Top 10 Experiences in India
10. Chai by the Ganges in Rishikesh
It doesn’t sound like much, but this was one of the most serene and perfect experiences we had anywhere in India. Together we would sit, in a little café playing good music, overlooking the mighty Ganges and sipping sweet milky tea as the afternoon slipped by, watching an endless stream of people and cows swarming across the suspension bridge which links one side of Lakshman Juhla to the other. Sheer perfection.
9. Fish Watching at the Golden Temple
The Golden Temple in Amritsar, one of the holiest sites in Sikhism, is a stunning oasis of calm and tolerance in one of the most hectic cities we visited - not least because of the huge holy pool surrounding the temple itself where, away from the bustle and noise, it’s bliss to watch the huge koi carp swimming back and forth and soak up the much-needed tranquillity. 8. Beer in a Teapot
This might not seem like an especially significant cultural phenomenon, but is nonetheless a quintessential Indian experience. Presumably due to the price of acquiring one, very few small restaurants have a licence to serve alcohol - so, in true entrepreneurial style, they cleverly skirt this small hindrance by serving their ice-cold Kingfishers in all manner of seemingly innocuous containers, the most common and comic of these being the timelessly inoffensive and humble teapot.
7. The Kalka-Shimla Toy Train
Skinny little carriages from days gone by, miniature stations dotting the hills and swathes of lush, mist-covered forest, parting occasionally to reveal rolling hills tumbling down towards the plains - not to mention a constant supply of chai and the delights of lovely Shimla when you finally reach the top. 6. Sunrise over Jodhpur
After many long and uncomfortable hours of night-bussing across Rajasthan we had been unceremoniously dumped on Jodhpur’s outskirts at 5am, whisked across the city then unloaded onto the terrace of a guesthouse which clung to the steep sides of the colossal Mehrangarh Fort. From there, elevated above the rooftops of the sprawling blue city, we were suddenly confronted by the most spectacular sunrise and miles of glowing buildings stretching across to the silhouetted palace on the opposite hill - a fitting reward for surviving our hellish journey to say the least.
5. Cocktails at The Imperial
Granting ourselves a much-needed escape from the bustle and grime of Delhi’s streets, we trotted off to The Imperial, the city’s beautiful and immaculate Raj-era hotel, a stunning example of 1930’s colonial grandeur and home to ‘1911’, a suitably grand and opulent bar where soaring ceilings and glossy mahogany combine to create a little haven where, with the help of a suitably sensational cocktail, you can relax in the company of maharajahs and monarchs (in print if not in person) and begin to feel human again. 4. The India-Pakistan Border Closing Ceremony
As I mentioned at the time, this was one of the funniest things I’ve ever witnessed and by far constituted the most entertaining two hours of our trip. Put two troops of staunchly patriotic military guards and thousands of their countrymen on either side of an elaborate international border, add a healthy number of high kicks and you have a truly unique spectacle - not to mention a fascinating portrait of relations between the two old adversaries.
3. Sleeping in the Desert
Despite the scorpion sting (and the unremitting knowledge that our only protection from a possible downpour was the plastic sacking used to hold the camels’ straw), sleeping atop a sand dune beneath a breath-taking blanket of stars was one of the most unusual and wonderful experiences I’ve had anywhere in the world - although, in hindsight, I’d have aimed to remove my contact lenses before the sandstorm rather than during. 2. A Day in Bollywood
What can I say? The streets of India are pretty chaotic to begin with, but add a few movie cameras, costumes, bossy crew, stressed make-up artists and a lot of confused extras, and you have utter pandemonium. All the same, it was fantastic fun and allowed us a chance to meet and swap notes with lots of other twenty-something travellers while we posed as airline passengers passing through an IMAX cinema disguised as an arrivals lounge.
1. The Ganga Aarti in Varanasi
Still hands down the most soul-filling experience I’ve had anywhere, ever. We dutifully trekked down to Dashashwamedh Ghat, thinking more about where to have dinner than the nightly must-see attraction awaiting us, then the sun went down, the seven holy men stepped into seven silk platforms, and in minutes we were utterly spellbound. In a chant, fire and incense-filled spectacular, crowds of people gaze on as the life-giving Ganges are worshipped from the water’s edge, the noise and smoke cleansing them, binding them together, and making us forget all the world beyond our little circle of light - not to mention our once-rumbling stomachs.