Savvy Traveler Q&A: India with PR and Marketing Guru, Natasha
August 27 2015
We wrap up our Summer Travel Series this week with the colorful, diverse, expansive South Asian country of India. It is the seventh largest country in the world and second most populated with 1.2 billion souls. Its vast terrain expands from its northern Himalayan peaks to its Indian Ocean coastline, and it has a history reaching back 5 millennia.
I traveled to India back in 2012, and my month long adventure amongst its welcoming people, rich culture and delicious cuisine left an indelible mark on my life forever. Our savvy traveler and public relations and marketing expert, Natasha, shares her remarkable experiences in this nation. As she retraces her time in India, her stories and tips stirred many memories and ignited wanderlust in me to revisit this country that overwhelms all the senses. I think it will do the same for you. Enjoy!
Name: Natasha Lekwa
Current City: New York
When was the first time you visited India and what was your first impression?
The first time I went to India was in 2008. I traveled there via ship from Africa, which took about 11 days. Roughly eight days in we could smell a certain spiciness that hung heavy in the air as we approached the country, which of course was only magnified by the insane heat. I fell in love with India as soon as we ported in the city of Chennai. Everything about the country is colorful and beautiful. The people and their kindness, the clothing, the food, the architecture, the sounds, the smells - it’s a very overwhelming experience for all senses.
What was your favorite city in India?
Going to Varanasi, the sacred holy city in India, was quite an eye-opening experience. It was all very raw and humbling. Traditionally, many Hindus believe dying in Varanasi will bring them salvation, so there are many people that are very ill or close to death. The Ganges river is where they do the burning of the bodies, as well as bathing, using the restroom, laundry, which can be a lot to take in for some people. But seeing so many intense aspects of life opened my eyes in ways that I couldn’t have imagined.
Natasha and her friend Brian bathing in the holy water of the Ganges River.
What is the one unexpected thing you discovered about India?
Just one!? That’s hard! Almost everything was unexpected for me in India so it is hard to choose just one - but I was very impressed with how welcoming the people were in most areas. The warmth and kindness of the culture is something that makes you feel at home in a way even though you are halfway across the world and everything is much different than home.
What was the coolest thing you’ve did in India?
Riding in tuk tuks is such a fun thing to do while you are in India, and also a necessary form of transportation. It’s a little bit of a rush because of how they weave in and out of traffic, as the driving is MUCH more chaotic there. Plus, drivers use the function of the horn as a “Hey! I’m here!” instead of function of “WHY DID YOU DO THAT?!?” as we do in the United States, so horns are constantly blaring to alert other drivers of their presence on the road. Oh, I also rode an elephant and kissed a camel (no, he didn’t spit on me)!
Natasha Riding an elephant!
Where is the one place you always visit when you’re in town?
Agra Fort is a beautiful destination and truly is a photographer’s dream. The architecture and views are breathtaking, and who doesn’t love walking around somewhere where there are monkeys running around freely everywhere! They are mean though, so be careful.
For a good authentic meal, what should travelers check out?
Oh, the food in India! You will never taste anything as flavorful as the delicious native Indian cuisine. Do not miss out on getting Chai tea from any “chai guy” as I dubbed them, they come down the aisles of the trains if you travel via train and they are also posted up in most airports.
What would your perfect day in India include?
Discovering a new area I haven’t traveled to before - complete with an amazing meal with warm fresh naan at a small family owned restaurant, taking a tuk tuk to a local spice market, visiting a temple, and whatever else comes up during the adventure!
Looking out to the Taj Mahal from Fort Agra.
What should those who want to get off the beaten path in India and discover something new check out?
Touring a silk factory is very intriguing if you have any interest in textiles. Also seeing them hand-weave the gorgeous gigantic rugs with a loom is mesmerizing, and you can tell some of the people have been doing it for their whole lives with how gentle they are.
What is your favorite way to relax and unwind in India?
If you’re a Westerner, “relax” is kind of a foreign concept in India as I’ve experienced. Everything is just so different that you are constantly on edge figuring out your next move, that the adventure never stops.
Do you have *extra * travel tips for India?
I could go on forever! One of the most painful things to watch there is the begging children. Although the Indian people are so beautiful as a culture, there are parts of the country where families force the children to beg as a form of income, and in some cases make the children look poorer in health than they actually are so that tourists will show sympathy.
If you are a woman, be aware of cultural standards and how to dress, I recommend long linen pants, long skirts, or maxi dresses. I also occasionally covered my blonde hair with a scarf in certain areas.
I’ll be 100% honest, I was in India for seven days and I showered once (I know, totally gross but as you travelers know, you just have to go with it). And the one time I did shower I didn’t feel like it did much in terms of cleanliness, and I almost felt dirtier. This was due to many of the nights being on sleeper trains, being constantly on the go, and the conditions of where I was at. I did however, have a LOT of baby wipes, baby powder, and hand sanitizer, which were all lifesavers, so be sure to have those on hand!
Typical street in India full of bikes, tuk tuks, cows, cars, and lots of people.
Photos courtesy of Natasha.