- Jan 12 • 1 year ago
NetRefer’s Cultural Traveller – Anshuman Takes Us to India’s Roads Less Travelled
Anshuman Ganesh Iyer – our fifth Cultural Traveller – is a Solution Consultant at NetRefer, originally from Jamshedpur – home to Tata and one of the largest steel industries. Anshuman left his country three years ago to move to Malta. While he’s very well-travelled, this is the first time he’s living away from home. As he reminisced about India, not only did his friendliness and warmth shine through, but also his passion for and knowledge about his native culture.
Just like with Russia in our previous blog post, covering India extensively and doing it justice in one sitting is impossible. Anshuman advises to have at least a month (maybe more) if you want to really travel through India and savour a lot of what it has to offer. That said, he shared several highlights covering all areas of interest, including rich culture and tradition, gorgeous natural scenery, fun entertainment spots and attractions and one of our favourites – fine Indian cuisine. He also revealed some hints and tips to get the best out of our time touring. With the new year in, we’re ready to delve in and find out more about this massive country that’s both a financial and industrial world pillar and a cradle of world culture and history!
1. What makes India unique?
India is a massive country, divided by states and is a blend of different rich cultures, but we’re united by our love for cricket and Bollywood cinema.
At the same time, India is a highly industrialised and productive country, with a high output in different types of manufacturing, such as steel, textiles as well as technology and IT.
Due to its sheer size, the least amount of time recommended when you visit India is one month, ideally even more.
2. What are must-visit cities and towns?
Each city in India is so vastly different from others, giving visitors endless options. There’s Leh Ladak, Manali, Delhi, Jaipur, Goa, Ooty, Varkala, Andamans and so many more.
When travelling in India, you’re best off looking for tier 2 and 3 cities mainly. These are modern and convenient but not as expensive or densely populated as Tier 1 cities. Tier 1 cities tend to be the most industrialised and financially prominent ones as well.
3. What are staple historical sites any visitor should see in India? How about ones off the beaten track?
Agra’s Taj Mahal is a must and the numerous forts and palaces in Jaipur, Udaipur are among the most sought after. Up till the 1400s, Jaipur and Udaipur were the regions in the West, where Indian rulers used to live. There are several palaces that are preserved by UNESCO as world heritage.
Kerela is another place to add to your itinerary. It’s a water city (informally considered the Venice of India) as it borders on the Indian Ocean. Both its historical and natural sites are magnificent.
4. If you were an outdoors/trekking type of person, where would you go?
The North-East region is gorgeous. Meghalaya, close to Nepal, is one such place that has so much of nature’s beauty that it’s an adventure.
5. If someone’s a foodie, any particular types of food or drink you’d recommend and spots to try them out? How about if you’re a sweet tooth?
There are so many different varieties of food. Travellers will quickly discover that the range of dishes available in India far outnumbers those typically served in Indian restaurants in other countries. Due to the sheer size of India, each region – with its own villages, towns and cities – typically has exclusive types of cuisine.
The different types of cultures and religious beliefs have a strong bearing on food. For a long time, most Indian food was predominantly vegetarian, and meat became more popular with foreign influence.
There are the parathas from north, idly and dosa from the south. But chaat, which is a type of street food, is a definite must have, especially pani puri. And for the sweet lovers, there’s always gulab jamun, jalebi, kaju katli and many more.
6. What are the best beaches to go for a swim?
Arambol in Goa – the party capital of India, Radha Nagar beach in Andaman island, Varkala Beach in Varkala, and Kerela again.
7. If you want to go on an art/cultural tour, what are some good spots to visit?
The Ajanta Caves in Maharashtra to get a view of Buddhist period. Khajuraho Temples of Madhya Pradesh with its idols of erotic sculptures.
Gaia is one of the other places where Buddhism is still widespread and practiced by the locals. So, it’s a great destination if you want to experience Buddhist heritage from its birthplace. There’s an original Buddhist temple still standing.
8. Is there a good public transport infrastructure? What is the best way to get around town?
Most of the metropolitan cities have well connected Metro lines. Along with this there’s the auto rickshaws but be prepared to haggle. But the most convenient for the average working Indian is to take an Ola or Uber to travel within the city.
9. What are the best seasons to visit India? And does it change a lot from one season to another?
India being a tropical country is warm for most part of the year. Jan – May and September – December is a good time to visit. It’s better to avoid monsoon as it rains quite heavily in different parts of India. Weather can be extreme overall, so very hot in summer and very cold in winter.
The northwest town of Manali is a Himalayan resort alongside the Beas River. Due to its wintery weather, it’s a popular destination for skiing. And due to the beautiful natural scenery, many choose it for outdoor and extreme sports such as paragliding, rafting and mountaineering.
On the other hand, Goa (mentioned earlier) has good mild weather all year round.
10. What are some customs/manners/expressions one should know when visiting?
Like with most other places, a smile goes a long way. Indians are very warm and welcoming.
Basic greetings you should know include ‘namaste’ if you’re in the north or ‘vanakkam’ in the south. This is usually spoken with a slight bow and hands pressed together is one such expression and greeting that can mean a lot to Indians. It translates loosely to ‘hello’, and the word ‘namaste’ originated in Sanskrit, while ‘vannakam’ is Sanskrit mixed with some other southern languages.
11. Is it acceptable to haggle or is it considered rude?
You can always haggle as long as your manner of conversation is jovial and cheerful. Negotiate in a way that benefits both parties, without being too selfish. You have to have a knack for achieving a profitable outcome while keeping it civil.
12. What kind of nightlife can visitors enjoy? Any locales you’d recommend for that?
Nightlife in India has an energy of its own. If you’re looking for clubbing, most big cities offer a very active nightlife. There are also pubs known as ‘Socials’, which are very trendy in the city.
The other type of nightlife is an outdoor type, with stalls selling all sorts of street food. Street food is part of Indian culture and it’s easy to find a huge assortment of dishes.
Once again, Goa is worth mentioning here. Apart from the big dance music parties it’s famous for, it’s also famous for its restaurants that play an ethnic kind of music known as Goan music. This kind of place is more popular with an older crowd, who want to enjoy their leisure time relaxing.
13. What activities do you recommend for people travelling with kids?
There are several amusement parks, playgrounds and natural parks to keep the little ones entertained. Every beach in India has some sort of water sport available for the kids too. And while this might not be everyone’s thing, there are several zoos as well. And the largest zoo in the world is currently being built there.
14. How easy is it to make friends with the locals?
A 10-minute heart to heart conversation is all you need and BAM… you’ve got yourself a new friend. Indians are very expressive and they use gestures a lot. This is why even if you don’t speak the native language, you can communicate in most cases. You can also pick up a lot about your rapport with someone you’ve just met just by judging from their tone and overall vibe.
15. Where can tourists go for shopping? And what kind of things can they shop for?
There’s an MG (Mahatma Gandhi) road in almost every city in India. These are generally the best for shopping. This is the place to go to get some locally rich products. Get yourself some traditional fabrics like the bandhini, kalamkari and various bright colour fabrics. Local metal jewellery and joothi ‘shoes’ are great additions to anyone’s wardrobe.
16. How safe is India? And are there any specific areas to look for hotels and ones to avoid?
India is safe but like any other city in the world you need to be aware and take care of your belongings to avoid any theft or pick pockets. It’s convenient to always stay in the centre of any city you visit as you’ll have a lot of good hotel options and a handful of people who are always there to help you navigate a city.
Renting a taxi (or Uber or Ola) for a one-day trip is a safe bet. You’ll have someone knowledgeable to guide you through the safer areas and keep you away from the less safe areas.
17. What would you recommend to tourists who want to take boat rides/tours around the city?
You can definitely go for tours as they’ll take you to the major places on your checklist but I’d also recommend taking some time to explore the city by yourself. Every regional tourist department organises tours, with the possibility of having custom-made ones, and you can reserve a spot. This is the safest and most organised and informative way to get around.
As far as aquatic transport services and tours go, there are some boat rides available in Goa and some ferry services that travel between Mumbai and Alibaug – a coastal town. One particular boat ride takes you around The Gate of India – one of the largest structures of cultural heritage value.
18. What extreme sports can you try in India?
You can always try River Rafting and Paragliding in Manali and Rishikesh. Paragliding is such a huge thing that there are university courses that teach it as well.
19. What is the national sport? And when and where can visitors go to watch pro level matches?
The national sport of India is Hockey and India is ranked number 1 or 2 worldwide. However, to many’s surprise, the Indian crowd is a lot more enthusiastic about cricket, which has a long history in India. There’s such a fervent following for it that it’s viewed in the same way football is viewed in Europe.
20. What are some less mainstream souvenirs travellers should look for?
Local handicraft of different states. Mainly paintings and home decor which portrays different landscapes and cultural or historical aspects of India will add an eclectic and ethnic touch to your house. All of these are handmade and are very detailed, and they can be laced with gold or other precious materials.
21. What are some festivals or concerts to look out for? How about local feasts?
Holi – the festival of colours – and Diwali – the festival of lights – are two major ones. Ganesh Chathurthi, celebrated in Maharashtra, is another major festival to look out for. The centrepiece of this festival is a huge, luxurious and very intricately made idol of Ganesh, which is submerged in water at the end of the 5-day celebration. During these festivals, everyone comes out on the streets and has a great party.
Join the colourful, diverse team that is NetRefer. Meet other Cultural Travellers, share your experiences and make many more memorable ones. You belong here!
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