Nabanita Dutt's Introduction to To North India With Love
Excerpted from To North India With Love, available from ThingsAsian Press.
For more than a decade now, I've lived the life of a mindless traveler-visiting country after country, sometimes with little or no reason. While my memory has mislaid many of those places in the whirlwind of airports, taxis, and hotels, I find that I remember others with great clarity, fondness, and passion. One of the factors that determines whether I connect with a new country or leave its shores still a stranger is research.
By research I do not mean reading guidebooks and drawing up busy itineraries full of popular tourist sights. That's a bit like going to the Louvre and leaving after having seen only the Mona Lisa-an awful waste of a trip. To get your finger on the pulse of a country and to know its rhythm, you have to do spontaneous things like eat at seedy restaurants with no English-language menus, explore forgotten old neighborhoods that tourists never get to see, rummage in poky little shops for great bargains, and deal with rapscallion taxi drivers with the authority of a resident.
For seemingly insignificant little experiences like these, I depend on a combination of serendipity and the recommendations of other travelers who have gone that way. With their enthusiastic suggestions-my version of research-they infuse life and energy into a new country until it ceases to be a mere squiggle on the map but rather a warm, three-dimensional entity I can almost touch and feel even before I arrive. I look out for the pitfalls they warn of and borrow freely from their adventures. The successes of their journeys become a starting point from which I begin my own.
While editing To North India With Love, I envisioned my readers to be travelers just like me-people inspired by a little mystery, an out-of-the-way tip, a morsel of insider information-and tried to put together a collection exclusively for them. I assumed that their queries about India and their interest in all things Indian would have no boundaries. And I hoped that this book would help to spark a lifelong obsession with the country in at least some of them.
The recommendations in this book will prove particularly useful on your India visit because the country does not sell itself very well. Unlike Thailand, Singapore, and other Asian hotspots, the Subcontinent has not grabbed a significant share of the tourism market by packaging itself as the ultimate tourist destination. It's an old country that goes back five thousand years, and like its elephants, it is too large and unwieldy to turn this way and that to easily show off its best angles to the world. No wonder then that the Taj Mahal continues to be such a stereotype of tourism in India.
If you consider the diversity of experiences our contributors have written about, the travel possibilities here are enough to boggle any visitor's mind: mountain adventures in the Himalayas; dreamlike spectacles of a barren, lunar landscape in Ladakh; desert escapades and royal tours in Rajasthan; spiritual tranquility and Buddhist routes to enlightenment in Dharamshala; and ayurvedic and yogic practices in Rishikesh. As well, you will find temple pornography, camels, peacocks, tiger reserves, Kashmiri banquets, tandoori chicken, silk carpets, hand-blocked textiles ... And we're just in the northern part of the country.
To North India With Love introduces you to a group of writers who have spent a significant amount of time in this country. With the ease of locals-along with those writers who are locals-they have eaten rice with their hands, smoked local tobacco stuffed in tubes of dried leaves, and ridden in autorickshaws hanging off the seats. Their time in North India has included stomach bugs and nightmarish bus rides, interspersed with life-changing encounters and unexpected spiritual awakenings. In the end, they all fell in love with the mad, capricious, overpopulated entity that is India.
Read about their travels and share their excitement. Use the nuggets of precious information they offer to prepare for the holiday of a lifetime-a journey launched by their enthusiasm and culminating in an experience that is uniquely Indian ... and uniquely yours.
Editor, To North India With Love