India is a paradox difficult to understand. It is ultra modern and very rural. It is a place where the journey will make a more an interesting anecdote than the arrival.
This country hosts mountains and deserts, plains and plateaus, beaches and back water. It changes in appearance every few hundred kilometers that you travel, not just in the scenery but also in the local population. If you put a Tamil Iyengar Brahmin alongside a Khalsa Sardar from Punjab and say they are from the same country you will probably not be believed. The differences between north and south are as stark as those between the east and west. Yet it is a cultural melting pot. A place where invaders came to loot and settled down to live; a wonderful blend of old world charm and new world power which you can experience if you have the inclination and the time.
There are traditionally a few cities that a foreigner is expected to visit to get a general feel of the country. To actually get to know the country you will need months, maybe even years. However most of us do not have that much time so the major attractions that you can choose from include the following:
The Taj Mahal at Agra. Voted into the new list of the Seven Wonders of the World, this is the most famous mausoleums in the world. A tribute from an emperor to his favourite wife who died in childbirth. It is often combined with trips to Jaipur and Delhi. The route is called the 'Golden Triangle' and gives a quick look into Indian History and Culture.
There are forts and palaces in almost all the 28 States and 7 Union Territories in India. Most have their own sound and light show each evening and to visit every single one would take more than a year of continuous traveling. The major cities that one should visit are Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai and Kochi.
The beaches at Goa offer leisure activities and the backwaters of Kerela are frequently on travelers’ routes. The Himalayas offer exciting adventure sports besides the spectacular beauty of the snow-clad peaks. The deserts of Rajasthan offer many camel and jeep safaris.
You can have fun at golf courses, amusement parks, spas and bowling alleys. You can enjoy a drink in a pub or go dancing in a disco. Bangalore is even known as the 'Pub City' of India with the highest number of them in a single place. You can visit a museum or a mall. You can parasail, water raft, ski, snorkel, dive, rock climb, or trek in India. You can live in an ashram and learn yoga, or practice meditation. There is something for everyone in India.
Indians live to eat, so there is an abundance of restaurants in any town that you will visit. Some are multi cuisine while others cater to specific types of Indian or foreign cuisine. There are outlets of multinationals like Dominos, Pizza Hut, KFC, and MacDonald’s in most major cities. Among typical Indian cuisines you can taste Kashmiri Dum Phukt, Mughlai, Punjabi, Rajasthani, South Indian, Gujarati, Marwadi, Gaon, Maharashtrian, Bihari, Orria.
Everyday Indian food is usually vegetarian and each meal will traditionally end with a sweet dish. Pickled chutney and salads will be served with the meal as will an assortment of Indian breads. The variety in the way a single vegetable like a potato can be cooked is mind boggling.
What to Eat in India
Local cuisine varies in the north and the south. Each region is famous for its own cuisine and history. While you will get relatively less spicy food in the south you will get a lot more fried food in the north. The west has its own specialties and the east is influenced by Chinese and Tibetan cuisine.
Some typical Indian foods that you should sample when in India are Samosas – the Indian Burger Allu-Puri – the typical North Indian Breakfast Tandoori – This is a meal cooked on a clay oven lit with coals. Dosa – the typical South Indian meal accompaniment Chaat – the Indian fast food special.
Make sure that you eat at reputed eateries. Also keep your mineral water bottle with you.
The 'Shopper’s Paradise' is what India should be called. You can get anything from traditional handicrafts to electronics, to fake Gucci’s here. Only shop at reputed places if you want value for your money. Do not be afraid to bargain, in fact insist on it. Most shopkeepers will quote a higher rate for the product than what they except to get for it.
What to buy in India
Handicrafts, brassware, clothing, carpets, woodwork artifacts, leather work, semi-precious stones and jewellery make the best souvenirs from India. There are Government and State-run emporiums where you can buy these or you can head to the local markets. The advantage of making your purchases at an emporium is that you know you are getting a genuine article, even if you are paying a slightly higher rate for it.
As a rule, traditional Indians did not used to believe in nightlife and its associated activities. However with Western influences and work ethics coming in, the rules of the game have changed. Most big towns and cities have pubs and discos that are open all through the week. Even then the major crowds will only surface on the weekends yet from time to time some events are organized which will draw in the crowds.