India’s architecture tells many tales. Described as ‘the embodiment of all things pure,’ the Taj Mahal was built by Shah Jahan as a memorial for his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died giving birth to their 14th child in 1631. 20,000 people from India and Central Asia worked on the Taj, which was completed in 1653. Designated a World Heritage Site in 1983, the Taj Mahal is widely considered the most beautiful building in the world. A perfect exercise in symmetry, the four identical faces of the Taj feature impressive vaulted arches embellished with pietra dura scrollwork and quotations from the Quran in a style of calligraphy using inlaid jasper.
Braganza House, Chandor provides a fascinating insight into how the aristocratic Goan other half once lived. Built in the 17th century, Braganza House stretched along one whole side of Chandor’s village square. Built by the Braganza family, it is the biggest Portuguese mansion of its kind in Goa. Open daily to the public, you can take a guided tour of the house for a small donation (the money is used to preserve the building). Usually a family member or representative will take the guided tour, providing you with stories of the landed gentry during Goa’s years of Portuguese rule.
The phrase hustle and bustle really comes to life in India’s cities. Formerly Bombay, Mumbai is perhaps India’s most well-known city. At its heart you’ll find some of the grandest colonial-era architecture, unique bazaars, hidden temples, hipster enclaves as well as premier restaurants and nightlife.
The Iskcon Temple is a must – the temple comes alive during prayer time with the faithful whipping themselves into a devotional frenzy of joy. Kirtan dancing accompanies crashing hand symbols and drumbeats. UNESCO World Heritage Site, Elephanta Island, represents some of India’s most impressive temple carving. The main temple depicts a three-faced Shiva as the destroyer, creator and preserver of the universe, his eyes closed in eternal contemplation.
A fusion of endless history and modern, colourful life, Delhi is impossible to ignore. Known for its history, food, markets, museums and religion, this city has been reincarnated many times. The National Museum in New Delhi is full of treasures that tell tales of time gone by. Here you’ll find Buddha relics, exquisite jewellery, miniature paintings, medieval woodcarvings, textiles and musical instruments.
For a traditional cultural experience head to one of Delhi’s many markets. Chandni Chowk is home to Old Delhi’s most famous bazaars – crowded with vendors, shoppers and porters. Shahpur Jat Village located within the ruined Siri Fort provides an arty, urban village of eateries and clothing while Khan Market is India’s most expensive retail space, favoured by high-society Delhi.
From sizzling street-food to fabulous fine-dining restaurants, India has it all. Three main meals a day is normal in India, with breakfast a light affair. Lunch is either light or substantial, depending on the working day while dinner is the main meal of the day. Known as the land of spices, India has an impressive array of options: from fusion dishes to traditional snacks.
Rice is a staple in Indian cuisine. The most popular is long-grain white rice which is served with most cooked dishes, but you’ll find countless regional varieties during your travels. While rice is paramount in the south, wheat is the mainstay in the north. The terms roti and chapati are used interchangeably to describe Indian-style bread – a round bread made with whole-wheat flour and cooked on a hotplate.
India shines when it comes to vegetarian cuisine though there’s little understanding of veganism. Animal products such as milk, butter, ghee and curd are included in most Indian dishes. It is believed that there are more vegetarians in India than the rest of the world combined but it still has an extensive range of delicious carnivorous fare. Chicken, lamb and mutton are the most popular, religious taboos make beef forbidden to devout Hindus and pork to Muslims.
The majority of mithai, Indian sweets, are super sugary, wildly colourful and often sticky. Try barfi, a fudge-like milk based sweet or ladoos, sweet balls made with gram flour and semolina. One of the most popular Indian sweets is kheer, which is often served as dessert. It’s a creamy rice pudding with a light, delicate flavour, enhanced with cardamom, saffron, pistachios, flaked almonds, chopped cashews or dried fruit.
Dining etiquette is very important in India, with many ¬¬customs reflecting the country’s varied traditions and vast culture. Cutlery is not usually used, eating with fingers is preferred. It is important to always use your right hand when dining, the use of the left hand is considered offensive and unclean. Leaving food on your plate is also not appreciated in Indian culture – it is not necessary to taste every dish that is served, but what is on your plate must be finished.
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