India offers tourists unmatched access to perception-altering sights, sounds, and flavors. Forget The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel; The Darjeeling Limited; Slumdog Millionaire; Eat, Pray, Love; Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom—these movies don’t even begin to reveal the real India. To understand India’s quirks and irks, ceaseless cacophony, and amalgamated intrigue, pity, and revulsion requires a visit.
Here is a list of ten real reasons to visit India for the traveler with a couple weeks to spend on holiday. There is nothing below about India’s spirituality, practicing yoga at an ashram, or visiting the Ganges, one of the most polluted rivers in the world. Face it traffic sucks, noise is the national anthem, and personal space is anything less than 10 people per square meter—but there is a big difference between visiting a place and living there. A trip to the “Spice Bowl of the World” is life changing.
Taj Mahal & baby Taj
The Taj Mahal is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for good reason: it is an awesome representation of seventeenth century architectural design, construction, and history. The site was completed during the mid 1600s and sits along a river in bustling Agra. But don’t go hoping to renew your vows—the Taj was built by a Mughal emperor to house the tomb of his favorite wife.
The Tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah, also known as the baby Taj, is a smaller version of its much bigger brother. This tomb was completed about 30 years earlier and may be regarded as a model for the much grander Tāj Mahal. Some people find this site a welcome stop after the much more crowded Taj Mahal.
When much of the rest of the northern hemisphere is donning fleece and down, India is gearing up for her favorite season: winter. If the rains were good—which admittedly was not the case for many years until 2016—people have ample water and can enjoy the next 8-9 months without worry. A typical forecast for most of the country is pretty boring, with long, warm sunny days bookended by cool, sleep-temperature evenings.
Rajasthan, the state southwest of Utter Pradesh and the capital city of Delhi, is an idyllic mix of religious architecture, tiger reserves, men with earrings, and laal maas—a colorful, non-vegetarian dish made with red chilis. Several cities stand out, including Jaipur with its block prints, Udaipur and her miniature paintings, and Bera’s less touristy leopard safaris. If you go to Bera, consider a stay at Castle Bera, a cozy, 5-room hotel owned by the charming Thakur Baljeet Singh who serves amazing Rajasthani meals in a communal dining hall.
India may be the most colorful country in the world. Textile shops, pedal-rickshaws, spice markets, flowers, lakes, and Tequila Sunrise mornings paint the backdrop for unmatched photographic diversity. India’s people are just as colorful as their home and normally accommodate the wannabe photojournalist with sometimes fun and often serious poses. Photo opportunities are everywhere in India; however, while in Delhi try Delhi Photo Tour, an excellent resource for a behind the scenes look at a city with no shortage of hidden gems.
Beautiful Inexpensive Fabrics
Fabric in India is inexpensive, original, and high quality. Need a new table cloth? There is probably a handmade print with the colors you need for only a couple hundred rupees. How about a small jacket? Purchase the material and for the cost of lunch in the US an Indian seamstress will measure, stitch, and create a custom made garment in less than 48 hours.
Food in India is an art form with different specialties and dishes from region to region. Whether into Swati Snacks street food in Mumbai, northern India’s mild Aloo Gobi, or southern India’s Masala Dosa and Biryani, Indian cuisine with its colorful presentation and aromatic smells will not disappoint. Sometimes asking for the food to be cooked “home style” results in a more authentic experience. It’s hard to go wrong with food anywhere in India, but be sure to try the mango ice cream if visiting during mango season.
Mumbai Slum Tours
Before lunch at Swati in Mumbai, take the Dharavi slum tour. Dharavi is a city within a city: an eye-opening walking tour of the houses, economy, and one-million people who call the third largest slum in the world home. Seeing Dharavi brings new meaning to the phrase, “There are worse jobs.” Heading to Mumbai? Try combining Dharavi with a tour of the city through Magic Tours of India.
Visiting India means instant fame. The Sanskrit verse Atithi Devo Bhava—the guest is like god—means tourists are treated as royalty at most hotels. Whether staying at one of the Trident properties, the St. Regis in Mumbai, or an ITC, Indian hospitality is unmatched throughout the world. When visiting sites, especially outside of Delhi, fame turns to celebrity as Indian’s from various walks of life ask to take a photo with tourists. Hint: Trade photographs—after posing for a click with the polite Indian, ask to take their photo. Indians are some of the most photogenic people on the planet.
Delhi Spice Market
The spice market in Old Delhi is the only place on earth that still feels like the 1600s. It is a symphonic display of perpetual movement, vibrant color, and hectic commerce amid people as colorful as the spices they hawk. Child and adult, merchant and drover, they happily share smiles, stories, and tea.
Location, Location, Location
Want to take a quick weekend hop to Hong Kong, Thailand, Nepal, Singapore or any number of south and southeast Asian locales? A trip to India means extending the holiday to other countries in the region via affordable, four hour flights. Why fly half way around the world to see one country when it’s possible to see more than one? After all, Thai food is just as good as Indian.
That’s it. Ten reasons to spend two weeks in India. Now you just need airline tickets and a plan.
If you enjoyed this article, want to visit India, or you’re just feeling left out, subscribe to be notified as new material becomes available.
Unless otherwise noted, I drew or took the photographs in the article—as lame as they may look. Sometimes drawings come from my head, other times they’re from something I saw somewhere. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is probably planned. Copyright can be found here for my original work.