I was reminiscing today about our time in Osaka and thinking more about the concept of kuidaore (eating oneself into ruin) – something so many people experience in this culinary city. I was going to write an article about all the reasons we enjoyed Osaka: The massive aquarium with whale sharks,
[ptcPhoto filename=”whaleShark.jpg” title=”Whale shark” caption=”These things are huge” position=”center”]
[ptcPhoto filename=”OsakaManta.jpg” title=”Osaka Manta” caption=”As are these” position=”center”]
[ptcPhoto filename=”OsakaOctopus.jpg” title=”Osaka Octopus” caption=”She was saying hello” position=”center”]
The fabulous neighborhood around Dotonbori Street
[ptcPhoto filename=”Dotonbori.jpg” title=”Dotonbori” caption=” Dotonbori Canal and the Glico Man” position=”center”]
You don’t play hard to get – I can always find you when I’m looking for you. All I have to do is find a giant octopus perched over a shopfront, and there you are.
[ptcPhoto filename=”ShopFront.jpg” title=”Shop Front” caption=”The mark of a takoyaki place” position=”center”]
It takes mad skills to make you so good, from the pouring of the batter, to the adding of the diced octopus, ginger and onion, to the precisely timed somersault that ensures you’re evenly browned all around.
[ptcPhoto filename=”TakoMaker.jpg” title=”Making Takoyaki” caption=”Getting ready for the first turn” position=”center”]
Do you remember the time I watched you being made? I took a little video to mark the occasion:
And it only costs a few dollars to be with you – it’s not like the aforementioned animatronic crab restaurant where we spent $60 for an appetizer.
After you’re plucked out of your sizzling hot grill dimple, placed into a paper tray nestled alongside seven of your friends, slathered with takoyaki sauce, mayonnaise, and dried fish flakes, you’re just perfect.
We spent most of one afternoon searching for this “star sand” on a beach in Taketomi, Okinawa. Each piece consists of the exoskeleton of marine protozoa that once lived on the ocean floor, and measures barely a millimeter across. Sand stars are some of the oldest fossils known to humankind – there is evidence of them dating back 550 million years.
Although we’ve been sharing a lot of our experiences from the road, there are so many details about the places we’re visiting that aren’t captured in articles specific to places or activities. We decided to start a new project, “Looking Back“, which will be a series of articles that address some of the random things we’ve learned about each place, including our overall impressions and favorite moments. Hopefully this will fill in some gaps for our readers and help us remember the unique aspects of each country before they start running together in our memory. World travel has a way of making the last city a blur, let alone things that happened months ago!
We’ve written a lot about India but at times it’s difficult to be completely honest about our experiences without sounding overly negative. India truly has a lot to offer the traveler who is willing to venture far outside his or her comfort zone. But before considering a trip to India the following should be kept in mind. (Note: Yes, there is some ranting below and yes, I realize no destination is perfect.)
India at a Glance
Gross National Income (GNI) Per Capita: $1,530 – Lower middle income
Our Daily Budget (for two people): $42.23
Size: 1,222,559 square miles (about one-third the size of the USA)
Population: 1.21 billion people (about 3 times the population of the USA)
Population Density: 954 people per square mile
Government Type: Constitutional Republic
Ranking on the Global Gender Gap Report: #105 of 135 countries surveyed, scoring very low in Political Empowerment and Economic Participation and Opportunity
What Did We Learn?
There are many levels of hotels in India, but if you’re a budget traveler you can expect conditions a bit below what you may consider reasonable at home. Hot showers are luxuries that most budget hotels do not provide. Luckily, much of the year India is HOT and it’s hardly necessary to have a hot shower. In super-budget places the plumbing is often laughably bad with toilets that are barely operational and sinks that drain directly onto the floor. Electricity is available most of the time, although considering the quality of some electrical work we saw, a surge protector is probably a good investment. Cleanliness is variable but we rarely had issues with bugs and most linens and pillows fell under the “clean enough” category. If a place was questionable we just used our sleep sheets.
[ptcPhoto filename=”KannurView.jpg” title=”Arabian Sea” caption=”For a few dollars more” position=”center”]
As Sam discussed in our budget article, lodging in India can be extremely affordable if you don’t mind the issues mentioned above. Prices and quality do go up rather quickly if you want a more comfortable level of accommodation.
As travelers, most of the locals you deal with on a regular basis are hotel owners, shopkeepers, servers at restaurants, transportation workers, beggars, and scammers – many of whom have little interest in you outside of getting as much money as possible. Some of them have no issues with scamming you or charging you well above the going rate for their services, and they may bug you endlessly when you clearly have no intention of doing business with them. Needless to say, these relationships don’t last long.
[ptcPhoto filename=”IndiaChild.jpg” title=”India Child” caption=”I made a new friend.” position=”center”]
Most other people you come in contact with on a typical day are Indian men. As a man myself I am usually ignored, but Sam gets quite a bit of unwanted stares – and occasionally more, as Sam wrote about in her post describing our Holi experience.
If you want to meet genuine people who want nothing from you, try striking up a conversation while taking public transportation. Many Indians were interested in learning all about us and were open with sharing their stories and photographs. They’re not afraid to ask questions about your religion and relationships that Westerners might consider personal. Sometimes they wouldn’t leave us alone because they wanted to keep the conversation going, but in general we really enjoyed these interactions. It can be difficult to know at first whether people are being genuinely nice, but this is something you have to deal with in any developing country you visit.
Those overly concerned with safety will probably want to skip India. Leaving your hotel room can be terrifying. It’s hard to feel safe walking down the road when you have to balance between looking up at what’s coming and looking down at what you’re stepping in. We witnessed a number of accidents, most notably when I was hit by a rickshaw on a crosswalk while crossing the street. Traffic laws are almost completely ignored. You’re sure to see stray cats, dogs, cows, and even monkeys that will sometimes attack without warning. You’re probably not much safer in your hotel room as there are no fire alarms anywhere, nor emergency exits, nor, from what we could tell, building codes of any sort.
[ptcPhoto filename=”DelhiElephant.jpg” title=”Delhi elephant” caption=”It’s all fun and games until someone gets trampled.” position=”center”]
The good news is that we don’t think food safety is as big of an issue as people often say. Sure, there’s a good chance you’ll get sick, but most food poisoning passes rather quickly. Drinking only bottled water and going to restaurants that have a lot of customers will go a long way in helping you avoid the worst. And your stomach will toughen up if you stay long enough.
Prices are very low by western standards. In most cities we spent less than $10 a night for a hotel and maybe $20 a day for food, and it certainly can be done for less if you are on a tighter budget. With that said, prices for everything are about double what was listed in our 2007 Lonely Planet guide book and the price of major attractions is comparatively high for foreigners. Nevertheless, this really is one of the least expensive countries to travel.
Do be aware that prices are not fixed for anything except food and trains. If you want a good deal on gifts, clothing, hotel rooms, taxis or really anything else, be prepared to bargain hard for it. When purchasing things the best strategy we learned was to never show interest in the item you intend to buy, but rather one right next to it. Find a reason you can “settle” on the item you want if they’ll take less money for it. Bargaining isn’t so much about making sure both sides are happy with the deal (which almost never happens), but rather making it appear that you didn’t get exactly what you wanted. In the end, try not to be one of those people that bargains down to the last twenty cents. It’s easy to get caught up in the process, but we always try to keep in mind that our very presence in their country means we’re probably better off.
Hopefully we’ve covered enough of the sights and activities in our articles that there’s no doubt you won’t be bored here. From temples to beaches, India has it all, but some of the best experiences come from just watching people go about their daily lives. India is extremely colorful and is full of interesting characters.
[ptcPhoto filename=”India576.jpg” title=”Udaipur Ghat” caption=”Along the river in Udaipur” position=”center”]
In general food is very good and varied in India. If you need meat with every meal, you may run into problems since it’s not always available. But India does have some of the most flavorful vegetarian food in the world. Despite its reputation, we didn’t find the food extremely spicy (full of spices, yes, but not all that hot), but I’m sure some will disagree. You do need to go to more local restaurants if you want good food though. Without fail, food served in hotels and more touristy towns ranged from bad to awful.
[ptcPhoto filename=”IndianFood.jpg” title=”Kochi meal” caption=”Mmm, we miss Indian food” position=”center”]
Yes, I’m giving noise it’s own heading. Trust me when I say it is well deserved. India is an extremely noisy place. I’ve mentioned this before, but there is an epidemic of horn use there. The video below is of a relatively uncrowded street in Jaipur. The traffic flow is interesting to say the least, but make sure you watch with the sound on. The constant sound of horns blaring is commonplace, as practically every road in India is like this. At first it’s humorous how people honk at everything and at nothing at all. Eventually it does get to you. On more than one occasion I found myself yelling at the drivers who felt it necessary to honk continuously and without cause as they passed.
It’s not just the traffic noise though, Indians themselves are generally just very noisy people. There doesn’t seem to be a concept of an indoor voice. People shout even if you’re standing two feet away. There’s no concept of entering a train quietly at three in the morning.
One of the last places we visited in India was a hotel that was known for its quiet gardens. We visited hoping to get away from noise for a few days. The owner told us that Indians often complain when they stay there because it’s too quiet. I suppose if you lived your whole life with constant noise, dead silence might be unsettling.
Our Best Memory
One of our favorite memories from India is the morning we woke up early and saw the ghats in Varanasi. That experience really can change your views on how interconnected we all are, as well as what constitutes beauty.
Would We Return? (aka, What Did We Miss?)
We would certainly return to India after some recovery time. This time we’d focus our travels on far southern India and the northern area near Pakistan and the Himalayas (if safe). We’d also take some cooking classes to gain a better understanding of regional Indian cuisine.
Should You Go?
This is not an easy question to answer. India is huge and is quite different from one region to another. The urban areas are usually dirty (on the verge of disgusting), loud (on the verge of mind-splitting), and overwhelming (on the verge…or rather…completely tear-inducing). But it has such beauty and charm it’s very hard to write it off completely. India is not a place for all travelers, but if you are strong enough, traveling there can be a very rewarding experience.
Our trip keeps growing, there’s still so much to do!
Let’s see. Last time we wrote an update we were loving Japan and anticipating our second visitor. Jelmini joined us in Tokyo and we all climbed Mt. Fuji – a very challenging hike up in the dark and then down through a never-ending track of volcanic rock.
[ptcPhoto filename=”FujiClouds.jpg” title=”Descending Fuji” caption=”Hiking down through the clouds” position=”center”]
From there we went to Beijing and saw the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, and the Great Wall of China. Moving right on down our bucket list, we continued on to the Terracotta Warriors before renting an apartment in the “Hawaii of China”, a resort town called Sanya. We found Lay’s BBQ chips there! And cooked actual meals! Ah, the luxuries of living like normal human beings.
[ptcPhoto filename=”LaysBBQ.jpg” title=”BBQ” caption=”It’s the little things.” position=”center”]
Like a kick-ass mileage ninja, Eric found a way for us to fly from China to Taiwan, on to a remote Japanese island, and back to China with a long layover in Korea – for $60 and 20,000 frequent flyer miles each (less miles than it would take to fly round-trip anywhere in the US). With all the layovers that came to nine flights. Curious what that route looks like?
[ptcPhoto filename=”route.gif” title=”Flight pattern” caption=” We won’t be winning a “green travel” award any time soon.” position=”center”]
We hadn’t planned to travel to Taiwan, but after hearing some ringing recommendations we had to check it out. Turns out it’s one of our favorite places so far – great food, clean streets, a good mix of city and country, and some very kind people. Feeling adventurous, we tried Taiwan’s infamous “stinky tofu” – it’s VERY stinky. We ran into an old friend of Eric’s in Taipei and he treated us to an array of snake products. Upon leaving we found ourselves on a Hello Kitty themed airplane. We’ll put together a picture essay for this one, but as a teaser: They had Hello Kitty-inspired foie gras and toilet paper. Very strange.
More recently we celebrated our first wedding anniversary with new friends in Ishigaki, Japan. These last few days have been spent snorkeling and hanging out with hermit crabs, which always make Sam happy. One more week and it’s back to China for a couple of months.
So things have been good even though we’re homesick. Like, really homesick. Sam started knitting again and Eric’s been working on a new series on how to best use frequent flier miles. Eric has also revamped the gallery section of the website, it has a more modern look now and should work correctly on phones and tablets. Our Taiwan photos are up, check them out here. We sent out a call for visitors and had some replies, so we hope to see more of our people soon!
With 415 scooters for every 1,000 people in Taipei, two wheelers dominate rush hour. And they aren’t just used for the commute – it’s common to see entire families crammed onto one scooter: A dog perilously balancing on the floorboard followed by the dad who sits in front of a child, perched in front of the mom holding a baby and groceries for the evening meal.