City Spotlight: New Delhi

New Delhi, an urban district of Delhi, serves at the capital of India and the seat of all three branches of Government. The city was officially founded in 1911 by George V, Emperor of India during the Delhi Durbar, and it was designed by British architects. When Calcutta, now Kokata, became the epicenter of the Indian Independence movement, British colonizers moved the capital to New Delhi, where it has remained for more than a century. After the country gained independence in 1947, a limited autonomy was conferred to New Delhi.

 

New Delhi forms just a small part of the Delhi metropolitan area, sitting on the Indo-Gangetic Plain. As a result, there is little difference in elevation across the city—something quite rare to find in large Indian cities. While New Delhi lies on the floodplains of the Yamuna River, it is essentially landlocked. Additionally, the city falls under the seismic zone-IV, making it especially vulnerable to earthquakes. New Delhi is also known for its bad air quality and pollution. In 2014, the World Health Organization ranked New Delhi as the world’s worst polluted city among the 1,600 cities tracked. The city is doing what it can to alleviate some of the pollution, the Indian Medical Association declared a public health emergency in 2017 due to high pollution levels. If you travel to this city, especially in the winter, when pollution is at its worst, I recommend wearing some sort of face mask. You can purchase these items at most stores and pharmacies.

 

Despite the devastating pollution, New Delhi is a remarkably cosmopolitan city. This is due, in part, to the cultural presence of the vast Indian bureaucracy and political system. National events, such as Republic Day, Independence Day, and Gandhi Jayanti are celebrated with a lot of enthusiasm, and I highly recommend timing your visit with a celebration. The city is full of historic sites, museums, and gardens, making it a perfect Indian destination for lovers of art and culture.

 

When traveling to New Delhi, visitors can utilize its railways, Metro, bus system, and motorways. Getting here is remarkably easy. In fact, in 2010, Indira Gandhi International Airport was conferred the fourth best airport award in the world (within the 15-25 million category). This is a can’t-miss destination in your Indian experience.

How to Travel in India

India is a slight departure from most western travel norms. When on vacation, most Americans opt for places in Western Europe—think France, Italy, Germany, and—for the more adventurous—Portugal. Most travelers only experience the Asian continent on the Eastern end—Japan, South Korea, and China. India, however, provides the opportunity to explore an intersection—what happens when Europe collides with the east?

 

This crazy, beautiful, overwhelming country is a must-see destination for people worldwide, but the traveling itself can be a bit intense. I am here to help you navigate through some of the most challenging aspects of Indian travel. My name is Lukas, and I (basically) grew up in India. Though my family is originally from Vienna, we moved to Pune so my mother could take a job at UWC Mahindra College. I spent my childhood exploring the country and, after attending UWC myself, took a gap year before starting university in the United States.

 

During that year, I worked as an independent tour guide and travel consultant. Using my personal experiences, I learned to craft the perfect vacations for visitors. If they wanted to go on safari, I knew where to point them. If they wanted to explore India’s Islamic history, I drew up a list of important mosques. In addition to helping plan trips, I also, at times, traveled alongside clients, helping to translate, haggle, and book accommodations along the way.

 

Though I have since left India, my love for the country will never die. I want to turn my experience into a resource for anyone planning to travel there. That, in essence, is the mission statement for this blog. Here, you will find travel guides, tips, and must-see destinations. If you every have a personal question or want an individualized travel guide, shoot me an email!

 

City Spotlight: Mumbai

Mumbai, known as Bombay until 1995, is the capital city of Maharashtra, a central Indian state. It is the most populous city in India with an estimated population (city proper) of 14 million; the greater metropolitan area houses more than 21 million people. In 2008, Mumbai was named an alpha world city, pointing up its developed connectivity and financial status. Furthermore, Mumbai is the financial, commercial, and entertainment capital of India—it deserves your visit.

Mumbai’s culture blends traditional festivals, food, and music with their modern counterparts. The city has always been a major trading center, leading to the development of a diverse range of culture, religion, and cuisine. Visitors enjoy the cosmopolitan lifestyle of this truly global city. However, beaches are also a major attraction; Girgaum Chowpatty, Juhu Beach, Dadaw Chowpatty, Forai Beach, Marve Beach, and Manori Beach are popular among both locals and tourists.

Mumbai is also the birthplace of Indian cinema, and the oldest film broadcast took place in the ealry 20th century. Dadasaheb Phalke began making silent movies, which were followed closely by Marathi talkies. The city has several movie theaters that feature Bollywood, Marathi, and Hollywood movies, but many cinemas host screenings during the Mumbai International Film Festival. In addition to film, the city is well-known for contemporary art, public sculpture, and their world-renowned zoo.

Traveling to Mumbai is very easy. The city offers several forms of transportation, including the Mumbai Monorail (opened 2014). Suburban railway and BEST bus services account for around 88% of the passenger traffic, but rickshaws and taxis are also popular.

City Spotlight: Jaipur

Jaipur is the capital and largest city in the state of Rajasthan, situated in Western India. The city’s population well exceeds 3.1 million, making it the tenth most populous city in the country. Colloquially, this metropolis is known as the Pink City for its gorgeously-colored buildings. Jaipur forms part of the west Gold Triangle tourist circuit (along with Agra), making it a vivacious, easily-accessible Indian destination. It is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country, serving as a gateway to additional destinations within Rajasthan.

Jaipur is home to several important cultural sites. The Hawa Mahal is a pink sandstone palace known colloquially as “Palace of the Winds.” Similarly, the City Palace is a lavish, pink 1700s structure that includes both a main complex and a museum—perfect for tourists. History lovers will delight in the city’s many historic buildings; Amer Fort, a structure sitting atop a hill overlooking the city, was built in the 16th century. With a felicitous combination of royal heritage, ancient history, and an ultra-modern lifestyle, Jaipur is a great representation of urban Indian life.

While in Jaipur, visit the best-known cinema in India: The Raj Mandir Cinema. Opened in 1976, this large, art deco-inspired structure is one of the best places in the country to catch a Bollywood film. The spacious theater has comfortable seats, and the hundreds of moviegoers will make you feel like you’re attending a premier—regardless of the film, day, or time. When you’re done, walk over to Ml Road, which hosts some of the city’s best lassi shops.

Jaipur is located on National Highway No.8, which connects Delhi and Mumbai. Additionally, RSRTC operates bus services to other major cities in Rajasthan, making Jaipur an easily accessible destination when put into a larger Indian tour.

Traveling in India: What You Need to Know

So: You’ve decided to visit India. You might have an idea of the places you want to visit, but—odds are—you’re agonizing over every detail of your trip. Traveling in India is an overwhelming but rewarding experience, and new travelers should seek out expert tips and advice to prevent overstimulation. Luckily, that’s what I’m here to provide. Below are my four tips for having a successful Indian vacation.

 

  1. Plan your route. Don’t show up in Mumbai expecting to visit Kerala. Think about the sites you want to see and plan your trip around that. If you want to stay in one place, by all means, this is the easiest option. However, India is such a compact, diverse country that seeing several cities in a single trip is very manageable—just choose cities that interest you rather than those you’ve only heard about in passing.

 

  1. Take a few hours each day to get away from the crowds. With over a billion locals, parts of India can feel very claustrophobic. It’s easy to reach a personal breaking point, so spend some time alone, inside, or in one of the country’s smaller towns.

 

  1. Know what you consume. Don’t drink tap water, and don’t consume food that has been washed in it. Avoid ice cream, salads, and fruit you haven’t peeled or prepared yourself, and give your stomach a few days to adjust before trying any street food ventures.

 

  1. Take it slow. It’s better to concentrate on just a few places rather than trying to tick off as many as possible. Spend a few days in a single place before moving on—you’ll gain a deeper understanding of where you are and have more time to explore.

 

Must-See Spots in India

At this point in your planning process, you’ve likely booked your flight, but you’re not completely sure what you want to see. India is a dense, highly-populated country; as a result, there is a lot packed into the space, and you won’t have the time to see it all in a single trip. While planning your vacation, think about what interests you most about the country. Is it the wildlife? Is it the religious sights? Maybe it’s the standard landmarks and UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It is essential to plan your trip around what you absolutely need to see, concentrating on either the North or the South. Be realistic about your time—you’ll have a more relaxing trip.

While working as a tour guide, I came to recognize four popular routes. I have the important sites listed below.

 

The Classics—This is the most popular route for travelers in India. It includes the Golden Triangle—Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur. If you don’t mind a fast-paced trip, you can squeeze it all into a week. Your can’t-miss sites include: Humayun’s Tomb, the Red Fort, the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, Fatehpur Sikri, and the Pink City.

 

Religious Tour—Whether you are personally religious or merely interested in religious architecture, India offers countless temples, mosques, and places of worship—especially in north and central India. Your can’t miss sites include: the Golden Temple, Khajuraho, the Sun Temple, the Jain temples in Rajasthan and Gujarat, and the temple caves at Ajanta and Ellora.

 

Beach Relaxation—The southern end of India is home to some of the world’s most beautiful beaches. From Mumbai’s Girgaum Chowpatty beach to the Goan beaches, you can’t go wrong in choosing a destination. I personally enjoy Kerala’s black sand beaches (Kovalam and Varkala) in the north.

 

Adventure Trekking—Northern India is mountainous and beautiful—perfect for those seeking a bit of an adrenaline rush. Start in Shimla and work your way up to Manali to experience some of the best hiking, skiing, and whitewater rafting available.