India boasts a reputation of being the 7th largest country in the world by area, and being the 2nd most populous country in the world with a whopping 1.2 billion people in the country, which is nearly one fifth of the world’s population. Often misconceived as a country where poverty is rife and cities are under-developed, India deserves more recognition for its positive traits such as its unique culture and lifestyle as well as its breath-taking geographical landmarks. Astoundingly, this country is where chess was invented, where Algebra, Trigonometry and Calculus originated, and is even home to the world’s oldest civilisation; the Indus Valley Civilisation, discovered by the archaeologists in the 1920s.
India is no short of sights to see or things to do, but there are a few must-sees that you should visit when in India. The Taj Mahal, one of the New 7 Wonders of the World and deemed a UNESCO world heritage site, is a 73m tall mausoleum made of ivory-white marble, built on the south bank of the Yamuna River in Agra in the 17th century. It was commissioned by the emperor, Shah Jahan, to house the tomb of his favourite wife. This symmetrically planned building is perfectly identical on all four sides and is an amazing sight to witness; a beautiful example of Mughal architecture indeed.
Another interesting place to visit is the
Ganges River, one of the longest rivers in Asia, with a length of 2525m. It runs from the Himalayan Mountain range to the Bay of Bengal and is responsible for the livelihood of approximately 500 million people who depend on it for irrigation, transportation, hydroelectricity and fishing. The river is also worshiped as the goddess Ganga in Hinduism and holds sacred and religious importance for many. People bathe in the waters of the river as the moving water removes dirt, symbolic of the removal of their sins.
Indian culture and traditions have been said to be heavily influenced by Dharmic religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism. One such festival is the Kumbh Mela festival, which features the largest gathering of humans in the world that is even viewable from outer space. It is held every 12 years where people gather to dip themselves in the holy waters of the rivers of various cities to wash away their sins, one river of which is the Ganges River. Other notable festivals that you may encounter on your visit is Holi (also known as the ‘Festival of Colours’); where participants chase each other with dry coloured powder and have coloured water-filled balloon fights, and Diwali (also known as the ‘Festival of lights’); where families gather beneath the night sky to witness the fireworks, among the field of candles and lamps lighted outside houses.
Despite their firm faith in carrying on their beliefs and culture throughout the generations, Indians are gradually moving away from some old customs, perhaps for the better. For instance, more are turning away from the traditional, common practice of arranged marriages and the percentage of self-arranged marriages are now on the rise.
Most Indians are vegetarian and some do not consume beef due to religious beliefs. In fact, India had the lowest rate of meat consumption, as deemed by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation in 2007. Albeit these facts, Indian cuisine is still worth the try, especially street food favourites such as Jalebi; deep fried wheat flour batter soaked in sugar syrup, Malaiyo; a popular dessert made of cardamom and pistachio and served in clay pots. The traditional dishes such as Briyani; fragrant rice with spices and chicken or mutton, and Dosa; pancakes made from fermented butter consisting mainly of rice and black gram, are also a must-try. Also, an interesting point to note would be the traditional practice in India for one to use their right hand to eat instead of cutlery, as goes the Indian saying ‘Eating food with your hands feeds not only the body but also the mind and the spirit.’