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Talk to Travel Better Podcast: episode 2. Heritage places in India

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Welcome to the second episode of our podcast Talk to Travel Better, a podcast made by travelers for travelers! Last episode we discussed offbeat destinations in India, this time we’re talking all about heritage places there.

During this episode:

  • We meet our guest Ami Bhat from India
  • We discuss the places you could visit if it’s your first time in India
  • Ami talks all about heritage places like Hampi
  • We talk about tips for first-time visitors to India

Listen to it by pushing play down here. Also, you can read the content of the podcast that we transcribed below!

Talk to Travel Better podcast, episode 2: Heritage places in India

Welcome to Talk to Travel Better! A podcast made by travelers for travelers. During each episode, we discuss different destinations and we give you tips so you can travel better.

Talk to Travel Better podcast is brought to you by Talk Travel App, which is a voice mobile application that enables travelers to speak in their own preferred language to destination experts and quickly find answers to their travel related queries. This app reduces the time and effort needed to plan travel and provides a more rich and authentic travel experience to travelers. So don’t forget to check it out. It is available for iOS and Android, and you can download it right now.

Also, don’t forget to check their blog at talktravelapp.com, where they have great destination guides. And follow them on social media as Talk Travel App.

Justine: So welcome to Talk to Travel Better, my name is Justine and I will be your host. Today we have a really great guest. Her name is Ami and she is a marketing consultant by degree and a travel blogger by passion. Her blog ThrillingTravel.in is one of the top travel blogs in India. And that’s the place where she shares the thrill of traveling with her readers. Ami is also a current author on Lonely Planet India. And we’re so happy to have you here, Ami. How are you today?

Ami: All good. Good to be here.

Justine: Well, thank you very much for being part of this. So first of all what do you think is the best way to know India. Going to offbeat destinations are going to better-known cities or places?

Ami: Well, first of all, hi everyone… again. It’s nice to represent India in this entire world of travel. So for a traveler who is coming to India for the first time I highly… I mean, it could get to be a quite a bit of a cultural shock because we have our own distinct cultures, distinct beliefs. You know the whole way of life is slightly more different. And if you were to come to what some of our cities, you’d get a mix of both the modern and you know with a little bit the contemporary with the little bit of traditional because by heart, by heart we still are traditional people.

Having said that for somebody who is coming to India for the first time I highly recommend that you start with the slightly more developed tourist places but just typically if you ask anybody it would be the Taj Mahal or Rajasthan or Goa or Kerala. I mean because these, these destinations are with the influx of tourists that we have, they are far more developed and you know.

This kind of ease you into the culture of India. You’d start enjoying the country for rather than you know…

Justine: Yes, having like a shock…

Ami: Yes, it is rather than a shock you’ll probably just you know ease into the culture of India. And that probably will create a wanderlust on you. And that is when you know you’ll probably want to experience the rest of India.

When you talk of offbeat destinations… offbeat. I think if you take out these few places which people know, the rest of India is pretty much offbeat. For somebody who’s coming to India for the second time. Go for it. I mean go for it, go for those offbeat destinations go for something other than the Golden Triangle or go out of Kerala.

Justine: And for example for someone that is coming for the first time to India. What would you say like, these are the destinations you have to visit. For example you mentioned the Golden Triangle. Can you explain more of that Golden Triangle?

Ami: So the Golden Triangle basically starts with the Taj Mahal which typically becomes the main reason why you’re visiting India. So it starts with the Taj Mahal and discovering the city of Agra. I mean since Agra is so close to Delhi, you kind of cover Delhi as well. And then from there, you move towards Rajasthan, so in Rajasthan, you have Jaipur which is typical of palaces and forts and it’s like extremely rich who there.

So typically it’s like Delhi, Agra, Jaipur if you have to take the short route. If you go for a slightly more longer route then there’s all of Rajasthan itself which is basically Jaipur, Jodhpur, Udaipur, Jaisalmer, Bikaner. Typically a lot of people that come to India go through this particular triangle.

Other than that the other tourists who visit India they… you know prefer, if they prefer beaches and stuff so they go to Goa or you know in the backwaters and the forests. So typically this is what most first time visitors in India kind of you know tour around.

Another alternative that they do is take one of our luxury trains. The Palace on Wheels or the Golden Chariot… we have tons of those. I mean almost every circuit has one kind of train… the popular circuits. So a lot of visitors I find, especially the luxury visitors kind of come in and take the train journey so that they can cover to see these same cities in a slightly more experiential manner.

Justine: Yeah, because also… India is really big. And sometimes I feel like people don’t think that it will take time to go from one city to another city. For example, I didn’t tell you but I live in Mexico and while many European people come and they’re like oh I’m going to go from Cancun and then I’m going to go to Mexico City and it’s like the distances are so long and sometimes people don’t think that the countries are really, really, really big. So I feel like that’s something that people should also think before going.

Ami: Absolutely, it’s pretty important that you mark your internal travel. The bigger cities like I just mentioned or the cities that have been so far mentioned rather, they are pretty well connected by road trail or even those internal flights. But well, the internal flights if you book them in advance you pretty much save a lot and save a lot of time and money as well.

What people don’t realize is that yes this commute does take a lot of time. And in each city itself, you need to spend time. There’s no point just going in you know pick marking that, saying yeah, I visited this but not really exploring the city. Like Jaipur itself. Personally, I think you don’t do justice unless you’ve stayed there for three days… minimum. So. So you know those kinds of time factors definitely have to be kept in mind.

I highly recommend road journeys to a lot of these places because you know the towns in between, the stopovers that you can make. Those are… you know, those give you a taste of the authentic India and also give you a taste of the offbeat locations that you might want to visit the next time.

So for example, if you take if you take the popular circuit Jaipur and Jodhpur. If you’re going from Jaipur to Jodhpur along the way you can actually stop at Ajmer and Pushkar. So you know these two are you know smaller destinations and you don’t truly need to spend too much time unless you are OK to rough it out a little bit. Or you know if you want a little desert experience or something of that sort. You can pretty much do this on the way. You don’t have to like you know completely take a day out for it.

Justine: Is it safe going on the road?

Ami: Absolutely. It is pretty much safe. I mean yes you can drive on your own as well but you, you get cabs on hire at far more reasonable rates than most other countries. So you might as well just sit back and just enjoy the ride. And it’s pretty much safe, it’s pretty much safe. There is no issue. It is that it’s, it’s easier for you because you know the highways in India are not exactly the highways that you find abroad. So you know you’ll probably see a peacock crossing the road and don’t know what to do.

But if you don’t mind these kind of a little rougher thing just go ahead. You know, there’s absolutely no issue driving in.

Justine: Yeah, you could like drive like a real Indian.

Ami: Yeah, absolutely. You know a road trip in India is definitely something that I recommend. It is more interesting, even the sights on the road. And I’ve been here you know for a majority. A major part of my life. I still get stunned by some of the sceneries that I you know get on a road trip.

Justine: Yes, exactly. Like I’ve been doing road trips for the last month here in Mexico and I’ve discovered things that I didn’t even really know existed here. And I’ve been living here my whole life.

Ami: Absolutely.

Justine: I feel like it’s a really nice way to explore a place.

Ami: And then there are some places where like when you talk of offbeat destinations some of these destinations are not so well-connected so you will not probably find an airport in that town. You will probably have to go to the nearest airport and then drive down. Or probably if you are lucky maybe take a train down. So you know ultimately there’s no escaping the roads especially when it comes to offbeat destinations.

Take, for example, a destination like Mahabalipuram which is a UNESCO site in South India. Or even Hampi. Until recently we did not even have an airport close by. The closest airport was Bangalore where I stay. And from there Hampi was about five to seven hours drive.

Justine: Wow.

Ami: Yeah. But now, now because it is a major UNESCO site they have an airport which is closer. And that is only in the last couple of months. If you take Mahabalipuram for example, another UNESCO site and that’s like a seventh century, you know, heritage site. The closest airport is Chennai. So you know from today you have to drive down. You don’t have a choice. So the roads are pretty good and stuff like that.

But I mean these are just some examples that are offbeat destinations where you know the access is on the roads.

Justine: And so speaking about heritage places. I know you love them. Which heritage places would you recommend in India?

Ami: See, there is no escaping the Golden Triangle. That’s definitely… we are very proud of. When you come to the southern part of India the architectural style and the history itself is very different. So what you see in the North is slightly more polished and more recent because they were all in the fifteen hundreds in the sixteen hundreds and stuff. When you come down south you’ll see a very mono-colored but beautiful, beautifully carved temples and palaces… mostly temples. Every inch of the wall is literally poetry in stone.

What you see over there is completely different from what you would have experienced up North. And these are, these all actually date back to even 7th century, 8th century which is like even older than what is seen in the North. So when you come to the South there are a lot of these places. Mahabalipuram, Hampi and then there is Thanjavur, Madurai, Mysore. These are some amazing destinations for heritage.

If you go to Central India, again… there is a different kind of feel over there. Which is slightly more towards the Rajput or Rajasthani style. So, there you will again find a lot of these destinations like Mandu, Khajuraho… Khajuraho is a very popular temple.

Then, in the West, you have caves like the Ajanta and Ellora Caves, which are completely carved there. They have a completely different feel. Basically, if you are a heritage or a history buff that is absolutely nothing to… you know, I mean, you will just go crazy in India. Practically every city has some sort of a heritage destiny, you know, some heritage stop that you can visit.

Justine: Is there a place that you went there and you didn’t expect it would be like that and it was better than what you expected?

Ami: The first time I went to Hampi I was stunned. It was just… for at least and I knew what to expect but it was even better than what I expected. And coincidentally I happened to visit Rome before that so when I had visited Rome, one of the things that I had loved about it is that you turn left in the ruins when you do it right there are ruins and you just walk along the path and it just ruins around and is a story to tell everywhere. So I love that about Rome. Hampi is exactly that. Hampi is a complete kingdom which has been excavated. Literally every, you know, turn that you make that is some kind of discovery that you will make because there is some kind of ruin. Well, you know… waiting to tell a story. And so some of the temples that I saw were just totally mind-blowing.

There’s a temple that’s called Vithala Temple where you have these musical pillars. So… they no longer allow you to tap those pillars but if you tap those pillars you basically get the sound of an instrument. Yeah… so that… that used to be a dance pavilion. And apparently, it was used by the musicians to create music while there was a dance going on in the courtyard.

It’s fascinating to see that signs and these musical pillars are not just some musical pillars… you know, they’re actually carved, very exotic. So you’ll find a horse kind of a pillar and the smaller pillars behind that make the sound of a galloping horse.

Justine: What?!

Ami: Yes. So… it was just fascinating when, when I had this guy tell me all these things I was like… I was totally amazed I’m like: how did they do that?

Justine: How much time do you need to really enjoy that place?

Ami: So, I have gone there some multiple times and I’ve always had something different there. But… I typically advise people that keep at least three days. At least minimum three days because there’s this there’s so much for you to see in a block. You know, some of the ruins over there go back to the days of what they call the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. And then there is the more recent ones, which are like… recent ones when I say that is about you know the 4th, 5th century kind of ones which are slightly more whole. And each one of them is a story. So each one is like a tip. If you’re a history buff you’ll probably just want to wait and check out every nook and corner before you move to the next monument. Yeah, it’s fascinating I mean Hampi completely took me by surprise.

Justine: It’s amazing that you can go there several times and still discover things.

Ami: Absolutely. In fact, I don’t think I’ve had enough of Hampi. I can still go.

Justine: You’re planning to go there again?

Ami: It’s closer to home. So you know I always look for an opportunity when I discover something. I mean that’s the thing about destinations the number of times you visit, you’ll always find something new there.

Justine: Yes. I also read something on your on your About page that I really like and you said like: I don’t feel like traveling is like a checklist. If I can get back to some destinations to explore more I think it’s better and I really like that mindset because I feel nowadays some people are just traveling to check something off their lists and oh I’ve been to the Eiffel Tower. I’ve been to Rome. But they don’t really enjoy a place.

Ami: Absolutely, time is never enough in a place. That’s what I believe. I mean, every time you go you might think you have a whole day. But honestly, sometimes that days is just not enough. So every time you return to a place you actually if you keep an open mind you realize there’s so much more than I’ve missed the last time. I also believe that sometimes it’s destiny which brings you back to a place because you’ve left it incomplete.

Justine: Yeah, I was talking to a friend the other day and I really want to get back to Peru, because I lived there for, for some months and he was like: no, no, no, you can’t go back because it will be completely different as what you remember. And I was like: well, yeah, that’s the reason I go back. I wanna see what’s different now.

Ami: Absolutely, and then sometimes you know visiting your own backyard as a tourist makes you discover something different. So there are a lot of things which within my own city, which I have lived for about 20 years. But when I look, I decided to play tourist with my daughter. I decided to… since it was vacation time I said you’ve not experienced, you’ve not really seen Bangalore. Let’s go see Bangalore. And we played tourist in my own city and it was fascinating to figure out places which you’re taking for granted and not really seeing properly.

Justine: And also I feel like when you live in a place since you think everything will be there forever you don’t take time to really go and explore.

Ami: Absolutely. Absolutely. We don’t tend to explore our own backyard.

Justine: Well, finally what would be some tips… you’ve already given a lot of tips but like… what would be some tips for non-Indians that are going to India for the first time. Like the basics, they should know.

Ami: Yes, one is we are different Asian countries. India is a lot different, we’re a traditional country even though you know we’ve modernized and stuff like that. And it’s a tropical country more importantly. So you know you got to be prepared for the climate and the sensitivity of the people around. We are quite open-minded as Indians you know like for example if you’re going to a temple and stuff. There are certain norms that go with the temple. It would be nice if you as a tourist adhere to that which is basically on my short clothes, cover your shoulders and make sure your things end below the knee and stuff like that… remove your shoes, etc. I mean those are small, small things that I mean that I think most people need to keep in mind because those are just you know sensitivities, cultural sensitivities.

Justine: But, for example, when you go to temples do people tell you that? Because I feel sometimes as a tourist you’re a bit clueless if you don’t make some research before.

Ami: Yes, yes… I think typically if you have hired a guide or a taxi driver or somebody or maybe even like temples like Madurai Temple and all which get a lot of tourists, those guys tell you at the counter itself. And that goes with every country I’m, I’m not just saying it’s India. So I think the cultural sensitivities are something which I think most people need to keep in mind.

People talk of street food and stuff like that. A lot of these street foods are actually pretty okay to have especially if they are cooked in front of you. Yes, our food is spicy and every region has a different type of spice. From green chillis, to red chillis. So yes it is a little spicy. But I would say just dip into it because you will not really experience the place unless you really experience the local food.

Justine: Well yeah, it’s like I always say that I am about Mexican because I don’t do spicy food, I’m not used to it… which is embarrassing but of course… like eating…

Ami: You have a share of bland, tangy food as well, so yes just to check around and I’m sure you’ll find something to your palate. I would say just dip into the Indian food somewhere… especially the local food and you know you can always check with them you can always request the restaurants to put less spice and stuff like that. And I think you guys… I mean most people who are coming to India should so definitely try and witness one of our festivals. Because that truly will give you a true flavor of the culture of India.

Justine: Yeah, well… that would be like a whole other podcast topic.

Ami: Other than that, if you go to a mall or something the prices are pretty much fixed but if you’re doing some street shopping yeah, go ahead and bargain a little bit… shouldn’t be an issue. Again prepaid sims and stuff are pretty much available. There’s connectivity practically almost anywhere in India. So you can just pick up a prepaid sim, they’re pretty cheap and stay in touch with whoever you need to.

Justine: Well you mentioned you have a daughter. For example, for people traveling to India with children. Would you say it’s a good destination? Or what tips would you give to people traveling with children?

Ami: I think there’s absolutely no issues traveling with children. The only thing is yes, we’re not really catered, we’re not really geared to handle prams and stuff, so you might have to carry your child around. But other than that I don’t see a problem. Pretty much get all the baby food that you need or any kind of you know medicines that you may need… you know, you won’t face those kind of choose in India. They’re practically available everywhere. We have practically most of the multinational brands. Water again you know… Bottled water is available practically every way. If you are very particular about it otherwise you can just go you know use one of those filtered bottles that most other places provide you.

Justine: Well, so you want to add anything more to these tips?

Ami: So I think you know it would be nice if everybody kind of looked beyond the regular tourist circle and tries out something different in India.

Justine: Explore a little bit more in India.

Ami: Yes.

Justine: Perfect. Ok. So just to end this please tell us where can we follow you, where can we read your blog posts.

Ami: Yes, so my website is pretty much that, ThrillingTravel.in and yeah, I’m pretty active on Twitter, Instagram, and on Facebook, all these links are available on my website. But anyways, I am @AmiBhat on Twitter as well as in Instagram.

Justine: Perfect. Well, thank you very much. This was super interesting. And I hope we can talk again another time.

Ami: Yes, I hope so too. All right. Thank you.

Justine: So that was today’s episode. Thanks so much to our guest today, and remember that this podcast is brought to you by Talk Travel App. And don’t forget to follow them at Talk Travel App in every social media platform and to check their blog because they have great destination guides at talktravelapp.com.

My name is Justine and see you next time!

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