India. The very word conjures up images at once vibrant and diverse. Dhoti-clad sages meditating on the Himalayas. Beautiful Bollywood actors serenading to song and music. Majestic palaces that take your breath away. Abject poverty that stops you in your tracks. Snake charmers, elephant rides, and the ghats of Varanasi – enduring images of India etched in the Western psyche co-existing with more modern snapshots of the stunningly beautiful Queen’s necklace of Mumbai and the quiet, understated beauty of the backwaters of Kerala.
Welcome to Incredible India! Truly a land that is incredible, indescribable, and incomparable for the diversity of experiences it can give you. Over the centuries, scores of visitors have been attracted to India – the seekers, the philosophers, the tourists, the adventurers. Whatever the nature of your visit, you can be assured of a lifetime experience that will leave you changed forever.
So here are some reasons why India should be your next holiday destination! If you need reasons, that is …..
India is the birthplace of spirituality, many people come to India seeking spiritual enlightenment. Since times immemorial, the Western world has seen India as the place to seek peace, inner knowledge, enlightenment, nirvana. God! So whatever your spiritual goals – whether you want to know yourself within, or look for answers beyond time and space, whether you want to meditate, pray, ruminate, or chant – India has it all. Here are some spiritual experiences that you can seek in India:
- Spend a month or two in Rishikesh doing a yoga camp in one of the many ashrams.
- Attend the Kumbh Mela at Nasik, Allahabad, Haridwar or Ujjain which is a unique ‘spiritual conference’ held once every 4 years.
- Visit Buddhist monasteries in Leh, Ladakh, or Dharamshala.
- Dip into the holy Ganges at Varanasi to cleanse yourself of your sins.
- Participate in the uplifting Ganga aarti at Haridwar.
- Go for a 10-day Vipassana meditation course at Igatpuri, or one of the many Vipassana centres across the country.
- Register for a spiritual retreat at the Osho Ashram.
- Visit the Golden Temple and participate in the langar, a communal eating experience that is both humbling and calming.
- Visit the Brahma Kumari center at Mount Abu and learn the art of meditation and breathing.
- Experience Lord Jagannath’s Rath Yatra at Puri for an experience of a lifetime.
- Visit the temples of Guruvayoor or Tirupati down South.
These are just a few things you could look at. There is no dearth of spiritual experiences to be had depending on the time of the year you choose to visit, the kind of person you are, and the kind of spirituality you are seeking.
Need one say more? Home to 15 of the world’s highest mountain peaks, the Himalayas crown India on the North. Kashmir, the world’s ‘Heaven on Earth’ will leave you awestruck with its pristine beauty, its majesty and its mystery. The Himalayas dominate several of India’s northern state, and its beauty is unique and different from each state. Whether it is a visit to chardham (the 4 holy sites of Lord Shiva) in Uttarakhand, or river rafting in Manali in the Himachal, or a visit to the Himalayan Zoo in Shimla, you can plan an entire holiday around the Himalayas, and would still have scratched only the surface!
If it is majestic buildings, palaces and temples that attract you, rest assured that you will find a diverse architectural spread across India. Beautiful Victorian and Gothic structures will inspire you in Mumbai, Kolkata, and several other centres of the erstwhile British Raj. If it is palaces you dig, then look no further than Rajasthan. Most of the majestic palaces have been converted into luxury hotels at Udaipur, Jaipur, and many other cities of Rajasthan. Varied forms of temple architecture can be seen at the Khajuraho Temple, Sun Temple, Meenakshi Temple and many other temples. You have Buddhist architecture in the form of stupas spread across several locations. Caves and rock carvings can be seen in Maharahstra, Karnataka,Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and some other places. Goa gives you a glimpse into Portuguese influenced churches and buildings, while Pondicherry is distinct for its French ambience and vibe.
If you thought chicken tikka masala, biryani and rogan josh were all that Indian cuisine was all about, then be prepared to be pleasantly proved wrong. The variety that is found in Indian cuisine needs to be experienced; it is virtually impossible to describe in words. Indians love their food, and dedicate a fair amount of time, passion and love in preparing and relishing it. Every state, no, every region, has its own distinct cuisine, based on the geography, climate and palates of the people. In fact, the word ‘Indian Cuisine’ is a misnomer, as there is no such thing! Go ahead and explore this fantastic culinary journey from region to region. Whether it is the better-known Rogan Josh and Dum Aloo of Kashmir, or the relatively lesser known Gahat Ki Dal of Uttarakhand, whether it is the Puran Poli of Maharashtra or the Mishti Dahi of West Bengal, you can eat a different cuisine every single day, and yet will not have experienced even 10% of the variety. Don’t forget to sample the delicious vegetarian options as well! India being home to devout Hindus, Jains, and Buddhists, it offers vegetarian delights you will simply not find anywhere else in the world. So dunk your idlis into the spicy sambar in Chennai, have simple kadhi khichdi in Baroda, and enjoy your daal baatis in Jaipur. And if you have a sweet tooth, you just cant miss the melt-in-the-mouth rasgullas, chunky gulab jamuns, mouth watering moong daal halwa, or kheers made from semolina, vermicelli, or simple rice!
Let’s face it, The Taj Mahal deserves its own unique mention! Known not only for being an architectural masterpiece, the Taj Mahal in Agra tugs at your heartstrings, as it resonates with the deepest need of every one of us – Love! This enduring symbol of everlasting love, the motivation behind it being built, by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan as a mausoleum for his dead wife, Mumtaj Mahal, simply takes your breath away – not just by its sheer beauty and majesty, but for what it stands for. Is it any wonder then, that it is a Wonder of the World?
The Taj Mahal represents the peak of the Indo-Islamic architecture, and you can spend hours and days marveling at the structure, studying the detailed carvings, its views from various angles, the vistas to be seen from the windows inside. A World Heritage Site, the Taj Mahal is sure to take your breath away by its architectural perfection, its sheer beauty, and the emotions it evokes.
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Rural Charm & Urban Chaos
Which is the real India? Is it the miles and miles of paddy fields, the apple orchards on the hills, and the small fishermen colonies dotting its coasts? Or is the real India the towering skyline of Mumbai, the political center of New Delhi, the IT hubs in Bangalore and Hyderabad? You spend some time in India, and you find yourself in a busy metropolitan city, with the latest fancy cars buzzing around at high speed. You continue to travel a few kilometers outside the city, and suddenly you are on a mud path, with cows grazing nonchalantly. It makes you wonder – is India this technologically advanced, fast moving city life full of corporate bigwigs, party goers and movie stars? Or is it the millions working out there in the fields, toiling on the earth, enjoying simple beauties of a simple life. Well, the answer is, India is both! The heart of India is in its rural centers, where wheat and rice and other food grains grow, where lives are dominated by the monsoons and the vagaries of nature. Yet, the mind of India is its towering cities, its intellectual brilliance, its innovative solutions to problems! India is incomplete without either of the two facets, and a visit to India will show you how beautifully the old and the new can co-exist.
The Indian scriptures unequivocally state, ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’. Translated into English, it means ‘Guests are like Gods’. Thus, a very high sense of hospitality is deeply ingrained in the Indian psyche. Wherever you go, you will meet people who are warm, who will go out of their way to help you out, who will chat up with you. Indians are highly people-oriented, and though at times, it may feel as though they do not have a sense of appropriate boundaries, you will soon find yourself warming up to these simple-minded people. Of course, let us not have any illusions – if you are not careful, you can also be conned or cheated by some opportunists. But for the most part, you will find your experience with Indian people heart-warming.
The unique geography of India makes for some very interesting sight seeing. We already talked about the Himalayas. But there is more to India’s natural beauty than the Himalayas, which are undoubtedly the crowning glory! But you can also find deep solace and tranquility in the soothing backwaters of Kerala. If the sea and the surf are what beckon to you, Goa’s beaches are just your thing. Go to Rajasthan, where endless monochromatic deserts are starkly juxtaposed with the majestic palaces and the colours and vibrancy of the Rajasthani culture.
But of course! There are many things you can shop for in India. And if you come from the Western world, you will find the most exquisite stuff at most reasonable prices! So what are the things you can shop for:
- Artifacts, sculptures, paintings, and figurines to add that touch of class to your homes.
- Furnishings: You can find beautifully embroidered, colourful bedsheets, curtains, throws, cushion covers and so on.
- Spices & Saffron: Some of the best spices come from India, and so does saffron. Be sure to buy from government approved shops though, if you want the genuine stuff.
- Tea: Naturally. India is one of the largest producers of tea and you can get your fix of Assam or Darjeeling or Earl Grey to carry home.
- Clothes! You might want to try your hand with a saree or a kurta pajama. But even if you are not that adventurous, you can opt for some beautiful clothes. Indian designers create everyday clothes that are a beautiful fusion of East and West, so be it tops, tunics, shirts or trousers, do make it a point to look at some of the malls to see if something catches your eye. For women, you must try out some of the ‘kurtis’ which are long tops with Indian patterns that can be worn on tights, jeans or leggings.
- Jewelry: If it is gold or silver you dig, you won’t find more variety than India in designs and patterns. If you would rather prefer precious and semi-precious stones then too, you will find a great spread to choose from.
Well, the reasons why you should visit India are as infinite as all that the country has to offer. The reasons mentioned above are just a few. Other than these, you could go to India simply to enjoy its Art Forms, or to visit the various temples, to go exploring its coastline. Whatever your desire, you can find that in India.