India
Palolem beach, Goa

It’s a bank holiday Monday and I’m sitting on the sofa with a cup of tea after cooking and then devouring the yummiest curry. Since I’ve returned to the UK from India, I’ve shied away from Indian food – that’s what six weeks of having curry every day does to you (even for breakfast!) But ever since me and my boyfriend returned from India last month we’ve been desperate to test our newly learnt Indian cooking skills.

The bank holiday feast included a creamy channa masala (chickpea curry) daal (lentils) and jeera aloo (cumin spiced potatoes) and it was so good!

We learnt to cook some of these staples at a cooking class in Udaipur in Rajasthan, with a lovely woman who had run the class for the last 18 years. It was pretty quick and easy too, totally fresh and guilt-free – unlike the local takeaway.

From the food to the people, and its stunning nature, India was an amazing experience and one that will stay with me for a very long time. In the last edition of Northern Life, I had just left Jaipur and the amazing Holi festival. From there we travelled to Jaisalmer in Rajasthan, where the sand fort dominates the small town, which lies on the edge of the desert dunes.

We explored the medieval fort and traipsed along the dusty roads, weaving in between the many cows and pigs. Jaisalmer was the perfect base for a desert safari, which is exactly what we did. Jeeps took us right into the heart of the Thar desert to explore an abandoned city in the sand, and then onwards to meet the camels who were to take us to our camp.

India
Emily on desert safari in the Thar Desert

Riding a camel across the sand dunes was an incredible experience – but I have to say, it was also a painful one. After the first half an hour, it was quite uncomfortable and we must have been riding them for well over an hour. It was worth it for the views but my legs had turned to jelly when we finally made it to camp.

Thankfully the safari that we booked was no tourist trap – as I know many others have experienced – our camp was in the middle of nowhere somewhere near to the Pakistan border and it certainly felt authentic to us.

We were treated to beer, curry and snacks in the desert, watched the sunset over the dunes and then slept out in the open, under the stars. Miles from civilisation, the stars were so bright. Never in my life have I seen so many. It was absolutely breathtaking.

Udaipur, India
Lake Pichola and City Palace in in Udaipur, Rajasthan

In the morning, we rose to watch the sunrise, ate a quick breakfast and then jumped back on the camels to finish our trek. Feeling like we’d just found the highlight of our trip, and not sure how we could top it, we travelled onwards from Jaisalmer to Udaipur on a cramped, rickety overnight bus. When I caught sight of the bus we were to travel on, half of me thought someone was going to have to make a horrible phone call to my mum and dad in a few hours time but luckily, we made it to Udaipur, tired but without too many hiccups.

Udaipur is such a beautiful city and aptly nicknamed the Venice of the East. It was definitely worth the hellish ride. Lakes surrounded the stunning, ornate buildings and ancient palaces and temples, on all sides. It is not surprising that it gets compared to the romantic city in Italy. It is also a honeymoon spot for many Indians, which added to its romanticism. Watching the sunset over the lakes from a rooftop café, you can’t help but be drawn into its atmospheric feel. The beautiful town is also surrounded by impressive mountains, and is a world away from the busy and overcrowded feel of places like Delhi. Although I’m glad I visited both, it’s a complete contrast.

Our first day here we explored some of the lovely artisan shops around town, visited the impressive city palace, and soaked up the picturesque views as we ate curries at a rooftop restaurant.

The next day we took an autorickshaw up to the mountains to explore an abandoned, run-down palace, which gave us impressive views across the whole of Udaipur and its many lakes. When we returned to town, we squeezed in a cooking class before our overnight train that evening.

India
Cooking with my teacher, Sushma

The class was run by Sushma, a lovely, friendly woman, who showed us an array of Indian dishes, assisted by her two children. She demonstrated how to make chai masala tea, paneer butter masala, (which was so tasty), and a daal that was the most delicious we had on our whole trip. I helped make the daal, donning an apron and getting stuck in, much to the amusement of my boyfriend who does all the cooking in our house. Everything was made with fresh ingredients, which wasn’t as daunting as it sounds. If you have some staple spices in your cupboard then the cooking can take a maximum of 20 minutes and is pretty easy to throw together.

We also made chapattis on the open cooker flame and watched them expand before our eyes, stuffed bread with paneer and herbs, a channa masala as well as cumin spiced potatoes. After we’d been shown how to make everything, we then got to eat everything – my favourite bit of course!

With our stomachs very full, we boarded our next train to Mumbai.

This was another contrast to some of the other places we’d visited. Despite Delhi being the capital, Mumbai is a much more modern city, where wearing something off the shoulder isn’t a taboo, and having an alcoholic beverage or two, even less so. We explored the city, seeing the Gateway to India, the Taj Mahal Hotel and the views along Marine Drive with the city skyline reflected across the water.

We visited some fun bars in Mumbai but unlike the rest of the country, the prices of food and beer soar in the city. We did manage to find one very cool stock exchange themed bar which, if you choose the right drink, can be ridiculously cheap and much more traveller-budget friendly.

The following day we decided there was no way we could leave Mumbai without seeing a Bollywood film. So despite the whole thing being in Hindi, we went along to the cinema and picked a random movie to watch. We ended up seeing Phillauri, a romantic and very surreal comedy.

We understood about seven words throughout the whole film but I absolutely loved it. It was melodramatic, had some fantastic musical numbers and a surprisingly sad and stark ending. It was really interesting how much we did understand, and how we followed the ups and downs of the plot. Despite not knowing the language, the film still managed to convey all the right emotions. The cinema was also a much more immersive experience here, with people clapping and heckling, as though we were in the theatre.

India
Palolem beach, Goa

After Mumbai, the next few days were solely for chilling out rather than any cultural enlightenment. We travelled south to Goa for the last five days of our trip to enjoy some sun, sand and sea and chill out before returning to the UK. Palolem in Goa was beautiful, with clear, blue sea and a lovely beach. There were lots of restaurants, where we saw the first western-styled curries and lots of Italian food too. It’s definitely catered for tourists but nowhere near as touristy as some of the beaches we’d been to in Thailand, for instance.

After five days of topping up my tan, and trying desperately not to turn into a lobster, we got back on the train to Mumbai, where we flew to London via Abu Dhabi. After six months away, we landed in the UK, exhausted and freezing!

The trip was amazing and I feel so lucky that I was able to do it. We landed in the UK and back to reality with a bump but full of great memories, too many elephant ornaments, a few scrapes and scars, some serious sleep deprivation, and of course, those yummy curry recipes.

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