India is the best! Here are five of my favorite places:
Hampi is one of my favorite places in all of Asia. The town features amazingly well preserved ancient ruins, breathtaking scenery, friendly locals, and an un-Indian calm. Bike through 700 year old ruins, climb temple topped hills, walk through lush banana and sugar cane fields, and relax by the serene Tungabhadra River. It’s all just so great. Although Hampi takes a couple of steps to get to and from, even the train ride is memorable, with the ride back to Goa passing through mountains, over jungle, and under waterfalls (if your window is open watch out!). Hampi even has its own website, featuring everything you could possibly want to know about the town.
BEST PLACE TO EAT: Food options are a bit lacking (hint: go to the food stalls near the bus station for cheap eats), but check out Mango Grove for delicious and affordable southern India fare.
Varanasi is the most intense, memorable place I visited during my ten month trip through Asia. The sacred Hindu city manages to be unbearably crowded and remarkably peaceful at the same time. I can confidently say nowhere blends the best and worst elements of India into one place better than here. Although I am vehemently anti-sunrises/sunsets, watching the sun come up over the Ganges as pilgrims gleefully bathe themselves in the sacred water can not be missed.
BEST PLACE TO EAT: Food options are plentiful along the main road, but be sure to visit Madhur Milan Cafe for ridiculously good samosas, dosas, and southern Indian food.
Every Indian city seems to have a “must see” fort, but most fail to live up to the hype. For Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur, this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, Mehrangarh is the best fort ever, which is why Christopher Nolan chose it as the location for the epic prison scenes in The Dark Knight Rises. Mehrangarh Fort is simply incredible, a structure so large you wonder why invading forces would even even consider mounting an attack. The town itself is great too, full of cheap spice shops and amazing street food, and almost everything is within walking distance.
BEST PLACE TO EAT: Jodhpur is home to the BEST all-you-can-eat thali in India at Gypsy Restaurant.
Situated some 5,000 feet above sea level and surrounded by rolling tea fields as far as the eye can see, Munnar hill station has some of the most breathtaking views in India. Although the bus ride up can at times feel like a suicide mission, the journey is worth every hair-raising turn. Coming up/down the Kerala side is particularly stunning, as you wind through lush green mountains scattered with surreal multi-layer waterfalls. Although I am against spending more than 10 USD a night on a room, I can see why spending a week in one of Munnar’s numerous resorts would be a nice way to spend a vacation. As peaceful as the town itself is, the resorts we passed looked simply brilliant.
BEST PLACE TO EAT: Sree Mahaveer Bhojanalaya Restaurant in Old Munnar has a huge menu of northern and southern dishes, and everything we tried was just great.
Often referred to as the “Venice of the East,” Udaipur is one of the most popular destinations for Indian tourists in Northern India, and for good reason. Udaipur features five major lakes, friendly locals, and beautiful architecture. Other Rajasthani towns get more hype in Western circles, but I much prefer it’s relatively tranquil atmosphere to crowded Jaipur and pretentious Pushkar.
BEST PLACE TO EAT: If you have the time, drop 15 USD and take a four hour cooking course with Shashi Sanadhya. The food is all vegetarian, you get a printed recipe book, and the final product is just delicious.