I was nervous before my first trip to India. For years I’d heard horror stories from other travelers and I wasn’t sure if I was ready for the experience. Almost instantly though, I realized that those accounts had been somewhat skewed, and I started to fall in love with the country right away. Over the course of a week and a half I experienced a lot of the country, but for me these are some important reasons why I think everyone should plan a trip to incredible India.
1. Not Scary
Based on the many accounts of traveling to India I’d read over the years, I was prepared for a level of chaos akin to a dystopian novel. So, imagine my surprise when I instead discovered a country like many others around the world. Is it chaotic? Yes. Is it loud? Yes, and if I never hear another car horn again I’m ok with that. But it’s no different from many other countries I’ve visited around the world in Africa, Central and Southeast Asia. It’s not as fearsome as I thought it would be. India is a developing nation of 1.3 billion people. There is a stark divide between the rich and the poor, although the middle class is growing like gangbusters at the moment. There are issues, I’m not disputing that and I’m not trying to portray a Pollyannaish image that’s inaccurate. No, instead I do believe that some accounts of India have been grossly off the mark and I think I know at least one reason for that. Many people visit India only briefly, there to see top sights like the Taj Mahal. If your only experience visiting India are the cities of Agra (where the Taj is located) and the capital city of Delhi then no, you won’t have positive impressions of the country. However, if you veer off into other areas of the country like I did, then a more complete and robust image of the country will start to form.
2. Amazing Cuisine
Although I was careful about how and where I enjoyed local cuisine, there’s no doubt that it was an important aspect of my journey at every new city visited. One experience though was a little more special than the others, a delicious education into quick go-to meals in the capital city. I couldn’t imagine a better way to spend my last full day in India, then delving into the organized chaos that is Old Delhi. It actually reminded me a lot of Cairo with its colorful bazaars and intoxicating smells, a pattern hidden in a sea of disorganization. I was there though with a purpose, I joined a food tour of Old Delhi - the perfect way to experience the neighborhood while enjoying the best dishes it has to offer. Everything was delicious and mostly new to me, a quick tutorial into what folks in Old Delhi love to eat.
3. Enriching Experiences
Sure, I toured the standard tourists sites in each of the five cities I visited, but I also experienced the destinations in ways slightly different, but which brought me closer to understanding them on a more intimate level. In Mumbai that meant getting up early, in Udaipur hanging out with kids and in Delhi it revealed itself through a back alley food tour of Old Delhi. In scenes that reminded me more of a bustling Cairo bazaar, my guide expertly ushered me through the maze of streets and lanes to some of the most popular food purveyors in the city. Tasting foods new to me, I certainly enjoyed the culinary aspect of the morning, but I also appreciated the cultural lessons along the way. Whether it was watching the rough and tumble world of the spice trade, or learning more about the Jains, it was a crash course into Delhi life that I simply couldn’t have otherwise experienced, and certainly not on a more run of the mill tour. It brought Delhi to life for me, it gave it color and character and made me appreciate the city much more than any UNESCO site possibly could.
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