Jan 16, 2020

14 Experiences You Shouldn’t Skip in India

Traveling around India is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Ask any traveler who’s been there, and you’ll hear how diverse the country can be. In some cities, you may see poverty and what it’s like to live day to day in India. But in others, you’ll get the chance to explore vibrant culture, incredible temples, and breathtaking nature scenery.

And exploring India is no small task. Unless you’re spending months in India, you won’t be able to see everything the country has to offer, given its sheer size. However, if you know about the experiences you absolutely shouldn’t skip, you won’t miss out on some of India’s most amazing offerings.

Here are a number of experiences that you won’t want to miss if you’re visiting India.

  • Imagine visiting a temple where you can see around 25,000 friendly rats running around among people. As crazy as it sounds, that’s the reality at Karni Mata temple, where these holy rats, called kabbas, attract hordes of visitors. It’s believed that seeing the rats is a blessing.

    The temple is located in Deshnoke, which is 30 kilometers away from Bikaner, in Rajasthan. It was built to worship the female Hindu god Karni Mata, and the rats are thought to be reincarnations of her male children.

  • A trip to Kerala is about enjoying some peace and quiet while gently swaying along the many natural canals in the region. Most travelers stay in the kettuvallams, which are 70-foot houseboats made of wooden planks,bamboo, and coconut ropes.

    The backwaters are a network of canals in the south of India that covers three main regions: Ashtamudi Lake, Vembanad backwater, and Kannur-Valiyaparambu Backwaters. Altogether, they stretch for over 1,500 kilometers, and include five lakes and 38 rivers.

  • One of the main reasons travelers visit Varanasi is to sit on the ghats (riverfront steps) and take in the burning corpses floating away in the Ganges River. Hindus believe that dying in the city brings salvation, so many go there when they feel they’re nearing death. As a result, it’s where over 200 corpses are cremated every day.

    Varanasi is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, and it’s sacred to both Hindus and Jains. It’s the holiest place of the Sapta Puri, which are seven pilgrimage centers in India, where spiritual masters were born and Gods were reincarnated.

  • Travelers flock to Goa to enjoy its stunning beaches, lively markets, and top-notch seafood. Here you can sit back with a cocktail in your hand, soaking up the sun while some amicable cows walk past you. It’s also the ideal place to rent a scooter and slowly explore the coast.

    Goa is arguably the most westernized state and many visitors don’t even regard it as the “real” India—it’s the only place where gambling is legal. Locals are extremely easygoing and welcoming. And, in addition to the beaches, you can check out highlights like the remnants of Portuguese colonial presence and a thriving psytrance scene.

  • If you really want to feel like a proper Indiana Jones, then you’ll want to make sure to visit the Ellora and Ajanta Caves. As you walk from cave to cave and marvel at the different ancient temples, you can picture a world that’s long gone.

    Both sites were built between 200 and 350 BC up to 650 and 700 AD and were discovered in the 19th century. Altogether there are over 60 caves between them. Interestingly, these caves do double duty. Many are actually temples that represent three of India’s religions: Jainism, Buddhism, and Hinduism.

  • While you’ll definitely see your fair share of temples in India, make sure you pay a visit to Ranakpur. It’s one of the largest and most famous Jain temples in existence. And it’s entirely built out of white marble, with a ceiling that’s roughly seven meters high.

    However, what makes Ranakpur Jain a must-see attraction are the 1444 marble columns inside. Each individual column boasts its own impressive design. The temple was built in the 15th century in honor of Adinath, the first Tirthankar (enlightened one) in our time cycle, according to Jain cosmology.

  • Rishikesh was brought to international attention in 1968 when the Beatles spent some time in an ashram learning about Transcendental Meditation. It’s now considered the World Capital of Yoga and a magnet for those willing to learn more about spirituality.

    The city is extremely religious and it’s not uncommon to see saddhus, the holy men with massive dreadlocks, walking around the narrow streets – sometimes naked. Apart from yoga and meditation retreats, travelers can try out exciting experiences like rock climbing, whitewater rafting, and kayaking in the Ganges.

  • Visiting the Golden Temple involves a lot more than just gazing at a beautiful complex. It’s a touching experience. Sikhs are required to volunteer at the temple for at least a week during their lifetime, and many do so at the Langar (kitchen and dining hall), where any visitor, regardless of faith or gender, can eat as equals. You’ll want to save room for delicious dahl, chapati, and rice.

    The Golden Temple is the holiest Gurdwara (place of worship) for the Sikh religion and an important pilgrimage site. It was originally built in 1577, but was destroyed twice by the Mughal Empire. Its current form dates back to 1830, where the shrine was overlaid with golden foil, giving it its famous name.

  • Picture yourself walking around busy streets, where happy crowds throw colored powder and water at each other to the sound of loud music. As long as you wear cheap clothes (they’ll be ruined), you’ll have an awesome time.

    Holi festival is an incredible experience that usually takes place at the end of February or middle of March. The exact date each year depends on the Hindu calendar. This celebration represents the start of spring and the victory of good over evil. It’s also a day to forgive people and repair relationships.

  • There’s nothing like hopping on a camel and riding deep into the desert, where the only thing you can see for kilometers are endless sand dunes. But equally impressive is spending the evening around a campfire, with millions of stars in the sky overhead.

    While you’re in India, make sure to visit the Thar desert. It’s located in the western part of Rajasthan and covers an area of 200,000 square kilometers. Most people use Jaisalmer as a base and pick one of the many tour companies to explore the nearby desert.

  • If you’d like to see big feral felines in the natural habitat, the Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve is probably the best place. It has one of the highest densities of tiger population in India, which means you’re pretty much guaranteed to see one.

    The reserve is part of the bigger Bandhavgarh National Park, which covers a total of 1,536 square kilometers. Apart from the famous Bengal tigers, visitors can see leopards, foxes, sloth bears, and elephants.

  • No matter what region you’re exploring in India, you’ll undoubtedly find a delicious thali. Think of a thali as a meal with a concoction of flavors, available in different recipes. They’re kind of a mini personal buffet.

    The idea behind a thali is to offer a balanced mix of six flavors: sweet, sour, bitter, salty, spicy, and astringent. They’re typically served on a round plate and include rice, dahl, vegetables, chutney, roti, and dahi (yogurt).

  • One thing you’ll quickly notice in India is the prominence of chai (tea). In addition to drinking copious amounts of this type of tea, you’ll want to make sure to visit the tea plantations. There, you’ll understand the production process and learn about chai’s history and significance.

    Indians have been drinking tea since at least 750 BC, when it was first mentioned in the holy scripture Ramayana, so it’s no surprise that 70 percent of the production is consumed in the country. Famous plantations include Assam (Northeast), Darjeeling (West Bengal), and Munnar (Kerala), among many others.

  • If you already enjoy spa treatments, you can’t leave India without experiencing Ayurveda, the traditional healing system. It’s ideal for chronic and stress-related conditions, and by the end of it, you’ll feel a few years younger.

    Ayurveda means “knowledge of life and longevity” in Sanskrit and dates back to some 5,000 years. It’s based on a pranic system, where doctors try to find balance between the doshas, the body’s life energies, using massage, diet, oils, and herbal leaves

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