop in there can be easily accessed from the ground floor. Superhandy. Nothing there to hold toilet paper or to hold on to if your squatting skills are not strongly developed so I have to admit I was wiggling and swinging trying to balance myself and aim for the hole. I’m such an amateur!
In these villages there is electricity between 19:00 and 22:00 and sometimes 23:00 hours, so that is the only time the lights work and you can charge your phone or camera (if they have sockets - which is not always the case).
The best thing about Ladakhi villages and homes are the people though - they make it warm and welcoming and will try everything to make you feel at ease. Neighbours and relatives tend to drop in all the time for cups of chai and servings of chapatti, so by staying in one home, you’ll get to see most of the villagers anyway.