Where the Guest Is God: Finding India
Five great reasons to visit now.
Rapidly improving infrastructure, inherent spirituality, the Taj Mahal and the world’s finest foodstuff (that’s curry, incidentally)… in spite of all this—and India’s geographical, ethnic and cultural diversity— the world’s largest democracy is one of the most overlooked tourist destinations in the world, receiving a tiny 7.7 million visitors in 2014. By way of comparison, Hong Kong had 60 million visitors last year.
In a bid to draw more tourists to the country, the Indian government’s Ministry of Tourism has been popularizing the saying athithi devo bhava— meaning “the guest is God” in Sanskrit. And while being worshipped as a demi-god is a pretty powerful incentive, there are plenty of other reasons why you should visit amazing India: It’s a beautiful country steeped in a colorful history, exciting flavors, beautiful natural scenery and so much more.
Get into Lake Living
Built in the 1700s as a summer palace, the Taj Lake Palace was built facing east so guests could worship Surya, the Indian sun god. Today it serves as a lavish hotel and spa. It’s a white marble palace built on an island in the middle of a vast lake with a panoramic backdrop of the Aravalli mountains: It doesn’t get more majestic and romantic than that.
Udaipur, Rajasthan, (+91) 294-242-8800, tajhotels.com.
The Red Fort
One of the remnants of Mughal Emperor Shah Jajan’s rule, the former royal residence of the Red Fort also served as the ceremonial and political center of the Mughal Empire. Aptly named because of its towering walls of red sandstone, the site is now a popular tourist destination. Every Independence Day the prime minister raises the flag at the fort and delivers a national address.
Netaji Subhash Marg, Chandni Chowk, Delhi.
The River Ganges at Varanasi
The Ganges is the most sacred river in all India to Hindus, who hail the water for its holy cleansing properties—although these days the Ganges is more famed for its high levels of pollution. Despite this, the banks of the river are well worth a visit. Varanasi is a bustling city that’s an assault on the senses, but the many riverside ghat steps leading down to the river are home to much of the city’s life. Take a morning boat trip across the river to immerse youself in the city’s sights and smells.
Peek at the Palace of Winds
Structurally and aesthetically, the ornate Hawa Mahal in Jaipur is a sight to behold. The “Palace of Winds” was built to resemble Hindu deity Lord Krishna’s crown, and its unique façade exists so that women of the royal household could observe the outside world and not be seen by the general public. Best viewed during the early hours of sunrise.
Hawa Mahal Rd., Badi Choupad, Jaipur.
Dance The Night Away
Dancing is a time-honored tradition in India and there are many different forms, each steeped in its own colorful and unique history. The Leela Palace hotel in Udaipur offers live music with dinner, accompanied by colorful, energetic Rajasthani folk dancing.
Lake Pichola, Udaipur, Rajasthan (+91) 294-670-1234.
Want to visit? Tour company Insight Vacations offers a range of tours, ranging from the three-day “Fascinating Mumbai” (from $9,100) to the 13-day “Imperial Rajasthan and Delhi” (from $31,300). Visit www.insightvacations.com for more.