Travel Obsessions: India
The seventh biggest country in the world. The second highest population. Split into 29 states and 7 union territories, 23 official languages (including Hindi and English), numerous world religions and diverse cultures. Not to mention terrain varying from the heights of the Himalayas to sacred rivers, deserts, dense jungles and coastal areas. To distil all that India is into a singular experience is difficult, but India is an experience every traveller should have, nonetheless.
The sheer scope of the subcontinent means India is on the bucket list of all those who travel for the thrill, the chill, culture, city sights, food and life experience. The chaos actually runs in synchronicity whether it’s the Mumbai dabba wallahs who distribute 200,000 hot meals to office workers every lunchtime (see The Lunchbox), or the ‘Silicon Valley’ of India – Bangalore.
While business sure is booming in India, it’s the spiritual side of the subcontinent that has always lured Westerners keen to find themselves through yoga, ashrams and gurus. New Delhi has the famous lotus flower building for the Baha’i House of Worship. Rishikesh is the yoga capital of the world where can perfect your downward dog by the Ganges. Seeking enlightenment? Buddhist monks and pilgrims beat a path to the little village of Bodhgaya in Bihar state where Buddha achieved enlightenment, while Goa has a strong Christian heritage.
But it’s not all religion and traditions, Indian pop culture and cuisine pervades the Western psyche too. Fragrant curries, vegetarian street snacks (chaat) and sweets are moreish and a must. And Bollywood, Indian pop (Indipop!), and reality shows like Indian Idol, India’s Got Talent (finalists have included a pole dancer, a Qawaali singer and a one-legged dancer), Dance India Dance, and the top-rating Bigg Boss (like Big Brother); show the contemporary India to the world. Namaste India!
Best time to visit: For the best sightseeing weather, go to India during the relatively comfortable months of November through to mid-February (the ‘winter’ season and also the most popular months to visit the beaches) after the floods and high humidity of the monsoon season and before the dry, hot months of April, May and June. Be aware that northern India experience more extremes of hot and cold, thanks to the Himalayas, and if you do want to brave the monsoons (no swimming!), you’ll find the countryside lush and green in the south.
Know: Forget sacred cows. The latest animal causing traffic havoc in India is a buffalo. Yep, low-cost Indian airline SpiceJet hit a stray buffalo on the runway at Surat Airport on a Delhi-bound flight in early November 2014. Passengers and crew OK, plane – notsomuch.
Places to go:
India’s capital may have less people than Mumbai (11 million vs. 12.5 million in 2011), but New Delhi is the country’s centre of power. Visit the bustling Chandni Chowk bazaar, see Mughal architecture at its finest and marvel at the modern lines of the Lotus Temple.
Goa – India’s answer to Ibiza is a coastal state of blissed-out beaches, hard-partying psychedelic hippies and the cool kids all looking for a boho haven.
Located in the north of India, Rajasthan state is a mix of desert landscapes, brightly hued cities, vibrant festivals, ancient temples and colonial buildings.
India’s most populous city is also the home of the country’s Bollywood film industry. Here you’ll find the best and the worst sides of the subcontinent living side by side.
Agra – No visit to India is complete without a trip to the Taj Mahal, the royal mausoleum built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of this beloved wife and hewn in brilliant white marble.
Breaking news! India just got even easier for Aussies - the Indian Government has just introduced a Tourist Visa on Arrival with electronic travel authorisation (ETA). Australia is one of 44 countries where tourists are eligible for a 30-day stay in India from the date of arrival. Just apply online through the Consulate General of India Australian website (you'll need to upload your photo and passport), pay the $US60 fee online, and you'll receive your ETA by email. Print the ETA and carry it with you along with your passport for your flight to India.
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