From the foothills of the Himalayas to the backwaters of Kerala, the slums of Calcutta or the ashrams of Rishikesh, the ghats of Varanasi to the beaches of Goa . . . India will fascinate, shock and excite.
Fascinate with its myriad cultures, its penetrating smells and colours, its intensity of life, its many Gods and temples, the people, food, and religious fervor. Shock with its open sewers, poverty, noise, filth, scams, and stares. Excite with its chaotic traffic, tigers and lions, holy and un-holy men, its food, its drugs, its mountains and beaches, its jungles and deserts, and its religious and erotic temples.
India is a country of extremes where you will see the whole spectacle of life played out before your eyes, uncut, uncensored, and unashamed. You will encounter death, birth, possibly rebirth, and see people washing clothes, bathing, crying, laughing, and probably squatting for a bowel movement. All in the first day.
This country has a history dating back to time immortal, a religion that encompasses hundreds to thousands of Gods, and a population that will soon surpass China despite being less than half the latter’s size. It brought forth the romantic tale and architecture of the Taj Mahal, Ghandi, and the number zero, and let’s face it, the world would be a very different place if those three had never been.
There is no country as diverse as India, so strap on your seat belt for the wildest travelling roller coaster experience around this incredible sub-continent. You will love it or hate it, but you’ll not forget it.
India is spicy, it is dicey, and if you are not careful it will be very, very pricy. Beware of touts and scams!
Highlights from India
- No visit to India is complete without visiting the Taj Mahal in Agra. Go at sunrise before the crowds!
- To get a sense of Indian spirituality you have to go to Varanasi, India’s holiest city
- The palaces and forts of Rajasthan are a must, if you have to pick three, Udaipur, Jodhpur and Jaisalmer should be on top of that list
- Head to the temples of Khajuraho with famously erotic carvings, which only represent a tenth of the intricate carvings on the walls.
- Tired of temples and forts, go to Goa for dance, trance and beach partying
- If things start heating up in the plains, it is time to make the trek to the Himalayas, to Ladakh with its Tibetan temples, Kashmir where you can laze away on a house-boat in Srinagar, or Darjeeling for a cuppa tea
- Marvel at the exquisite art of the Ajanta and Ellora caves in Maharashtra
- Take a safari to see the elusive tiger in Bandhavgarh National Park, or try and find the even more elusive Asiatic lion in Sasan Gir National Park
- Join the pilgrims at the Golden Temple in Amritsar
- Take a languid boat trip on the Keralan backwaters
Hints and Tips for India
- Everybody who has been to India will warn you about its touts and scams. Be wary, but don’t let it ruin your trip.
- If somebody tells you a hotel/restaurant/shop doesn’t exist anymore due to fire, earthquake, because it closed down, or simply vanished into thin air, don’t believe them! They may be trying to lure you to their hotel/restaurant/shop because they receive a commission. Always check for yourself, chances are it is still where it always stood.
- Indian food is mouth-wateringly delicious! To minimize the chances of getting the “Delhi Belly” go to restaurants and street stalls where lots of locals go. If there are lots of locals it means the food is probably good and cheap. Remember that most Indians are vegetarians so a smart thing to do is to be vegetarian too, even if temporarily, as it will lower the odds of getting sick.
- Always haggle! If you are going to buy something, you will always be quoted ten times as much as the item is actually worth. Start with a ridiculously low counter offer, and keep smiling and laughing, but remain firm and go up very slowly. Another trick is to walk away, that will mostly get high sellers to drop the price quickly. Always remember it is more of a game, so try not to express anger or over-excitement.
- Most visitors will be stared at in India. You will be stared at on the streets, in the restaurants, in the trains, buses and planes. Sometimes people may touch your skin or hair to see if it is real.
- Women are advised to be wary of very crowded and very empty places. Rape and sexual harassment are unfortunately major problems that have hit global news more frequently in recent years.
- The positives far outweigh the negatives in India. Please be aware of the negatives, but don’t let them deter you from going to this marvelous, one-of-a-kind country!