I’ll be the first to admit; I did not want to travel to India. I am an outdoor obsessed kind of girl and living in a giant metropolis city like Bangalore, India for a month seemed like there would be no trails for me to hike and no mountains for me to climb. (It was Christmas time 2017, and we were staying over 2,500 kilometers from India’s Himalayas far to the north, unfortunately) That meant a month away from the pine tree flanked dirt trails I love to mountain bike down and the mountain peaks I love to climb, traded for crumbling cement sidewalks, smog and heavily trafficked city roads in a concrete jungle. It sounded intimidating to wilderness loving me, and not exactly my idea of an ideal vacation. But my boyfriend grew up in the concrete jungle of Bangalore and his family was doing a once in twenty years family reunion in the state of Karnataka, India, so I conceded to be down for the trip. But I had some requests.
Off the beaten path India
I did not want to do the touristy things. I was not interested in marching through the Taj Mahall in Agra with millions of other sweaty tourists taking selfies with their iPhones. I wanted an authentic India experience eating local meals like Bheja Fry ( Yes, that is goats brain) in restaurants where you would not find another American and the menu is not in English. I wanted to try local delicacies, and I wanted to shop and barter in local markets to prepare our healthy meals. Rather than lay out on touristy beaches like Goa working on my southern California tan or wander the crowded streets of Mumbai, I wanted to swim with elephants in the jungle and go on safari looking for panthers at night. You can do all of these things in India if you go just a bit off the beaten path away from the tourists flocking to Jaipur and New Delhi. I yearned to experience Indian food and culture the way most tourists are afraid to.
Having a tour guide is ideal as India is a crazy melting pot of culture with over twenty-two different languages. Last time my boyfriend visited family here five years ago, his native language Tamil was spoken everywhere. Flash forward to 2017, and no one speaks Tamil. That is so 2013. The local language of Bangalore was mainly Karnataka, what was once the language spoken in the far-flung villages by local men in lungis who have never held an iPhone in their lives. Even having a cute guide who was fluent in both Tamil and Hindi failed to help us along the streets of Bangalore and as we explored farther to the south into the state of Tamil Nadu on our journey.
The first time I heard my boyfriend speaking his native language, Tamil it was very surreal. But then everything in India was very surreal after traveling for thirty hours via Los Angeles and then smoggy Hong Kong to finally reach Bangalore at one a.m. that first exotic morning. I may have been exhausted after more than twenty-four hours of round the world travel, but India is not a nation that lets you sleep in. The toots and honks of Bangalore traffic start right after the morning call to prayer floats through the air and up to our third-floor window. Even with not sinking into bed at our home for a month in Kammanahalli, Bangalore until nearly two a.m. I snuck out of bed for a cup of coffee on our apartments tiny balcony as my boyfriend, and his daughter continued to sleep off the time change just after daybreak. Luckily for us, my boyfriends family stocked our apartment with the essentials before our flight arrived at Bangalore Airport in the middle of the night; meaning authentic BRU chickory coffee and brand English Tetley tea. You know, every traveler’s basic.
Shopping in India; This is not Target
That first morning in India, as I sat on the balcony of our apartment in the morning sipping on my authentic dark BRU coffee, I heard the local street vendors calling out, “Vengeyem” from their roaming carts where they sold potatoes, hot local peppers and onions. India felt surreal. The only sound in the early morning air was the birds chirping in the trees and of course the barking of about a thousand feral dogs (mongrels) roaming the streets. I had expected to be awoken by the morning call to prayer from the local mosque just across the alleyway, but instead, as I sipped the dark roast coffee in the chilly morning air I heard the sweet sound of singing praising one God or another from a local church.
That first morning in India as we set out to explore the busy streets of Bangalore’s suburb, Kammanahalli neighborhood, I felt like we walked out the front door of our apartment and into the set of a Bollywood movie. The early morning air was pulsing with the beat of India street festival music. As I walked up the narrow avenue towards the main street motorbikes were whizzing by me, some with young men holding infants, some piloted by boys who looked like they were not even old enough to shave yet. I danced to the side to avoid a giant mess of cow poo and then back to the left to deftly avoid a huge dead rat. I was a pro at walking on the street in this massive city in India! Then I reached the main road. Then I froze in terror.
Passenger cars and rickshaws were in a steady stream on the main road. Even though it was not even nine in the morning, the traffic was a steady stream of madness and disorder, and here in Bangalore, there are no crosswalks. You have to lung across this busy city road to reach shops and in this case the Christian church on the other side. I said a prayer on this Sunday morning as I waited for my boyfriend and his daughter to catch up with me. Our first morning in Bangalore and I knew where our local market was located. I could find his sister’s house on the main street, and I knew where the church is located, but this mass of traffic was intimidating to this Californian. Imagine trying to cross Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles during rush hour and just running across the street like a mad woman. Yeah, that is everyday life here in India. Except there are also cows. And donkeys. And buses driving on the wrong side of the road and honking at me for simply being a pedestrian. Yes, I may be thirty-six years old, but on my first day in India, I had to wait for my boyfriend to take my hand to cross the street.
After we deftly weaved our way across the street amid honking motorbikes and weaving rickshaws and also trying to avoid steaming piles of cow dung, I calmly mentioned to my boyfriend, “Um, that cow looks like it has a broken leg” He just shrugged. That is seriously normal in India. After avoiding the broken cow, he helped me cross another street like a small child, and we met his mom and walked through the neighborhood towards church, while she mentioned to me,
“How light the traffic was this morning because everyone was in church” Wow, this is light traffic? As we approached the family church the music in the morning air became even louder, and I finally saw the source of the crazy loud music that seemed to permeate the air. Outside the church, there were giant loudspeakers set up blaring Bollywood music. The music was so loud it almost drowned out the traffic noises behind us as we climbed the cold stone steps into the church. Once we were inside, we found out today was a state holiday. That would explain the crazy loud music that continued until four in the morning, followed by fireworks and gunshots all evening. And with a few prayers inside that church, I survived my first day in India.
My second morning in India I told myself if a disabled cow can survive these city streets so can I. So I set about to do our shopping. Coconut palm trees swayed in the morning breeze next to papaya trees heavy with fruit, banana trees, and tamarind trees loaded with the long brown pods. The fresh fruit markets on every street corner sold colorful fruits I had never even seen before in my life as I did the shopping on the streets of Bangalore. As I wandered the busy city streets, I found that India is a struggle and an adventure, even if I’m just doing the simplest things like learning to cross a massively crazy traffic-clogged street or trying to lug five different bags of groceries through five different stores on a ninety-degree humid December morning. Welcome to running errands in Bangalore, India. Traveling in India as a woman means wearing long sleeves and a long skirt even on a ninety-degree day; that did not help matters. I don’t miss shopping at Target very often unless I happen to be fighting my way amidst the traffic, the rickshaws and a cow or two in Bangalore, India. Lugging five bags of groceries through the ninety-degree heat, I was missing Target and the convenience of home just a little bit. What I would have given for Amazon Prime! After stopping at the pharmacy, the butcher, another shop for batteries and an altogether different shop for razors, I finally made it to the vegetable vendor. I wanted to bargain with the street vendors over how much they were charging me for vegetables because I was quite obviously not a local. My boyfriend insisted when street shopping in Kammanahalli, I needed to barter with the produce seller, but when I got my total for two days worth of produce, it was only 100 rupees. That translates to $1.45 in U.S. dollars! How can you possibly argue with those prices! So I did not barter, and when I got back to the apartment my boyfriend told me I was completely overcharged, and I should have haggled! I may have been ripped off over the vegetables, but it was worth it going out to discover fresh veggies were available in the markets because all the foods we ate in restaurants for that month were not healthy in the least bit. Besides paleek paneer, we saw barely any vegetables on menus for a month of our travels through India. It was going to be a long month in India if I couldn’t learn to haggle over the veggies!
Into the Jungle
For an ugly concrete city, Bangalore was a rainbow of bright colors. In the daytime, it’s the aqua blue apartments or the bright green and canary yellow rickshaws. Women walk the streets in bright pink and purple saris or kurtis and even on a cloudy and rainy Bangalore morning the streets are full of vibrant colors from pink saris to the yellows and greens of the ancient rickshaws. When we flew into Bangalore in December, there was a cyclone raging in the Bay of Bengal as we were 40,000 feet above the sea. Our jet shook and jerked through the turbulence, which was not the smoothest ride, but that cyclone left us with the most fantastic India sunsets or first week in Kammanahalli. As the sunset over the massive city of Bangalore each evening we climbed the stairs to the rooftop of our apartment with friends and family to enjoy cocktails as the reds, orange and purples reflected over the Bangalore rooftops and the mosque in the distance. As much as I loved the vibrant colors of Bangalore, after a week in the city, we were ready to leave the broken concrete sidewalks behind us and get out into the mountains and jungles of India. After spending a few weeks in the city, getting used to being terrified crossing the street, taking rides in rickshaws (which was also terrifying) visiting a Muslim restaurant in Shivaji Nagar at 2a.m. that did not admit women (And not getting arrested) and visiting Russell Market, an actual outdoor butcher farmers market area with live chickens, geese, pigs and pretty much any other animal you may be interested in consuming, we were ready to get out of the crowded city and into an actual eucalyptus and teak jungle.
My boyfriend grew up attending a prestigious boarding school in the Blue Hills near Ooty, and we would be staying at a friends jungle retreat for five nights while I got my first taste of the jungles and wilds that India had to offer. But first we had to drive there, and what with the heavy traffic leaving Bangalore and heading south towards Mysore and eventually the Mudumalai National Park, we chose to leave at three a.m. before the traffic slowed to a crawl leaving the cities. That could turn a three-hour drive into an eight hour one. You’ve got to get up pretty early in the morning to see an elephant ( or a tiger for that matter) in Bandipur Tiger Preserve, and we tried that morning as we drove through! We drove out of Bangalore at three a.m. and drove south towards Ooty, the tiger preserve and eventually Jungle Retreat in Masanagudi.Leaving before dawn was an excellent choice as we were just approaching Bandipur and the foothills of the Blue Hills as the sun was coming up. As we crossed state lines into Tamil Nadu, the gray langur monkeys were laughing at us from the sandalwood trees. Probably because they knew the border patrol was about to confiscate our booze.
Sure enough at the border checkpoint, our car was searched, and my boyfriend and our hired driver got out to attempt to talk to a border guard who did not speak Tamil or Hindi. And that’s when the mischevious gray langur jumped into the car through the open windows! I tried to convince him back out of the car while also trying to get my boyfriends attention. I had no prior experience with wild monkeys and did not know the best approach to remove a langur from a vehicle. Meanwhile, my beau was giving the border guard all my white wine and ignoring my shrieks. I tried to take out my iPhone to get a photo of this ridiculous monkey in the car with us, meanwhile, my boyfriend’s daughter was yelling “Dad” at the top of her lungs as the monkey attempted to get in the backseat with us to take a selfie. I’m assuming it had enough fun with us as after wiping it’s poo covered fists on my boyfriend’s pillow, and it scrambled off into the jungle. When my boyfriend returned to the car (Wine-less, boo), I told him the whole scheme with the monkey was a plan to distract the border patrol cop from our wine. It did not work.
After that ordeal, our journey continued into the Blue Hills of India. My boyfriend showed me the murky green waters of swimming holes on the sides of the winding mountain road and explained how swimming here as a kid he would sink to his knees in green pachyderm poo. I had been awake since 3 a.m. I just had all my wine confiscated and was almost attacked by a wild monkey. Clearly, I am not in the mood to swim in elephant dung. Before we knew it, we were in Thepakkadu enjoying our favorite Bru instant coffee at a roadside hut where I felt the men in lungis, traditional skirts, had not seen a white person in a very long time. At these tiny coffee huts, they meticulously heat the coffee with warm milk over wood burning stoves as langur monkeys swung overhead in the treetops.
Refreshed on this chilly mountain morning with hot coffee we continued the drive up towards Jungle Retreat in Masinagudi. Jungle Retreat is a combination of wilderness, serenity and comfort, a no fences resort set in the wilds of the jungle where the animals roam through at all hours of the day and night. We arrived early morning, and there were spotted deer everywhere, as well as the domesticated cats and dogs who make the Jungle Retreat their home and Otis the spotted Sirogi goat. Don’t leave your backpack laying around Jungle Retreat as Otis is well known for stealing cigarettes. Jungle Retreat may be an oasis in the middle of a wild jungle, but they offer a world-class buffet three times a day, as well as a sloped swimming pool, just below the Blue Hills. (The pool has to be sloped as local wildlife walk into it to drink) We were relaxing at the pool one incredibly hot day when a herd of cattle wandered through looking for a drink. Definitely an experience you would only have at the pool in India.
My favorite part of our stay at the Jungle Retreat was the amazing treehouse lodge we rented out for our stay. This exceptionally well-built tree house was glass on most sides so you could look out at the animals at all hours of the day. And the animals are out there day and night, from big ones to small ones. There are jaguars and tigers in this wilderness, but they are only seen by the guides every few weeks. Elephants are a lot more common. When returning to your rooms after dinner, and anytime before dawn, you have to be escorted to and from your room in a Jeep by a guard with a rifle just in case there is a tusker munching branches in the jungle nearby. Like our first night at the Jungle Retreat.
Our first night at the Jungle Retreat I had just gone to bed, and my boyfriend was still at the bar, catching up with his old boarding school friends when he came thundering up the stairs of our vacation treehouse at midnight like a herd of bison were chasing after him. He begged me to get out of my nice warm bed as there were multiple elephants right outside our door feeding on the branches that grew right outside our treehouse vacation hideaway. We walked out onto the balcony and listened to the rumbling and crunching in the underbrush and both felt very thankful he hadn’t been charged at between his sprint from the Jeep to the steps of our treehouse at Jungle Retreat.
This is how we spent our evenings in the jungles of southern India. When we were not on a nighttime safari hunting down (with cameras) more pachyderms, sambors, (giant deer) mouse deer and chameleons, we were lounging by the campfire with other guests indulging in smuggled in Indian wine and enjoying the exceptional spread of amazing dishes you can only find in this area of Tamil Nadu. Not being a tourist means getting off the beaten path and going for a nighttime safari with guides who can talk to the elephants. Our guide was so talented he saw two tiny quail sleeping cuddled together on the side of the road. He then spotted out a tiny chameleon in a tree. I mean how impressive is that? I feel like most people who vacation in India just focus on the trash and the curry and the hustle and bustle of the city. Based on what everyone I knew told me about India, my India experience was nothing at all like what I expected! Way more wild animals, jungle experiences, getting out in nature and way less of the concrete jungle, poverty and crowded tourist areas I expected. That being said we did very little hiking in India, but that is because there were cobras everywhere. I had to put aside my love to hike for a few weeks and concentrate on enjoying world travel experiences instead.
I had to get my mind off of hiking somehow so we went out to take a day drive to explore this gorgeous area of India near Ooty Lake. I love that instead of doing the tourist trap India we spent our days exploring the Blue Hills near Ooty and taking a train into the gorgeous hill station of Ketti. The rolling hills covered in gardens remind me of Napa Valley in California, but six hundred times prettier. My boyfriend grew up in this area and only after seeing these unbelievably gorgeous jungle covered forests myself did I truly understand his love for the outdoors. To get up into the hills near Ooty and gorgeous Ooty Lake is quite an experience. There are 36 switchbacks on the way up the incredibly steep hill road that leads up the mountain. They call these ghats or hairpin turns in this area of India. The turns are so tight that our driver had to use the whole road to corner around each, laying on his horn around each turn in case traffic is coming from the opposite direction. He had his window all the way down to listen to any answering honks even though it was only forty degrees out in the chilly mountain morning. I for one was not one to complain about a little chill as his careful driving got us to the top of the mountain in one piece.
That mountain road is so dangerous that half the cabs in this area of India won’t even drive there. The road is closed at 4 p.m. each evening for driving as it’s unsafe to drive here there at night. Insurance companies in India will not even insure motorists who have accidents on that road; it’s so dangerous! Luckily we made it safely to the top of the mountain without incident or hitting a cow that roams wild along the highway. On the curving mountain backroads near Ooty, they call these road hogging cattle brake inspectors. The roads into the Blue Hills of Ooty may have been dangerous, but it was so worth it to get out even farther into the mountains and see this stunningly gorgeous countryside!
Adventures in Kerala
When booking something like a beach vacation, most Americans who travel to India would probably book at a touristy seaside attraction like Goa where nightlife is a plenty and partying is the norm. If you talk about Indian beaches, most people assume you are talking about uber crowded beaches like Goa’s Palolem, when the backwaters of Kerala down south are just so tropical pretty and more where the local’s vacation on houseboats or Kettuvallams (traditional rice boats, converted into floating hotels.) then crowded Goa. When people speak of India, they speak of temples and spiritual places. To this mountain girl, getting out of the city and into the wilds of the jungles, complete with coconut fronds as far as the eye can see, is my idea of spirituality. Kerala may not be the Taj Mahal or Varanasi, but this tropical treasure offers some great beaches and waterfront areas to enjoy some r and r. And maybe some fresh and spicy Indian flavored seafood.
We spent a few days relaxing in the mostly dry state of Kerala at Poovar Island Resort, enjoying beer cocktails at the pool and wondering why on earth anyone would create a beer cocktail. Poovar Island Resort is reachable by boat and is the only floating cottage resort in the country. As we arrived at night and were whisked by a water taxi to our floating cottage the fish were jumping up out of the water as the water taxis headlights jumped across the calm water. It was still hot and humid and almost one hundred degrees at 10 p.m. at night. I prayed our room had air conditioning. (It did)
Poovar Island Resort is an awesome place to take a brief holiday from the hustle of a busy Indian city like Bangalore or Chennai between Christmas and New Years. If you can stand the extreme heat and humidity then Poovar Island Resort is an excellent not crowded at all getaway spot and a wonderful place to spend the holidays. It’s only a short inexpensive flight from Bangalore. Even with the heat and humidity the island of Poovar was a fantastic thirty-six-hour break from the smog and crowds on the streets of Bangalore. It’s incredible to think that this was resorts busiest week of the year, and that the resort was100% booked and we barely saw another guest our entire stay! The sky might have been full of trash-eating eagles but the resort did not feel crowded one bit! What is a trash eagle? One thing I absolutely hated about India; people just threw their trash everywhere. And when I say everywhere I mean all over the beaches too. I literally have almost no pictures of the actual beaches of Poovar Island because there was so much trash I couldn’t get a good photo! We took a river tour at one point and our river guide suggested to us it would be nice if someone would set up a bomb to blow up the eagle population! Who knew there could be so many eagles in one place they would be looked at as a pest like rats or cockroaches. The natives of Kerala and Poovar Island may hate the mighty trash eagle but I don’t. I think they are glorious giant birds.
The food at Poovar Island Resort was some of the best I had all over India, and that could be because in Kerala they put coconut oil and coconut milk in everything. That first morning at Poovar Island Resort I tried puris and Ummpa for the first time. The Ummpa was so delicious, a couscous overflowing with fennel seeds, curry leaves, and pine nuts. Poovar Island Resort is where I first tried tomato curry, and now I’m hooked. They also had homemade curry leaf chutney and spicy chutney. One thing about India; You never realize that you can’t get real authentic chutneys in America until you see (and taste!) how they are made abroad! The fresh seafood, lobster, and calamari we tried at Poovar Island was out of this world good! That is one great thing about traveling through India; Everything is so cheap, you feel like you can order lobster every day!
India may be great because the lobster is cheap, but it’s a frustrating place to travel as a woman. India is a land rich in hypocrisy. While at Poovar Island Resort, I saw a naked dude changing back into his dude skirt (called a lungi here in the south) and yet if I wear anything that does not cover ninety percent of my skin people stare none stop. India is a land where I can wear the most conservative one-piece bathing suit ever on the beach and still hear people talking about me “the American” We can pick that out although the rest is in Malayalam. It may be perfectly fine for local guys to swim in tiny tighty whitey underwater, but ladies have to practically wear a burka even if they are swimming in a pool or the humidity is at ninety percent.
Lions, Tigers Bears… and Cheese?
Vacationing in India and not doing the typical tourist stuff meant checking out a local wild animal park with seemingly no rules and also learning how to make authentic Indian foods that it’s hard to even find in the United States.
As an American traveling through India, we were lucky enough to accidentally have a VIP experience on a fantastic tiger filled jungle safari. After we returned safety from Kerala, back in Bangalore, we had one of the most amazing zoo experiences I have ever had. Bannerghatta National Park was right up there with top zoo animal encounters because we got to see this.
Yes, that pretty kitty was next to our tour bus on the side of the road sleeping. I love cats of all kinds and species so seeing all the large cats, the tigers especially, was the big draw of this trip, and we lucked out completely and got the VIP experience.
We waited in a very long line at the extremely crowded park to the south of where we were staying in Bangalore. Even though this park was only 20 kilometers from our apartment, it took us an hour and forty-five minutes to reach it because traffic in Bangalore is utter and complete madness. Our taxi driver seriously was not able to drive much faster than ten miles an hour for most of this drive.
After sitting in the car all that time when we arrived at the park it was crawling with so many people, it was slightly overwhelming. I already had a headache as we huddled in the shady grandstands behind five hundred other people who were going to also do the bus tour. Once at the park, we discovered there is also an open-air Jeep tour that they do, but the next one was not leaving for hours. We found absolutely nothing about Bannerghatta National Park when we had researched it ahead of time and were not expecting much from this park. Back in California, we have a huge world famous jungle safari park; the San Diego Zoo Safari Park and I figured this jungle experience would be nothing compared to that. It was a day out away from the hustle, and the bustle of being stuck in the concrete cow filled jungle of Bangalore though so we were looking forward to a day away and maybe seeing a tiger or two.
When we boarded the bus there was some commotion in the front of the bus, it was all spoken in Hindi so I could not tell what was going on but the bus driver motioned for the guy sitting in the very front seat to move so my boyfriends daughter, and I could sit in the very front, the best seats in the house. I was not complaining, even though they sat my boyfriend way back in the bus, away from us.
As the bus tour started the guide, Askar sitting in the front seat next to the driver was exceptionally nice to us, asking us where we were from and even offering to take photos from our cameras for us out the front windows so we could get a better view. We had just left the front gates and were making our way through the jungle gates when Askar called my boyfriend up to take his seat in the very front of the bus and Askar sat on the metal divider part of the bus. He was talking to my boyfriend in Hindi, so I was not getting all the information that was being spoken until it was explained to me later after the bus tour.
The guide, Askar had heard us in line earlier speaking English and had surmised that we were Americans and apparently in India, Americans are the only ones who tip. The guides are not allowed to give anyone special treatment on the tours (At least at the beginning of the tour where the video cameras are set up) so once they left the area where you board the bus and no one was watching Askar and the driver gave us the best seats on the bus. Every time they would see an animal they would stop extra long just for us to get the best photos. They would pull the bus over so we had the absolute best view also. Askar and the driver would even hang out the windows with our cameras to get us the best possible photos of the tigers and other cats.
My boyfriend, on the other hand, had a very sweaty, stinky tour guide hanging all over him for an hour and later told us, he did not appreciate the experience as much as we did from the seat behind him. To his daughter and I, this was well worth sitting in traffic for an hour and forty-five minutes one way to get close up views of White Siberian Tigers, Bengal Tigers and majestic lions. We were so close to a lot of the animals, it was a fantastic experience! Being this up and close to these animals would not have been legal in the least bit in America (And unfortunately a guest was actually mauled by a Siberian Tiger a year after our visit, so moral of the story, is it was a fun experience but not exactly one hundred percent safe!)
After surviving our India zoo experience in Bangalore, it was back to the city for the rest of our stay, and that meant spending a lot of time with my boyfriends Anglo-Indian family and getting to experience some cool Indian customs, like getting henna tattoos, buying traditional Indian garb and learning how to make local foods. If you want to learn to make your own authentic Indian foods, you need an “aunty” a female relative, to show you. Authentic parathas or rotis are almost impossible to find in California. These delicious nonyeasty breads are eaten in 90% of Indian kitchens. Yes, most Indians will skip the naan and go for a homemade, griddle cooked paratha or roti any day over the puffy and filling naan bread. You can find parathas or rotis in most grocery marts in Bangalore, but they are super hard to find in the U.S. The easiest way to get your hands on some roti’s or parathas is to roll out the dough and make it yourself!
The same thing goes for paneer cheese. This cows milk cheese is hard to find in the United States but a staple in Indian cooking. It’s extremely easy to make if you have an aunty to show you how. Learning how to make these two Indian foods and being a part of the whole cultural cooking experience to me, was such a more authentic way to experience off the beaten path India then roaming the Taj Mahal with thousands of sweaty tourists. My last day in India, I changed into my new colorful Kurdi, got a henna hand stamp to remember my days on the streets of Bangalore, ordered my last delicious paratha from Empire Restaurant (Like the Chipotle of Bangalore) then I crossed the street by myself.
This was my none touristy India.
Have you explored India? What off the beaten path India destinations have you enjoyed? We’d love to have your comments & feedback below!