Population: 1.1 billion (UN, 2005) Capital: New Delhi Area: 3.1 million sq km (1.2 million sq miles), excluding Indian-administered Kashmir (100,569 sq km/38,830 sq miles) Major languages: Hindi, English and 17 other official languages Major religions: Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism Life expectancy: 62 years (men), 65 years (women) (UN) Monetary unit: 1 Indian Rupee = 100 paise
Nobody, I dare say, will research about India through any form of media and not find content that suggests endangerment, poverty, violence, and unrest. But to have a taste of India will provide you with a wonderfully enduring image truly distant from the media hype of female infant genocide or cow pee medicine on television and the internet. The international media has its way of veiling India’s true identity by sensationalizing political chaos and horrid religious traditions that causes the outside world to have a predisposed notion of what a chaotic nation India is. Taking India in your own terms by seeing the country up close and personal, the traveller will get a big slice of Indian and British fusion culture. To know India, you must see India. And to get a better sense of the nation, ride the trains, eat the food, and play cricket, or just strike up a conversation with the locals of the largest democracy in the world for an insider’s perspective to have a taste of India just the way it is.
GEOGRAPHY & CLIMATE
India (20 00 N, 77 00 E) is a colossal South Asian habitat in of 3,287,263 km2 with a great terrain diversity such as mountains in the north, the upland Deccan Plain in the south, wide expanse of plain along the Ganges, deserts in the west, as well as jungles and beaches. And yet the highest point of it all is the Kanchenjunga (8,598 m). It seems, almost everything is incredibly large in this part of the world, even “diversity”. India holds the rank of 7th largest country by area and, as such, its size and location as well are key factors to its diverse climate characterized by temperate in the north due to the Himalayas, and tropical monsoon climates. The gigantic nation with the “highest rainfall” experiences at least three seasons in general: summer (April-May), monsoon (June-October), and winter (November-January).
PEOPLE & CULTURE
India also does not fall so far in size when it comes to population for it is, after all, with such big territory, the 2nd in the world in terms of population with 1.15 billion people by the end of 2009, just after China. The spirituality of the people in India is ubiquitous and thick in the air, right about everywhere you look. The four predominant religions practiced are Hinduism (+80%), Islam (13.4%), Christianity (2.3%), and Sikhism (1.9%). The remainder practices Buddhism, Jainism, Judaism, Zoroastrianism and Baha’is. Quite apparently, religion has not saved its people from poverty, illiteracy, disease, malnutrition, or environmental hazards with a massive collection of 900,000 people dying as effects of intake of polluted air and water.
Lucky for any traveller, ENGLISH is a common language, remarkably must I say, the second official language in a country with 22 (official languages), after HINDI. More fat stats: India is the 2nd country with the most number of English speakers on earth. Amazingly, there are much more huge numbers of languages in Mumbai alone over 200. The culture of the people can be described in three words, work, pray, and play.
This principle sums up how the Indians, amid interests and responsibilities, keep rooted to their faith in every task. With thousands of temples dedicated to a specific deity or purpose, none can doubt such. Indeed, India is a good place to search for knowledge, wisdom, and enlightenment. The exoticism of the place creates an image of a fever dream with upshots of enchantment and oriental mystique, and then you snap out.
Nowhere is this more reminiscent than in the coastal cities of Calcutta and Bombay, now Kolkata and Mumbai respectively, where the Hindu faithful perform their religious duties on the banks of the Ganges. On the other hand, the republic’s capital of New Delhi offers a modern thrill with a peaceful clash between new and old quite manifest with the beauty of the Lotus Temple, Humayun’s Tomb, Connaught Place, Akshardham Temple, Secretariat building, and the India Gate. While those are fun, the choice leisure time activity has always been cockfighting and soap operas with the normal unending plots and subplots that involve triple A’s: affairs, abductions, and amnesia.
FOOD & ATTRACTION
To be in India is to be enchanted. With a magical and somehow delusionary landscape that creates a damn good diversion from the life back home, India is a traveller’s great escape. All the places have a specific sense of energy and limitless possibilities to enjoy from food, sports, to television, all at once and perhaps a little more. Calcutta or Kolkota is busy and fast, crowds traffic and all, as is the case with most urban cities like Mumbai.
Indian cuisine is as diverse and numerous as the regions in the country. Ingredients create identity and distinction in regional cuisines that feature special elements that are unique and exclusive to the region such as vegetables and spices. With the introduction of European cooking methods, Indian cuisine has evolved into sophistication. A characteristic of Indian cuisine for sure is “thrift” as a ravenous backpacker can fill up with a cheap street snack for 2 rupees or 20 for a seriously satiating lunch of muri- a dish in multiple regional variations that in its most fundamental sense is a puffed rice and potato dish with a sweet sauce of molasses and sugar, garnished and seasoned with cilantro. And should the traveller wishes to gain that knowledge, have a brain sandwich¸ which is not a delicacy in these parts really.
Indian cuisine, especially street food, is not a gloves-and-hairnet environment, but as food is made fresh and from scratch and cooked til crisp, hygiene becomes a trivial. Similarly, eating like cooking is without the use of basic cutlery.
Spices and yoghurt, which come fresh and pure in these parts, are basic to Indian food. Rice is the staple with a few pulses such as lentils, peas, and grams. Oils used for cooking also vary by region, but most commonly used for Indian curries is vegetable oil. Indian food can be quite intimidating and stingy to both the taste buds and nostrils of a traveller, and there is one perfect solution that comes in thousands of varieties, like the Indian gods: desserts. Mango is the “super food” or “super dessert” but, in general, Indian desserts have two categories: milk-based and flour-based. Milk based desserts include the famous Rasbari, Peda, Burfi etc.; whereas flour-based desserts are Lal Mohan, Malpuwa, Halwa, Ladoo etc.
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