A Journey to the Mystical land of many contradictions: India

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It is difficult to explain the allure of India to many ,who typically, though understandably, see it as a desparate place. To me India is an experience, not just a destination. A country of many many contardictions. It is not only the magical land of snake charmers and ancient folklore but also a modern fast pased bussiness hub. Modern India is home alike to the tribal with his anachronistic lifestyle and to the sophisticated urban jetsetter. It is a land where temple elephants exist amicably with the microchip. Its ancient monuments are the backdrops for the world\’s largest democracy where atomic energy is generated and industrial development has brought the country within the world\’s top ten nations.
A visit tot this mystical country is hard describe in a few words one has to make the journey himself, experience the richness of culture, the glory of the past, the turbulences and triumphs. The landmarks of each era, the achievements of each age, the legacy of the regime. And as you do this you walk through history, through India’s geography, through the religious, linguistic and artistic chapters, your interpretation will be your very own discovery.
India is an embodiment of the whole world and posses prominent features of lands far and wide. From the most breath taking scenery to the most enchanting mix of people, from the most fertile soil to the most dense forests, from the highest mountains to some of the biggest rivers, from intense cold terrains to arid, treeless deserts, to sandy waterless plains, you’ll find it all in this bewitching country of diversity.

Her history goes back to 3,200 BC when Hinduism was first founded. Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism. Judaism. Zoroastrianism, Christianity and Islam all exist within the country today. It is safe to say it’s a civilization united by diversity. As a consequence of India’s size, the history of the country has seldom been the same for two adjoining territories, and its great natural wealth has lured a succession of traders and foreign influences to it for centuries, each having left their imprint in the country, however faint or localized. She has been home to brave warriors, radical political leaders, gifted artisans and talented poets and authors.
The subcontinent of India is a travellers delight. It lies in south Asia, between Pakistan, China and Nepal. To the north it is bordered by the world’s highest mountain chain, where foothill valleys cover the northernmost of the country’s 26 states. Further south, plateaus; tropical rain forests and sandy deserts are bordered by palm-fringed beaches.
Besides the country’s astounding topographical variations is her cultural diversity, the result of the coexistence of a number of religions, cultures and local traditions. Adding to this unique mix is the blend of the European culture with the local way of life in certain regions, which came in to existence due to the country’s early occupation by the British Dutch, and Portuguese.
This diversity has been instrumental in shaping the countries architecture and lifestyle. Thus, the towering temples of south India, easily identifiable by their ornately sculptured surface, are associated with a great many crafts and performing arts of the region. The roots of ancient literature and martial art forms can be traced here. The south Indian people have a world view which is organic and celebrates the generative ethos of the natural world. Also found here are the famous Chinese fishing nets of Kerala, which are symbolic of the ancient trade relations between India and China.
In the central Indian states of Orissa and Madhya Pradesh, tribal village life has resulted in a variety of artistically executed handicrafts. Orissa boasts of a long and rich cultural heritage. Due to the reigns of many different rulers in the past, the culture, arts and crafts of the state underwent many changes, imitations, assimilations and new creations, from time to time. The artistic skill of the Orissan artists is unsurpassable in the world. Traditional artists still live and work here, and Odissi dance and music has lured many to this sacred land of Lord Jagannath (or the Lord of the Universe). Like other aspects of the culture, the Odissi music is charming, and variegated, encompassing various styles. In addition to the world-renowned Odissi and Chhau dance forms, Orissa boasts of a number of folk performances too.
Madhya Pradesh is not called the “Heart of India” only because of its location in the centre of the country. It has been home to the cultural heritage of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Islam. Innumerable monuments, exquisitely carved temples, stupas, forts and palaces are dotted all over the State. The natural beauty of Madhya Pradesh is equally varied. Consisting largely of a plateau, the State has everything. Spectacular mountain ranges, meandering rivers and miles and miles of dense forests offering a unique and exciting panorama of wildlife in sylvan surroundings.
Western India can be described as the industrial powerhouse of the India. It occupies almost a third of India’s area and is home to a quarter of her people. Almost all of the country’s petroleum comes from here. Beautiful beaches stud the western coast of the country. Popular tourist destinations here are Bombay, Goa , Rann of Katch , Temples of Ajanta & Ellora. After the vibrant atmosphere of Bombay, which is the countries most primary business centre ,the palm-fringed beaches of Goa can warm your spirit. Goa one of the most popular tourist havens, is a classic example of the mingling of the Portuguese and Indian culture. The local language is a mix of Portuguese and another local dialect, and is called Konkani. The people here are relaxed and laidback. Their lives and land possess a unique, timeless charm, which fosters a fragile fusion of various cultures yet preserves its own intrinsic spirit.
In the desert of Kutch, Gujarat, on the other hand, a scattering of villages pit themselves against the awesome forces of nature, resulting in Spartan lifestyles made vibrant by a profusion of jewellery and ornamental embroidery used to adorn apparel and household linen. Best described as a `Cradle of Craftsmanship’, Kutch is the land of Weaving, block printing, bandhani tie-and-dye, rogan-painting, and various styles of
embroidery, pottery, woodcarving, metal-crafts, shell-work and other handicrafts.
When talking of the west one cannot forget to mention Rajasthan, which is located in the Western Part of India and has two distinct geographical regions, with a desert on one side and thick forest on the other. Geographically, it is more varied than any other region. It is a state of lofty rocks, rolling sand dunes, of burning heat and freezing cold, of fertile plains and deep wild glens and jungles. The Aravalli range, which is the oldest folded range in the world, divides the area into two natural divisions-North-West and Southeast, Northwest area is a sandy and an ill watered tract emerging gradually from a mere desert to comparatively fertile land. The South-eastern division, which is more elevated and fertile than the North-west, has a very diversified character with extensive hill ranges, pockets of woodland, several large rivers, fertile tablelands and stretches of excellent soil. Also a part of this region is the Thar desert which Burns like a furnace even in early March, it is the ‘Maru-kantar’, or the region of death. In contrast to its arid land, culture and architecture of Rajasthan is colourful and vibrant with dance and music, The land is abundant with forts, which still possess an aura of romance and chivalry which were an integral part of the culture in ancient times.
In the extreme north nestled between the great mountain ranges of the Himalayas and Karakorum lies the high-altitude desert of Ladakh. Local culture here is visibly shaped by the faith – Buddhism -as well as by the harsh terrain. A resting point for travellers on the ancient trade routes to Central Asia and beyond, this is a Buddhist land more akin to Tibet than the lowlands, which lie to the south. Ladakh’s centuries-old culture finds expression in the monasteries, monuments, fairs and festivals. These are often the highlight of the year as the local communities celebrate with a feast of colour and entertainment. In contrast the landscapes of this mountain state are truly awe-inspiring with mighty snow-capped peaks towering over arid valleys, broken only by isolated patches of green fields where villages eke out a living against the harsh environment.
Yet another facet of Indian culture is observed in the colourful tribal lifestyles of the north-eastern states of Nagaland, Mizoram, Tripura and Manipur with their folk culture. Nagaland is one of the most popular north-eastern states in India that attracts tourist from far and wide. This state is known for its regional arts, crafts and folk dances that add a dash of colour and life to the diverse Indian culture. The word ‘megh’ means clouds and ‘alaya’ means home thus the term Meghalaya or the abode of clouds is an apt name for this very beautiful state with its majestic waterfalls, churches, vast green stretches and dense pine forests. Places of interest in this part of northeast are the Elephant falls, Shillong Peak, Ward’s Lake and the Lady Hydari Park.
A very famous man once said that there are ‘a hundred India’s’ and there are, so if you do want to unravel all of them you will need at least a year in this astounding country with its phenomenal repertoire of surprises and delights. But I am going to try and list a couple of places that I’ve really enjoyed visiting. The places that I love most about India are her Temples, Jungles, Beaches and Monuments.
The temple trail in India just rails on and on and on…. winding past exquisite monuments, symbolising mans love and quest for the divine. Amongst the most enchanting of these are the the gilded gurudwara in Amritsar, ancient weather-beaten cathedrals of Goa, ‘dargahs’ (mausoleums) of Muslim saints and grand temples of the innumerable Hindu deities; these houses of worship are not only sanctities in themselves but also precious works of art. You can follow this trail as it runs through Ajmer, Delhi, Fatehpur Skirl, Varanasi, Madurai, Sarnath, Gaya, Orchha, Tanjore, Trichy, Tirupati, Mathura, Ayodhya, Jammu, Badrinath, Haridwara and Rishikesh. In Pune, the Osho, doctrine is gaining recognition and followers of many western countries.

Ruins of forts, palaces, picturesque ‘havelis’ (large private houses) and mausoleums have always added to the lure of India. The country thrives on tales and folklore of these enchanting monuments, which pepper the landscape. In and around Delhi, Agra, Rajasthan, all over the country actually, historical sites intrigue the history enthusiast. Important sites are Hampi, Khajuraho, Mandu, Aurangabad, Bikaner, Goa, Gwalior, Jaipur, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Udaipur, Mahabalipuram, Tanjore and Mysore.
When talking of monuments one cannot forget tot mention the Taj Mahal of Agra, one of the Eight Wonders of the World. A white marble tomb built in 1631-48, by the ruler of the Mugal Empire, Shah Jehan for his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal the monument sums up many of the formal themes that have played through Islamic architecture. Its refined elegance is a conspicuous contrast both to the Hindu architecture of pre-Islamic India, with its thick walls, arches, and heavy lintels, and to the Indo-Islamic styles, in which Hindu elements are combined with an eclectic assortment of motifs from Persian and Turkish sources. This monument was built by the emperor to symbolise his eternal love for his dead wife whom he loved more than anything else in the whole wide world. They say The Taj seems to glow in the light of the full moon. On a foggy morning, the visitors experience the Taj as if suspended when viewed from across the Jamuna River.
India’s jungles, rivers and streams are simply bursting with wildlife; much of it protected in her 80 National Parks and 441 Sanctuaries. Popular ones are Corbett, Rajaji and Dudhwa (Uttar Pradesh), Kanha, Pench (Madhya Pradesh) and Sasan Gir (Gujarat). Sariska and Ranthambor (Rajasthan), Kaziranga, Manas (Assam), Mudumalai, Bandipore and Wyanad (Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve-Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala) are the other well-known game sanctuaries. Keoladeo Ghana, Bharatpur (Rajasthan) is a famous bird sanctuary. One can witness a varied array of wildlife in these forests, so if you have a keen interest in Flora and Fauna a trip to one of these forests reserves can be a very enthralling experience.
There’s no place like this country to soak up the sun and enjoy. No trip of mine to India has ever been complete without a trip to the beaches. Windswept or sunny, India’s beaches are peculiarly Indian. Crowded and cheery, sometimes dirty, always delightful, you’ll find them in Kerala’s Kovalam, in the Andamans and Lakshadweep, in Goa, quiet Gokarna, and ‘temple scaped’ Puri, Kanyakumari and Mahabalipuram. I’ve particulary enjoyed visiting Lakshadweep .An enchanting group of coral islands in the Arabian Sea form the smallest Union Territory of Lakshadweep. This archipelago consists of 12 atolls, three reefs and five submerged banks. Of its 36 islands covering an area of 32Sq.Km only 10 are inhabited. Each island of Lakshadweep, a tiny principality in itself, and has existed from time immemorial, with little influence from the outside world. The charm of Lakshadweep islands lies in their remoteness. Far off the beaten track, they attract no hordes of merry makers to its shores, or perhaps it is the beauty of the islands densely covered with coconut palms, and threaded by an unbroken line of creamy sand, each island serenely set in a sea whose waters range from palest aquamarine and turquoise to deepest sapphire and lapis lazuli.

The bigger cities of India are busy business hubs marked in space by Museums, business centres, nightlife, large markets, embassies and consulates. Bustling with activity, bristling with high voltage energy, New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Calcutta, Bangalore, Pune and Hyderabad make up India’s urban landscape. The cities also boast of luxurious hotels and noisy pubs and Discotheques.

The world’s highest mountains form a tall 2500 km long wall along India’s northeast frontier and are prime climbing territory for the outdoor types. The mountainous regions of Sikkim, Himachal Pradesh and Leh are high altitude trekking options. The “blue mountains” of the Nilgiri Hills in the Deccan, and the lower reaches of the Himalayas in Garhwal, Kumaon and around Darjeeling are simpler and ideal for a leisurely hike.
From stark white mountains framed against sheer clear blue to forested hills that enclose rushing streams, there is endless variety for the hiker. Also famous in these regions is white river rafting. In the hills, tiny towns with winding ‘mall roads’ survive the British legacy of “hill stations”. These cool getaways from the simmering plains continue to entertain weekend tourists in the summers. Shimla, Manali, Kasauli and Mussoorie in the north, Shillong, Darjeeling and Kalimpong in the east, Ooty and Munnar in the south are the most popular.
So much to do, so much to see and discover ….so little time! That holds completely true for the Indian experience. Don’t push yourself to do it all because that’s well nigh impossible but choose well and plan a little, open your mind and be gathered up by the experience that the world calls “India”.