India is a dynamic nation with a deep cultural history that needs to be experienced with your own eyes. Wonderfully different, a feast of sounds, smells and colour, there is nothing quite like India! It is a place that is mesmerising, exciting and at the same time chaotic and bewildering. That's what makes it so special. Travelling to India is a journey for both the senses and the soul. One minute you’re looking out the bus window in awe at the interactions of the locals, and the next you’re contemplating the meaning of life, learning of the origins of Hinduism. You simply don’t get an experience like lying by the pool on a typical sun holiday. Here are my top cultural experiences from Exotic India that will hopefully inspire you to embark on your own adventure.
The food in India is just as colourful as its history. Dishes are rich, varied and brought to life by the use of herbs and spices. Food is an important part of Indian culture, playing a hugely significant role in everyday life. While Indian cuisine varies from region to region, reflecting the varied demographics of the country, our guide explained that one of the staple foods for the layman in India is a simple potato curry and bread - a humble, comforting dish. During a trip to Northern India, you will have ample opportunity to try many dishes typical of the region. Most hotels provide excellent buffets with a range of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. With naan breads made fresh to order by the chefs, your dinner times in India will be a delicious feast. There is also lots of tasty street food in India but is generally only for those with a strong stomach. During our trip, we ate at some local restaurants and it was among the best food I have ever tasted. The aroma, along with the varied tastes and kicks of fresh spices, has lingered on my palate long after my return!
Saying that the traffic was a cultural highlight of my trip may seem a little odd at first, however, you really have to see the traffic in India to believe it!! It is always rush hour in India, but with Delhi’s population hurtling towards 10 million people, this is to be expected. Our local guide, Abhimanyu, once described the traffic in India as a sense of belonging for people - you certainly know that you are part of the human race while sitting at a busy crossroad! There are cars, rickshaws, tuk tuks, motorbikes, bicycles, trucks, and last but by no means least, cows, trying to negotiate the busy streets all to a chorus of horns. The beeping of horns seems to have no rhyme or reason in India, and makes any journey noisy but entertaining! Now imagine you are trying to make your way across these busy roads as a pedestrian… Crossing the road by foot with the watchful eye and assistance of our expert local guide was a thrilling adventure in itself and an experience I will never forget. Our rickshaw ride through the narrow streets of Old Delhi was also a great way to gain first-hand knowledge of the bustling market streets!
If you can bring a lot of patience, a great sense of humour and a willingness to interact with the local people, your travel experience in India will be greatly enhanced. Delhi is a city of traders selling everything from fruit to car parts. Our first day in Delhi was a Sunday, the busiest market day of the week. It was fascinating to see everything from shoes to spices to goats being traded at the side of the road. One of the highlights of my trip was by far our trip to the Jaipur night markets. We visited a spice shop to buy some turmeric, mango powder and chilli powder (which is certainly helping me with my withdrawal from the delicious Indian cuisine), and we also browsed many fabric shops selling beautiful embroidered cushion covers, stunning saris and embellished scarves. In one particular shop, we met a tradesman who referred to himself as “Mr Lovely”. He had a fantastic sense of humour and was even keen to get some selfies with us! Throughout our stay we found the Indian people to be extremely welcoming and friendly; what better way to interact with the local people than down at the markets?
One of the things that fascinated me most about India, and something that I think is extremely admirable, is the number of different religions that live together in peace. Religion in India is characterised by a diversity of religious beliefs and practices. The majority of the population of India practises Hinduism. However, there is a large portion practising Islam as well as other religions such as Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism. During our trip through India’s Golden Triangle we witnessed men in skull caps praying on prayer carpets in the Jama Masjid mosque, we saw ladies in bright orange saris with their feet painted red entering a Hindu temple, and we admired the architecture of the Jain places of worship. We were lucky enough to be in Jaipur for Ganesh Chaturthi, a Hindu festival celebrated in honour of the elephant-headed god, Ganesh. The streets were filled with people in colourful dress awaiting the procession of parade style floats dedicated to Ganesh.
If you would like the opportunity to experience a Hindu festival in Jaipur, you can celebrate Diwali (the festival of light) with Travel Department on certain dates during October/November.