Some people are overwhelmed the minute they pick up their first India travel guide. But India is not a monster that needs to be tackled or tamed. It is a magical menagerie, an escape into the exotic and a place to break down all our western conventions and presumptions. Think of it like a box of exquisite handmade chocolates.
You wouldn’t cram them all in at once. You would read the ingredients, savour each one, relishing the taste of every parcel presented to you. The Golden Triangle is the one that always jumps out first from the chocolate box, with Delhi, the Taj Mahal and Jaipur offering that reassuringly tasty concoction of palaces, princes, mughals and mystery. However, the remote beaches versus the resorts of Goa and Kerala are like the difference between a Mars Bar and a Montezuma, and the hiking to be had in Ladakh is like the surprise secret layer you never realised was there. In fact, that’s the thing about India.
Go one step off the tourist trail, and you will find that the layers just go on forever.
Probably one of the best places if you are a newbie to India, fulfilling all fantasies you might have about India. With maharajas, pink palaces, camels in the streets, desert sunsets, fine artisanal crafts, and multi-coloured temples. It’s the whole gamut of gorgeousness.
Head east into Chattisgarh and Odisha to discover some of India’s tribal communities. With the help of respectful tour operators and mutual understanding from both parties, these people are now inviting tourists into their homes so they can have an off-the-tourist-trail experience.
An huge mausoleum of white marble, built on the orders of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favourite wife, the Taj Mahal is one of the world’s most-visited tourist sites. It was given World Heritage Site status in 1983 and still looks immaculate today.
Lots of people don’t leave the Golden Triangle (the three most visited cities in the country's north-west - Delhi, Agra and Jaipur), thinking that they’re missing out if they leave the tourist traps. However, rural India has small villages and homestays to offer tourists with a taste for adventure.
If you want to eat chaat, North Indian street food, Delhi is the place to be. Thali is like Indian tapas, with a collection of small bowls of different foods (katori) served on a round tray. Each region has its own lassi. Such as Makhani lassi in Rajasthan made from buffalo butter, essential oils, and yoghurt. But, in Punjab, it is more frappé style.In Kerala, don’t miss the seafood, from the coast or backwaters.
Hindi is the main language in India, although English is taught in many schools, and is widely spoken or understood. There are 21 other official languages, from Urdu to Gujarati, Bengali to Kashmiri. Namaste is the main greeting but it has become almost a cliché that this is the only thing tourists know what to say. Stretch your skills and be brave with just a bit more: Aap keise hain? = How are you? Dhanyavad = thank you, although not used willy nilly in India, so don’t think local people rude if they don’t say it
Indian food in the west is usually Punjabi or Gujarati, but each region has a differentcuisine. For epicurean excellence, check out Mughlai or Rajput cuisines. Most north Indian bazaars now just cater for tourists. They have become a corrupted and contrived culture. You need to go into really small towns to find bazaars that local people use.
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We've compiled this short highlights guide to India, if you're interested in Responsible Travel’s full guide to India, please click here.
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