After 6 months in India you’ll never be the same again.
India is a huge place and seems about three times as large when you try to travel through it by train and bus. It’s home to more than a billion people or about 15% of the world’s population and yet has vast open spaces in the deserts of Rajhastan and the mountain plateaus of Ladakh. You have mountain glaciers in the North, arid, desert land in the center and thick jungle down south.
There are 14 different languages printed on the rupee and countless more dialects exist. There are so many different religions and peoples in India that you wonder how it could be called a country at all. Yet somehow the same magic, lack of logic and social mayhem can be seen up and down the country.
Travel in India is unique in many ways but most importantly because it defies classification. It’s too slippery. For almost anything you say in India the opposite is equally true and so in the end you give up intellectualizing, drink a tea and gaze out at all the passing maya. It’s a place to lose yourself and see a slice of human reality that was always hidden to your eyes before. It will blow your mind, break your heart and almost certainly wreak havoc with your intestines.
The cities are enormous and are almost all ghastly, polluted slums. They have their green suburbs where the rich live, for sure but the rest of the city will 9 times out of 10 be a hellhole. The traffic is incessant, people are just everywhere and you’ll find yourself locking yourself in your hotel room just to escape from the maddening crowds. The first rule in India is that you are never alone and nowhere is that more true than in the cities.
However the truth is that there are many Indias. There are tribal territories in Assam, chic suburbs in Bombay and medieval villages deep in the drought-ridden countryside. There are parts where all the talk is about the IT boom and parts where all anyone thinks about is whether the rains will fail. India has the worst distribution of wealth to be found anywhere in the world and so a journey from the city to the village can feel like travelling in time.
India is predominantly Hindu but is also home to one of the world’s largest Muslim populations. There are Christians in the South, Parsis from ancient Iran and Buddhism grew up here. There are Jains who won’t harm any living creature and Sikhs whose miniature daggers have not always been for decoration. There are a thousand castes and sub-castes that segregate Indian society but which will be invisble to the average traveler’s eye. Times are changing fast in India but these things run deep.
There are some mesmerising cities such as Benares by the Ganges River, one of the oldest cities in the world, or Jaisulmere near the Pakistani border, a town carved out of the desert. However, whilst Indian cities can be quite an educational experience they’re not usually much fun to hang around in. You’ll have more fun in quiet spots in India in the mountains, desert or on the beach.
The Himalayas are at the North of the country and are one of the most beautiful places in the world. The mountains here leave you without words and there are tons of cool villages in various valleys to go and stay.
Delhi is where you land and pass through any time you travel in the north half of the country. It’s absolutely hellish and definitely worth a few days just to understand how people are obliged to live in these countries.
Rajhastan is the big desert state and has been ravaged by tourism. Smooth operators abound here in the jewel capital of Jaipur and the home of the Taj Mahal, Agra. The latter tops our list for nuclear annihilation and ought to be renamed Agra-vation.
To the east and south are the dubious states of Bihar and Andra Pradesh where only the intrepid go exploring. Benares is a must, just to witness the Hindu funeral rites by cremation down by the river and is a whole life-death trip. Old side streets and sadhus, bhajans and religious life everywhere.
The Punjab is the ‘bread basket’ of India with large green fields everywhere and is home to the Sikhs who are amongst the best characters India has to offer. Check out the Golden Temple in Amritsar.
Goa is almost another reality in itself. A Portuguese colony until 1961 it still has churches and a laid back vibe though the freak have been going crazy there for forty years. It’s a great place to go when India gets too much for you but can be pretty decadent.
Beaches continue through Gokana, down to Kerala. Here there are even more Christians to be found and there’s 90% literacy thanks to the local communist government.
The real south is in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka and has a very different feel to the North. People tend to be friendlier and things are more relaxed. The heat makes things unbearable after about March/April and the monsoon is ferocious. The rains blow out around September/October.
In general there are lots of cool traveller scenes around India. Generally they’re around the holy sites and most beautiful part of nature. The freaks open up a place, it makes it into the Lonely Planet guide book and pretty soon it’s overrun with bakeries, hotels and Kashmiri handicraft shops. Thus we’re not going to advertise any of them here.