There are 1.2 billion humans in India. India alone makes up 17.86% of the total world population. Do the math, and that is a mass of people crammed into one country. India's fusion of cultures interested me, so I bought a plane ticket, packed my inflatable SUP and headed to Mother India to unveil its mysteries.
Bucket list India
India has always been on my bucket list for paddle boarding its endless coasts and to soak up its rich history and culture. India's coastline covers nearly five thousand miles and is littered with island chains, inlets, bays and rivers. One distant chain even has what many believe to be the last uncontacted people on earth and also an island containing a super controversialhuman safari.
Did you know: The award-winning movie, Slumdog Millionaire was filmed in Mumbai India.
Exploring the cities
I only had a week to explore India, so I had to narrow down my trip to a few spots. After a quick train tour of the capital New Delhi, Mumbai and the surrounding cities of Agra and Jaipur in the famed “Golden Triangle”, I headed off to the west coast beaches of Goa in search of some calm waters to paddle board and New Year’s festivities. There was no better way to traverse across India’s mysterious lands than by train.
India’s train system runs a staggering 20,000 trains on a daily basis. Everything about India is overwhelming and there is never a dull moment – the people, the food, the colorful dresses, and smiles left me begging to explore more.
Did you know: The India railway employs nearly 1 million people, making it the world’s largest employer
The future of our planet
I left the cities for the beaches both shocked and amazed at what I had witnessed, but worried about the future of our planet. It’s no secret that both India and China have started to taste the luxuries of the west and they like the taste. These massive economies with billions of people have been growing at a breakneck speeds with India leading the charge. Mass industrialization on an incomprehensible scale as well as crop burning, coal burning plants, lack of vehicle emissions, and various other factors. Something eventually has to give and that something could be 10ft of water in your living room if you live near the ocean, time will tell.
The most polluted city in the world
New Delhi’s blue sky has all but disappeared. It ranks as the most polluted city in the world, breaking the charts created to measure air pollution many moons ago. In recent news, New Delhi’s 25 million residents almost choked to death and took to the streets in protest. It’s not just their problem since the air surrounds our entire planet which makes it everyone’s problem. The solutions are complicated, but something eventually must be done or I worry it’s only a matter of time before there are serious global repercussions.
New Year’s Sweep in North Goa
India's populous flock to the beaches of Goa in December for sun, relaxation and amazing food. Endless sandy beaches dot the coast from north to south Goa offering everything from all-inclusive resorts, boutique yoga retreats, hostels and everything in between.
Paddle boarding at Anjuna Beach
After renting scooters, I made my way down the coast for several hours to a beach known asAnjuna which is home to a small tranquil cove with some rock reefs just offshore offering a few small breaking waves and calm waters near the sandy shoreline. The cove offered the perfect spot to jump in and I caught a nice afternoon paddle around the headland exploring the shallow reefs and rock formations before returning to shore for the sunset.
Did you know: Anjuna Beach is referred to as the “Freak Capital of the World”
Anjuna’s warm waters and tropical air temps created a paddle boarders paradise. As the sun began to set on the Arabian Sea it was time to pull up a chair and enjoy a cold Kingfisher (the local beer) and watch the sun sink into the center of the horizon with the occasional passing beach cow.
With the New Year approaching, I made my way back to the hotel for a large feast of seafood and watched the fireworks at midnight over the palm lined shores. With so much of India left to explore, it was time to pack up and head home... but not before a stop in Dubai.
Dubai – Pearls to Palaces
In the last 50 years, Dubai transformed itself from a small desert port exporting pearls to the fourth most visited city in the world in 2016. Dubai, a member of the United Arab Emirates has come a long way since oil was discovered in the 1950s. The windfall of oil revenue has made Dubai one of the wealthiest nations in the world. The tremendous vision of Dubai’s leaders along with a massive importation of cheap labor have turned their ambitious dreams into reality.
Dubai has it all from top tier hotels, fantastic food and endless shopping. It also boasts the world’s largest indoor theme park, the world’s tallest building, the largest man-made island resembling a world map from space, the largest indoor acrylic window aquarium in the local mall and dozens more over the top projects that would seem impossible but somehow got completed.
The clear waters of the Persian Gulf lie along Dubai’s shores creating a paddle boarding paradise. The Persian Gulf is ideal for water sports and it even gets surf in the winter (I lucked out with a killer swell during my stay!).
Like India, it was always on my bucket list to pump up my inflatable paddle board on Dubai’s white sandy shoreline with the world famous Burj Al Arab hotel in the foreground.
Did you know: Dubai has one of the lowest crime rates in the world
Paddling along the famed 7 Star Hotel Burj Al Arab in Dubai
One of the first and most famous hotels in Dubai is an architectural marvel. The iconic 700-foot sail shaped hotel towers above the white sandy beaches below a man-made island. This hotel is famous for hosting just about every celebrity and dignitary. In awe of the hotel’s architecture, I was ready to hop on my paddle board and tour the waters that surrounded the hotel’s island.
Did you know: The cheapest rooms at the Hotel Bruj Al Arab run around $1300 a night
Setting up on the public beach about a mile away, I made my way across the marina filled with large shiny yachts until I finally reached the colossal structure. The 360 degree panoramic views of the hotel and Dubai was a sight to behold. Dubai was an oasis in the middle of the desert and a symbol of hope and prosperity in a region rife with conflict.
Now, it was time to pack up for the day and make my way to the world's largest mall to swim with sharks in the largest acrylic window aquarium. Yes, that’s right, an afternoon scuba dive in a mall with sharks, only in Dubai!
Shark diving in the Dubai Mega Mall – it really exists!
After hearing about the possibility of a shark dive in the Dubai mall, I had to experience it first hand to be sure it was the real deal. The 3-story high glass window fish tank was filled with thousands of species of marine life from sharks to rays and everything in between. The tank even had a viewing tunnel that ran underneath so you could cruise along the bottom without getting wet and look up at all the creatures. Being a first-time scuba diver, the helpful instructor gave me a quick tutorial, then I signed off some forms and jumped in the sharky tank.
Did you know: The Dubai Mall has over 2500 stores making it the largest mall in the world by total area
I was in the tank for a 45-minute dive. Being comfortable in the water, it was unreal to see so much sea life in such a large tank. It felt like I was in the ocean, but once I turned towards the glass, I saw hundreds of people from 3 levels of the mall peering into the tank. They were gawking at me as I swam past rays and 6-8ft sharks 30-feet under the water in scuba gear.
This was a memory I would remember for a lifetime. Even though the sandy tiger sharks are considered harmless, they really got my blood pumping when they did a flyby with their mouths filled with rows of sharp teeth. Ultimately, this was great way to end such an eye-opening trip.
Too much to explore, too little time
Both Dubai and India have so much to explore and endless coastline to paddle. I was lucky to scratch the surface at best of what was possible on my short 2-week trip. If you haven't visited these two countries yet, I recommend you do. Happy Paddling!