Today, in our Why Travel series, we're talking about India. Most people have varying ideas and opinions when it comes to the world's second most populous country. No matter what you're opinion is, India is a wonderful, welcoming country full of hospitable, peaceful people. Many people think of Eat, Pray, Love when they think of India. The country is vast and full of diverse people ready to show you their culture.
India has long been known as a spiritual destination, filled with gurus, yogis, healers, and shamans. People around the world visit India to find themselves, find a higher purpose, or find whatever enlightened experience they seek. With a high percentage of Hindu, Muslims, and Sikh believers, there's no shortage of spirituality in India. Without knowing it, you inevitably end up in a situation where you discover you are a small part of a much bigger world. That's the beautiful thing about India; you can volunteer at the Mother Teresa orphanage, you can bath your feet in a Sikh temple while watching hundreds of volunteers feed the hungry, walk through the largest mosque in India, or simply spend an afternoon with elephants. You never quite know what might enlighten you. No matter your religion, India allows you to experience a culture and lifestyle so different from what Americans and many Westerners know. This experience is what so many seek, and frequently find. The people of India are peaceful and welcoming. Whether they are Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian, or any other religion, you won't find hate in the hearts of most Indians.
Keep Calm and Curry On
Vegan, carnivore, or somewhere in between, finding delicious food in India is not a problem. India has a rich history of culturally unique food, plus an added British component, like traditional English breakfasts. Northern Indian cuisine, influenced by cultures in the Himalayas, is different from southern Indian cuisine, influenced by the subtropical climate. Fun fact: India produces 40% of the world's mangoes.
Most food is meant to be eaten with rice and is frequently plant-based. However, chicken, lamb, and goat are the common meats and often served on the side. Because the major religion throughout India is Hindu, little to no beef is eaten throughout the country. Cows roam freely through the villages as well as the streets of New Delhi. Because cows are considered too important to eat, even cheese is made from water buffalo milk instead of cow milk.
Finding restaurants is easy and if you have a guide (highly recommended), he or she will know which restaurants to visit. Street vendors are quite common throughout India. If you choose to eat street food, make sure you choose a vendor with a long line who is cooking fresh food. Vendors who have a short or no line may not be serving the top quality food. So, do yourself a favor and wait a little longer in line to possibly avoid any digestive discomfort down the line.
For Americans, and many Westerners, the water in India has bacteria our digestive systems aren't used to. Many guides and travel experts will tell you to avoid drinking the water. While that is wise advice, it's also important to avoid salads, raw veggies, and raw fruits during your trip. Most of the uncooked vegetables and fruits are washed in the very water we're told to avoid and many people get sick from fresh fruit and not, in fact, from the traditional dishes.
While you're in India, be sure to visit a local spice market where you can pick up native spices, blends, and amazing teas. A good spice merchant will package the spices in such a way that allows foreigners to bring these delights through customs back home. I personally recommend A. Kumar Spices and Teas located in the narrow streets of New Delhi. You have to take a nerve-wracking rickshaw ride there, but it's totally worth it.
Whether it's in business, travel, or your personal life, feeling uncomfortable usually means you have an opportunity for growth. For many people, India brings out that uncomfortable feeling, because India makes you grow as a person. For all those people you know who visited India and came back a changed person, it's probably true. The simple act of navigating the streets makes many queasy with uncertainty because, for Westerners, there is little familiarity to find in India. Whether you contemplate the dichotomy of the haves and have nots, or sit back and enjoy the monkeys running amok, when you visit India, you'll learn something about yourself.
Namaste - I honor the spirit in you that is also in me.