A discerning traveller chooses a travel destination based not just on the location or weather but based on the overall experience. Of course you could be fully satisfied with the fabricated experience courtesy of Thomas Cook but at some point you may question the integrity of it all and wonder aloud, ‘is this the real deal?’
As a true blood hindustani who now spends most of her time in the bay area, if I had my say, here’s what I’d ask every traveler heading to India to do:
Attend an Indian wedding: My American friends are now accustomed to my ongoing spool about how there is absolutely no better way to see India’s full glory than a big fat indian wedding; the festivities that precede, the food, the culture, the togetherness of families, the beauty in the traditions of haldi & henna, music and dancing till you can’t feel the soles of your feet and I’ve only scratched the surface. So next time a friend or friend of a friend of a friend is getting married in India, please invite yourself. They won’t mind and you will certainly have the best time of your life. If you don’t believe me, ask anyone that has done it before.
India in Solitude: Treat yourself to a fantasy. This country with myriad colors and flavors does not require you to have a companion. If you must, find a friend in a book. Befriend locals, experience local markets and food, wander off the beaten path (well, not too off). It will be an experience you will cherish as your own. A retreat in the Himalayas, a houseboat adventure in Kerala, sun and sand soaked serenity on the miles of southern Goan beaches, embracing artisanal fervor among the tribal artisans in Bhujadi, Kutch; the possibilities are limitless.
Train it up: A real Indian journey is never quite complete without a train ride. India’s is one of the largest railway networks in the world, one that transports 25 million people daily. Besides getting a glimpse into the true rural Indian landscape, train journeys are made entertaining by frequent stops at quaint train stations where vendors try to sell you everything from garam chai, kaapi (coffee), hot samosas and dal wada (fried snack made from lentils).
Roadside Roti: Before you give me the astonished, gaping mouth look, please give me the opportunity to justify this point.
A lavish dinner at a 5 star hotel is hardly the real Indian experience. Just like the fancy stay, luxury hotels are good at customizing the Indian gastronomic experience just enough to make it comfortable for the foreign palate. But the real India is out there on the streets. While most Indian street-food is off-limits due to hygiene reasons, there are a few quintessential ‘safe’ roadside eateries. Murthal Dhabas on the Delhi outskirts, Elco Panipuri in Mumbai, Lassiwala in Jaipur are a few places that come to mind. Every city probably has one such safe spot.
Goa on a Scooty: Goa’s beaches are a natural attraction. The north and south coasts offer enough variety for travelers that desire a lively party scene or a leisurely vacation respectively. Although, there is so much of Goa that goes unnoticed. My idea of Goa is living in a small bed and breakfast in the quaint old town of Panjim, renting a scooter and riding around town to experience everything from the charm of old churches, innocence of village folk and serenity of the off-tourist-map beaches.
India is brimming with a whole lot of more must dos but for now, these will have to do. I will be sure to share another list of under-rated must travel destinations and experiences.
While these are sure shot ways of having a phenomenal Indian experience, it is a fairly big adventure for a first-timer. If you feel the slightest skepticism at trying any of these, don’t push yourself. Happy travels and like a friend always says,
“Always be ready to have the time of your life.”
– by Aarti Jesrani