Have traveled all over the world, I do admit that I am partial to certain countries because of what they have to offer a visitor. India is definitely on my short list of favorite countries to visit, and here are 10 reasons why:
- Spectacular architecture. India contains an amazing historical and cultural assortment of temples, forts, palace, and monuments that date back centuries. I could write a whole article just on my favorite Indian architecture, but if you could visit only a handful, I would recommend:
- The Golden Temple, with its blend of Islamic and Hindu architectural styles;
- The Meenakshi Amman Temple, considered by many to be the most notable representative of South Indian temple architecture;
- Amber Fort, a white marble and red sandstone complex blending Mughal and Hindu architecture;
- Taj Mahal , perhaps the world’s most renowned structure, built by an Indian shah in tribute to his late wife.
- Meditation and yoga. The mind-body connection is revered in India, which is the birthplace of the practices of both meditation and yoga. Centuries before they became fashionable with trend-setters, these ancient arts were practiced in ashrams and temples throughout India. Today, wellness and spa tours are popular throughout India, and most incorporate yoga and meditation into their activities. Whether you want authentic hatha yoga training in a centuries-old ashram or a meditation class, followed by an ayurvedic treatment, at a luxury spa resort, it can be found in India, whose many cultures all honor the art of mindfulness and contemplation.
- Shopping. Moving from the sublime to the practical, India is a country made for shopping. It has one of the most colorful and varied collection of markets and bazaars in all of Asia. Two of my favorites are the Mangaldas Market, a Mumbia street market that is a wonderful place to look for Indian traditional clothing and textiles, and the Chandni Chowk, an Old Delhi bazaar that gives visitors a real taste of India. At Indian markets, you can find colorful trinkets, clothing, woodwork, and art, as well as modern consumer goods and electronics.
- Beaches. Heading to the beach may not be the first thing you think of when it comes to India, but trust me that some of its coastline is worth a second look. The most picturesque beaches are located along the Goa coastline, which lies between the Arabian Sea and Western Ghats. Several beach resorts cater to all budgets, but it is still possible to find relatively unspoiled areas. Palolem Beach, a semi-circle stretch of sand surrounded by a thick forest of coconut palms, is a Goa favorite. If you’re closer to the east coast than the west, head to Mahabalipuram Beach, where you’ll find the Shore Temple literally perched at the water’s edge.
- Wildlife. When I’ve had my fill of ancient monuments, I head to one of India’s marvelous wildlife sanctuaries or reserves. India’s wildlife represents a melting pot of Asian and European species, with some of the world’s richest biodiversity. India’s “signature” species include rhinos, elephants, monkeys, tigers, and leopards. Three of my favorite refuges are:
- Sasan Gir Wildlife Sanctuary, said to be the last refuge of the rare Asiatic lion;
- Sunderbans Tiger Reserve, a network of mangroves and channels that is home to one of the largest tiger populations in the world;
- Kaziranga National Park, the perfect spot for a rhinoceros photo safari, as Indian one-horned rhinos roam the park’s grasslands.
- Bollywood! The largest film producer in India and one’s the world’s largest film production centers, India’s Hindi-language film industry is a major global business. The charms of Indian cinema are best represented in the Raj Mandir Cinema, an Art Moderne building that combines dramatic décor with thoroughly modern technology. It is often described as the Indian equivalent of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.
- Kosher cuisine. The fusion of Jewish dietary traditions and ancient Indian culinary practices makes for a delicious and delightful cuisine. Jewish-Indian food adapts Indian ingredients to kosher practices, which vary depending upon the particular Jewish community. For example, Cochini Jewish food utilizes primarily South Indian traditions, while Bene Israeli Jews follow mainly Western Hindu influences. I love any cuisine that relies on such ingredients as coconut, chiles, fresh ginger, and curries. Chittarnee — sweet and sour orange lemon chicken, Mashmoosa — scrambled eggs and spicy potatoes, coconut and banana pancakes: these don’t sound like my grandmother’s kosher cooking!
- Cultural/religious diversity. Many of the world’s most ancient cultures and religions arose or first flourished in India, and they continue to be represented today. While India has been criticized for its rigid caste system, that system has perhaps contributed to a culture of tolerance overall, where different classes and cultures can live separately but in acceptance of others. I’ve cited India’s remarkable architecture already, but what is most remarkable is how diverse the spectrum of cultures and religions is that inspired such structures. Hindu temples are predominant in the south, while Buddhist monasteries and cave temples are scattered throughout the country. Mosques and Sikh temples are not uncommon sights, along with dozens of Jewish synogogues.
- Diverse geography. It would take an entire geography book to describe the diverse landscapes that are found within India’s borders. Let’s start with the towering Himalayan Mountains, whose ranges include some of the world’s tallest peaks. Then we have the vast plains and hill regions that contain an abundance of biodiversity. I’ve already noted the charms of India’s lengthy coastline. But the river valleys and ghats probably are most integral to the country’s culture. Along its rivers, ancient civilizations arose, and some of India’s richest cultural and religious heritage is found there.
- Jewish history. Jews have been a part of the Indian culture for centuries, and several distinct Jewish groups are represented in contemporary India. They include the Bene Israel (“Sons of Israel”), the Cochin Jews of southern India, “Baghadidis” who emigrated from Iraq, and European Sephardic Jews. Each group has its own practices and many speak different languages. Rather than a monolithic “Jewish community,” India has several small ones, representing the different Jewish cultures. One important fact about Jews in India: throughout the centuries, they were never required to assimilate into Indian society to survive, and they weren’t persecuted by other Indians. Compared to many other Asian and European countries, India has historically demonstrated little interference into the live of its Jewish citizens. The Jewish presence in India is small today, with less than 5000 estimated to remain in the country today as, in the last half century, tens of thousands made aliyah in Israel. But those who remain are part of vital and observant communities.
My list of things I love about India will stop at 10, although I could go on for several more pages! If you would like to find out for yourself what makes India such a great travel destination, contact me for further information. A tour can be tailored to your unique interests, from a spa vacation to a religious pilgrimage.