Traveling in India is hands down cheaper than some of the most cheap destinations on our planet. Historically, there were 2 issues that prospective travelers faced while traveling to India. One was the visa and the other were the actual safety issues. The visa issues have come a long way from the days of red tape. In fact, with the Indian government offering visa on arrival to citizens of over 140 countries, traveling to India has never been easier. And with a lot of focus on areas such as treating our guests well and creating better safety standards for women, safety standards in India are showing a marked improvement. And with India being positioned as the next China in terms of growth, things are changing for the good and the bad (by this I mean infrastructural development, traffic and pollution) at an alarmingly quick rate. If there was one time to visit this sub continent, it has to be now, before the famed villages, traditions and cultures get morphed into the new era.
If you do get convinced to explore India (either on a business trip, a short holiday, a long backpacking trip or a gap year), I would recommend that you try some of these 10 must-dos. These are some of the things that most of us Indians can vouch for and they are also what is uniquely, originally and truly ‘INDIA’.
1) Take a ride in the Indian Railways
Did you know that India has the world’s largest rail network and that Indian Railways is the world’s largest employer? Did you know that traveling by train in India is one of the cheapest modes of transport in the world? I don’t want to steer this conversation towards money, but towards the sheer number and variety of people who use this train service in a poor country such as India. Think about the exposure you will get as a train traveler in India. Think about the people you will meet, the cultures that you will interact with, the sights that you will see, the sounds that you will hear and the aromas that you will smell. There is no better place to truly experience India than from inside a train. Ideally, the best way is to go for the 2nd class option so that you come more in contact with the common masses of India, but even the air-conditioned coaches give you a pretty awesome experience. If you are brave, try giving India’s longest train journey (Vivek Express) a shot at 5 days and 4 nights.
2) Celebrate a Festival
Photo Courtesy: Siddharth Joshi of Sid - The Wanderer Travel Blog
With a pretty old culture and a very diverse set of people, traditions and religions, India is the melting pot of cultural interactions. And what better to experience this all than a rich and vibrant festival. All of India’s festivals are joyful occasions with lots of delicious food, colorful clothing, interesting traditions and lots of fun and laughter. Depending on the time of your visit, you can pick and choose the ones that you would like to experience. The key festivals are Holi – the festival of colors (usually in the month of March), Diwali or Deepavali – the festival of lights (in the month of October or November), Dussehra or Navaratri, which means nine nights (usually in September or October), Kite Festival (Jan 14 or 15), Pongal (Jan 14 or 15) where you can experience Jallikattu (similar to the traditional bull fighting of Spain), Onam (August or September), Ganesh Chaturthi (August or September) and many others.
3) Eat Street Food
Indian street food may not always have the best hygiene levels, but it offers a special experience if you are armed with a strong stomach and a will to go that extra distance. Street food in India is diverse like the rest of the country and possibly offers the most authentic flavors served in the most unique way. Be it the lassi of Punjab, the masala dosa of Karnataka, the idli of Tamil Nadu, the vada pao of Mumbai, the Egg Roll of Kolkata, the Puri Chana of Amritsar or the puttu of Kerala, India’s street is full of traditional culinary flavors that you have to taste on your Indian holiday.
4) Stay with a Local Family
In India, we touch the feet of our elders to take their blessings, we worship the cow, we live with our parents even after becoming adults, arranged marriages are still popular, we cook most of our meals at home and eat most of our meals together with our family. If you stay with a local family, you will get to learn these interesting and unique cultures and so much more. And if this stay of yours couples with a local festival or an important family event, you will be exposed to a side of India that you will never get to see as a regular traveler.
5) Watch a Live Cricket Match
Hockey is India’s national sport, but the game of cricket is like a religion. When India plays Pakistan, nearly all of India’s 1.3 billion people are clued in. If we go by the Statistics, the India-Pakistan world cup cricket match in 2011 was watched by over 2 billion people across the world, making it one of the most followed games of all time. The energy inside a cricket stadium is unparalleled, the noise levels go over the roof and the excitement levels are so high that you can sense it in any part of your city. If you can’t catch an International cricket game, you can see if there are any club games taking place during your stay. The Indian Premier League that takes place every April and May is one of the most lucrative club games in the world.
6) Watch a Bollywood Movie
The second richest movie industry of the world is from India. ‘Bollywood’ is known for its tacky stories, amazing dance sequences, innumerable songs in the movie and lots of melodrama. A standard Bollywood movie lasts anywhere from 120 to 240 minutes. And if you happen to watch a Bollywood or even a regional movie in a movie theatre, you will experience the crazy adulation of Indian movie fans. An opening release of the movie is usually preceded with unique fanfare and the actual movie dance scenes while screening in a movie theater bring about dances and whistling from its fans.
7) Groove to Indian Beats
People the world over seem to find joy in mimicking India’s dance moves. You can do that and more on your holiday to India when you join with a group of locals. Be it bhangra, Bollywood dance moves, or dappankuthu of the South, grooving to Indian songs and beats is bound to make you smile from ear to ear. You can try this at a night club, at a family gathering, at a wedding, at a festival and on many other occasions.
8) Shop in our Colorful Bazaars
Indian bazaars are all about colour, glitterati, rich aromas and and sheer energy. From clothes to spices, from desserts to souvenirs and from footwear to local goods, the Indian markets offer a great traditional shopping experience. In addition to the traditional bazaars, one can also indulge in some retail therapy at the modern shopping malls in the various Indian cities.
9) Experience India’s Sweet Tooth
Indians love their desserts. In fact, it would be totally appropriate to term that India has a ‘Sweet Tooth’. A trip to India cannot be complete without indulging in this sweet tooth. While each region of India dishes out their own sweet concoction, they are all deliciously good and can transport you to a special world. The famous desserts are Rasagulla (from West Bengal), Gulab Jamun (from Punjab), Rabri (from Bihar), Payasam (from Tamil Nadu), Halwa (from Kerala), Chiroti Rava (from Karnataka), Rasmalai (from Odisha), Cham Cham (from West Bengal), Mysore Pak (from Karnataka), Ada Pradhaman (from Kerala) and the list goes on. Some popular ones like Kaju Kathli, Badam Kathli and Anjeer Burfi are available all round the country.
10) India’s Famed Wildlife
After East Africa, India is the next best wildlife destination in the world. Tigers, lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos, wild water buffalos, gaur, deer, antelopes and more than 1000 species of birds can be seen in India’s wild. Whether you are on a jeep safari, sitting on top of a jumbo elephant or on foot, India’s tiger reserves, national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and bird sanctuaries offer a special treat to all kinds of wildlife lovers.