It is India’s vastness that challenges the imagination: the sub-continent, 3200km (2000 miles) from the mountain fastness of the Himalayas in the north to the tropical lushness of Kerala in the south, is home to one sixth of the world’s population, a diverse culture and an intoxicatingly rich history.
The most frequently visited part of India is the Golden Triangle – Delhi and the magnificent monuments of Agra and Jaipur, a legacy of centuries of Muslim rule –but there is much besides. The unfairly maligned great cities of Mumbai and Kolkata (Calcutta) have a bustling, colourful charm, while the holy city of Varanasi or the awe-inspiring temples of Tamil Nadu are worthy objects of pilgrimage. For those who prefer more sybaritic pleasures, the palm-fringed beaches of Goa have a European charm all of their own.
Hinduism is practiced by 85 per cent of Indians, the religious rites and red-letter days woven into the fabric of everyday life – ritual washing in the Ganges and the ear-splitting celebrations of the festival of Ganesh – and the inequalities of the caste system are there for all to see.
One of the fascinations of India is the juxtaposition of old and new; centuries of history – from the pre-historic Indus civilization to the British Raj – rub shoulders with the computer age; and Bangalore’s ‘Silicon Valley’ is as much a part of the world’s largest democracy as the remotest village is.Richard Hopton.
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