As a travel destination, India was once the preserve of those seeking spiritual sustenance, endowed as it is with many religions and hundreds of stunning temples. Today, numerous demographics visit India, ranging from families seeking a unique holiday destination, to those doing business in the country’s booming economy. Nearly 800,000 Britons visit this vibrant nation every year – and for many of them, India offers an experience that no other country can provide.
If you normally only visit Western countries, then India can be quite a surprise. The cities are among the world’s biggest and busiest, and for some are overwhelming. But with a little mental preparation, you’ll be able to get the most out of these sprawling metropolises. The sheer number of people and vehicles on the streets will be the first thing you notice, along with motorists, motorcyclists and tuk-tuk drivers who are not overly interested in the traffic regulations – in sharp contrast to road behaviour ‘back home’. The poverty, too, will make the most run-down part of any Western city look positively decadent.
Cities like Delhi and Mumbai, however, offer an incredible amount in terms of architecture and history, music and food. The vibrancy on the streets that you first found ‘a bit too much’ may well become what you love about India’s cities – the constant movement and the friendly locals, the huge range of delicious cuisine that can be enjoyed everywhere, the religious traditions that are infused with dazzling colour and sound – it all adds up to a very special holiday destination.
But India also offers some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, together with unspoilt forests and awe-inspiring mountain ranges. You can reach these places using a variety of transportation modes, ranging from low-cost airlines to long-haul coaches. But perhaps the best way to enjoy the real India is to travel by train. Indian Railways is one of the biggest rail networks in the world, and their wide, spacious carriages transport millions of Indians around the country each year. If you’re on a budget, the trains are the cheapest way to get around, but they also offer a fantastic way to meet the natives. It isn’t unusual to see a group of strangers in a carriage behave like they’ve known each other for years by the end of an (admittedly tiring) 16 hour train ride – and foreigners can find themselves at the centre of such friendly spectacles.
If you only have a short time in India, you might be well advised not to cram too many famous sites in. Trying to visit the Taj Mahal, the Gateway to India and Varanasi’s Ghats in a short period, for example, might sear the bustling cities into your memory of this country; take some time out, enjoy