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Calcutta, Goa & Mumbai. Is India the Vacation from Hell; or Paradise on Earth?

July 24, 2016

India; Probably the world's most polarizing travel destination. And i'll tell you why....

 

Whenever I shared my interest in making India my next travel destination, I always received two widely differing responses from the following two groups of people; Westerners (because I used to vacation in Europe every 3 months) and Singaporeans (because i'm a local).

 

Westerners: "Oh India! I've always wanted to go there! (or I've just been there) India is such an amazing country! I spent two months in India and it wasn't enough!"

 

Singaporeans: "Huh! Crazy ah? Go India for what? So smelly, so dirty, and everyday must eat curry. Plus cannot bring my girlfriend, later she get raped. Yuck, i'll never go there." (add in a disgusted look on  Singaporeans faces)

 

So, being really curious about why India as a travel destination could generate such polarizing responses, I decide that rather than just talk about it, (like most Singaporeans; all talk and no action) I might as well find out first hand. 

 

I went to India.

 

Note: I managed to find a travel buddy (Jamie) for this trip as "The Girl" had just changed a job and wasn't able to take leave.

 

 

Regions Covered: 

1. Kolkata (Caulcutta)

 

2. Goa

 

3. Mumbai

Imagecredit: Jamie Ong (my travel buddy for this trip)

 

Accommodation 

I don't usually begin my posts with "accommodation", but because Singaporeans make up 80% of my 15,000 monthly visitors (it's actually closer to 20,000), let's just begin with accommodation so no one has to waste time reading further if they can't accept the "accommodation standards" in India. 

 

Because I stayed in hotels (unlike me, I know) on the Kolkata/Mumbai part of our trip, i'll use the cheapest, most budget accommodation I stayed in while I was in Goa so Singaporeans can have an idea on the minimum standards to expect for accommodation. I spent $7.50 a night in Zostel Goa (pictures below). If you don't mind spending more than I did, just imagine the "luxury" say $30 a night can get you.

The above pictures are of our room in Zostel Goa. We took these straight from their site since they do a better job of photography than I can. For $7.50, I thought Zostel was pretty good. Lockers, comfortable bed, a warm shower, and air-conditioning if you don't mind paying a couple of dollars more. 

 

The only drawback? You get a free flow of mosquitoes. A buffet, with us part of the meal. Their meal. 

We spent 3 nights in Zostel Goa. Here's the "common area" where all us tourists would gather to chit chat, read books, watch some TV, basically just lazing around. Planning to go to India but no "typical Singaporean" travel buddies to accompany you? Not much of an issue so long as hostels exist.

 

Oh and here's also the place where some backpackers pick up a guitar and attempt to "sing" female backpackers into their beds. Yeah, and they succeed most of the time, so I guess the "guitar thingy" does work. Either that or most female backpackers are just lonely.

So my dear Singaporean readers, by now you should have an idea if the rest of this post is worth your time. The above, is probably the lowest standard of "tourist accommodation" you'll find in India under $10 SGD (assuming you need air-con)

 

Still not able to accept traveling in India? No worries, I understand; we're Singaporeans after all. 

 

Expected.

 

 

What's There To Do?

 

Most of the time, if you come across Singaporeans who have been to India. (when I say Singaporeans, i'm not referring to the NRI; non resident Indians, I'm referring to "TRUE BLUE" Singaporeans) it's probably because they were there on a business trip. Either that, or they're air-crew. 

 

While I find India interesting, I would hardly classify it as "exotic". When visiting India, just plan as you would if you were going to say Taiwan, or Seoul; it's nothing too different. 

 

So, here's what we did.

 

 

1. Visit "iconic landmarks" like a typical tourist

Victoria Memorial Hall, Kolkata. From afar it kind of looked like the Taj Mahal. Well, close enough

 

As I obviously didn't spend the past 6 months in India, i'm not going to bother claiming to be a pro. All Jaime and I did was to "shortlist" some of the main stuff worth visiting in the parts we were at.

 

Simply do what you'd do if you were say visiting Rome. You'd visit the Colosseum wouldn't you? Or if you were in Paris, i'm sure you'd bother seeing how the "Real" Eiffel Tower looks like.  

Imagecredit: Jamie Ong (my travel buddy for this trip)

 

So, that's just what we did; we hunted for "iconic landmarks" to visit. (Above) Jaime taking a selfie at the "biggest attraction" in Mumbai; The Gateway of India. 

In Goa, one of the key attractions we visited was the Basilica of Bom Jesus, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

 

Attractions in India can be ridiculously over priced. Some attractions like the Taj Mahal (more on that in another post) have ticket prices for locals, and "special" prices for tourists, usually many times more expensive.

 

It's kind of like China in that aspect. Because their currency isn't worth much, and standard of living isn't the greatest, they have to fleece tourists from "attraction fees". 

Jamie at the Elephanta caves, accessible with a day trip from Mumbai 

 

I won't elaborate on the various iconic landmarks to visit since you can find those by simply googling "Mumbai/Goa/Kolkata key attractions". 

 

Sorry India. Visiting Bangladesh was the main highlight of my trip, you were just a bridesmaid (hence I put in less effort in planning)

 

2. Hit The Beach!

No vacation is ever complete without a day of lazying on the beach with a cold beer in hand. In fact, i'll always remember Goa because I received my job offer (for my current job) while lazing on this beach. It was a 12 minute phone call from Singapore detailing the terms of my job package. When I received my bill, I realized it cost me $80 (no complaints here, since I took up the offer)

 

We arrived in Goa with huge expectations. After all, when people talk about Asian beaches, the usual suspects are the beaches in Bali, Phuket, Koh Samui and of course, the magnificent Goa (if you truly haven't heard of Goa, you're living under a rock). Yes Sentosa is not in the list, no surprise there.

The "beach part" of Goa is pretty much like Phuket. Motorbikes for rent, rip off restaurants, everyone trying to sell you a "tattoo" or some beach stuff. Goa is filled with backpackers, loads of them believers of the YOLO mentality, just drinking and bonking everyday until their money runs out or till it's time to go home, whichever comes first.

The beach of Goa.

 

Ah the beach; well it isn't what I envisioned it to be. Based on the hype, I sort of expected a Maldivian sort of experience.

 

It was, in the words of another Canadian backpacker I met, "Just a sea filled with Indians". Nothing against them of course. I've loads of Indian friends whom I get along really well with and are great people. In all fairness, it was probably because I was there during "peak season" when probably half of India was there on vacation as well. 

Imagecredit: Jamie Ong (my travel buddy for this trip)

 

If you hit the beach early enough though, you do get a lovely beach to yourself for a couple of hours before the crowd starts piling in. Else, there are a couple of other quieter beaches (in the "less happening" part of Goa) you could visit to escape the crowd.

 

The bottom line? 

 

Do visit Goa; the sea is warm and welcoming, sand feels soft at your feet, and people are generally friendly and nice to tourists. Just don't bother visiting between October to January, unless the experience you're looking for is that of sardines in a can. Goa is at it's most beautiful during monsoon season between June to September. And apparently, hotels offer the most discounts during that period.

 

3. Soak up the Local Culture

Chilling at a park in Kolkata with the locals.

 

When Singaporeans travel overseas, their idea of a vacation usually revolves around Disneyland (or themeparks), shopping, cafe hoping, and getting their photo taken with one of the "iconic" attractions to "show they've been there".

 

The closest Singaporeans get to experiencing a country is probably a "local dance" at their hotel's welcome reception or while waiting for dinner to be served.

Sometimes, the truly enjoyable thing about traveling is to (as much as realistically possible) "feel like a local".

 

Travel around the country on "local transport", (which saves you money anyway) hang around the parks, have a chat with the locals. If thousands of people chill on park benches and people watch, surely there must be something enjoyable about it.

To cross the river, instead of taking a taxi across the bridge, we took a local ferry. It cost us $0.20. And yes, it was fun while it lasted... 

Been to the Shihlin Night Market in Taiwan? Or perhaps the night market in Patpong, Bangkok? If you enjoyed those, you'll enjoy India. It's pretty much the same thing, bargaining, snacking on street food, prostitutes for your selection; all available at a lower price point.

Imagecredit: Jamie Ong (my travel buddy for this trip)

 

I had no idea if this fella was selling condoms or balloons... 

Imagecredit: Jamie Ong (my travel buddy for this trip)

 

Bargain hunters anybody? Singaporeans should visit, we're supposed to be good at bargaining for discounts aren't we?