Bamboozling. There’s simply no other word that convincingly captures the enigma that is India. With its in-your-face diversity, from snow-dusted mountains to sun-washed beaches, tranquil temples to feisty festivals, lantern-lit villages to software-supremo cities, it’s hardly surprising that this country has been dubbed the world’s most multidimensional. Love it or loathe it, and most visitors see-saw between the two, India promises to jostle your entire being, and no matter where you go or what you do, it’s a place you’ll never forget.
Home to more than one billion people, the subcontinent bristles with an eclectic melange of ethnic groups, which translates into an intoxicating cultural cocktail for the traveller. For those seeking spiritual sustenance, India has oodles of sacrosanct sites and stirring philosophical epics, while history buffs will encounter gems from the past almost everywhere – from grand vestiges of the British Raj serenely peering over swarming spice bazaars, to crumbling fortresses looming high above plunging ravines. Meanwhile, aficionados of the great outdoors can paddle in the shimmering waters of one of many balmy beaches, scout for big jungle cats on a blood-pumping wildlife safari, or simply inhale pine-scented air on a meditative forest walk. And then there’s the food! From squidgy South Indian idlis (fermented rice cakes) to zesty north Indian curries, foodies can look forward to savouring a seductive smorgasbord of specialities.
Once you touch down on subcontinental soil, you’ll quickly discover that cricket – India’s sporting obsession – is one of the most spirited topics of conversation, along with the latest shenanigans in the razzle-dazzle world of Bollywood. However, it is politics – whether at the national, state or village level – that consistently dominates news headlines, with middle- and upper-class India also keenly keeping its finger on the pulse of international events. On the home front, economic matters feature high on the national political agenda. With one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, India has certainly made giant strides over the past decade. However, despite averaging an annual growth rate of around 9% in recent years, vast sections of the country’s billion-plus population have seen little benefit from the economic boom. Indeed, the government’s ongoing challenge is to spread both the burden and bounty of India’s fiscal prosperity. Not an easy task given that the gap between the haves and the have-nots is far from shrinking, and poverty is set to spiral upwards if India’s population rate continues to gallop beyond that of its economic growth.