Whatever you want from a holiday, it’s here in India: royal palaces, desert fortresses, beach resorts, hill stations, temples, mountains and lakes—you’ll find them all, and a lot more besides. And India is still one of the cheapest tourist destinations in the world. Where else could you stay at a five-star hotel for less than £35 (US$70) per night, or dine out on the most sumptuous cuisine for less than £17 (US$14), or find such good shopping bargains—top-quality silks and brocades, furnishings and paintings, carvings and carpets, jewellery and gems? If you’re into sports and recreation, there are good facilities in many cities for golf and fishing, for horse-riding and swimming, for tennis and squash, while in outlying areas you can explore wildlife parks on elephant-back or cross the remote Thar Desert on a camel-safari. Finally, don’t forget India’s rich cultural heritage. Here you can enjoy some of the best music, dance and theater in the East.
But this is only one side of India. Yes, this is a place of exotic enchantment, of religious mystique, of great natural beauty. But it is also a place of incredible noise, squalor and poverty; a large country, with large problems. Everything here is on a grand scale—both good and bad. This powerful sense of contrast, this alternation between luxury and poverty, beauty and ugliness, efficiency and chaos, is the key to understanding India. It’s something which can produce an ambivalent reaction, and many foreign travelers develop a love-hate relationship on their travels.
India is a very personal experience, and every traveler’s impressions are different. But nobody returns unaffected or unchanged. It’s an amazing and contradictory land, full of color and vitality, hospitable and very friendly. Yet it’s seldom peaceful, never private and often frustrating. But once it’s in your bloodstream, you’ll never get it out. You’ll never fully understand it and you’ll never see it all, but the compulsion to keep on trying will probably send you back time and again.
Perhaps the most absorbing part of India is not her ‘sights’ but her street-life. The typical Indian street is a living theater of people shaving, hawking goods, gossiping, making clothes and preparing betel, of sacred cows, camels and dogs jostling for position with taxis, bicycles, rickshaws and pilgrims, of heaped mountains of colorful spices, fruits, vegetables and incense. It never seems to stop, and if you like ‘street action’, you’ll never want to leave. Everywhere you look, every corner you turn, every person you meet, will make an indelible impression. If you’re a keen photographer, you’ll just love it. Even if you aren’t, you’ll still be hypnotized. In India, every glance is a picture.