There’s nowhere in the world quite like India. I know you’ve heard that before, but trust me on this – India is a whole other ball game. Imagine the loudest, smelliest, spiciest, busiest, and most astoundingly beautiful place you possibly can. That’s India. A place that both repels and enlivens the senses. A place where abject poverty and indescribable wealth exist side by side. A place where colonial history sits in stark contrast to a booming future, and dry flat lands give way to dense forests in the blink of an eye. A place that terrifies and excites you in equal measure. And a place that will, ultimately, change you forever.
“There are some parts of the world that, once visited, get into your heart and won’t go. For me, India is such a place. When I first visited, I was stunned be the richness of the land, by its lush beauty and exotic architecture, by its ability to overload the senses with the pure, concentrated intensity of its colours, smells, tastes, and sounds…I had been seeing the world in black & white and, when brought face-to-face with India, experienced everything re-rendered in brilliant technicolour.” – Keith Bellows, National Geographic Society
Let’s not beat around the bush here – this is probably one of the main reasons why India is calling to you, am I right? And for good reason – the food is quite simply spectacular. The Indians take their food very seriously, and pride themselves on their diverse and rich cuisine, with locals happy to spend hours telling you about their cooking techniques and favourite dishes, imparting pearls of wisdom for you to recreate your favourites when you return home.
Travelling in the North, the food is heavily influenced by Persian and Mughlai styles of cooking. Curries tend to be thick, creamy and moderately spicy, with lots of rogan josh, tandoori and parathas. In the South and by the coast the food is considerably spicier and relies heavily on seafood and coconut – think fish coconut curries, masala dosa and Keralan style cooking. One of the great joys of travelling the country and visiting different regions is discovering how the cuisine changes with the landscape. Maybe right now you’re thinking you can’t handle Indian food three times a day. Oh just you wait for your opinion to change…
Kind, joyful, beautiful, generous, happy, curious. Just some of the many words you could use to describe the local people of India. People who have absolutely nothing won’t blink an eye at inviting you in to share dinner with them. Children will share smiles with you that touch the deepest part of your heart. India is often perceived as a place so over populated and busy it becomes impersonal and isolating. The reality couldn’t be any more in contrast, especially in the more rural areas of the country. Sure there is a hustle and bustle to the cities that means people will push past you, and sure there are hagglers and scammers trying to make a quick buck off tourists, but isn’t that the case with anywhere you visit? The beauty of India is in large part thanks to its beautiful people, and opening your heart to them, listening to their stories and forming connections will change your experience for the better.
The buildings and architecture
Did you know there are 32 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in India? Everywhere you look magical forts, palaces, temples, mosques, ancient ruins and monuments abound, with architectural styles telling the tale of India’s rich and chequered history. The influence of countless dynasties and of course the colonial era are apparent in every major city, but Udaipur in particular is a special delight. Deserving of the title ‘the most romantic spot on the continent of India’, Udaipur has that magical, ethereal feel to it that you just can’t put into words. Perhaps it’s the setting, built right beside the shimmering Lake Pichola, or maybe it’s the way in which the whole city turns to gold at sundown, but it’s just got that certain something that gives you the travel tingles.
And of course, no mention of architecture in India can go by without mention of the shining jewel in the crown – the Taj Mahal. Does it live up to the hype? Abso-bloomin-lutely. One of the New 7 Wonders of the World (and arguably the best), this marble masterpiece is so much more than just an impressive structure; it’s also a love story, built by the Emperor Shan Jahan as a memorial to his favourite wife. If you can, visit the Taj at sun rise or sun down, when the crowds are few and far between and the light dances off the marble in shades of blue, pink and purple. Now that is a moment to live in your memory bank forever after.
Religion and Spirituality
Religion and spirituality are intertwined into every facet of life in India. The country is home to every major religion of the world, from Hinduism to Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism, and watching the locals go about their worship and dedication to their respective faiths is a pretty humbling and eye-opening experience. It’s become something of a cliché for travellers to see India as a form of spiritual pilgrimage but when you’re actually there, living and breathing it, it’s completely natural. Yoga and meditation are practised extensively across the country and are the perfect antidote for when daily life all gets a bit too much. Go with an open mind, ride the wave of spirituality, learn from the ways in which multiple faiths co-exist peacefully side by side, and let it change you as a person. Embrace that hippy shit – some clichés are worth the hype.
The way of life
Travel is all about getting out of your comfort zone and doing things you wouldn’t normally do in everyday life. India is out of your comfort zone, and then some. Never again will you experience chaos, noise, smells, crowding and blatant ignorance of basic road rules as you will in India. The streets of the major cities throb with traffic, rickshaws, hagglers, cows, and everyone and anyone going about their daily business. Yet once you learn to embrace this chaos, go with the flow and accept it as part of life, it all makes sense. Facets of life you need to accept:
- Timetables are meaningless. Things happen on ‘Indian time’. Accept it, embrace it, and move on.
- Personal space is non-existent.
- Cows are sacred, deeply respected animals, and as such roam the streets freely.
- The rule of the road – there are no rules.
This hustling, hectic, outrageous and chaotic way of living will both infuriate and infatuate you. You’ll hate it, you’ll love it, and ultimately it will work to educate you further about this crazy nation and its colourful culture.
Fundamentally, if you’re looking for an experience to shock you, excite you, and ultimately change your perception on life as you know it, India is it. The person you are when you arrive and the person you leave as may on the surface look the same, but underneath you’ll be changed. It might be a little change, maybe a more daring attitude to food or knowledge of a few new yoga moves, or it might be a massive change that sees you approaching life with a completely new mindset. Either way, your memories of India will colour your life for the better, and have you begging to come back for more.
And the best part of all? You can now travel to the jewel of the east with Contiki on our brand new adventure, Eternal India. Click here to find out more.