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  • Shila Desai

First-timers to India

How to start planning your dream trip to India?

You have two weeks and want to explore India.

A country of 1.3 billion people, 22 official languages, world’s largest postal and road network, largest gathering of pilgrims anywhere in the world (120 million), world’s oldest university (500 B.C.) and oldest living city (5000 years old), 4700 daily papers, 618 movies a year, 2.2 billion movie tickets a year (highest in the world), 33 million gods and goddesses, every religion under the sun and a few you hadn’t heard of . . . the stats go on and on.

Where to start?

First timers are rightly bewildered by India’s size, population, and geographical, economic, and ethnic diversity. Geographically, it’s comparable to traversing Europe in two weeks on slow trains and extremely busy, bumpy roads. Would you take on the entirety of Europe in two weeks? Our advice for planning travel to India is to slow it down. Think of your interaction with India as a relationship – best unfurled over repeated visits – and not as a one-time an affair. Many visitors return multiple times for this very reason.

The biggest draw for most people is the Golden Triangle (Delhi-Agra-Jaipur) with the Taj Mahal exerting its siren call of a love story in white marble. The Golden Triangle is situated in a heavily touristed area and easily accomplished by booking any number of packaged tours. But if you want to push your boundaries and explore India a little deeper, here’s how to tackle your “relationship” with India.

To go deeper into the fabric of India, you'll need to go off road to interact with people in villages and cities, perhaps share a meal with a local family, visit a school, or take in a Bollywood movie. You'll start feeling the pulse of India the more you lose yourself in local life. But you also want to pursue your interests. You like to poke around ancient monuments or take in a natural dyeing workshop. How to achieve it all?

First off, be in the right place. With a country the size and complexity of India, this is easier said than done. Go ahead and borrow a phrase from the Raj: divide and conquer. Get a large map and pencil off the north, south, eastern flank, west-northwest, middle, and far eastern states.

To do justice, each would easily take a couple of weeks. Keep in mind that roads are clogged and there are practically no freeways. Thankfully, internal air travel has made the striking deep into India more possible. So, which region do you choose?

This depends on two things:

  • Timing: When do you wish to travel? Far north is delightful in spring and summer; rest is best during winter.

  • Interests. Are you nuts about . . . take a deep breath . . . monuments, temples, history, archaeology, textiles, culinary, tea plantations, villages, markets, festivals, beaches, spas, ethnic cultures, wildlife, palaces, forts, spirituality, yoga to name a few? The list is endless. List your top three, possibly five, but no more if all you have is two weeks. Each region has common elements, for example, there are temples everywhere but beyond that, each region boasts a unique element(s) over and above that of another region -- what we like to call the "main event".

Take a close look at your interests and try to match to the main event in each region. If you like tea plantations, beaches, and festivals, head to south India’s Kerala state. Perhaps combine with a tour of a couple of major temples where unbroken worship from thousands of years continues to this day . . . best accomplished in neighbouring Tamil Nadu. Perhaps you like hiking in mountainous regions, and also exploring ancient cities and monuments. Head to Varanasi, Rishikesh, and Himachal Pradesh. If its forts, palaces, and wildlife, head to Rajasthan. For exquisite textiles and tribal cultures, Gujarat-Kutch can’t be beat.

Are you getting the picture?

Whatever your interests, and whether you travel solo, solo in a group, or custom, the dividends of a relationship with India are huge. India has beguiled travellers through the ages and turned countless into Indiaphiles. You too can become entranced. Slow it down, let the country seep into your pores, and you are guaranteed to return for more.

Watch Shila Desai of E.Y.H.O. Tours on how to plan a first-time trip to India, and come back enthralled.

Talk to us. We can help you plan your dream trip to India.

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