India is a home to the ancient Indus Valley civilisation and a nation of historic trade routes and vast empires. India is a home to millions of people, mountainous, dessert and coastal landscapes with some of the world’s largest and culturally diverse cities. Surrounded by the Indian Ocean on the south, the Arabian Sea on the south-west and the Bay of Bengal on the south-east, it shares land borders with Pakistan to west, China, Nepal and Bhutan to the north-east and Burma and Bangladesh towards the east. Four world religions Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism originated from Indian while Christianity, Islam and Zoroastrianism arrived later on to shape the region’s diverse culture. This incessantly transforming country is a mixture of both the old beliefs as well as the modern philosophies.
Indian cultural history spans more than 4,500 years. During the Vedic period, the foundations of Hindu philosophy, mythology and literature were laid while several other beliefs and practices still exist. Much of Indian architecture including the Taj Mahal and South Indian architecture blends ancient local traditions with imported styles. Vernacular architecture is also highly regional in its flavours. The earliest literary writings in India, composed between 1400 BCE and 1200 CE, were in the Sanskrit language. Prominent works of this Sanskrit literature include epics such as the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, the dramas of kalidasa such as the Abhijnanasakuntalam (The Recognition of Sakuntala) and poetry such as the Mahakavya. In the 19th century, Indian writers took a new interest in social questions and psychological descriptions. In the 20th century, Indian literature was influenced by the works of Bengali poet and novelist Rabindranath Tagore.
Indian music ranges over various traditions and regional styles. Classical music encompasses two genres and their various folk offshoots: the northern Hindustani and southern Carnatic schools. Indian dance also features diverse folk and classical forms. Eight dance forms, many with narrative forms and mythological elements have been accorded classical dance status by India’s National Academy of Music, Dance, and Drama.
Indian food is rich in variety, taste and flavour, each dominant region has its own cooking and unique cuisine. Indian cuisine has something that fulfils every taste of the palate. The strong flavours of the Indian cuisine are prominent due to presence the seasonings, spices and basic ingredients like the grains, pulses, leafy vegetables, fruits and meat.
Seafood, coconut, rice and paste are main ingredients of the Goan delicacies and use of the kokum is a distinct feature. Goan cuisine is mostly based on seafood and incorporates several Portuguese influences. Gujarati cuisine is primarily vegetarian and dhokla is definitely the most popular snack. The typical Gujarati Thali consists of roti, dhal or kadhi and a dish made of different combinations of vegetables and spices. With an emphasis on fish and lentils served with rice as a staple and diet, Bengali cuisine is known for its subtle flavours, confectionaries and desserts. Dairy products such as yoghurt, buttermilk, butter, ghee and lassi are consumed for every occasion.
Food from Andhra Pradesh is known for its heavy use of spices and chillies. Telugu cuisine has evolved separately from Hyderabadi cuisine, the most famous of which is the Hyderabadi biryani, a mixture of rice, yoghurt, onions, meat and spices. Kerala cuisine has a multitude of dishes prepared using fish, poultry and meat. Kerala has a variety of dishes like Appam, Idiyappam, Pittu and Pathiri. Tamil food is characterised by the use of rice, legumes and lentils, its distinct aroma and flavour is achieved by the blending of spices. A distinct form of cuisine in Tamil Nadu comes from the Chettinad area famous for its use of meat marinated in spices. Punjabi cuisine includes of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. Some of the favourites include stuffed parathas and dairy products, lentil and mustard leaves curry. Tandoori is a Punjabi speciality.
Delhi is India’s second largest city which unremittingly buzzes with life and bizarrely diverges between the historic Old City and wide avenues, government and business districts of New Delhi. As being the Delhi’s cultural heartbeat the chaos of the Old city is a cavern of nooks and alleys and other exploration highpoints. New Delhi was established in 1911 as India’s new capital and laid out in grand scale by the architects of Edwardian Britain. New Delhi boasts enormous, tree-lined boulevards, Stunning breakthroughs and majestic government institutions. The India gate was built in memorial of the soldiers who lost their life in World War 1, the North-West Frontier and the Third Afghan War.
Mumbai is a riveting conurbation with a compact mix of the traditional and modern traditions. This dynamic and diverse place is a littoral city and also the capital of Maharashtra. The heart of the city comprises some of luxurious colonial era architecture along with unique bazaars, hidden temples, hipster enclaves and India’s premier restaurants and nightlife. An orientation of Mumbai is best started from the Gateway the most famous colonial landmark. The highlight of Colaba is a vibrant causeway built in 1838 by the British and is a flourishing shopping hub favoured by Mumbai’s elite. Mumbai’s main promenade Marine Drive is a sophisticated esplanade which connects from the Nariman Point and Chowpatty beach at the foot of Malabar Hill. This beautiful Corniche is lined with palm trees and art deco buildings with scenes of the sea and skyline.
Agra will always be allied with the great monument to love, the Taj Mahal and the incredibly delightful edifice which hangs like a cloud over the city. This destination was once the heart and soul of the Mughal Empire with the sacred Yamuna River flowing behind the Taj Mahal. The haunting tale behind the Taj Mahal conveys the story of a passionate love that knew no limits. This was built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal. The outstanding artistry and enchanting location are a marvellous sight. Agra boasts a maze of colourful bazaars and markets redolent of primitive times and items including marble, jewellery, leather and souvenirs. This city is a home to World Heritage Sites including the Agra Fort and Akbar’s relinquished capital Fatehpur Sikri and other historic buildings of Mughal architecture with classic churches and unique sandstone tombs.
The exotic city of Varanasi is the cultural and religious centre of North India. This city is the Hinduism’s holiest city and draws more than a million pilgrims from all over the world to ritually bathe in the sacred waters of the Ganges River. The Bharat Kala museum is a significant charm which boasts a fabulous collection of art, sculptures, miniature paintings and Mughal artefacts. The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Khajuraho is distinguished for its remarkable group of delicately carved Hindu and Jain temples which date back thousands of years to the Chandela dynasty.
On the west coast of India is Goa which is a unique blend of Indian and Portuguese cultures with miles of long sandy beaches, colonial vanquished churches and emerald paddy fields. North Goa’s coast is scattered with stunning palm-lined beaches backed by lively resort tons of Calangute and Candolim. The south Goa beaches are lined with sleepy fishing villages, grand colonial houses and verdant farmland. Rajasthan is India’s largest state and is home to some of the country’s most beautiful and famous destinations including the famous pink city of Jaipur, the stunning Thar Desert, historic palaces and Ranthambore National Park.
The south of India is distinguished for its dazzling tropical beaches, dense forests, unspoilt waterways and verdant backwaters as well as its rich history, culinary delights and temple towns. Kerala stretches along India’s southwest coast and lies between the Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea. Kerala is dubbed as the God’s own country because of its picturesque landscape that embraces dramatic cliffs, valleys, forests and unspoilt shoreline as well as extensive network of canals and lagoons. From golden sands, crystal clear waters and swaying palm trees of the beaches to lotuses, water lilies and emerald paddy fields of the rural backwaters, Kerala’s natural beauty is an overwhelming enigma. The Himalayas covers most of the north eastern region are the epic landscapes on the spiritual ground which cover both Hinduism and Buddhism and represents the power and beauty that nature can bestow. Amritsar is a spiritual and cultural centre of the Sikh religion. It is a home to one of the most incredible places in India, the Golden Temple. Shimla is known for its warm climate and Victorian architecture and is declared as the summer capital of the British Raj.
When to go
The best time to visit North India is from October to November and February to March when the nights are cool and days are filled with mellow sunshine. Delhi is hottest from May to July where temperatures are severely high. Most of the rain falls between July and September. The South and Central is visited from November to February when the temperatures are quite low. Monsoon season is between May and October in Goa and from June to August in Kerala.