India, a land of diversity, holds a very special place in my heart. A nation of many traditions, cultures and religions, India has been an unique place of interest for many travelers and explorers. My life and travels in India can be divided into three parts; I witnessed a different picture of the country in each part. Maybe my lens of perception varied or maybe the timeline shifted or maybe the circumstances changed. Whatever the reason was, each part played a key role in my understanding of this diverse land.
Part 1: Moving from a small town to a big city
Born in a small village of the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, I moved to New Delhi in my childhood. I got the opportunity to explore the capital city and a bit of north India during my school and college years. Although traveling was not a big agenda item, it was fun to make occasional trips with family and friends to places like Agra, Kanpur, Rishikesh, Allahabad, Lucknow, Nainital, Jaipur, Chandigarh, Gaya etc. I guess these trips were the beginning of a never ending exploration journey. This part was less about understanding cultural diversity and being with nature, but more about visiting new places and seeking adventure.
Two things are still very vivid memory: seeing Taj Mahal for the first time and river rafting in the Ganges in level 4 rapids.
Part 2: Moving from North to South India
A 33 hour train journey brought me to a new India I had never seen before. I was Bangalored to start a job after graduating from college. The explorer inside me sensed a new freedom; there was a lot to discover in this part of India. New friends, disposable income and enough time made it possible to do road trips around the southern states. Not only it was a new geography to chart, it was totally a different culture to explore and immerse in.
Long travels was out of question because of the full time job. Week-long and weekend trips were the escapes from the city hassles to visit places like Mysore, Ooty, Coorg, Munnar, Allepey etc. Multiple trips during my four year span in South India were good enough to cover some of the popular scenic and historic places in the states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala. Cheap flights around that time made it possible to make quick trips to other parts of India. Visits to Jodhpur, Jaisalmer in Rajasthan; Mumbai and Pune in the west of India; mountains and valleys of Himachal Pradesh in the north; and a few places in Andhra Pradesh and in the southeast helped me draw a better picture of India. This part of my exploration was dominated by easy and quick trips covering various landscapes and grasping the extent of diversity in the country.
My first time to a beach and walking in the lush green tea fields were the highlights.
Part 3: Moving back to India from the US
It’s time to change my lens of perception to add more to the picture I had drawn of India. The timeline changed and circumstances unfolded. After living in America for many years, I decided to move back to India in early 2018 to take a career break and travel to some of the parts of the country I had not been to before. First, the whole idea seemed to be scary, but the question was “if not now then when?”
With almost no plans, I packed my backpack and started on an adventure. Home country advantage was there. I decided to experience the country differently this time. No easy travels, no quick trips, no expensive vacations. To understand better the ideas of spirituality, traditions, unity in diversity, harmonious democracy, economic growth and modernization in India, it was important to pick places that are representative of these.
No better place to start this part than the calm foothills of Himalaya. Rishikesh was my first stop. It was not the same Rishikesh I visited 14 years ago. This small spiritual town has turned into ‘Yoga Capital of the World’ filled with seekers and fakers. If spirituality was a big thing in this land, Varanasi was the perfect spot to dig deep into reality. The ancient city represents the core of Hinduism, but now the epitome of functional chaos.
Time to head south again. But the mission was different this time: a 3,000+ kilometer long bus and train journey in a month along the coasts and mountains of southern India covering Tiruvannamalai, Pondicherry, Auroville, Madurai, Rameswaram, Kanyakumari, Kovalam, Trivendrum, Varkala, Kodaikanal, Coimbatore, Calicut, Udupi, Shimoga and Hampi. It was a pretty good mix of religious towns, distinctive places, nature attractions and historic spots. To get familiar with the geographical core of India, a bus trip from Bangalore cutting across the center of India to Khajuraho turned out to be a great adventure, with stop overs for days in Nagpur, Jabalpur and Bhopal, and finally making way to Hyderabad. Glimpses of customary and modernity from Central India enhanced my picture of the country.
Once the inner explore is fed, you don’t stop. Next was the southwestern hills and forests of India, traveling through Pune, Panchgani, Mahabaleshwar and other small towns in the region, followed by a week long trip to Wayanad in Kerala cutting through Bandipur Tiger Reserve and National Park. A mesmerizing beauty along with sightings of economic prosperity made it worth spending time on the road once again.
My goal is to travel all 29 states and 7 union territories of India. This part is a work in progress. To complete the mission, I have 5 more items in line:
- Motorbike tour in the northern part traveling through Spiti Valley and Ladakh
- Train/ bus trip along the southeast coast from Hyderabad to Kolkata
- A month in the northeast covering 7 states
- Coastal/ border adventure through the states of Gujarat, Rajasthan and Punjab
- Travel to remaining 4 union territories