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India incredible travel and explore

There are still a lot of places in the world I would like to visit, some of them are in the list since a long time and are waiting for the right moment. What do I mean with “right moment”? Well, I believe some destinations more than others are not only a physical trip but a real journey with yourself and you'd better be ready and prepared, it is the case of India.

For this reason, in order to be able to catch the most and share with you relevant info, I have asked help to 2 bloggers: Usha, originally from India and currently living in UK, and Sara who instead has visited India and loved it.

Let’s start with learning more about India with the eyes of who is from there. I have asked her some questions that I guess might be interesting for everyone.

Explore India: let’s first meet Usha

Usha Sitaaraam is a Tamil South Indian by heritage and hail from the city Chennai, although she was not born there and did not live in South India, until she was 17. She has lived across various parts of India from her childhood to adulthood and “I have a little bit of all those places in me.”

If you should describe India with one word which one, should it be and why?

Jasmine.

Jasmine and its exquisite fragrance is what comes to my mind when I think of India.

Malli Poovu as it’s called in Tamil, is part and parcel of everyday life in Southern India. My maternal Grandparents home had several vines of jasmine plant and several varieties of them. During Summer vacations when I would visit my grandparents, every evening my cousins and I were assigned the task of watering the plants and plucking the jasmine buds. And later my mother and aunts would sit around in the garden, prattling on about the day’s events or discussing what should they cook next day, while stringing the jasmines into garlands. The more they chatted, the more their hands worked on the garlands.

Jasmine and jasmine Garlands are a quintessential part of south Indian life. The garlands are used as offerings in temples, jasmine flowers are used to adorn the hair of women of all ages. It plays an essential part of the hair arrangement of a bride. Jasmine is a part of everyday life, it is considered auspicious and although it is synonymous with temples and worship, it is much more than that. It is a cultural symbol, almost a form of art, intertwined not only with history but also contemporary culture.

Every street corner and indeed, roadside markets are filled with hawkers selling jasmine and jasmine garlands. Jasmine and its intoxicating fragrance always has the power of transporting me almost immediately to the streets of Madurai and Thanjavur in India. I can see the lush green countryside, paddy fields, coconut groves, delicious food being served on banana leaf and smell the sweet fragrance of jasmine and camphor.

Ah the sweetness of Nostalgia!!

PS: No two parts of India are same, and they have their own unique culture. This is my recollection of India, as a child visiting my grandparents in South and having travelled with my friends to Madurai and Thanjavur.

When it comes to talk about India, it is common to name poverty and religion, but what is to live in India?

Being the second most populous country in the world, poverty and income/wealth differences are very much a fact of life. India is a diverse country, with varying culture, climate, language and food. No two regions of India are similar or have the same culture. Each region has its own festivities, food, culture and experiences. And as a child growing up in India, I found India exciting, adventurous and a wonderful experience. It had so much to offer to satisfy my curiosity. It was filled with plenty of train journeys to Chennai from Delhi to my grandparents’ home, loads of bus rides during my university years in Chennai. I would walk back home from School with friends on a cherry blossom filled road in Srinagar, discussing an unfathomable math equation and wondering how they could ever be useful in our daily life in future. I have vivid memories of running around as a child in the temple courtyards of Kapaleeshwarar temple, Chennai in the scorching heat of a summer’s day, just to catch a glimpse of a peacock. I have made countless visits to the beach with my cousins and friends, eating groundnuts or playing in the warm sea water as a child or watching a beautiful sunset as a grown woman. Another evocative memory is of wading through the rain-soaked streets of Mumbai during the monsoon rains and catching local sub urban train fully drenched or eating some spicy street food or fresh fruits bought from a hawker on the roadside while on a lunch break from work. I could go on, but I am going to stop. These are my memories of India, a little window into the world I lived in India.

India is an experience, it just explodes into you, and evokes these infinite emotions and awakens all your senses. You either love it or loathe it. India is one of the oldest civilizations, is culturally very rich, has fascinating customs and traditions, unique landscapes and a diverse cuisine. At the same time, it is also chaotic, overwhelming, a sensory overload and a riot of colour and noise. It is not for the faint hearted.

What are the most important steps to do if someone wants to move to India?

  1. Check the visa requirement. Certain parts of India (e.g. North East India, or Andaman & Nicobar islands) require additional permission to visit these places. It pays to check the requirements before travelling
  2. Get all the required vaccinations done (Malaria, Typhoid etc).
  3. Learn a bit of the language depending on which part of India, you are going to.
  4. Have an appreciation for the local culture. For instance, when entering people’s homes or temples, it is customary to remove your shoes outside.
  5. Get private medical insurance. Medical facilities in India are quite good and cheap compared to western countries, but it's still best to have medical insurance to cover any situation.
  6. Life hacks to learn: Bargaining at the local roadside shops and vendors is a perfectly acceptable and indeed expected thing. Also learn to say No when the situation requires.
  7. Do your research, don’t land up and accept any solicitations for accommodations etc. or anything.
  8. Don’t drink tap water, drink Boiled water or bottled water.
  9. Be prepared for the lack of physical space and being stared at or observed. It’s not being rude; it is part of who we are. Hence it is important to learn the life hack of learning to say No.

Where would you suggest to live in India?

I am going to list the places based on my knowledge and experience.

Mumbai– It is very multicultural and cosmopolitan and the city welcomes all with an open heart. Its loud, chaotic, and has all the buzz of a big city. A fun location to live and work. I personally miss the vibe of the city, its street food and the sub urban train travel.

Primary Languages: Hindi and Marathi. People can easily converse in and understand English.

Pondicherry- It has an old-world charm and a quaint French quarter from its old colonial days. One of the official languages of Pondicherry is French, the place is perfect for a slow serene atmosphere and for enjoying a bit of solitude and rediscovering yourself. If you ever feel the need for some city vibes, you can always head over to Chennai, one of the metros in Southern India which is not very far from Pondicherry.

Primary Languages: French and Tamil.

Goa- The place almost synonymous with India, with its golden beaches and rave parties, has won hearts of many tourists from India and overseas. Its idyllic and picturesque, offers both the buzz and a relaxed atmosphere.

Primary Languages: English, Hindi and Konkani

India is a vast and diverse country, and there are many cities and towns which would make a great expat home. My sincere advice would be to choose a place to live, which suits your requirements and the culture which speaks to you.

If you are moving based on a job opportunity at hand, my advice would be get acquainted with the local language and culture of the city you are planning to move.

About the living experience in India, Usha suggest to follow Jessica who is an American currently living in Bihar India. She has a balanced and honest opinion of India and is very insightful. It can be possible to follow her stories also via her podcast

As last question I have asked Usha was what she would suggest to visit as a tourist

I am going to list them based on my experience and knowledge. Also, I will try and mention some of the lesser-known places. So please don’t be disappointed if you don’t find the Taj Mahal , Golden Temple or Varanasi on this list.

Ellora and Ajanta Caves

It is in Maharashtra, not very far from Mumbai. These are a set of ancient caves, filled with murals and paintings and enormous complex of Shrines carved in rocky landscapes. They are inspired by stories from Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism.

Goa and its beaches

Goa has plenty to offer on tourism and is known for its beaches and outdoor activities. My personal favourite is the Anjuna and Vagator beaches. It has pristine beaches, picturesque location, and old forts to explore. Goa was a Portuguese colony in the past, and has a huge Portuguese legacy and heritage left behind. The Architecture and catholic Cathedrals add a distinctive charm and character to the area. Rent a scooter and explore the surroundings in ‘Roman Holiday-esque’ style .

Kashmir- Srinagar Valley

I have very fond memories of living there. I used to walk to school every day with my friends, giggling and chatting surrounded by mighty Himalayan mountains which were dotted with tall Deodar trees. It has beautiful Dal Lake, houseboats on Dal Lake, and many beautiful Gardens. Gulmarg, a town not very far from Srinagar is famous for its Skiing slopes, and open countryside with beautiful vistas both during Summer and in Winter.

Thanjavur and Kumbakonam

These are two cities in Tamil Nadu and are very well known for their Temples and architecture. Temples have a religious values associated with them, but they also have historical importance and architectural and cultural splendour. I personally love Thanjavur and its cultural vibrancy. The Great living Chola temples are in and around these cities and are an UNESCO World Heritage. The temples were built by the Chola dynasty and are rich in architectural beauty, inspiring a sense of awe. I always wonder how they were built almost 1000 years ago with such engineering precision.

Munnar

Munnar is situated in Idukki district of Kerala, It is a misty mountainous region, with lots of tea plantation and beautiful landscape. It is a much sought-after destination due to its picturesque towns, winding roads and the tallest peak of South India, Anamudi. It is not very far from Ernakulam National Park, which has some rare species of butterflies and birds. It is also known for the blue carpet of flowers known as Neelakurinji, which blooms only once in 12 years.

Indian culture

Sara's experience of travelling in India

And talking about trips, more or less touristic or known places in India, I like to move to Sara’s experience. Let’s meet Sara and then follow her suggestions based on her trip to India:

Sara Skondrasi s italo-greek, she currently lives in Italy and is about to start her new life as a fulltime travelblogger.“ I thought that India was a mix of extreme situations: luxury and richness or exaggerated poverty. So during the summer of 2018, I decided that THE moment have arrived and I left for that trip about which I have thought for so long. Here I want to share with you the 6 places to don’t miss in the Rajasthan”

Delhi

We know it is the Indian capital, Sara starts her story with a tip, don’t get scared if people in Tuk Tuk approach you and offer to go somewhere, just decline the invite and wait for your guide, so get one, to explore the city. It is also very warm, more than 40 degrees Celsius so be well prepared to that.

Sara’s exploration of India started in the district of Mehrawli at the complex of Quţb Minar a set of ancient monuments erected during the reign of the Mamluk sultan Quţb al-Dīn. <<What strikes me among the various ruins is definitely the Quţb that is the highest brick minaret in the world, which stands out with its 72.5 meters high. There has been much debate about why it was built and in addition to the purpose of calling the Islamic faithful to prayer, it is thought that it was a monument to celebrate a war victory or that it was a watchtower against enemies.

In order to get in the Indian culture visit the Sikh Gurudwara temple, experience for me shocking, that will immediately make me understand a fundamental notion of their culture: mutual help. This temple is run by Sikhs whose members belong to Sikkism, a religion that develops in 1500 in the Punjab region and which is based on three fundamental principles: honesty, commitment to work and society, the sharing with others of what you have and the strong commitment in the social housing context. The Sikhs are strongly recognizable, because after the initiation they carry with them the 5 Khalsa that is the symbols that characterized>>

Telling me this experience Sara focused on the moment she got in the kitchen and saw all people sitting on the floor talking, supporting each other and cooking with love in order to share the meal.

Amber fortress

The beauty of the fortress is shocking: a mix of buildings built with red stone and arcades richly adorned with precious stones and mosaics. Here Sara realised the essence of India for her: joy! Also thanks to a kid she met there who was smiling looking at her camera.

Taj Mahal

The Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan at the death of his beloved wife while he gave birth to their fourteenth child, desperate for his disappearance, He built what should have been the greatest monument dedicated to a woman, so great was his love. The tomb dedicated to his wife called "cenotaph" is located in the center of the building and it is said that when the museum was finished, the emperor placed on his wife’s coffin the most precious stones he had and finally wrapped the tomb with a gigantic cloth of pearls and then placed on the floor of the precious Persian carpets and on the walls lamps made of gold and silver.

<<The guide suggested to me to wear Indian clothes that day so to be more in contact with the culture, it was a nice experience that also helped me to get in touch with more local people>>

Orchha

<< After the emotions I have experienced visiting Taj Mahal, I thought that nothing would have been better, untill I got to Orchha, a small town founded in 1501 which represents one of the best preserved examples of medieval Indian architecture. It is not easy to explain the feeling, you must go there and feel it on your skin>>

Khajuraho

<<You cannot leave Rajasthan without visiting the Jain temples of Khajuraho that date back to the 11th century and have become a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But what is so special about them? They are covered with thousands of sculptures portrayed in erotic attitudes. The sand colored figurines are extraordinarily detailed in the poses and gestures and also well preserved, because the sculptors used a stone very easy to sculpt, which quickly hardens when exposed to air.>>

The numerous statues belonging to the Chandela dynasty, make it clear that sexuality was not only indispensable, but also lived with joy and without taboo and linked to the tantric tradition, in which the satisfaction of earthly desires is linked to the attainment of Nirvava. However, the sculptures also show a number of people engaged in daily activities. Most of the temples that develop vertically are dedicated to Hindu deities such as Brahma. Shiva and Vishnu, while others pay homage to the Jain deities.

Varanasi

This was the last part of the trip. Sara recommends to go there, also because it is the spiritual city for the Hindu. They must go to Varanasi at least once in life and the full experience is to dive in the Ganges river. The Hindu believes that who dies close to this river will skip the reincarnation process and go straight to the unification with the divine. There are then several rites Hindu are used to do on the Ganges water.

<< This city, which surely represents a glimpse of real Indian life, was for me like a fuse that triggered a vortex of thoughts and feelings. It is as if I had always lived in this city, so much so that I walked casually through the streets full of decadent houses, free cows, holy men who blessed me, city markets that emanated scents of spices and that enchanted me with their colors. And when I arrived on the main ghat and saw the Ganges for the first time, I was enormously moved to tears because I felt the strong spiritual energy that the river emanated. Certainly contributed the atmosphere of joy and serenity that the Ganges transmitted, as if in that moment everything was perfectly in its place.>>

<<I will never forget the smiles from adults and kids, the easily understanding of each other even if talking different languages and how Indian people are welcoming. I suggest to everyone that goes there to forget about any bias/prejudice, to accept and enjoy Indians inviting you, because despite poverty, they are generous and offer you as much as they can. Of course, be prepared to see a different and more poor world that you are probably used to>>

Indian food

Do not forget Indian food is becoming more and more known all around the world, about 70% of the spices are coming from there for example, so even if you cannot plan to travel there for now, you can have a taste of India basically everywhere and if you want to try something home, check the Indian recipe by Isotta, you’d love it.

I hope I have made you curious or clarified some doubts you have about India. I believe that putting together the point of view of a local and a traveller can open the conversation to much more and I would be happy to hear about you soon.

Thanks to Usha and Sara for writing this article with me.

Happy reading to everyone!

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