Different cultures, customs, backgrounds, languages, sights, sounds, smells, cuisine, clothing, await the world traveler when you travel to incredible India. 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.
Where is India?
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 and ongoing issues with Kashmir with Pakistan, but that’s another topic for another article.
Much like the United States, India has 28 states, that each has its own elected government. There are some differences though, India has the National Territory of Delhi and 6 Union Territories. China currently has a larger population than India, however by 2030, India is expected to surpass China 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 lives 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 is made up mostly of 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 the Andaman Islands.
History and culture
India has been a country for many centuries and its rich culture and heritage have 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 by invaders and immigrants who have arrived here over the years. The Taj Mahal and other examples of Islamic Architecture are leftover 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 Sikkim 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 Maharashtra are fantastic experiences to add to your itinerary if you would like to experience religious ceremonies, which are major part of Indian culture.
Another large part of Indian culture is its music. There are many types of music to be found during your travels to India. Some of the most interesting music is 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 are very popular in all of India.
Indian cuisine is so popular that there is an Indian restaurant in almost every city around the world.
Souvenirs to buy
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!
India attractions and landmarks
A quick look at some of the sights you may want to visit while traveling to India. Please keep in mind that India is a large country and it will be difficult to visit all the wonderful sights in one trip.
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 dome to the garden, the beauty of this building of both Hindu and Islamic design cannot be justified with words alone.
The Taj Mahal is largely made of white marble decorated with delicate inlaid floral patterns and precious and semi-precious stones like jade, lapis lazuli, diamonds, and mother of pearl, and incorporates many elements of Islamic design. These include arches, minarets, an onion-shaped dome, and black calligraphy inlaid around the entrance.
The Holy City of Varanasi
The holy city of Varanasi, a significant pilgrimage destination for Hindus, has long been associated with the great Ganges River, which is considered to be one of the faith’s most important religious symbols. Varanasi has been inhabited since the 8th century BC, making it one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited towns.
There are numerous reasons to visit, not the least of which is the opportunity to explore the Old Quarter, which is adjacent to the Ganges and has the Kashi Vishwanath Temple, which was erected in 1780. (the New Vishwanath Temple with its seven separate temples is also of interest).
The Golden Temple of Amritsar
Amritsar, which was founded in 1577 by Ram Das, is a significant center of Sikh history and culture. The main attraction in this area is the Harmandir Sahib, which was built in 1604 and is still referred to as the Golden Temple because of its exquisite gold ornamentation.
Known as the holiest of India’s many Sikh shrines (it is also visited by many Hindus and people of other faiths), the temple was built in a blend of Hindu and Islamic styles, with flourishes such as ornate inlaid floral and animal motifs in the lower marble section, and a large golden dome representing a lotus flower, which is considered a symbol of purity by Sikhs.
The Golden City of Jaisalmer
The Golden City of Jaisalmer, so named because of the yellow sandstone that is used in the construction of most of its buildings, is an oasis of magnificent old architecture that rises from the sand dunes of the Thar Desert. Today, the city is packed with gorgeous old homes, spectacular gateways, and the gigantic Jaisalmer Fort–also known as the Golden Fort–a formidable 12th-century building that rises above the town on a ridge high above the town.
In addition to its palaces, temples, and lovely old dwellings, the castle has 99 bastions as well as gigantic gates leading to its main courtyard, where you’ll discover the seven-story-tall Maharaja’s Palace, one of the world’s largest royal residences.
The Red Fort in New Delhi
The magnificent crescent-shaped Red Fort in New Delhi, which was built by Shah Jahan in 1648 as the seat of Mughal power and served in that capacity until 1857, encompasses a vast area of more than two square kilometers and is completely surrounded by a large moat. It was named after the stunning red sandstone that was used in its construction.
The fort’s two largest gates, the majestic Lahore Gate (which serves as the fort’s main entrance) and the intricately designed Delhi Gate, which was previously utilized by the emperor for ceremonial processions, are among its most notable features.
Gateway of India (Mumbai)
A must-see while in Mumbai is the iconic Gateway of India, which stands at an astonishing 26 meters tall and offers spectacular views of the Arabian Sea. Built to mark the arrival of King George V and his wife Queen Mary in 1911, this spectacular piece of architecture was unveiled with great pomp and ceremony in 1924 and held the distinction of being the city’s tallest structure for a period of time during that time.
Known for its Indo-Saracenic style, the Gateway of India, which was built completely of yellow basalt and concrete in 1948, served as the backdrop for a less joyous procession of British soldiers as India earned independence from the United Kingdom in that same year.
Construction on Hyderabad’s Mecca Masjid, one of the world’s largest mosques and one of the country’s oldest, began in 1614 during the reign of Mohammed Quli Qutub Shah and took about 80 years to complete. It is one of the world’s largest mosques and one of India’s oldest.
The 15 colossal arches and pillars of this magnificent mosque, which can accommodate up to 10,000 worshipers, were each crafted from single slabs of black granite that were brought to the site by massive cattle trains that included up to 1,400 bulls.
This remarkable complex includes attractions such as its main gateway, a wide plaza, an artificial pond, and a room that stores the hair of Prophet Mohammed, among other things. Other remarkable characteristics are Quranic inscriptions above many of the arches and entrances, the magnificent ceiling of the main hall, the cornices that surround the entire mosque construction, and floral themes and friezes that decorate the arches.
The Amer Fort (also known as “Amber” or “Amber Fort”) was constructed as a fortified palace in 1592 by Maharaja Man Singh I and has served as the capital of Jaipur ever since. With a difficult trek upward to get there on foot, or by shuttle bus from the town below, the fort is a popular tourist destination in the area (better still, let an elephant do the work).
The Jaleb Chowk, the first courtyard, with its many adorned elephants, and the Shila Devi Temple, which is devoted to the goddess of war, are also notable attractions. The adjacent Hall of Public Audience (Diwan-i-Am), with its exquisitely adorned walls and terraces frequented by monkeys, is also worth a visit for its beauty.
Beaches in Goa
Goa’s magnificent western coastline, which overlooks the Arabian Sea and has long been renowned within India as the “go-to” place for those wanting a fantastic beach vacation, has only recently been discovered by tourists from other parts of the world.
Goa’s coastline, which stretches for more than 60 miles, is home to some of the world’s most beautiful beaches, each with its own distinct attraction. Calangute Beach is the most commercial and congested of the beaches in the area, but Agonda Beach is a wonderful choice for those looking for peace and quiet and seclusion.
When it comes to high-end holiday destinations such as fancy resorts, yoga retreats, and spa vacations, the beaches of Mandrem, Morjim, and Ashwem are popular among both wealthy Indians and Westerners. Palolem is another popular alternative that is situated in a lovely environment.
Periyar National Park
When British engineers established Periyar National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary for irrigation and water supply to the city of Madurai in 1895, they centered it around a lake. One of the world’s largest free-roaming Indian elephant populations is found here, as are wild hog, otter, and the lion-tailed macaque, as well as more than 20 Bengal tigers. More than a dozen species of darting birds can be seen on a daily basis along with many other unique kinds of butterflies in the area, making birdwatching one of the most popular activities in the area.
Originally built as a military construction in 1565 by Emperor Akbar, the Agra Fort (also known as Agra’s Red Fort) was later expanded by Shah Jahan. Near the Taj Mahal, the fort may be reached via the Amar Singh Gate, which has a low outer wall and a dogleg design to throw invaders off guard. Akbari Mahal and Jahangir Mahal, the largest private mansion in the complex, are visible as you enter.
Jodhpur’s historic Mehrangarh Fort, one of the largest in India, was constructed in the 15th century to protect the residents of “Blue City,” as Jodhpur is affectionately called because of its indigo-colored homes that were painted blue to keep the heat out.
Mehrangarh, built on top of a high rock, is an incredible achievement of architecture, with its huge walls nearly impassable. Jaya and Fateh Pol are two of seven magnificent gates that let visitors to enter the complex (the latter still bears scars from cannon attacks).
Thousands of pilgrims flock to Bodhgaya each year to partake in meditation and prayer with the monks who dwell there. For many Buddhists, the Mahabodhi Temple, built on the spot where Buddha attained Enlightenment, is the centerpiece of this pilgrimage site. In the 6th century, the temple was built and rebuilt multiple times, and it is adorned with a gorgeous pyramidal spire and a gilded Buddha figure.
There are hundreds more attractions and landmarks in India, which we will try and cover in future posts.
We hope we have added some useful information and ideas for your trip to India. We will start adding more information, together with tours, hotels, and other offers soon. With a population of 1.4 Billion and the size of a subcontinent, incredible India requires several long trips to be discovered. Safe travels!