Image: On camel safari in Jaisalmer
Tired, frustrated and probably confused are how you will feel many times in India. Either from interacting with the complex culture formed uniquely and richly over thousands of years or from some modernity struggling to integrate within that context. Of course you will feel happy, delighted, surprised, welcomed, curious and a plethora of other positive emotions too which is why India is sooooo worth traveling.
I spent six weeks in India over winter in late 2018 and early 2018. Over which I visited Rajasthan, the Kashmir Valley, hill stations such as Amritsar and Dharmashala, Agra and the two big cities of Mumbai and Delhi. This is like 5% of the main attractions of an area so large and rich as India so this information might not work everywhere but most of it will. In an effort to ease frustrations and set expectations I want to share several of these essential learnings.
(To get a more cultural insight into my experience read this)
Image: Old Delhi contained by the paid entrance to the Fatehpuri Masjid Mosque
Until India, I have never been so encaptured by a culture that I didn’t want to leave it. The food is probably the best in world with so much variety and flavor on both sweet and savory spectrums.
Image: Raj Kachori at Haldirams is beautiful, sweet and savory. Every bit an example of fantastic North Indian chat food.
The people typically kind, prideful, eager to engage and helpful (if it’s not their job to be so). The colors make the rest of the world seem bland. Saris always shouting brightly with shimmering patterns. Intricate, unique artwork can be found everywhere in monuments, crafts and even ordinary street art windows.
Image: Foldable bamboo ink elephant composed from hundreds of figures.
Even the transportation trucks, lowered to basic standardization in the West, sport custom paint jobs and ornamentation! Yet, India is a complex county and sometimes hard to understand. I want to share several themes I’ve come to love from this magical place.
Image: Military stationed at an intersection
Taking a bus into Kashmir you pass several military convoys, men with machine guns on the road side every few minutes and numerous parked armored vehicles with men manning guns in the turrets. It is clear the Kashmir and Jammu (J&K) region of India is still a conflict region when I heard an IED killed four police officers in Sopore, 25 miles NW of the main city of Srinagar the day we arrived.
Every city on the tourist beat has a mahal (Indian Palace), Fort or Temple that makes you say it is the most majestic, beautiful or magnificent thing you’ll see in India. It was encouraging to see Mohguls and Rajput rulers over the last five hundred years sponsoring so much art and creation as well as their military might. We spent 15 days in the Indian province of Rajasthan in the blink of an eye and visited only the main attractions. Missing the smaller towns, outdoor experiences like trekking and places like the “rat temple”. Given the richness of the area I hope to at least express the differences and highlights of each city. It’s hard to describe these places so I’ll try to do my best with photos.