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Photos and story by Rachel Rudwall

India was a destination that had long interested me: I had studied international studies in college, and was also interested in Eastern cultures, so when my best friend from high school moved to Chennai for work, that seemed to be a perfect opportunity for an Indian adventure–a mythical place that I knew to be colorful and steeped in history. I headed over there for four weeks of travel with my husband, beginning with a few days in Chennai, then heading onward from there. This helped me to ease in, with the help of a friend.

Stop 1


Chennai may not usually stand at the top of an international traveler’s destination list for India, as it tends to be overlooked for more famous cities and sites. However, my best friend from high school was stationed there for her work with the foreign service, so the city served as a perfect jumping-off point for my month-long adventure through India. We spent our days wandering the residential neighborhoods on foot, eating idli sambar, drinking masala chai, visiting Hindu temples, and getting the lay of the land. In this image, you’ll see the top of a Hindu temple, covered with blasts of color much like the other numerous Hindu structures in Chennai.

Stop 2


Mahabalipuram is a town along the coast of Tamil Nadu featuring an impressive group of 7th- and 8th-century monuments and temples built by the Pallava dynasty, some of which were unearthed by the December 2004 tsunami. Structures are covered in ornate carvings, colorful boats line the shore, and local restaurants cook delectable “masala crab” (a.k.a. crab with a mixture of spices and aromatics). Mahabalipuram is an easy day trip from Chennai, just under an hour’s drive. In this image, you see an example of one of the carved walls created during the Pallava dynasty, carved with elephants and monkeys–two animals important in Indian lore.

Stop 3

Ooty Steamtrain

To travel between Chennai and Ooty, we traveled by train. We boarded the first train in Chennai just as the sun rose, and, saying farewell to the east coast of India, headed southwest on the Nilagiri (Blue Mountain) Express. We were in a shared compartment with around 6-8 people, and there were chances to stop to get a delicious Masala chai along the way. We reached our destination in the late afternoon after a beautiful final stretch through lush, green hillsides, which you see captured in the image here.

Stop 4


Ooty was my favorite destination in India, and is centrally located in the south of the country. Leaving Chennai, which is at sea level, we climbed up into the country’s rolling hills and found a calm setting to counter India’s fast-paced cities. I surprised my husband with a few days in Ooty for his birthday, complete with a stay at Hotel Sherlock, a property overlooking the valleys below from a hilltop perch. We rose before the sun with a guide from the hotel, hiked to the top of wooded mountains, and watched the sun rise from a hilltop shrine (which is what you see in the image). After that, we meandered down the hill for a walk through town, taking time for morning chai, a visit to a tea plantation, a peek into a eucalyptus oil manufacturing facility, and a tour of a tea factory. If you’re looking for a destination where you can hike or take in the views without running into another soul for a few hours, this is the spot.

Stop 5


Kochi once acted as the center of the spice trade, and I had read that it was known for its walkable historic center and active port. We spent our visit strolling the seaside promenade, watching men haul in the catch of the day in massive Chinese fishing nets, and visiting historic buildings like St. Francis Church (pictured here). The town has a European influence that has remained, and this temple is an example of that. There were old hints of colonial architecture in Kochi, but it was still very much India; a city with its own modern feel, plus vestiges of the colonial past.

Stop 6


I had seen images of Goa, and it looked like a scenic coastal destination that was relaxing. I expected a stretch of India that would be culturally different through its Portuguese influences, and more western with its European roots. In other words, it was accepted to wear a bathing suit! Beyond that, I studied Portuguese in college and knew that Goa had a shared history with Portugal, so the city seemed to present a unique multicultural backdrop for travelers. During our visit, we spent our time strolling the coast, and enjoying the fact that the beach was not only occupied by people, but also by countless relaxed cows. In this image, you see a stretch of the beach with cafés where you can relax over seafood and a beer, people from India and overseas alike mingling and enjoying the world around them.

Stop 7


Jaipur, “The Pink City”, was one of the final stops on our month-long journey, and our days there were jam-packed with activities. The city offers a lot of interesting sites for visitors, including our favorites: Jantar Mantar Observatory, Amber Fort and Palace, Jaigarh Fort, Nahargarh (“Tiger”) Fort, and the City Palace, most of which we walked to and between on foot. We also visited Hawa Mahal (pictured), the “Palace of Winds”, where royal women would have been able to watch city life unfolding below without being seen by passersby.

My trip through India confirmed that a country this rich in culture and history can’t be explored in just one visit. The more you see and learn, the more you realize you’ve barely scratched the surface. I’m already daydreaming about a return trip to India… I’d love to explore the Himalayas, and visit the source of the Ganges River surrounded by those pristine mountains.