Stereotypes. Imprinted on our minds by the entertainment industry, stereotypic projections lead us rather mislead us into shaping our views of a particular region in the world and its culture. It holds true for the western hemisphere as much as the east. However, social media has been swift in transforming the world at large into one massive nation. It therefore, becomes more important that those with the luxury of time or wealth or both take the opportunity to visit a land as many times as they can to truly fathom the culture and civilisation.
I know what you’re thinking “ But the world is too large to visit a destination multiple times.” I say that myself when I am wanderlusting or suffering fernweh almost every day of the month. But then there are destinations that you just can’t do justice with one trip. India, China, USA, Canada, Japan and “I could go on” are the destinations that I wouldn’t be satiated by just one trip. I’m sure many of you wouldn’t be either but today time being the most luxurious commodity, we all could use some extra time on the side for travel. Let’s take India for instance, how many times have you heard “I want to travel once in my lifetime to India”? Oh! that longing quest to visit the mystic land of the east where everybody breaks into song and dance to express their emotions well amidst a functional chaos of a bustling dingy street. Barring the Indian weddings and festivals (too many festive celebrations for one calendar year) you’d rarely see anyone breaking into a jig like the lead actors in a Bollywood movie. India is a vast country with a bottomless history and cultural evolution for you to take a dive.
Think of it as the Europe of the east but held by one glue of pride and ancient cultural history. For those who have been to India and done the banal and frankly rip-off ‘Golden Triangle’ tour you haven’t even scratched the surface yet. You can visit countries like India and China under different niches or regions. India being a vertical peninsula can be segregated into four directions or combination of two directions like North and North East, South and West and so on. It’s an easy 2-week vacation and if you know where you are going you can plan everything from domestic travel to car hire and best of hotels seamlessly. I am going to enlist a wide spectrum of thematic travel across the country and hopefully it will help you understand which of these you’d like to cherry pick and include in your itinerary. It’s a vast country and even though I am doing a general theme post it’s going to be a long one so grab yourself some snack or coffee before I begin.
Julia Roberts’ character in Eat Pray Love arrived in India to find her spiritual self, she was obviously inspired by the tales of many who have had an enlightening experience during their trip. I am not suggesting everyone will have a similar story to narrate but if you are keen to take a long soul searching trip, India is the best place to begin. Personally I brand it as a Temple Run in India and these are spread all over the country but the prominent ones should be on your list. Amarnath shrine which is a cave surrounded by dangerous mountain terrain in Kashmir the northernmost state of India has thousands of pilgrims risk their lives to pray to an ice stalagmite that is formed naturally. In the region of Jammu of the same state the Vaishno Devi temple is another most popular shrine for pilgrims to pay a visit to the Goddess Mahalaxmi in the Hindu religion. Moving towards the foothills of Himalayas are three very important shrines of Haridwar, Rishikesh and Kedarnath. These are considered as the main pilgrimage trio to be visited once in a lifetime by a devout Hindu. Rishikesh being the Yoga capital of the world attracts many in pursuit of holistic wellness and knowledge of Yoga as a lifestyle. Your voyage into faith, spirituality and self-enlightenment should head down south of the Indian peninsula where magnificent temples were erected and intrinsically sculpted from a single rock during ancient times. Thanjavur and Meenakshi Temple in Tamil Nadu are two of the most splendid sights to visit depicting the grandeur and opulence of the Tamil culture. Brihadeshwar temple in Thanjavur was built during the Chola dynasty and is a 1006 years old architectural marvel, while Meenakshi Temple is an ancient Indian temple from the 6th century BC dedicated to the Goddess Parvati. For a buzzing financial capital – Mumbai has its own temple run of popular temples that welcome a tonne of worshipers. Most popular being Siddhivinayak temple and Mahalakshmi temple. Delhi’s Akshardham and Lotus temple are quite popular among locals of the city.
World Heritage Sites
Yes, I know it’s gorgeous! Taj Mahal might as well be India’s logo, but there are so many wonders of architecture, civil engineering and nature besides the marble monument of love. Ancient India has played such a key role in what India is today it’s impossible to talk about modern India without going back to its ancient roots. If you are one of the UNESCO sites travel geek then here is a list of places to visit in India. My favourites are the Sun Temple in Konark for its sheer engineering and design genius, Hampi monuments in Karnataka, Kaziranga National Park in Assam (remember Prince William and Kate feeding baby rhino), Kumbhalgarh Fort in Rajasthan because if you can climb this one you are ready for Everest – just kidding, Ellora Caves in Maharashtra for art, beauty and design and Rani ki Vav in Gujarat for civil engineering wonder.
North – Humayun’s Tomb, Qutub Minar, Red Fort, Fatehpur Sikri Fort, Great Himalayan National Park, Valley of Flowers National Park
West – Rani ki Vav (Queen’s Stepwell), Kumbhalgarh and Chittorgarh Forts, Keoladeo National Park, Elephanta Caves, Ellora and Ajanta Caves.
South – Hampi and Pattadakal monuments
East – Konark Sun Temple, Kaziranga National Park, Sunderbans National Park
Central – Khajuraho temple (where Kamasutra poses are sculpted in a rock)
Foodies of the world there is a heaven especially for you and it’s called India – #FOODCOMA. There are 29 states in India and each has it’s regional cuisine but the foodie in me enjoys the microregional cuisine from the communities within each state. I come with a caveat about Indian culinary experience in India, it is nothing like what you might have eaten back home in America, England or Canada. Indians take their food very seriously and they take feeding their guests even more seriously. It is considered dutiful to persistently feed your guests in India even if they politely shy away from the third serving you offer. In fact, as a guest to your Indian hosts in India, you must pretend to refuse any more servings (even if you’re gluttonous about that third serving of Gulab Jamun) so as to give them the pleasure of feeding you until your belly bursts. Yes, I know it seems odd but that is the custom. While dining in restaurants you must experience the region’s local food which means you will not go for butter chicken or samosa or chicken biryani somewhere in Western or Southern region of India. But do take in copious portions of desserts they will fill your heart and stomach with joy. From the spiral jalebis in Lucknow, sandesh in Kolkatta to the shrikhand in Mumbai there will be many more to try out than you could keep a count. Vegetarians, this land serves you well with limitless platter of the best vegetarian meal in regions like Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra which is their local speciality. If you aren’t visiting these states you can come across the same quality of Gujarati or Rajasthani platters in major metropolitan cities. When in Mumbai or Goa do not miss the coastal curries and fried fish servings in restaurants like Mahesh Lunch Home, Trishna, Gajalee (Mumbai), Ritz, Brittos (Goa). In Delhi or Punjab you must give a go at the authentic chicken tandoori and kebabs drenched in clarified butter and lime wedges for some tang. Foodie capitals of India are Mumbai and Delhi for their sheer spectrum of cuisines and restaurant offerings however Goa, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Lucknow and Kolkata aren’t far behind in terms of surprise and delight.
Adventure & Landscape
The four corners of India are geographically very distinct from each other – Icy peaks up North challenge every mountaineer, arid terrain and desert of West, tropical coastline of West and South East and the untouched verdant landscape of North East. Kashmir has been called heaven on earth by many poets, writers and world travellers and I concur with them from my personal experience. The beauty of the Himalayan landscape from Kashmir to Sikkim is incredibly pristine and magnificent leaving you feeling infinitesimally small. Hiking, biking, rafting, horseback riding and skiing are the many outdoor activities that are offered here. Skiing in Gulmarg and Manali is quite popular, rafting in the riveting waters of the rivers is another favourite among adventure travellers. While surfing, scuba diving, parasailing and gliding is the thing to do on the western coast or just hiking on the coastline hills to watch dolphins in the Arabian Sea. Then there is that bike road trip from Manali to Leh that every roadie in the world would love to have ticked on the bucket list. Nature photographers definitely need to tour the Seven Sisters states in the North East. Beautifully cascading waterfalls down the misty lush mountains are all over the country during the monsoon season which is usually truant in its arrival but once in lingers on for 3 months between mid-June to late September.
The fabric of India’s culture is embroidered with festive celebrations and most of them have a simple theme – Triumph of Good over Evil. India is nothing without its vibrant and gregarious festivities. The play of colours, perfumed air thanks to incense, glittering embellishments on women and young girls, warmth spread every corner of the country and endless buffet of food. From January to November the calendar is filled with auspicious days when people gather to celebrate the arrival of Spring season to pray for good harvest, monsoon, worship of various deities the most celebrated being Lord Ganesha, Krishna. The concluding festival being Diwali is when all the pomp and glory is on display. The streets are light up, the desserts are unrivalled and retail shopping shoots through the roof with the biggest commerce happening every you turn. The best time for you to visit the festivals is either Holi – festival of colours, Ganesh festival in Mumbai – when the deity is worshipped for 10 days before bidding him farewell into the sea, Diwali – festival of lights.