"India will beat the restlessness out of any living creature".
Although this quote from the “Life of Pi” – an all-time favorite book and movie of mine – had already registered in my mind long ago, it was only after visiting India for the first time that I truly grasped the power included in these few words.
India is not for the faint-hearted, nor is it for the judgmental mind, or for visitors with pre-set expectations. To experience the authentic essence of the country, you have to really "let go", allow yourself to immerse in the polyphony – and often cacophony – of the cities, and interact with as many
locals as possible – something that is never a problem given the friendly disposition of the Indians! There is a Sanskrit saying: “Attithi devo bhava”, meaning “guests are gods in disguise”, and, amidst this noisy but welcoming and authentic crowd, you will feel it again and again, like a blessing bestowed on your heart.
Embracing India will fill up your senses. From contrasting colors to contrasting realities, India is so multi-dimensional that it will certainly blow your mind away. Slums and riches, countless gods and countless Bollywood actors (who carry a similar, god-like status), street-food stalls and high-end restaurants, humble shrines and towering temples, chokingly polluted cities and pristine, gorgeous landscapes, mountains and seas, waterfalls and rivers: indeed, India will beat the restlessness out of you!
Here are 5 personal memories from a trip through the Golden Triangle and Uttarakhand that highlight how India can leave an indelible mark on you.
1) The Incredible Ganges river experience
Unfortunately, many of us think of Ganges as a highly polluted and soiled river – which is undoubtedly true in many areas throughout India. However, as always, there is so much more in this country that meets the eye; as such, Ganges hides secret pockets of pristine beauty that one should definitely visit.
Rafting and swimming in its cold waters at Uttarakhand, next to white-sand riverbeds and secluded beaches was a heavenly experience. I even followed the local advice and dipped in the 5 degrees Celsius water to cleanse my soul from sins :).
While in Uttarakhand, one must spend time in the Yoga capital of the world. The numerous ashrams that dot the riverbanks, the thousands of people meditating everywhere, the humming sound of aarti(s) – prayer chants expressing love and gratitude to the Gods – and the crimson hues of the setting sun, all offer a pure, mystical experience.
Undeniably, a cliché destination, and a site which, unless you are a Lady-Di-status kind of person, you will have to share with thousands and thousands of people from all over the world. You will not be able to avoid the long queues, and then, you will have to rush, like everybody else, to grab a good spot to watch the sun rising slowly, changing, in the process, the colors that reflect on the marble of this symbol of eternal love. The experience can either be cheesy or intense, depending on how you allow yourself to
perceive and receive it! Despite everything, though, the Taj is a “must-see” monument which you should have in your bucket list.
4) Jaipur’s history and stunning colors
I have not visited any other place in the world that is as color-vibrant as Rajasthan, and if you don’t have much time to spend in India, you should at least explore Jaipur. The desert-like landscape with the pinkish monuments and the candy colors of the women’s clothes are not to be missed. With its street-food stalls, delicate jewelry designs, gaudy-colored saris, mansions and forts of amazing engineering composition, and romantic stories of Maharajas and the most beautiful woman on earth (Maharani Gayatri Devi), Jaipur is nothing less than a profoundly sensual experience. Exploring the richness of the Amer Fort takes you back in time, and you will feel as if you can actually hear the trumpets or the jingles of the dancers. The days you spend in Jaipur will never seem to be enough!
5) Chand Baori
There are several step wells in India, but Chand Baori is one of the most overlooked landmarks – a hidden gem – and, thus, worth exploring. It is not easy to find it, which makes it a less-visited site: clearly, a bonus in the overpopulated land of India. Located in Eastern Rajasthan, it consists of 3,500 narrow steps over 13 floors: one of the deepest and largest step wells in the country. It is also where The Dark Knight Rises was filmed :).