To travel to India is to face its complexities, contradictions and extremities. Here are five places to put on your must-see list:
Take a rickshaw ride through the streets of Chandni Chowk, one of Delhi’s oldest and busiest street markets. Try a local delicacy, jalebis, which are like little pretzels soaked in sugar syrup and deep-friend in ghee. You’ll find sub-markets such as the Cloth Market, which has beautiful fabrics and saris stitched with colourful fine embroidery. There are also vendors who sell books, jewelry, stationery, camera accessories, hardware and kitchen equipment, and the list goes on. Prices are great, but haggle to avoid the hefty “tourist tax.”
Agra: What many people don’t know from the photos of the Taj Mahal is that a rather impressive entrance “gate” precedes the long fountain leading up to the attraction. Some people suggest planning your visit to this white marble mausoleum for early in the morning to avoid the crowds and to capture a beautiful sunrise, but be prepared for throngs of people no matter what time you go, and more often than not, a sunless hazy sky.
Ranthambore: In Rajasthan, in one of the biggest stretches of protected Indian wilderness, you’ll find Ranthambore National Park, home to India’s beloved Bengal tiger. Head out with binoculars and your telephoto lens on an early morning safari in an open-top jeep with a local guide. The park is a wonderful showcase for many of India’s national symbols: the peacock, India’s national bird; the banyan, India’s national tree; the lotus, India’s national flower, and of course the Bengal tiger, India’s national animal.
Jaipur: Rajasthan’s capital, famed for its opulent royal heritage and its splendour as the “Pink City,” is equally lauded today for the cultural heritage of its craft industries, particularly a distinctive style of pottery known simply as blue pottery. Made from a mixture of quartz stone powder and powdered glass, the pottery’s designs are drawn and inked by hand with dyes derived from compounds such as cobalt oxide (blue) and copper oxide (green). The pottery’s final bright, shiny appearance is obtained when the pieces are fired, partially melting the powdered glass to create its lustrous sheen.
Mumbai: Through an unassuming set of gates to the Sir J.J. Institute of Applied Art, opposite Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji train station (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), there is a rather run-down turquoise bungalow hiding in an overgrown garden. People come here from all over the world to see where one of India’s most famous authors, Rudyard Kipling, was born. His actual birthplace, a few yards away, no longer exists but he did spend time here and you’ll find his weathered bronze bust outside the house.