The Essence of India: A Travel Guide

If there has ever been a place that stuck out most in the imagination, that place must be India. The very images it conjures up are foreign and exotic, waiting to be explored. Elephants ridden by white-robed figures, and beautiful scenery dotted with Hindu temples scamper across our minds when we imagine traveling to this far-off land. Many people do visit India, for many different purposes. It may be a spiritual calling, a desire to set up roots in the land of their ancestors, or just a curiosity, wondering if the place is really as awe-inspiring as the brochures say it is.

Rest assured, India meets all the criteria for a breathtakingly beautiful country, and in fact it exceeds it. If you’re planning a trip to one of the most exotic places in the world, rest assured you will find plenty to see and do here. No one can claim boredom while traversing India’s shores. If you’re not sure where to start, a great starting point is Calcutta. Once you’ve arrived, you should have a checklist of the things you want to see, and allow yourself a certain amount of time to see each attraction. You may want your list to include some of these great trips:

1. Dakshineshwar Kali Temple. This striking place contains 13 separate temples and is a religious haven for many Hindu faithful. Built during the 1800s, Dakshineshwar can be toured free of admission and closes each night at 10:00 P.M. The temple is not located right in Calcutta but is part of the area. It is easy to imagine spending hours milling around one of India’s many temples, dreaming and allowing the ambiance of the area to permeate the soul. Many choose to do so, and Dakshineshwar is a great place to experience the solitude. Be warned, though: if you don’t want to share your solitude with the local population or other tourists, come at dawn right when the complex is opened.

2. St. Paul’s Cathedral. You might think a Christian cathedral is quite out of place in India, a country known for its Buddhist and Hindu traditions. That is part of what makes St. Paul’s a good place to explore. Stop by and stare at the stained glass and the Renaissance artwork, appreciating the missionary efforts to this area that most people probably considered “uncivilized” in the 1800s. Bishop Wilson, who had a big part in establishing St. Paul’s, is buried here as well. Take at least half an hour to make sure you see everything this peaceful church has to offer.

3. No trip to a foreign country is complete without visiting a museum that helps to explain something about that country’s identity. You can find out more than you ever imagined at the Jadu Ghar or India Museum. Constructed in the late 1800s, it has an old and venerable history and is probably India’s biggest museum. Here you can browse many galleries each with their own exhibits and collections that better explain the past. This attraction may not interest small children, so you might want to consider another excursion if you desire to keep the peace in the family!

For your next city stop, you might want to visit Bangalore. Before actually visiting the main city, stop outside of town at the Belur Temple. Another peaceful retreat, this temple was built in the 12th century and covered with amazing architecture and decoration. You can find shrines and places of contemplation here, but as with Dakshineshwar, you’ll want to arrive as early as possible before tourists try to take over the grounds! Once inside the complex you will be amazed at the amount of detail that went into creating this spiritual haven. Artwork and delicate masonry abound.

Another destination located outside the city is Bannerghatta National Park. This is like a small zoo and a park all in one, and you can find a zoological garden, safaris, beautiful scenery, and much more. This park covers over 20,000 acres and is home to many animals from “normal” creatures like lions and birds, to unusual animals like elephants and wild pigs. Take at least a day here to walk around and enjoy the atmosphere. Children will enjoy getting close to their favorite mammals, and adults will appreciate the beauty of the landscape. Safaris are also a good choice for a great family vacation.

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