Dear India, you know how to infuriate and infatuate within the same breath, and to keep travellers returning for more.
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Falling in Love with India
India is possibly the best known travel destination for provoking a strong reaction: You either love it or you hate it; you feel like you’d never go there or you long to go.
India has the ability to inspire awe, fervour, dedication, joy, frustration, confusion and sadness all at once. But ultimately, we keep going back for more.
The complexity of the experience in India is perhaps one of its biggest draws for travellers.
India is no one place, people, experience or moment – it is the sum of all that it is, which is invariably different for each of us as travellers. Every traveller’s experience of India is unique.
Perhaps that’s why we love it.
India gets no shortage of criticism, from both within and from visitors, but surely its easier to sit back and allow yourself to fall in love with India? If you’re willing, here are some of our favourite ways – and reasons – to fall in love with India. (Hint: It’s more than just ‘finding yourself’)
There are as Many India’s as you can Dream of
India has not been called the cradle of the human race for nothing.
There are as many versions of this fabulous sub-continent as you can bring yourself to imagine. India has been a melting pot for centuries – influenced by the Mughals, the British, the Zoroastrians from Iran, the Chinese, and many more. And that shows.
India still is a melting pot, something we love and treasure most about the country. You can go from eating Biryani and visiting beautiful Mosques to dining at Parsi cafes in Mumbai within a few steps.
But the versions of India go beyond the religious, culinary and architectural. There’s noisy India, serene India, holy India (and very unholy India), hospitable India and rude India. And perhaps the best thing, is you’ll likely get all of them at once.
Maybe in the confusion, overwhelm and varied pace of travelling India, we fall in love just a little more easily…
Step Outside your Comfort Zone
India has pretty much something for everyone – unless you have OCD (and maybe then India will be your cure). The best trips to India start with plenty of research and a plan to perhaps stay comfortable in India – staying at comfortable hotels, avoiding food that has any chance of giving you Delhi belly, etc.
But, dear India has a habit of challenging the comfort zone and will rarely allow that. No matter what extent of planning and preparation, India often has the perfect curved ball that will throw you out of your comfort zone.
And, as they say: Life begins at the edge of your comfort zone. And so one of the best ways to approach India is from a place of curiosity: Open to new experiences, tastes and ways of doing (or not doing) things. It might just change your life!
Travel the Path Less Wandered
The Indian hospitality and culture you read about is harder to find in Agra (apart from seeing the Taj Mahal of course) than it is off the beaten tourist path.
Many visitors to India make a bee-line straight for the “Golden Triangle” (Delhi, Agra and Jaipur) and Rajasthan. Which are beautiful, but there are far more places to experience in India than that. These three cities also happen to be some of India’s noisiest, most polluted, and are probably home to the highest concentration of people trying to rip tourists off.
Instead, venture into lesser visited parts of India, and you will likely receive a royal welcome, and enjoy travelling India a lot more. The pace slows, the chance to meet and interact with locals increases, the time for chai breaks extends, and there are far fewer fellow tourists to contend with for photo-ops.
Let Go of Judgement
As travellers (and as humans) our natural quest is to understand. And to understand, we have to filter out most of the information our brains receive to simplify it and twist it into something that resonates with us.
In India, that volume of information multiples by about a thousand.
It’s a country where it’s easy to judge, on various levels. That woman who just threw a plastic bottle. The man who just overcharged you. The crowd that just pushed you out of the way.
But before we judge, let’s consider this: How much more difficult does life become if a city is home to 20 million people all trying to go to work at the same time? Or if there is no where to put rubbish, because there never has been any waste collection service?
It’s easy to judge things in India, but travel here becomes a much better experience if we can reserve judgement and quiet the need to understand everything.
Unleash your Tastebuds
Perhaps nothing sums up India’s diversity and vibrancy more than its food. The more you’re open to new flavours, the more you may learn to love it!
Sampling street food, with snacks served by vendors often in the early evening, is one of the best ways to try local delicacies which vary from city to city and state to state in India. If you’re worried about getting sick – follow the crowds for the best food stalls and choose piping hot food.
From spicy Vada Pav in Mumbai to parathas in Delhi and healthy vegetarian thalis served on banana leaves in south India, Indian food rarely fails to deliver. Just don’t expect to lose any weight in India, and step away from the tourist-focused restaurants serving banana pancakes…
Let Go of your Travel Plan
Just as India has a way of getting you out of your comfort zone, India has a way of messing with our travel plans, too. But the result is usually far better than the one you imagined in any case, and brings you to exactly where you are meant to be.
To enjoy and fall in love with India is ultimately to surrender the experience – whether it’s trains being late, being taken on a detour, or chance encounters with locals and new travelling companions. We’re not saying you shouldn’t make a travel plan – you should of course – but being prepared for a few spontaneous changes to it will help you get the most out of your India experience.
Letting go of the need to be somewhere at a particular time, or checking your emails every five minutes (or even knowing what the time is) is one of the most freeing concepts of travel – and India is adept at helping encourage you along that path.
Be Open to a New Culture
India has held on to its culture(s) far better than many other lands, and in a world that is becoming increasingly westernised, we think that’s something to be treasured.
There’s plenty that’s different to what we may be used to at home. And although there are increasing numbers of Starbucks in Indian cities, the real delight is in buying a glass of steaming chai from a roadside vendor and taking the time to savour it while people watching.
Home-cooked food, made with love and fresh, locally sourced ingredients is a staple of Indian culture, along with the closeness of families. As a visitor it can be hard to work out where family begins and ends (everyone seems to be a cousin or brother) but it’s that close-knit community that many places have lost that is worth holding onto.
There are things that are different. People may, or may not, be on time. Prices may change from what was agreed. Customs and social roles might be different to what we expect. There may be a certain amount of jugaad involved in solving problems. But such is part of the charm.
Experience Hospitality in its Purest Form
Athiti Devo Bhava is a commonly known phrase among travellers in India – translating to guest is equal to God – and travellers get a warm welcome by most locals. In a land where it is considered poor form to turn away even an enemy who comes to your house what offering him tea, you can be assured of many, many invitations for chai and dinner during your time in India.
Such hospitality is rarely forced, either. Such is the warmth of many peoples’ hearts that the offers of hospitality are truly meant, even in cases where people have little.
It goes without saying that we should do the same and treat our hosts like Gods in return – a way to give back is to bring a little gift or donate some small money for the children of the house, or invite your host for a meal or tea in return. Sweets always go down a treat in Indian homes, or souvenirs from your home country.
Falling in Love with India
Everyone falls in love with India for different reasons – whether its for the friendly people they meet, the beautiful landscapes and biodiversity of India, the incredible food, or its potent spiritual energy.
Travel in India can be confronting – and if it’s not for you, that’s okay. But travel in India with an open mind and heart, and you may just find yourself falling for it too.