India Travel Guide
Get India bristles with a miscellaneous, combination of cultural groups; an intoxicating civilizing cocktail for the traveller. With such astonishing diversity, you will be taken on a journey that will linger in your mind long after you’ve left her shores.
Mystifying there’s simply no other word that captures the mystery that is India. With an aptitude to inspire, frustrate, adventure and amaze all at once, India presents a strange spectrum of encounters for the traveller. Some of these can be exigent, particularly for the first-time visitor: the poverty is confronting, Indian bureaucracy can be exasperating and the crush of humanity sometimes turns the simplest task into an energy-zapping battle. Even veteran travellers find their sanity frayed at some point, yet this is all part of the India experience. Love it or loathe it – and most visitors’ see-saw between the two – India will jostle your entire being. It’s a place that fires the imagination and stirs the soul like nowhere else on earth.
With its in-your-face diversity – from snow dusted mountains to sun-washed beaches, tranquil temples to frenetic bazaars, lantern- lit villages to software-supreme cities – it’s hardly surprising that this country has been dubbed the worlds most multidimensional. For those seeking spiritual sustenance, India has oodles of sacrosanct sites and thought-provoking philosophies, while history buff s will stumble upon gems from the past almost everywhere – grand vestiges of former empires serenely peer over swarming streets and crumbling fortresses loom high above plunging ravines. Meanwhile, aficionados of the great outdoors can paddle in the shimmering waters of one of many beautiful beaches, scout for big jungle cats on blood-pumping wildlife safaris, or simply inhale pine-scented air on meditative forest walks. And then there are the festivals. With its vibrant mix of religious denominations, India is home to a formidable array of celebrations –from larger-than-life extravaganzas with caparisoned elephants and body-twisting acrobats to pint-sized harvest fairs paying homage to a locally worshiped deity.
Brace yourself – you’re about to jump on board one of the wildest culinary trips of your life! Frying, simmering, sizzling, kneading and flipping a deliciously diverse variety of regional dishes, feasting your way through the subcontinent is certainly one hell of a ride. The hungry traveller can look forward to a bountiful smorgasbord of tasty delights, ranging from the spicy goodness of masterfully marinated chicken drumsticks in North India to the simple splendor of squidgy rice dumplings in the steamy south. So what are you waiting for? Roll up your sleeves, put on your chomp hat and rumble your way down India’s gastronomic highway!
1 .Taj Mahal
Don’t let worries of tour buses or hordes of guests get you idea you can skip the Taj – you can’t? Even on a packed, hot day, this world wonder (p 350 ) is still the ‘Crown of Palaces’, a shrine to love whose very walls seem to resound with the royal leader Shah Jahan’s adoration of his much-loved Mumtaz Mahal, the ‘Gem of the Palace’.
The marble mausoleum is inlaid with calligraphy, precious And semiprecious stones and involved fl owner designs representing paradise.
2. Backwaters of Kerala
It’s unusual to find a place as gorgeous as Kerala’s backwaters (p 940 ): 900km of interconnected rivers, lakes and lagoons lined with tropical flora. And if you do, there likely won’t be a way to experience it that’s as peaceful and intimate as a few days on a teak-and-palm-thatch houseboat. Float along the water – maybe as the sun sets behind the palms, maybe while eating to-die-for Kerala seafood, maybe as you falls asleep under a twinkling sky – and forgets about life on land for a while.
3. Holy Varanasi
Everyone in Varanasi (p 383 ) seems to be dying or praying or hustling or cremating someone or swimming or laundering or washing buff aloes in the city’s sewage saturated Ganges. The goddess river will clean away your sins and help you escape from that tedious life-and death cycle – and Varanasi is the place to take a sacred dip. So take a deep breath, put on a big smile for the ever-present touts, go to the holy water and get your karma in order.
4. Alluring Darjeeling
Up in a tippy-top nook of India’s far northeast is storied Darjeeling (p 487 ). It’s no longer a romantic mountain hideaway, but the allure remains. Undulating hills of bulbous tea trees are pruned by women in bright-colored dresses; the majestic Himalaya peek through puff y clouds as the sun climbs out from behind the mountains; and little alleys wend their way through mountain mist, past clotheslines and monasteries. Ride the ‘toy train’ and drink it all in – the tea and the town’s legendary enchantment.
5. Caves of Ajanta
They may have been ascetics, but the 2nd-century-BC monks who created the Ajanta caves (p772) had an eye for the dramatic. The 30 rock cut forest grottoes punctuate the side of a horseshoe- shaped cliff , and originally had individual staircases leading down to the river. The architecture and towering stupas made these caves inspiring places in which to meditate and live, but the real baling came centuries later, in the form of exquisite carvings and paintings depicting Buddha’s former lives. Makes living in a cave look pretty good.
6. Dreamy Hampi
Today’s surreal boulders cape of Hampi (p 876 ) was once the glorious and cosmopolitan Vijayanagar, capital of a powerful Hindu empire. Still glorious in ruins, its temples and royal structures combine sublimely with the terrain: giant rocks balance on skinny pedestals near an ancient elephant garage; temples tuck into crevices between boulders; and round coracle boats fl oat by rice paddies and bathing buff aloes near a gargantuan bathtub for a queen. Watching the sunset cast a rosy glow over the dreamy landscape, you might just forget what planet you’re on.
7. Riding the Rails
India’s quintessential journey is still the long train ride. Domestic flights are increasingly common, but as the train’s 20 million daily passengers will tell you, you can’t watch the Indian landscape change from dry valley to lush mountain forest to lime green rice paddies on a plane. The Train’s also where you can hang out with families and other domestic travelers, learning about Indian culture the old-fashioned way – over a cup of tea, to the rhythm of the rails.
8. Pondicherry Savoir Faire
Find a little pocket of France in Tamil Nadu? Pour quoi pas? In this former French colony (p 1014), yellow houses line cobblestone streets, grand cathedrals are adorned with architectural frou-frou, and the croissants are the real deal. But Pondicherry’s also a Tamil town – withal the history, temples and hustle and bustle that go along with that – and a classic retreat town, too, with the Sri Aurobindo Ashram at its heart. Turns out that yoga, pain chocolates, Hindu gods and colonial-era architecture make for an atmospheric mélange.
9. Cuppa in a Hill Station
The valleys, deserts, and palm lined beaches are all well and good, but it can get hot down there!
India’s princes and British colonials long used the country’s cool mountain towns as refuges from the summer heat, and today the hill stations still have lush forests, crisp mountain air and picturesque tea plantations. Curl up under a blanket with a steaming cup of local tea, look out over misty hills at swooping mountain birds, and experience India’s cool side.
10. Neigh boohooed Markets
Shopaholics: be careful not to lose control. Those with no interest in shopping: get in touch with your consumerist side. India’s markets have something you want, guaranteed (though you may not have known this beforehand), with a fun haggle to go with it. The range of Technicolor saris, glittering gold and silver belling, mounds of rainbow vermilion, aromatic fresh spices, stainless-steel head massage rs, bangles and bobby pins, motorcycle bumper stickers, heaping piles of fruit, Bell-wood star silk screened pajamas, and marigold and coconut off earrings is, well, astounding.
There might be no better place in the world to be lazy than on one of Goa’s spectacular beaches (p 795). With palm-tree groves on one side of the white sands and gently lapping waves on the other, the best of the beaches live up to your image of a tropical paradise. But it’s not an undiscovered one: the sands are also peppered with fellow travelers and beach-shack restaurants. Goa’s treasures are for social creatures and fans of creature comforts who like their seafood fresh and their holidays easy.
12. Mumbai’s Architectural Visions
Mumbai (p 719) has always absorbed everything in her midst and made them her own. The Architectural result is a heady mix of buildings with countless influences. The art decor and modern towers are fl ashy, but it’s the eclectic Victorian-era structures – the no-Gothic, In-do Saracen and Venetian Gothic hodgepodge – that have come to define Mumbai and make her the Flamboyant the beauty that she is. All those spires, gables, arches and onion domes make for a pleasant walk through the city’s past.
You have to be lucky to spot a tiger in India, but it can be done. Even if you don’t see any, you’ll Enjoy wandering one of India’s many forest wildlife reserves on the back of an elephant, surrounded by birds and butterflies. Or just forget the tigers and elephants and go for camels: Desert safaris around Jaisalmer (p190) and Bikaner (p196) involve riding atop the tall, goofy animals and camping out among dunes under star-packed skies.
14. Streets Alive
At first it might be overwhelming – dust will get in your eyes, honking in your ears, people in your Way – but you’ll adjust. And when you do, you’ll find insanely good food being fired in cars, trucks painted with baroque designs, flower garlands sold by friendly vendors, cars, rickshaws and bicycles dancing to a rhythm only they can hear, people speaking several of India’s 1500-plus languages and, of course, cows – those sweet, stubborn animals that Gandhi called the ‘mother to millions of Indian mankind’.
15. Himalayan Mountains & Monasteries
15 Up north, where the air is cooler and crisper, quaint hill stations give way to snow-topped peaks. Here, the cultural influences came not by coasts but via mountain passes. Tibetan Buddhism thrives, and multilayered monasteries emerge from the forest or steep cliff s as vividly and poetically as the sun rises over golden Khangchendzonga (p543). Weathered prayer fl ages on forest paths blow in the wind, the sound of monks chanting reverberates in meditation halls, and locals bring off earrings and make merit, all in the shadow of the mighty Himalaya.
16. Sexy Khajuraho
16 Some say that the sensuous carvings on Khajuraho’s temples (p 623) depict the Kama Sutra, or Tantric practices for initiates; others, that they’re educational models for children or allegories for the faithful. But pretty much everyone agrees that they’re naughty and fun to look at. Want to see a nine-person orgy? Men getting it on with horses? Hot nymphs? Khajuraho’s your chance. Once the titillation passes, you’ll notice that the carving and architecture of these thousand-year-old temples are exquisite, and the magical feeling of being in 11th-century India pleasantly absorbing.
17. Festive Parades
India knows festivals, and it has been perfecting the parade for, oh, a few millennia. It usually starts with the far-off sound of the trumpets, then the drums and, before you know it, there’s a mass of humanity, marching brass bands (often in fine traditional regalia: jodhpurs, turbans, the works), a chariot, and then a dozen or a hundred bejeweled and caparisoned elephants. The giant creatures may be wearing solid-gold headdresses, bearing canopied goddesses or carrying silk, pompom med Parasols high overhead as they march languorously to the beat
18. Jaisalmer’s Desert Mirage
Rising like a sandcastle from the deserts of Rajasthan, the ‘Land of Kings’, Jaisalmer’s 12thcentury citadel (p 183 ) looks more like something from a dream than reality. The enormous golden sandstone fort, with its crenellated ramparts and undulating towers, is a fantastical structure, even while camouflaged against the desert sand. Inside, an ornate royal palace, fairytale hovels (traditional residences), intricately carved Jain temples and narrow lanes conspire to create the world’s best place to get lost.
19. Amritsar’s Golden Temple
The Sikhs’ holiest of shrines, the Golden Temple (p 213 ) is a magical place designed for people of all religions to worship. Seeming to fl oat atop a glistening pool named for the ‘nectar of immortality’, the temple is a gorgeous structure, made even more so by its extreme goldenness (The lotus-shaped dome is gilded in the real thing). Even when crowded with happy pilgrims, the Temple is peaceful, with birds singing outside and the lake gently lapping against the godly abode.
India’s capital has had several incarnations over the last few thousand years, which partly Explains why there’s so much going on here. Dust, noise and chaos aside, Delhi (p 56) is full of stunning architecture, culture (its residents come from all over the country), good food and even better shopping. The Mughal legacy is one of its biggest attractions: Old Delhi is all crumbling Splendor, with the majestic Jama Masjid, the massive Red Fort and other monuments of the historic Mughal capital adorning the old city like royal jewels.
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