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    Why Do I Love India?

    I first visited India during my gap year and instantly fell in love. After volunteering and travelling on my own through this remarkable country,  I decided that I had to return ASAP.

    By December 2013, I was on a flight back to Delhi. Packing my Mum, a Rough Guide to India and a lot of essay notes (I had to write my dissertation whilst overlooking the Himalayas and the river Ganges… I couldn’t complain), we set off on a 3 week backpacking adventure across Rishikesh, Rajasthan and Kerala.

    I am now in the midst of planning my next trip – the big ol’ gap life, and guess what country is on the top of my list (drum roll pleaseeeee)… you got it, India!!

    Therefore, I thought I would share with you some of the reasons why I love India so much and why I jump at any chance to go back:

    ***Please note, this list is not extensive***

    Why I Love India - Holi - My Culture Craving

    The Colours

    Everywhere you go in India, there is an abundance of beautiful, vibrant colours.

    From the exquisite, intricately embroidered saris, iridescent, sparkling bangles and radiant coloured turbans to the mounds of traditional, scarlet vermilion powder, bowls of multicoloured, fragrant spices and wacky, psychedelic tuk tuks, there is not a single corner of India, which is without a splash of colour.

    You only have to admire the awe-inspiring Holi Festival, which dances its way through the streets of India like a Catherine wheel of colour every year, to understand the importance and allure of colour in this kaleidoscopic country.

    5 Unmissable Sights in Udaipur - My Culture Craving

    The Music

    I LOVE Bollywood music. If I’m ever feeling a bit down in the dumps and need a good pick me up song, I don’t wack on the most recent Taylor Swift tune, I pop on a Bollywood soundtrack and pretend I’m sexy (I’m not) and can dance like the Bollywood stars in the videos (I can’t)… but hey, it always works…

    In India, whether you find yourself in a shop, a rickshaw, a side street, a slum, a tuk tuk or a temple, everywhere is alive with the joyous sound of body bopping, shoulder bouncing, hand jumping, Indian music.

    Don’t let being in public stop you from busting your moves!

    Here is a link to one of my favourite Bollywood film soundtracks (if you don’t mind subtitles, the film is also definitely worth a watch!)

    Why I Love India - Spirituality - My Culture Craving

    The Spirituality

    Whether you are looking to become a full time yogi, a pro at meditation or, you simply want to find your ‘inner self’,  India has a spiritual aura, which will help elevate you to become a more calm, peaceful and focused person.

    Enroll yourself into a yoga and meditation retreat or an ashram and see how India can awaken your inner spiritualist.

    Why I Love India - Locals - My Culture Craving

    The People

    People in India are some of the happiest, kindest, most thoughtful, smiley, grateful and polite people I have ever met (especially the children). Yes, some Indians will try and scam you and others may curiously stare however,  this doesn’t mean that everyone else is the same.

    Spark up a conversation with a tuk tuk driver, hotel receptionist, shop owner or a local on a train and you’ll soon discover how good-natured and warm-hearted the people of India are.

    Why I Love India - Scenery - My Culture Craving

    The Scenery

    From the towering, snow-capped Himalayas and serene, secluded desert to the picturesque, tranquil backwaters and scenic green tea plantations, India has every possible breathtaking scenery you could ever imagine, all under one tropical roof.

    Why I Love India - Food - My Culture Craving

    The Food

    Whether you’re enjoying an extravagant thali of delicious and flavoursome curries, rice and bread or, delving into a crisp, spiced street samosa, food is always a prominent highlight whilst travelling through India.

    Don’t be afraid to try food from the street vendors and to sample strange, new delicacies. It’s all a part of the experience (and ridiculously cheap)!!

    I could go on and on about everything I love about India… If you have ever been, what would you add to this list? Please comment, Tweet or Facebook me to let me know :)! 

    Also, please don’t forget to pop over and give my Bloglovin’ page a like :).

    It’s All About the Islands – Thailand

    Recently, a lot of my nearest and dearest have been picking my brains on where to go in the backpacker haven of Thailand.

    Although this country is only a small slice of Asia, it is jam-packed with exciting things to see and do. From culture, wildlife, tribes and temples in the North to tans, parties, buckets and beaches in the South, it’s no surprise that choosing where to spend most of your time is a tricky task… especially when you don’t have much time to spare.

    Therefore, to get you started, here is my guide to some (they’re all amazing!) of the best islands in Thailand:

    Favourite Moments of Travel - Full Moon Party - My Culture Craving

    Koh Phangan

    Situated on the East coast of Thailand, Koh Phangan is notorious for its infamous Full Moon Parties. Brimming with booze, backpackers and bonanza, by night, Koh Phangan lights up with the buzz of travellers in search of the bright nightlife at Haad Rin beach. Fluorescent neon paint, thrill-seeking fire dancers, crazy pool parties, blaring music… Koh Phangan is complete and utter carnage!

    However, if the partying scene isn’t up your street, don’t overlook this island straight away. Offering some of the most beautiful beaches in the country, Koh Phangan’s exuberant nature and scenery are definitely still worth a visit.

    My highlights:

    – Going to a pool party at Coral Bungalows

    – The Full Moon Party

    – Unfortunately, it rained most of the time I was on Koh Phangan therefore, I didn’t get a chance to explore it as much as I’d hoped.

    It's all About the Islands - Thailand - Koh Tao - My Culture Craving

    Koh Tao

    Floating around a 1 1/2 hour boat journey North of Koh Phangan, Koh Tao is the go to island, to recover from the damage done by its rowdy neighbour. Renowned for its cheap PADI diving courses and zen atmosphere, Koh Tao is a peaceful bubble of bliss.

    Kick back on a beach bean bag, listen to the reggae music float from beach bar to bar, as the sea laps against the sand, and count your lucky stars you’re there… you will never want to leave.

    My highlights:

    – Going diving for the first time

    – Relaxing on the beach bean bags

    – Watching the sunset

    It's all About the Islands - Thailand - My Culture Craving

    Koh Lanta

    Situated around a two-hour boat journey from Phi Phi, Koh Lanta is a hub of tranquility.

    Sprinkled with cute, idyllic beach huts and uncrowded beaches, Koh Lanta is the perfect island to spend your days relaxing on the beach with a good book and your evenings sipping on an ice-cold beer whilst delving into a freshly caught fish.

    However, if you’re looking to be more Dora the Explorer than Sid the Sloth, rent a jeep or moped and explore the untouched jungle covered hills and mountains, which run through the island. Just be warned… power steering is a luxury in Thailand…

    My highlights:

    – Eating fresh fish in a beach front restaurant

    – Renting a jeep

    – Watching the sunset at Noon Sunset Viewpoint Restaurant (a must whilst on the island)

    It's all About the Islands - Phi Phi, Thailand - My Culture Craving

    Koh Phi Phi

    This is the island, which I tell every backpacker who is heading to Thailand to go to – it is paradise… and this isn’t just because Phi Phi is where I first set eyes on a turtle in the wild (woooo)…

    With its colourful sea life, clear, turquoise waters, limestone cliffs and lively beach parties, Phi Phi is Koh Phangan’s not so wild, baby sister.

    My highlights:

    – Indulging in a fresh fruit smoothie from one of the street stalls every morning

    – Kayaking to Monkey Beach

    – Going snorkeling (Phi Phi was the best place I snorkeled during my gap year… including The Whitsundays in Oz!)

    – Visiting the Phi Phi viewpoint

    – Drinking buckets and partying at the beach bars/clubs

    If you have ever been to Thailand, which islands were your favourite? Please comment, Facebook or Tweet me to let me know :)! For more information on how to get from one island to another, check out this website

    The Taj Mahal in All its Glory – Agra, India

    On New Year’s Day last year, my Mother and I were lucky enough to spend the day wandering around the magnificent Taj Mahal.

    Located around a 4 hour drive/train journey from Delhi, this white marble mausoleum stands proudly in the city of Agra, Uttar Pradesh.

    Built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahanin in memory of his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, between 1632 and 1653, the Taj Mahal is a masterpiece of complete and utter beauty, love and splendor.

    Whether you decide to visit the Taj Mahal at sunrise, sunset or during the day, due to pollution laws, you must buy your tickets (750/- approximately £8 per person – BARGAIN) at a ticket office on the outskirts of the Taj. From there, you can walk or, hop onto an electric bus, which will take you to one of the many entrances, where your journey into Mughal history, breathtaking architecture and selfie taking with locals (I’m talking, with every single Indian man, woman and family…), will begin.

    Included in the price of your ticket, you are given a bottle of water, some shoe covers and the option of having a tour guide.

    The Taj Mahal in all its Glory - Shoes - My Culture Craving

    Although the idea of having a tour guide may be off putting, if you haven’t researched the history, the intricate detail or the different sections of the Taj Mahal, and are willing to pay a small tip, then it is definitely worth the small hassle… and on the plus side, your guide can also take your obligatory ‘we went to the Taj Mahal’ group photos for you…

    The Taj Mahal in all its Glory - Pose - My Culture Craving

    My Mother and I opted to go without a tour guide, simply because I had used one on my first visit and, because of this, convinced my Mum that I could impart the same Taj wisdom as the guides.

    In reality, I was slightly hungover and reciting my Lonely Planet…

    However, despite myyyyyyy not so great guidance, we soon found ourselves approaching the large terracotta coloured gate, which stood between us and the Taj Mahal.

    Excited, apprehensive and intrigued… we made our way through.

    It felt like a surreal mirage. The crisp green gardens, the sensational symmetry, the iridescent water fountains, which give you an increased sense of illusion – and the white marble Taj Mahal. Standing tall on its opalescent podium. In all its glory…

    The Taj Mahal in all its Glory - From Afar - My Culture Craving

    The Taj Mahal in all its Glory - Agra - My Culture Craving

    The Taj Mahal in all its Glory - India - My Culture Craving

    The Taj Mahal in all its Glory - Detailing - My Culture Craving

    The Taj Mahal is seeped in such love and grandeur, it is no wonder (see what I’ve done there…) it’s one of the Great Wonders of Our World.

    Facts and advice about the Taj Mahal:

    – When going through the arch, which leads to the Taj Mahal, dip your head until you are half way through the archway and look up… you won’t believe your eyes!

    – The Taj Mahal is elevated off of the ground so that it only has the sky as a backdrop.

    – If you place a torch against the semi-precious stones inside the Taj Mahal, they glow.

    – If you are a tourist, when you are queuing to view the tomb inside the Taj, it is likely that the guards will push you in front of the locals to go in.

    – It is closed on Fridays.

    Have you ever visited the Taj Mahal? If you have, what was your highlight? Please comment, Tweet or Facebook me to let me know :)! 

    My Top Travel Destinations of 2014

    For me, 2014 has been a year of change. I have graduated from University, moved back home, found a job at a magazine, started this blog and, I’ve even been lucky enough to visit some incredible destinations and have a hell of a lot of fun along the way!!

    It has been hard to choose my favourite countries/cities of the year however, I have managed to whittle them down.

    So, without further ado and in no particular order, here are my top four travel destinations of 2014. Plus, the destination I have voted as my number one country/city of the year:

    Kerala, India - My Culture Craving

    Kerala, India

    I started the year of 2014 indulging in a luxurious Indian banquet, drinking a lot of wine (it would have been rude not to take advantage of the free bar) and dancing the night away thinking I looked like the main star in a Bollywood movie- all in a 5* hotel in Agra… it doesn’t get much better than that, does it?

    However, my great discovery of India this time around (this was my second chance to travel around this unbelievable country) was Kerala in the South of India.

    On my last trip I travelled Rajasthan extensively however, the sandy beaches, endearing house boats and tranquil backwaters of Kerala remained a mystery. Therefore, I assigned the last week of my most recent trip to relaxing, becoming a beach bum and soaking up the calming side of this hectic country in Cochin.

    Kerala is exotic, picturesque and a lot more peaceful than Rajasthan however, it also has a lot of things to see and do! Check out my post on things to get up to off the beaten track in Cochin, Kerala here.

    A week was no where near long enough in this easygoing state (I think a month would even be pushing it) therefore, I will definitely be going back during gap year #2!!

    Canterbury, UK - My Culture Craving

    Canterbury, England

    Despite having to wave goodbye to my life as a student in Kent this July, Canterbury will always be my home away from home.

    If you are a student in Kent or just happen to be in the area, make sure you take time to check out Canterbury’s cute, cobbled side streets, charming cafes and outstanding Cathedral.

    I still rush back here at every chance I get. Find a few posts I have written about good ol’ Canters here, here, here, here and here (you can take the student out of Uni, but you can’t take the student out of the girl… does that even make sense??..)

    Favourite Moments of Travel - Ibiza - My Culture Craving

    Ibiza, Spain

    After years of testing the water on the notorious party islands of Malia and Ayia Napa, my girlfriends and I decided that this year, we were ready… we were ready to experience the party capital of the world, IBIZAAAA!!

    Beautiful beaches, huge performances, 24/7 partying and quality time with the gals… it was everything I had always imagined it to be.

    Although we were on a standard 18-30s holiday, it surprised me at how classy and beautiful the different areas of the island were. I would love to go back and experience the luxurious side of this eccentric island… maybe when my budget isn’t so tight!

    Discovering Montreux, Switzerland - Market - My Culture Craving

    Montreux, Switzerland

    As you may already know from my last couple of posts, I discovered the picturesque municipality of Montreux, Switzerland a couple of weekends ago.

    With its magnificent mountains, unique, wooden houses and mounds of cheese and fondue, Montreux was the perfect place to get a real taste of Switzerland.

    I had a great day unearthing a side to Switzerland I had never seen before and can’t wait to adventure further into the Swiss countryside at a later date!

    And number 1 is… drum roll please…

    Hvar, Croatia - History - My Culture Craving

    Hvar, Croatia

    I went to Hvar in Croatia for an end of University blow out with my Uni gals… and boy did it deliver!!

    Known for its crystal clear waters, pebbled beaches, marble-esque buildings, backpacker nightlife and luxurious yachts, we knew that Hvar was going to offer us both culture and crazy, drunken fun, all on one island.

    When we first arrived I was taken aback by the immaculate beauty of the island as well as the steep prices. However, we soon found that excessive pre-drinking (not that I’m condoning binge drinking in any way…) and befriending their more… wealthy visitors, played in our budgets favour!

    This island is stunning by day, soooo so much fun by night and has still not been ruined by us binge-drinking Brits. So get there while you can… it is my favourite destination of 2014.

    What have been your favourite destinations of 2014? Please comment, Tweet or Facebook me to let me know :)! 

    The Great Army of China

    For me, China was a roller coaster of highs and lows.

    Being scammed, leaving my rucksack containing my passport on a bus and getting to Beijing airport only to discover that my flight to Delhi had been cancelled, were understandably, definite lows (don’t worry, I’m not still stranded in Beijing airport – my passport was retrieved and I did eventually make it to India). However, getting the rare opportunity to visit the Great Wall of China (check out The Student Travels great post on the Great Wall here) and the chance to see the Terracotta Army in all its glory, were highs, which definitely outweighed the lows… bad experiences such as these ones, only add to the experience anyway, don’t they…?

    The Terracotta Army is a unique masterpiece, situated 12 hours South of Beijing, in the ancient city of Xian.

    When you put the concept of the Terracotta Army in perspective, it is just unbelievable… (apologies for the brief history lesson, which is about to follow).

    In the late third century BCE, the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang ordered approximately 700,000 workers to carve an Army to protect him in the afterlife. Consisting of around 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, he had each sculpture individually carved using local people as inspiration thus, ensuring that every soldier was different and lifelike… It is rumored that deadly booby-traps were planted in the tomb to protect the Army and any treasure that was buried in it.

    The tomb was discovered in 1974 by farmers digging a water well and have been being excavated and admired ever since.

    The Terracotta Army, China - Pit - My Culture Craving

    When visiting the tomb, there are three pits containing Qin Shi Huang’s Terracotta Army, each of which are in different stages of excavation and restoration. Pit one is the most breathtaking. Containing line upon line of lifelike warriors, carved at different heights and with varying hair styles, expressions, uniforms, gestures and facial hair, it is the largest and most impressive pit of the three.

    Although pit two and three are definitely still worth a visit, they are no way near as restored, organised or vast as pit one. Therefore, I would recommend starting at pit three and working your way back, otherwise your visit might become a bit of an anti-climax.

    The Terracotta Army, China - My Culture Craving

    The Terracotta Army, China - Sightseeing - My Culture Craving

    TOP TIPS AND INFO:

    – Read up about the history of the Army. If you don’t understand the context of what you are looking at, they are going to look like a load of weird terracotta men standing in a row in a room. If you don’t have time to learn about the history beforehand, pay for a guide, it will make your experience a lot more worthwhile and memorable!

    – Get a bus to the museum. It takes around an hour to get there and is cheap as chips (around 70p-£1 each way). The bus you need is bus 5 (306), which you will find sat opposite Xian train station.

    – Entry cost is around 150RMB (approx £15). If you want to be a dare-devil like I was, try showing your driving license and say it is a student card to get student discount… it worked for us however, if you end up looking like I fool (which also happened to me later on in my trip), I take no responsibility. Alas, if it works, you heard it here, on The Globe-Trotting Graduate first!!

    – The museum is open all year round, 8.30am – 5.30pm.

    Enjoy!!!

    24 Hours in Varanasi, India

    Varanasi is chaotic, archaic, picturesque and above all, magical.

    Situated on the bank of the River Ganges, Varanasi is considered the holiest city in India. With its endearing history, unique, ancient buildings and mesmerising, spiritual Ghats, Varanasi is a city like no other.

    Due to an unfortunate train delay, my time in Varanasi was sparse. Therefore, I had to utilise the 24 hours I had in this unbelievable city…

    If you are short on time when visiting Varanasi, be sure to squeeze in these four things:

    24 Hours in Varanasi, India - Clothes - My Culture Craving

    Walk alongside the River Ganges

    Start your day by having an amble around the Ganges and admiring its multipurpose Ghats.  

    Varanasi’s Ghats are timeless.

    As you wander alongside these holy waters, there is something special in the atmosphere, which is hard to describe.

    Everywhere you look, there is something heartwarming to admire. Joyous children flying their vibrant coloured kites, nonchalant cows smugly roaming along the riverside, locals bathing and playing in the Ganges, men crafting traditional wooden boats by the water, kids excitedly playing cricket amidst the crowd, families washing and drying their clothes on the sidewalk, masses of rowing boats floating atop the gentle water, and, most noticeably, the bodies, which are wrapped and embellished in vivid, iridescent materials, being carried through the city, towards their bed of rest.

    Varanasi is a melody for the senses. Love it or hate it, this is the real India.

    24 Hours in Varanasi, India - My Culture Craving

    Visit the Blue Lassi shop

    Whether you venture here for a light snack after wandering around the Ghats or for breakfast, lunch or dinner, this Lassi shop is a must visit whilst in Varanasi!

    Blue Lassi has been making the yummiest lassis in town for three generations!

    Nestled down one of Varanasi’s many rustic side streets, this lassi shop is a backpacker haven. Decorated in previous traveller’s notes, anecdotes and sketches, as well as photographs of the shops predecessors, Blue Lassi is a heartwarming and memorable experience, before you’ve even indulged in a spoonful of one of their delicious, creamy lassis.

    With a choice of over 80 flavours (I know!!) ranging from your standard sweet, sour and salty to your more exotic ingredients of pomegranate, banana and chocolate, you are bound to have a hard time deciding which one to go for!

    When they arrive, the lassis are garnished with all of the necessary fruity toppings and served in an adorable, traditional clay bowl.

    24 Hours in Varanasi, India - Burning Ghats - My Culture Craving

    Experience the burning Ghats 

    Spend some time watching and learning about the rituals, which take place at the burning Ghats.

    The burning Ghats in Varanasi are something which, if you are travelling in India, you will without a doubt have heard about. Whether you have been told horror stories of burning flesh and floating limbs or tales of fascination and enlightenment, it is a tradition, which is so far-fetched from our own, you must experience for yourself!

    Hindus believe that if you are cremated and scattered in the Ganges you will go to ‘Nirvana’ – it is the ultimate end to life for them.

    Everyday, up to 400 cremations take place at the burning Ghats in Varanasi.

    When I arrived at one of the ceremonies, the first thing that struck me, was the vast amount of bodies lined up, awaiting their turn to enter paradise… I knew that the Ghats were in high demand, but wow, that was alotttttt of dead bodies! The second thing which shocked me, was that all of the bodies were completely covered (I think the tales of burning flesh and floating limbs had taken their toll). The bodies were wrapped in beautiful, bright fabrics and draped in traditional embellishments.

    The cremations are touching and insightful not explicit and scary. Embrace the opportunity to experience such a spiritual ceremony and learn a lot in the process!

    The main burning Ghat is called Manikarnika however, there are also a few smaller ones scattered alongside the Ganges.

    24 Hours in Varanasi, India - Ghats at Sunset - My Culture Craving

    Go on a boat trip on the River Ganges at sunrise/sunset

    Fit in a boat trip on the River Ganges at the beginning or end of your day. 

    Begin or end your day bobbing along the Ganges whilst watching the sunrise/set across the hazy horizon of Varanasi. If you choose to venture out at sunset, be sure to float along to the Dashashwamedh Ghat to watch the spiritual Aarti ceremony, which illuminates the Ganges every night at sunset (have a read of my post about the Aarti festival in Rishikesh here).

    Varanasi is like Marmite – you either love it or hate it. What’s your verdict?