I have grown up reading about and even debating the veracity of the "American dream" , "the set of ideals in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success, as well as an upward social mobility for the family and children, achieved through hard work in a society with few barriers".
For me, my "Indian dream" lies in exploring this amazing land. For me prosperity doesn't lie in possessing but in experiencing the wonders of the land that has given me so much. A land blessed with a rich legacy, a mammoth collection of history, literature and architecture and a landscape and culture that changes every few miles.
In this growing age of social media and awareness, the apathy towards Indian destinations is slowly being transformed with the youth leading the way in appreciating the beauty of the Himalayas, the scenic landscape of the north-east, the beaches of south India, the architecture of hidden forts and the rich literature that we carry as a legacy bestowed upon us by a country that is bestowed with every possible diversity in landscape and culture.
Every village that you cross, every state that you enter, India changes. The festivals, the architecture, the landscape, the food, the attire, language and celebration, change. But what unites us all is our rich culture, traditions and our firm belief in "Athiti Devo Bhav".
By the time, I reach the end of this article, I hope to have inspired you to discover India, to appreciate its culture and richness. So here, I share my bucket list with you. A compilation of the marvelous trips and experiences India has to offer. I limit my list to 25. Some done, most still waiting.
1. Hike across the lakes and valleys of Kashmir - Kashmir is home to the famous seven sister lakes , the most visited Pangong lake, Tarsar,Marsar Lake, to name a few. A trek with a registered company is well within budget.
2. Visit the Buddhist stupas and schools in Ladakh - Learning with the kids at the Druk Padma Karpo Institute, visiting the monestaries and stupas, watching a polo match. Not to forget, a day in Nubra valley riding Bactrian camels.
3. Spiti Valley of Himachal - Inspired by a dozen tales and travelogues, this is a top priority on my list. Volunteer at NGO's "Spiti Ecosphere" to educate kids and help develop these far-flunged areas in exchange of a journey unparalleled. One possible route is- Shimla - Sarahan - Sangla - Kalpa - Nako - Tabo - Kaza - Chandertaal - Manali.
4. Visit the char dham and Hemakund Sahib and trek up to the source of the River Ganga (Gaumukh) and Yamuna(Saptrishi Kund).
5. Spend a week doing meditation and yoga in Rishikesh and enjoy the evening aarti. There are options such as Vinyasa, Vipasna and the opportunity to stay in aashrams.
6. Spend a weekend at a village in rural India , learning local dance, ploughing the fields, cooking traditional meal enjoying the local dairy produce and food.
7.Do seva at the Golden Temple. The ambiance, peace the satisfaction and joy of serving and feeding the millions that come there, is a feeling like no other. No trip is complete without a visit the Attari/Wagah border that separates India (Amritsar) and Pakistan (Lahore). The evening retreat ceremony fills one with unparalleled patriotism, energy and pride. I've witnessed it twice but would love to go back any number of times.
8. Experience the Rann Utsav in Kutch, Gujarat. As they describe it, " A plethora of colurs, music, dance and an amalgamation of cultures". Occurs in the winter months and the handicrafts, dance, music, are a treat for the senses.
9. The Ajanta and Ellora caves of Maharashtra, with the mystical monolithic rock-cut Kailasa temple, the tales of lost times that the paintings so beautifully portray. Adorned with beautiful sculptures, paintings and frescoes, Ajanta and Ellora caves are a medley of Buddhist, Jain and Hindu monuments, and leave you gaping.
( If you are fascinated by ancient architecture and science, I advise you to read on the hidden tunnels and the underground city of Ellora, before visiting).
10. Travel on the Western Ghat Railways that crosses the majestic Dudhsagar falls, a sigh to behold, a rain journey to cherish for a lifetime.
11. Enjoy a sunset from the majestic forts of Rajasthan. A land of forts, of lost tales of Maharajas and their Ranis behind the honeycombed windows and the ecclectic architecture walls, a testimony to the power of the Rajput kings. It is a delight to gaze at the exquisite fortifications and the engineering marvels. Not to forget, the haunted Bhangarh Fort.
12. Astroport in Sariska, Rajasthan -For an astronomy lover and a space science student, an astronomy resort is no less than heaven.
13. Experience the 'Rath Yatra', a congregation like no other in Puri, Orissa. A perfect blend of cultures and faiths, this spectacle and the devotion of people to the chariots of Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra is a must -visit. Time to visit - Dates vary but it happens in June/July
14. " Aamchi Mumbai" , India's business and celebrity capital, with a vibrant culture. But the street food, the chaat, a journey on the jam-packed local train, a visit to the grand Siddhivinayak temple or the Gateway of India, a walk on Marine Drive but to top it all, to witness the Ganpati festival over here has been a long standing dream.
15. Talking about festivals, and moving onto the Mysore Dusshera fesitivities (experiencing the night show at the Mysore Palace). The cultural festivals and the elephant procession are the highlights of the spectacle. Time to witness - October.
16. As an eight year old, my father gifted me a book on Tenali Ram to encourage me to read Hindi books. And that's where the desire to see the vast ruins left behind by the Vijaynagar empire, in Hampi arose. Spread across miles, the granite boulders, the standing temple and palace structures take you back in time to the days of the Vijaynagar empire where flowers decorated the Krishna market and the courtyards were witnesses of the graceful dancers. A UNESCO world heritage site, you can rent mopeds, cycles or walk to explore the captivating ruins. Best time to visit - Nov/Dec . Try attend the annual Hampi Utsav in winter.
17. Witness a major cricket match (preferably, world cup final) at a jam-packed Indian stadium. The levels of patriotism, energy are sky-high. A die-heard cricket fan in a country that is united by the sport of cricket, I have open imagined what would it have been like for those who saw India winning the final of the ICC world cup in 2011. So ,...…., guess what, the next world cup in 2023 is in India and the Champions Trophy in 2021. A lot to rejoice for cricket-crazy India.
18. North-East India , or I'd say a relatively, less explored part of India, with a thriving culture, vast nature reserves and unique traditions. They have extremely unique marriage tradition, their dances, their belief in the supernatural, their attire. A visit to the Assam Tea Gardens and attending their pre-marriage tribal dance and the local tribal herbal medicine area, is sure an experience to remember.
19. Hiking through the hills of the North-East and visiting the famous Tawang Monestary, the living root bridges of Meghalaya, the Dzukou Valley, Nagaland, the hidden falls evoke a sense of awe and admiration. This is gonna be one long trip, the day I save up enough to take a month off.
20. Sikkim- The chants from the monasteries, the roars of Teesta river, and the magnetic attractions of the Himalaya will absorb you in the pristine and mystic beauty of Sikkim. A state, with immaculate law and order, peace and organic farming, it invites solo travelers to step out with no fear. Lots to see but two things that have always been at the back of my mind are - the high altiutde lakes of Lake Tsomgo and Lake Gurudongmar and the Goechala trek.
21. Kolkata - The people here as sweet as the rasgollas found here. Among the big cities, this retains its old world charm from the British era, the trams and forts and the "perpetually ongoing festival of human existance", I have always been enamoured by the Durga Puja (Durgo Pujo) and the Kali Ma Puja during the Dusshera Diwali period. (Don't forget to take your O's along with you. Its Chakravorthy and not Chakhravarthy).
22. The high passes and view of Sleeping Buddha shaped Himalayan peaks - Sandakphu trek leaves you spellbound. And I quote, "A small hamlet nestled in the Himalayas bordering Nepal, handful trekking huts present, a direct view of Sleeping Buddha including Kanchenjunga, walk a not further and turn left you have Everest and Makalu.....the sunrise is to die for....as the first rose light, turns to Vermilion Red, then orange, and finally silver....trust me its will be worth it." Need I say, more.
23. Kerala is a popular holiday destination. With the backwaters, house boats, tea plantations, palm trees and coastal breeze, it is paradise. Munnar, Alleppy , Kollam and Thekkady wildlife sanctuary, and the list goes on
24. Havelock Island is like the Holy grail of scuba diving and snorkelling. Yes, Andaman islands are a phantasmagorical place, with abundant islands, tribals, and with a jail, which is actually a tourist destination. (The Cellular Jail). I think I might just go in for a scuba diving certification here.
25. I left this for the last, since this is something almost everyone has heard of or wants to visit. One of the seven wonders of the world, the Taj Mahal. And just as a small tip, when you go there make sure you get to see Agra Fort, Fatehpur Sikhri and enjoy the Agra Petha.
My journey of discovery through India is endless and I choose to spend my lifetime, to quench my desires to celebrate its diversity. For more pictures and tales, you can follow me on my instagram account.
As Robert Frost said,
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.