Different cultures, customs, backgrounds, languages, sights, sounds, smells, cuisine, clothing, products, attitudes, await the world traveler. There are so many things to experience, it’s difficult to decide which aspect of your trip was the most sensational or enlightening. Traveling the world will enrich your life in too many ways to describe in just one article, so here we will focus on a part of the world called India.
First of all, for the geographically challenged of you out there, India is located in South Asia. It has 7000 kilometers of coastline on the Indian Ocean, the third largest body of water in the world. Three islands are near India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and the Maldives. India also shares borders with China, Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Myanmar. It should also be mentioned that there is also a disputed border with Afghanistan, but that’s another topic for another article.
Much like the United States, India has 28 states, that each have their own elected governments. There are some differences though, India has the National Territory of Dehli and 6 Union Territories. China currently has a larger population than India, however by 2030, India is expected to surpass Chain and become the most populated country in the world.
There are many beautiful rivers in India. The Ganges River, (Ganga or Holy Ganga, in India) is the largest and most well known of them, and is located in Northern India. The Ganga Basin has a huge population. The land is extremely fertile and it is said that one out of every 12 people in the world live there. You can also see Irrawaddy Dolphin in the river, as well as another species called the ganga River Dolphin. Another interesting note is that there is a rare freshwater shark found in the river that has not much is known about. Other major rivers in India include the Krishna, the Brahmaputra, the Kaveri, the Yamuna, and the Godavari.
The mountain range that you will find covering the northern states is called the Himalayas. Central and the rest of the northern and eastern parts of India consist of very fertile flatlands called the Indo-Gangetic Plain. Southern India is a peninsula and made up mostly from the Deccan Plateau with two hilly regions called the Western and Eastern Ghats. Last, but not least, near India’s border with Pakistan lies the Thar Desert.
There are also three archipelagos in India. In West Bengal you find the Sunderbans, Lakshadweep on the southwest coast, and a chain of volcanic islands in the southeast called the Nicobar and Andaman Islands.
India has been a country for many centuries and it’s rich culture and heritage has been preserved for the most part. While traveling in India, you will be exposed to some of the most wonderful cultural monuments in the world. India’s culture is partly created from invaders and immigrants who have arrived here over the years. The Taj Mahal and other examples of Islamic Architecture are left over from the Mughal Dynasty that ruled between 1526 and 1857.
India is made up of a large variety of people. There are a large number of different languages, cultures and religions. Education in India has been improving dramatically in recent years and is a source of great pride for the families of young people who attend the universities there. Traditions that have survived for centuries are held sacred by families here and should be respected when traveling there.
There are many religious ceremonies and festivals held in public in India that you shouldn’t miss during your trip. Harvest festivals for many of the different religions of India are attended by everyone, even those of differing faiths. During the Buddhist New Year (the first full moon in May), the Tibetan Buddhist Community in Sikkum performs the mystic Gumpa Dance and is a must see if you plan to travel to India during that time. In the Autumn months, two of the most prominent harvest festivals are the Ganesh Chaturthi and the Maharastra are fantastic experiences to add to your itinerary if you would like to experience religious ceremonies, which are a major part of Indian culture.
Another large part of Indian culture is their music. There are many types of music to be found during your travels to India. Some of the most interesting music is the folk music you will find as you travel through different parts of India. There are also interpretive dances that are performed by the people there. They tell epic stories based on Indian legends and are very spiritual and devotional. There is a lot of popular music as well, including Filmi Music and two well known forms of classical music you might hear are Hindustani and Carnatic Music.
Despite popular opinion, there are both vegetarian and non-vegetarian delights to be had in India. Bhel puri, a puffed rice dish, usually with spices added and served on deep fried puris, a wheat bread, is a popular snack often sold on the roadside. The staple foods of India are ones made from rice or wheat, but a wide variety of cuisine is available to you as you travel through different regions. Different types of spices and sweets are available and used in the dishes they prepare in each area. Sweets and spicy food is very popular in all of India.
While shopping for antiques, clothing, fabrics, and other items, in alleyways and open markets alike, one piece of advice, try to take a local citizen or guide with you to make sure you are buying authentic pieces. You will find the hand-carved wood artifacts and sandalwood carvings amazing. The woodcarvers are very talented. India is of course also famous for its hand-rolled incense. You will want to bring some back with you. The fragrances are unique and the incense is of great quality if you find the right shops.
There is also a lot of silk and pure cotton clothing, but a few knockoffs as well, hence the warning to have someone from the local area guide you to the best shops and markets. Leather goods can be had in India for a fraction of the cost here, so if you like leather, go shopping!
A quick look at some of the sights you may want to visit while traveling to India before I finish this article. India is a beautiful country and its doubtful you can take in all the wonderful sights on just one trip.
The Pandavas Caves Temple in Goa is dedicated to the Lord Shiva and dates back to the 1st century.
The Rajabai Tower in Bombay is a clock tower of gothic designs that is 260 feet high. One of the curiosities of this gothic tower is that it is adorned with oriental figures. It chimes on every quarter hour and sounds like Big Ben in London. The university library, located under the tower, contains recently restored stain glass windows that are magnificent to look at and considered to be the most beautiful in all of Asia.
New Delhi is a beautiful city whose buildings have serene courtyards and are definitely one of the nicest attractions along with some of the finest museums in the country. New Dehli also sport many shops and boutiques that feature some of the best crafts India has to offer. New Dehli is definitly a place to go during your travels to India.
The Karnataka Folk Museum in Bangalore has displays of rare masks, artifacts, and costumes that are part of India’s rich history, as well as a collection of the folk music and videos of folk dances mentioned earlier in this article.
The Taj Mahal in Agra is of course one of the must see sights in India. It took 20,000 laborers to build the Taj Mahal in the 1600s and has become a known landmark throughout the world. From the jail, to the dome, to the garden, the beauty of this building of both Hindu and Islamic design cannot be justified with words alone.
More about India
Grandly protruding into the Indian Ocean, India is more of a continent than a country. This subcontinent covers every topographical wonder, from white sandy island beaches and tropical forests to high deserts and soaring mountain ranges. Discover 5,000 years of human history, beginning with one of the oldest civilizations of the Indus River Valley who merged with Aryan invaders around 1500 B.C.E. to create the classic Indian culture that still thrives today. With 26 World Heritage Sites sprinkled about the country, it is easy to be immersed in the intricacies of local culture in nearly each of the 28 states and 7 territories.
Thriving Cities and Clashing Cultures: The Beauty of the North
The northern region of India is an assorted mix of cultures, traditions, languages and arts. The vulnerability of this area to outside invaders throughout history has been both a blessing and a curse, bringing with the turmoil unique external influences and inspirations. The capital city of New Delhi, with its mix of four major religions, 7 reigns of power and 2500 years of history, is a prime example of coexisting realities. Wind your way through Old Delhi and be surrounded by remnants of the Mughal Empire, including the largest mosque in India, the Jama Masjid, and Humayun’s Tomb, a 16th century landmark of breathtaking Mughal architecture that would later be echoed in the Taj Mahal. New Delhi is almost a different world with its imperial architecture and broad stately boulevards. Colonial influence is abundant since the British declared Delhi the capital during their rule. The Taj Mahal is also in the north, about 200 kilometers from Delhi. This is the most iconic demonstration of Mughal construction and should not be missed.
A Light into the Heartland: Travel India’s South
Travel to the more culturally homogenous south of India and witness thousands of years of the caste system still in practice despite the more modern structure of India’s government. With its alluring tales of trade and independence, Goa is one of the most popular destinations along the Indian coastline. Among Goa’s ancient ruins stands the Vittala Temple, a monumental tribute to the capital city of the primeval Vijayangara Empire. Most notable are the temple’s musical pillars that represent different musical instruments. Goa’s intricate architecture and independent culture are also products of 450 years of Portuguese colonial rule. In the south, the traveler will also encounter a plethora of biodiversity and protected wilderness areas. The Western Ghats Range is classified as one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots where Silent Valley National Park protects India’s last tract of virgin tropical evergreen forest.
When to Travel to India
Despite the gargantuan size of this subcontinent, there are distinct seasons during which travel anywhere in the country can be extraordinarily uncomfortable and stressful. From April to October, temperatures soar above 90F (45C) and humidity escalates to unbearable levels. October also marks the end of the monsoon season during which the southern and coastal regions are plagued with torrential downpour. The rest of the year is very pleasant and mild with consistently warm weather in the south and rather chilly evenings in the north between December and February.