Visit India, the land of culture | mumble in the jungle

Visit India, the land of culture

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Image by  solarisgirl
India is the world’s second most populous nation and is a land of great cultural diversity. Although Hindi and English are the main official languages, there are around 22 other languages and 720 dialects. This gives an impression of just how big the cultural spread is. The main religion is Hinduism but there are also Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists and Christians. Along with the cultural diversity there is also a vast variety of geographical features. From stretches of eternally frozen glaciers and deep rain-forests, to fertile valleys, blistering deserts and beautiful beaches. It is a truly fascinating country, with thousand-year-old temples, modern skyscrapers in sprawling cities and huge slums. This ancient land is home to amazing people, who are friendly and fun. They have a serious passion for food and live and breathe cricket, which is by far the most popular sport. For cricket fans, foodies and sightseers alike, India should be high up on the list of places to visit.

Cricket

One of the most noticeable things in India from the moment of arrival is the serious passion that the Indian people have for cricket. It’s hard to walk for five minutes without seeing some form of cricket being played or watched. While visiting India, going to a cricket match is an absolute must. The atmosphere is unmatched the world over.

The Indian Premier league, also known as the IPL, takes place between April and June. It has only been going since 2008 but it is already the most watched Twenty20 league in the world and is also known for its commercial success. In 2010 it became the first sporting event to be broadcast live on YouTube. The league has become well known for teaming some of the best international players in the world with Indian players. One of the greatest cricketers of all time, Shane Warne (see below), led Rajasthan Royals to the first IPL title at the DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai.

The current champions are the Kolkata Knight Riders who have won two of the last three seasons and clinched it last year by beating the Kings XI Punjab in the final by three wickets. The most successful team since the league’s inception are Chennai Super Kings, who have won it twice and managed to qualify for the final every year expect 2009 and 2014. Betfair and others at the time of writing have them at 13/8 to win it again this year.

When watching an IPL match, be prepared for crowds of more than 30,000 people all cheering, singing and dancing. Loud music and a festival-like atmosphere along with fast-paced, exciting cricket where every moment can be game changing, make this an experience not to be missed.

Food

Many people are of the belief that the Indian food served in England is nothing like traditional Indian food, and has been geared and refined to a taste preferred by English people. To discover true, authentic Indian cuisine one must travel to different parts of India and try as much as possible. As may be expected, there is a significant variety in cuisine across the country due to the range of diversity in soil types and climate. Different areas use spices, herbs and fruits that are locally available, and the way they are prepared are heavily influenced by religious and cultural choices and traditions.

A good place to start would probably be Delhi. It is well known for its street food and has a lot of people from different parts of the country, so there is a wide range of food on offer. Punjab cuisine is quite prevalent, and there is also a lot of food that fuses different Indian styles.

Goa is a very popular tourist destination so the food has an international aspect. The tropical climate means the spices and flavours are intense. A distinct feature there is the use of kokum, which is a plant in the mangosteen family. The cuisine which is mostly seafood and meat based, is influenced by its Hindu origins, 400 years of Portuguese colonialism, and modern techniques.

For the adventurous traveller, a trip to Chhattisgarh would be a real eye opener. The people of this area use many foods that are not found in the rest of India. Although the staple food is rice, the tribal people of the Bastar region eat whatever is available. This includes things like mushrooms, squirrels, ants, bamboo pickles and bamboo vegetables. See the video below of Gordon Ramsey eating ant egg chutney in the Bastar region. The clip is part of a three-part series where Ramsey travelled across India trying a wide variety of different cuisines. He admitted that he knew nothing about real Indian cooking until he visited the country.

It would take a long time to sample all the varieties of food that India has to offer, so a bit of research before visiting may give you a better idea of which regional cuisines you may want to try.

Sightseeing

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Image by  Nagesh Kamath 
Along with the cricket and the wide array of food available, India is home to some truly spectacular scenery and landmarks. The north is home to the snow-covered Himalayas and the beautiful valleys of Kashmir. In the west there is the golden sand of Rajasthan with its ancient forts and palaces. In central India explore the rock cut coves and temples in Maharashtra, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh. No trip to India would be complete without a trip to Agra in Uttar Pradesh, home to one of the new Seven Wonders of the World, the Taj Mahal.

The Taj Mahal is roughly translated as the “crown of palaces” and is a white marble mausoleum situated on the southern bank of the Yamuna River. It was commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal emperor, Shan Jahan, to house the tomb of his favourite wife of three, Mumtaz Mahal. The construction work finished 20 years later in 1653. It is regarded by many as the best example of Mughal architecture and is widely recognised as “the jewel of Muslim art in India”. This incredible thing of beauty attracts approximately three million visitors each year. Polluting traffic is not allowed near the complex so tourists either have to walk from the car park or take an electric train. For security reasons, only a handful of items are allowed to be taken in. These are water in transparent bottles, small video cameras, still cameras, mobile phones and small ladies’ purses. Everything else is prohibited.

When arriving in India it is going to be a huge culture shock. The way things are done there is worlds apart from what many westerners are used to. Some things may seem highly illogical at first and some describe it as a country of endless obstacles to people who are not Indian. The best thing to do is go there with an open mind and good humour, be patient and embrace all the new experiences. A good bit of reading material to check out is a book called Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. This has become a bit of a bible amongst travellers the world over and tells of how an Australian man managed to integrate himself into the Indian way of life. It may just give you that final push to go and see for yourself what this great country has to offer.