An Article by Guest Blogger Frank Weaver
As Mark Twain famously quipped, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” Visiting a foreign country is one of the most mind-expanding, life-transforming, and exciting undertakings one can ever experience. But stepping out of your comfort zone and surrounding yourself with unfamiliar sights, sounds, smells, and tastes can also be somewhat stressful.
Nowhere is this fact more true than in India, where your every sense will be constantly pummelled by a stunning array of new (and not always pleasant) sensations. The sheer vastness of the country in terms of its geography, cultural diversity, and the complexity of its ancient and overlapping traditions can be dizzying, if not outright daunting. That is why some forethought and planning prior to departure are worth your while.
So if you are planning a trip to India soon, or just dream of going someday, this article provides some useful tips to prepare you for your journey in hopes of making it as amazing as possible.
Finding Your Way Around
The good news is that English is one of that nation’s official languages, so you won’t have too much trouble communicating. Moreover, the people of India have been welcoming visitors for thousands of years, and they have become quite adept at the art of being good hosts. Nowhere will you encounter a kinder, friendlier, or more hospitable people than in India. That being said, bear in mind that the world’s largest democracy is home to hundreds of languages and dialects, and it contains some of the largest and most crowded cities on the planet. And there is just so much to see and do. Where to start?
For the first-time visitor, it is not a bad idea to rely on the services of an experienced and knowledgeable local or regional guide — at least in the beginning — to show you around and help you get your bearings. But whether you are traveling in an organized group or striking out on your own, make sure to bring along your own personal “guide in a pocket” — that is, a comprehensive and authoritative baedeker that you can refer to when in need of advice for a good place to stay, a recommended eating spot, or the best sights to see. One of the top travel books we recommend is the Lonely Planet INDIA Travel Guide, which will lead you straight into the beating heart of life in this magnificent country.
A Stranger Is Just a Friend You Haven’t Met Yet
You are probably aware of the deep social stratification that is one of the hallmarks of Indian civil life. Truth be told, you will find class distinctions in virtually every country on Earth. The only difference is that here those distinctions are much more complex. Yet in recent years India has modernized dramatically in many respects, and the caste system is no longer as rigid as in centuries before.
Throughout your journey, in all likelihood the class of people you will enounter the most are the everyday blue-collar workers who serve residents and visitors alike: people like the taxiwala (cab driver) who will happily shuttle you around the city, or the safaiwali (cleaning lady) who keeps your hotel room neat and spotless.
They are so numerous and humble, you hardly notice them. Yet they are so essential that without them the entire country would come to a screeching halt.
You can meet these walas and walis first-hand in a small masterpiece of fiction titled Kismetwali and Other Stories by Reetika Khanna Nijhawan — a wonderful collection of “tales of hidden India” brimming with darkness, light, love, and humor, and whose characters leap off the page as fully fleshed, believable creations. Focusing on the working-class people of India, this beautifully written octet of short stories offers a rare glimpse into the parallel lives of the privileged and penniless, converging on those astonishing moments when fate collides with free will, and the divide between social classes vanishes in a miraculous instant. Highly recommended if you love India — and well-written literary fiction! (Excerpts from the book are available at the author’s website.)
A Visual Feast
“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”
— Pablo Picasso
Whatever your main interest — whether it be paintings or palaces, museums or monuments, nature or spirituality — in India you will discover a treasure trove of sights to delight the eye. One could not possibly take it all in within a single lifetime, or even multiple lifetimes. (Maybe that’s the reason reincarnation plays such an important role in Hindu philosophy: so all the inhabitants can get a chance to see their whole country!)
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of allowing serendipity to take the reins sometimes in your travels — for it will lead you to that unexpected and unforgettable discovery that you stumble upon when you turn the corner onto a road you never planned on taking. At the same time, it is equally important to have a destination in mind to bring you to that corner. For that purpose, the lavishly illustrated India: In Word and Image will whet your appetite for the extraordinary things — planned and unplanned — that you will see whilst traipsing through the country.
And that’s just for starters. For a wider selection of recommended travel guides, books, music, and movies relating to India, please visit our Inspiration page.
When in Rome…
…or rather, when in Hyderabad, do what the Hyderabadians do! In other words, never travel as a tourist. That is because a tourist, by definition, only skims the surface of things, and always sticks out like a sore thumb. Instead, travel as if you are a resident-to-be, with no intention of ever leaving India. Eat the local food, listen to the ethnic music, dance as if you were a Bollywood star, and dress like you belong.
Ah yes, dress. What to wear? We’ve got you covered there too! Our online store is full of clothing and accessories imported straight from India, from kurta tunics to yoga dresses and more. You’ll look like a native and, before you know it, you will feel completely at home.
And don’t forget: With Christmas coming up soon, these items from our store make wonderful holiday gifts for the intrepid traveler as well as for the stay-at-home fashionista.
Namaste and Bon voyage!
~ Frank Weaver