Top 12 things you must experience in India
As India turns 66, we bring you the top 12 things you absolutely must experience in India.
Our beloved country turns a year older this August 15. As part of a special series, we bring you a list of things you must experience if you haven't already -- from celebrating Christmas in Goa to visiting the Taj Mahal and spending a night in a house boat in Kerala... there is always something to do for everyone in India and this is just a very, very concise list.
Attend the Ganga Aarti
Performed every evening at the Dashashwamedh Ghat in Varanasi, the Ganga Aarti is an experience that must not be missed. A group of young priests perform the ritual offering fire to Lord Shiva and the River even as thousands of pilgrims and faithful gather around to watch the spectacular form of worship.
Have we missed something extraordinary that you've experienced? Share it with us too! Write about your experiences and ideally send a photograph of your escapade to firstname.lastname@example.org (subject line: India experience) and we will publish the best ones right here on Rediff.com.
Image: Attend the Ganga Aarti
Photographs: Rajesh Karkera/Rediff.com
Witness the Wagah Border ceremony
The beating retreat ceremony at the Wagah Border is a spectacle that must be witnessed to be believed. Being held since 1959 every evening before sunset at the Wagah Border of India and Pakistan, the ceremony involves a loud and vociferous parade as one infantryman from each side opens the gates, lowers his country's flag shakes the other's hand brusquely and closes the gates.
Cries of 'Jai Hind' and 'Pakistan Zindabad' fill the air as visitors from both sides of the border gather to watch what British actor Michael Palin describes a display of 'carefully choreographed contempt'.
Despite its jingoism or perhaps because of it, the ceremony is something that you simply cannot afford to miss.
Image: Witness the Wagah Border ceremony
Photographs: Giridhar Appaji/Wikimedia Creative Commons
Celebrate Christmas and New Year's Eve in Goa
India's ultimate party destination may be in a state of eternal celebration all year round, but come December and Goa comes alive in a manner that no other Indian state does. As tourists flock its beaches by the thousands, the locals too uncork their favourite fenis and welcome them with open arms and a smile.
Image: Celebrate Christmas and New Year's Eve in Goa
Photographs: Klaus Nahr/Creative Commons
Take a food walk in Chandni Chowk during Ramzan
The iconic Jama Masjid towers over the rest of the structures in the surrounding Chandni Chowk area of Old Delhi. It remains, to this day, one of the go-to places for Mughlai delicacies all year round. So, during the holy month of Ramzan, there really is no reason to not visit it for a foodie.
If you aren't a local, ensure you have someone to guide you around the maze called Chandni Chowk. While Karim's restaurant remains the most trusted place to visit for a Ramzan feast, you could also try out Haji Mohd Hussain's shop for keema golis and fried chicken or Mota Pehalwan's shop for Biryani.
Read more about Ramzan feasting in Delhi here.
Image: Take a food walk in Chandni Chowk during Ramzan
Photographs: Souvik Das Gupta/Wikimedia Creative Commons
Visit the Taj Mahal
This may be tad cliched but you really must visit the Taj Mahal at least once to know what you're missing. The moment you walk through the main gateway and spot the Taj Mahal in the distance, you are hooked.
Shimmering in the distance, the monument is awe-inspiring, to say the least. The sheer size, symmetry and simplicity of it are what stop you in your tracks and throw all thoughts out of your head. And when you see something so amazing, you want to share it with someone who will understand, someone who can share this experience with you.
The feelings the Taj evokes cannot be expressed in words, they are shared through stunned looks, excited hands clasping each other and wordless gestures that draw attention to its various stunning features.
To say that it is a man's monument for his love is to simplify it to an extreme. It is a monument that grabs your heart and your mind and doesn't let go until you've walked far, far away.
Image: Taj Mahal
Photographs: Divya Nair/Rediff.com
Kashmir is often described in the words of the Mughal Emperor Jehangir as a piece of heaven on earth. If Srinagar and the surrounding valleys of Kashmir are enchanting, Ladakh, the northern region of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, is a notch higher.
In many ways, the stark landscape of Ladakh stands contrast to the beauty of Srinagar and its surroundings. Even so, the region is majestic and awe-inspiring.
Be it Khardung La and Shangri La (two of the highest mountain passes that attract thousands of tourists every year), the Tsomoriri and the Pangong Lake (their chilly, placid waters offering solace and serenity), or the pristine Buddhist monasteries of Hemis and Alchi among others, Ladakh grabs you like few other places to and puts your mind and soul at ease.
Follow this link for stunning photographs from Leh-Ladakh.
Image: Pangong Lake/Ladakh
Photographs: Courtesy Varun Gupta/Travelling Lens
Spend a night in a houseboat in the backwaters of Kerala
Kerala's backwaters are peppered with houseboats that were once barges used to transport rice along the network of canals and lakes. While it may be tad pricey, spending a night in one of them is well worth experiencing. Watch life pass by as you relax on a cane chair as your boatsman sails along the giant Vembanad Lake.
More about travelling in Kerala here.
Image: Houseboat along the backwaters of Kerala
Photographs: Amog/Wikimedia Creative Commons
Watch the snake boat race in Kerala
Time your visit to God's Own Country so you are in time for the snake boat races that are held between July and September. While the exact dates of the various races depend on the phase of the moon, the Nehru Trophy Boat Race is always held on the second Saturday of August.
The races are also the highlight of the Onam Festival and the oldest and the most popular of them all is the Champakkulam Moolam that is held along the river at Champakkulam about 25 km from Alleppey.
Be part of the crowd of this 400-year-old tradition and be drawn in by its energy and uniqueness.
Don't also miss this travelogue on driving through a Kerala rainforest.
Image: Watch the snake boat race in Kerala
Photographs: Arun Kumar Sinha/Wikimedia Creative Commons
Ride on the Mumbai local train
From the quiet of the Kerala backwaters to the bustle of India's commercial capital...
The Mumbai local trains are often called the lifeline of the city, a title they fully deserve. Spread over 465 km, the trains by some estimates carry more than 7 million commuters daily from 4am to 1am.
While it is something of a chore for most people who use the services every day, the Mumbai local trains are a mode of transport like no other, connecting the diverse cultures of upmarket south Mumbai to that of the distant suburban townships of Kalyan and Karjat in the north.
Click here for unusual pictures from Mumbai, the city that never sleeps
Image: Ride on the Mumbai local train
Photographs: Arun Patil/Rediff.com
There is nothing romantic about staying in Dharavi. However Mumbai's most famous slums got international recognition after Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionare had its moment of glory at the Oscars. Make no mistake though, pity Dharavi at your own expense. To this day, it remains one of the most industrious areas in the city today with entrepreneurs running large businesses from its narrow lanes.
Follow this link to know more about the people of Dharavi.
Image: Visit Dharavi
Photographs: Mark HIllary/Wikimedia Creative Commons
Visit the living root bridges of Cherrapunji
Among the many miracles that exist deep in the heart of India's forests are the living root bridges of Cherrapunji.
You will have to drive down to Umsohphie village from where it is a longish trek that can take you anywhere around two hours or more.
Soak in the beauty of the wettest place on earth and chat up with the friendly tribes that you meet along the way before you finally see the famed Double Decker bridge soon after Nongriat, the last village before the final destination.
Visit the living bridges of Cherrapunji, there really is nothing quite like it.
Rediff readers Vivek Garg and Ravishankar Mantha who visited the bridge wrote this fascinating travelogue for us here!
Image: Living root bridges of Cherrapunji
Photographs: Vivek Garg and Ravishankar Mantha
Many of us celebrate Diwali at home and you're probably wondering why this is even on the list in the first place. The thing is since we celebrate the festival in our homes, we rarely ever know what Diwali means in different parts of the country. So here's what we're suggesting, leave your hometown during Diwali and head out to the other end of the country just to know how the festival is celebrated and what it means to the people there.
Image: Celebrate Diwali in an alien city.
Photographs: Ajay Verma/Reuters