As the seventh largest country in the world and with a population of over 1.2 billion people, India is such a vast and varied land that you would be a fool to think you can experience all it has to offer on one trip, no matter how long; in fact arguably you could spend a lifetime here and still only see a tiny fraction of the place and its peoples. With over 400 languages spoken here it is a true melting pot of cultures and religions and its sheer breadth of history is deeply fascinating to the many travelers that venture here. Time is so often of the essence though so below we have devised a guide to getting a real taste of India, which should give you a good introduction into the traditions of the many people who are proud to call the country home.
Unearth Ancient India
Many Indian sites and monuments date back thousands of years; indeed the Bhimbetka rock shelters in Madhya Pradesh are believed to date from the Mesolithic Period, making them an astonishing 100,000 years old, and by tracing this history you will get a better understanding of how the modern-day country was formed. There are many significant periods in India’s history, such as the Vedic Period from the 2nd century BC up until the 6th century BC, which is very influential in Hinduism. Meanwhile, the white mausoleum of the Taj Mahal, which stands proud in the desert-like land of Agra, is an outward display of affection like no other, and it aptly displays the opulent nature of the Mughal Empire of the 16th century.
Go On a Yoga Retreat
Spiritualism and inner healing are fundamental to many Indian people’s lives and one method of achieving a permanent state of peace is through yoga, which has its roots in ancient India and links to Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. There are many places where you can escape to find tranquillity in India and options range from two-week hatha yoga courses held in beautiful and serene settings, to more intense retreats run by revered gurus miles from civilisation.
Learn About Indian Art and Music
Underpinning India’s rich heritage is its myriad of languages, which have been expressed in an abundance of great works of literature and the vast cultural differences can also be seen in its musical forms, which range from restrained classical music to the more relaxed modern Bollywood music. Today much of the country’s music and art includes western influences but look back through its history and it’s clear that creativity has long been interwoven into India’s psyche. Indian art as we know it is believed to date from around the 3rd millennium BC and can be divided up into four main eras: the ancient period, the Islamic ascendancy, the colonial period and the post-colonial period, and there are lots of opportunities to learn about both the historic and modern techniques of Indian art, be it on an specialised art cruise, as part of a tour, or by doing a practical course. Many earlier examples of art can be found in temples and at sites such as the Buddhist Caves of Ajanta, which date from between the second century BC to the sixth century AD, and include paintings and sculptures that the Archaeological Survey of India described as among “the finest surviving examples of Indian art”.
Visit a Tea Plantation
The cultivation of tea in India is a long-held tradition, and since the 1850s a very lucrative one, too. India’s hilly regions are home to countless bulbous tea trees from where one of the country’s most productive exports is plucked. Visit a tea plantation to sample the produce and buy some supplies, but more than that, visit to watch the workers pruning and plucking away to get an idea of the scale of the industry and the work that goes into it.
Go On an Indian Cookery Course
India is synonymous with good food, and in particularly spicy food. Cooking is an art here, not something that is merely thrown together but concocted and evolved over generations. There are lots of cookery schools to enrol at or you could do a home stay for a truly authentic alternative to learning about the love and thought that goes into the dishes, most of which are very different to those found on western Indian menus.