In February I got off the airplane in Bhopal, India to a teeny tiny airport excited for the wedding of friends and also to excited to see a country that had so much spiritual history and I have never visited yet.
What I was a little nervous about was the food.
On the flight over with Air India I was lucky enough to have plenty of vegan options (including fresh fruit) and had my own back up snacks if I needed them.
What I knew about Indian cuisine and Hindu tradition was there was a lot of vegetarian food. They still ate dairy and a lot of the food was fried or heavy cooked in ghee (clarified butter) – my body hadn’t eaten oil in quite a while so I wasn’t used to the heaviness of the meals or the impact it might have on my BGLs.
I was going to be in India for 10 days and reminded myself to enjoy the food, the culture and time with my partner and friends while doing my best to eat vegan and manage my diabetes.
The first part of our adventures involved a fully 3-day vegetarian catered Hindu wedding with upwards of 3,000 guests. Our friends Ashish and Surbhi where getting married in their hometown, which was to be a traditional Hindu wedding extravaganza.
We got to experience every part of the process, including getting Henna done on our hands, dancing, watching the traditional ceremonies and tasting the delish array of food.
For me the easiest way to manage my diabetes when I didn’t always know the ingredients and had to guess the carb count was to inject ( via insulin pen rather than through my pump for quicker absorption) and correct as needed throughout the day.
If I saw my sugar level rising post-meal, I would give a couple more units of insulin and if I saw my sugar level dropping I’d have an extra serving of rice or a snack that I would always carry in my handbag or pocket.
Eating vegan was easy in one way and tricky in another. We could avoid most dairy like milk, cream, cheese etc, but avoiding ghee altogether was a little trickier.
We would request food that wasn’t cooked in ghee when we ate at the local restaurants or hotel, but I am sure it snuck into a couple of our meals unknowingly.
Some of the best food we had was at the wedding. There was cuisine from different regions of India. I absolutely loved the food from the region of Rajasthan. I loved the Dal and Bhati and the unique spices and flavors that came along with it.
Indian people could not be more accommodating, friendly and courteous.
After wishing our friends the best as they began the next chapter of their lives together we headed to Agra to see the magical Taj Mahal.
Now we were off to venture on our own and explore the vegan cuisine of local Indian restaurants.
Agra was our shortest stop.
We arrived in the evening and driving out the following afternoon to Jaipur.
We woke early, with a great BGL, to see the Taj Mahal. No time for breakfast, so I snuck a few gels in my bra, as you weren’t allowed to bring any food into the sacred site.
We were in by 7am and wow wasn’t it stunning.
Unlike anything I could have imagined. It was exactly like the pictures you see in National Geographic.
Our tour guide explained the story behind the building – a mausoleum built by an emperor for his wife who died during child birth, then we went to take photos and explore on our own.
For lunch that day we wanted to go to an all vegan place, but our guide had pre-determined plans organized with a local “tourist” restaurant. With some resistance we went there.
The vegan options were okay at touristy prices.
The one thing we couldn’t avoid the whole trip was all the food being cooked in oil. India’s diet is extremely high in carbohydrates AND fat. This combination makes it very tricky to manage your insulin requirements and BGLs.
Each time I ate, it was a guesstimate of how much insulin I needed.
I was willing to accept that my BGLs would not be in range most of the time and do my best to keep them as stable as possible without stressing too much over it.
Our next stop was Jaipur, the city of palaces. I was looking forward to spending time here as we were going to be in Jaipur for a couple of days.
The thing I was looking forward to most was running in “Central Park” – a 4km enclosed park loop frequented by Indian joggers and walkers.
Running in India was not a thing, running on the streets in India wasn’t an option unless you had a death wish of being run over by a car, and a woman running in India on the streets was unheard of.
Our first morning in Jaipur we got up just after sunrise to beat the heat and ran, on the streets, 2 miles to the park.
When we got there, it was like runners’ paradise. A nicely kept park with a dirt trail looping around. We did two easy laps, took a photo for social media evidence and headed back to our hotel for a shower and breakfast.
Breakfasts in hotels were our best option. There was a mix of traditional Indian breakfast – rice, dal, chapati and naan along with more Western options, fruit, eggs, cereal and toast.
As I was already eating Indian food and my insulin doses had dramatically increased for this, I decided to stick with eating Indian food.
This was safer than adding simple carbohydrate foods like fresh fruit into the mix which would spike me sky high, making it challenging to bring it back in range with all the fat also in my blood stream.
For our first day we had a driver take us around to the sites while on the 2ndday we met up with some friends from the wedding to do a guided tour before we drove onto our final destination Delhi.
The 2nd morning we rose early to get in another run. It felt so good to be able to move the legs at a quicker pace than a walk. We hadn’t run in over a week which was a long time for the both of us.
India has so much culture and history and we loved exploring the museums, palaces and religious temples and sacred sites.
Jaipur was a wonder, and I loved the chapati (steamed flour with salt and water to make a soft dough) – although my body wasn’t used to all the gluten and refined carbs, I let myself enjoy it with my meals.
Our final stop was Delhi after a long 5-hour drive from Jaipur to Delhi.
We were staying with a friend and fellow type 1 diabetic Apoorva who lived in the center of the craziness of Delhi.
It was a such a huge, spread out city with so much buzz and something always happening.
Apoorva’s family were SO accommodating to our vegan lifestyle and her mom even cooked oil free for us which was so nice.
I loved talking all things type 1 and sharing our stories of living in the West vs India with the disease we share in common.
Apporva was an incredible guide, taking us to see some beautiful historic sites, meditation centers, Hindu, Buddhist & Sikh temples, gardens and on top of this to some of the best vegan restaurants in Delhi.
And the highlight of our time in Delhi was a dinner with a group of type 1 diabetics on our final night in India.
Apoorva organized this meet up at a restaurant with a delicious, healthy buffet where I was welcomed with flowers and a lovely card from the group of Indian type 1’s.
They couldn’t have been a nicer group of people.
India was a whirlwind trip. A place so rich in culture and history and one I look forward to returning to.
Here are some of my travel tips for India as a type 1 diabetic or vegan.
My top tips for traveling to India as a vegan:
- You may have to be a little flexible if you plan on eating out at restaurants – almost all vegetarian food is cooked in ghee, even when you ask for it to be cooked in vegetable oil or only the vegetable oil options, there could be some cross contamination
- Find a place to stay where you can cook some of your own meals with a small kitchen or bring your own knife and chopping board (in your checked luggage) so you can cut up some fresh fruit and veggies yourself
- Try and avoid fruit and vegetables that aren’t cooked or peeled. A lot of raw fruit and vegetables have been washed in local water which when consumed even on fruit can cause sickness in people not used to the water in India. It’s better to be safe than have your trip ruined by a stomach bug
My top tips for traveling to India as a type 1 diabetic:
- As always when traveling carry all your diabetes supplies in your hand luggage – although insulin and other diabetes supplies are available in India it may be harder to get in some remote areas and you don’t want to be stuck without these if possible
- Carry your own hypo snacks when sightseeing. Coming across sweets or sugary foods in touristy and non-touristy areas may be hard so best to carry your own supplies with you at all times
- If you are wearing any diabetes devices you may be asked what they are as they aren’t popular in India. I always answered with a smile and tried to explain in simple terms what type 1 diabetes was. It wasn’t always understood but I always remained polite and smiled. If they confuse it with type 2 diabetes or give advice to eat more cinnamon don’t be offended. There is a lack of education in India and we can do our best to explain but may not always be understood.