The India: The Rough Guideby Rough Guides Publications, Beth Wooldridge, Dendan Sen, Nick Edwards
The home of one of the world's oldest civilizations, and several of the world's great religions, India has been changing and re-shaping itself for as long as anywhere on earth, forever producing new forms of culture and absorbing new influences. Visiting the subcontinent, you'll see spectacular carved temples and gleaming marble palaces, lonely
The home of one of the world's oldest civilizations, and several of the world's great religions, India has been changing and re-shaping itself for as long as anywhere on earth, forever producing new forms of culture and absorbing new influences. Visiting the subcontinent, you'll see spectacular carved temples and gleaming marble palaces, lonely Himalayan lamaseries and far-flung dusty villages where council meetings are held under the shade of a banyan tree, plodding camels, holy cows, snake charmers and wild-haired sadhus: you'll also find a dynamic state racing towards the twenty-first century. The boundaries of modern India, fixed less than fifty years ago, are merely the latest in a four-thousand-year sequence of redefinitions that have produced one of the most heterogenous societies in the world. The land where the Buddha lived and preached, and where the Moghul Muslims erected the Taj Mahal, has recreated itself as both a majority Hindu nation and the world's largest secular democracy, home to almost one thousand million people.
Many first-time visitors cannot see past the grinding poverty of the country's most disadvantaged citizens. Others expect a timeless ascetic wonderland and are indignant to find that materialism has its place here too. Still more find themselves intimidated by what may seem, initially, an incomprehensible and bewildering continent.
This book sets out, chapter by chapter, to guide you through the states, cities and towns of India, offering historical, architectural and cultural information to enrich your trip, whether you intend to travel for a few weeks or several months. The guide's intention is to spare you the mistakes and anti-climaxes that can spoil the best-laid plans, and to direct you towards off-beat delights as well as world-famous landmarks. Each chapter covers a specific state or region, starting off by introducing its major sights, surveying its history, and summarizing its major travel routes. In each town we've detailed the best places to stay and eat, reviewing palace hotels of faded grandeur alongside inexpensive lodges and simple pilgrim guesthouses, and Mughlai restaurants next to village food stalls. We haven't set out to list the cheapest options everywhere, because here, as anywhere else, the cheapest can easily be the worst. As well as providing detailed accounts of all the major sights, we provide the information you need to search out performing arts, enjoy Indian cinema, explore ashrams and religious centres, and get swept away by the fervour of the great festivals.
The best Indian itineraries are the simplest. To imagine that there is some set list of places you must go, or things you must see, is a sure way to make your trip self-defeating. You couldn't see everything in one expedition, even if you spent a year trying. Far better then, to concentrate on one or two specific regions, and above all, to be flexible. Although it requires a deliberate change of pace to venture away from the cities, rural India has its own very distinct pleasures. In fact, while Indian cities are undoubtedly adrenalin-fuelled, upbeat places, it is possible - and certainly less stressful - to travel for months around the subcontinent and rarely have to set foot in one.
The Basics section, at the beginning of this book, provides an overview of the practical aspects of travelling in India. To put it simply, it's not as difficult as you may imagine, or may be told. Some travellers impose an exhausting sequence of long-distance journeys and other privations upon themselves that no Indian would dream of attempting, and then wonder why they're not enjoying their trip. Although becoming overtired is an almost inevitable part of travelling around India, getting ill - despite the interminable tales of Delhi-belly and associated hardships so proudly told by a certain type of India bore - certainly isn't. If you give yourself time to rest there's no reason why you should pick up anything worse than a headache. Food is generally extremely good, especially in south India, famed for its creative vegetarian cuisine; water can be bought in bottles, just like anywhere else in the world, and there are plenty of comfortable, inexpensive places to stay. Though the sheer size of the country means that travel is seldom straightforward, the extensive road, rail and air links ensure that few destinations are inaccessible, and fares are invariably cheap. Furthermore, the widespread use of English makes communication easy for the majority of Western visitors. Journeys may be long - a four-hour bus ride is normal, and travelling constantly for thirty hours not uncommon - but they can provide some of the very best moments of a trip: punctuated with frequent food stops and memorable encounters, and passing through an everchanging landscape. For long hauls, much the best way to go is by train; with computerized booking now established almost everywhere, the Indian rail network is as efficient as almost any in the world. Rail journeys also offer the chance to meet other travellers and Indians from all walks of life, and a constant stream of activity as chai-wallahs, peanut-sellers, musicians, astrologers and mendicants wander through the carriages. The travel details in each chapter will help you decide on te most convenient transport, show you the best way to book tickets, and save a great deal of time and frustration.
Finally, the Contexts at the end of the book draw together the many facets of Indian life and culture discussed throughout the Guide, including summaries of the subcontinent's history and manifold religions, and overviews of Indian music and issues affecting women. We also recommend further reading to enjoy before you go and as you travel.
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One of the best ways to explore Kerala is to meander the backwaters in a houseboat, taking in palm groves and villages, from the atmospheric old trading post of Fort Cochin down to the beach at Kovalarm, where you can sample Ayurvedic massages and Kathakali dancing.
Puri, Bubaneshwar and Konarak form the "golden triangle" of temple towns in the state of Orissa. Medieval ruins endowed with exquisite sculpture draw millions of pilgrims, especially during the midsummer "Car Festival", when gods ride their chariots.
As the sun rises over the misty ghats at Varanasi, thousands of Hindu devotees come down to the waterfront to perform their morning ritual ablutions. By night, cremation fires glow and priests float candles in lotus flowers down the Ganges.
From the sandstone palaces, temples, winding streets and havelis (mansions) of Jaisalmer, you can venture into the Thar Dessert of Rajasthan on a camel safari, to sleep under the stars and visit the sand dunes, villages and hilltop forts.
Lake Palace Hotel
As seen in Octopussy, the elegant white marble of the Lake Palace Hotel of Udaipur reflects in the surrounding Lake Pichola. It's certainly an exclusive splendour, even if most of us can only afford to have dinner there.
Head up the dramatic and lush Kulu valley to Ladakh, also known as "Little Tibet", to discover medieval Buddhist monasteries, the colourful Hemis midsummer festival, Himalayan trekking and white water rafting.
At the rock-cut caves of Ellora is the world's largest monolith, the Kailash temple, chiselled from the cliff face by hand. Nearby, the Ajanta caves reveal stone Buddhas, sculpture and a profusion of delicately painted murals.
Big, bad Mumbai (formerly Bombay) is energetic and extreme. The historic Taj Mahal Intercontinental Hotel welcomes visitors at the imperial gateway of India; delectable fish dishes are on offer at Trishnas restaurant; and there's plenty of entertainment, from classical ragas to rave and garish Bollywood cinema.
If you are done with the party scene in Goa, visit the ghostly royal citadel of Hampi. Sunset views from granite boulder hills, the ornately sculpted "singing" temples and lively bazaars forgive the basic amenities.
Trek from Gangotri to the glacial source of the river Ganges, the lifeblood of the Hindu faith. The Shivling peak rises behind a green wall of ice, where saffron-clad sadhus and pilgrims offer fervent oblation.
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