In this episode, our explorers take you to the ultimate
travelers' destination - India. Megan McCormick blows
herself away with the hot native cuisine, Holly Morris gets a close up view of Indian sanitation, Andrew Daddo tries his hand (and the rest of his body) at the ancient
practice of yoga, and Justine Shapiro hugs her way to
spiritual enlightenment - and that's just the beginning
of their trip across this stunning sub-continent.
India has some of the most overcrowded cities in the
world. We explore the notoriously busy yet highly academic
Calcutta, a city synonymous with poverty
but working to overcome it, the old and new capital
of Delhi, and Mumbai,
India's biggest city. Mumbai has Asia's biggest slum
as well as some of the world's most expensive real estate;
it's also India's economic powerhouse and home to the
world's biggest film industry, churning out a whopping
750 films per year. Chennai is India's
southern capital where you can experience some of its
faded colonial beauty in a former palace that's now
a backpackers' hotel.
India's popularity with travelers has given rise to
all manner of accommodation catering to them and while
they're almost always cheap, remember that they're not
always cheerful, as our travelers discover. That said,
there are some gems, from teepees in Goa
to straw huts in the Andaman Islands,
more English than England hotels in the old hill stations
of Shimla and Darjeeling
and the luxurious rice boats cruising the backwaters
of tropical Kerala.
You can't come to India without constantly encountering
religious beliefs. The majority faith is Hinduism
with its 800 deities. We make offerings to the gods,
explore the ghats of the sacred Ganges River,
and meet the wandering holy men called Sadhus.
In Calcutta, we visit the Kalighat
temple, dedicated to the greatest goddess Kali;
in Bikaner the deity is manifested
in a very different way in the Kani Mata Temple
teeming with hordes of holy rats. Elsewhere our travelers
get a spiritual charge from a guru and stay in an ashram.
Many people come to India to visit just one in particular
- the Osho ashram in Pune
- begun by Bhagwan Rajneesh, a guru notorious for his
views on sex and his 93 Rolls Royce cars! For something
utterly different we then journey to the Indus
Valley full of ancient temples and mysticism.
The religious fervor of India's faiths has spawned
many colorful and chaotic festivals. In Madurai
in the south, we witness the stunning Hindu Float festival;
up north, we go to Mathura for the
Hindu festival celebrating the birth of the Hindu deity,
Krishna. One of the largest Hindu festivals is held
on Sagar Island in West Bengal where
the Ganges meets the sea; on the winter solstice, people
converge here to perform puja (prayer) to the gods and
cleanse their spirits. Not all festivals are religious
in nature; the Pushkar Camel Festival
is an annual event where traders come from all the country
to do serious business.
Travel in India is very cheap but because it's so vast
it can be a daunting prospect. Inside the cities there's
a variety of transport options ranging from the traditional
rickshaw to the scarifying automobile kind and in Calcutta
you'll even find a subway system built by the Russians.
Interstate travel throws up a whole lot more options,
from the notoriously loud video buses, to riding a classic
Enfield motorbike, to taking the train on the world's
fourth biggest rail network.
Thousands of years of civilization have given India
a wealth of historic sites. Must-sees include the Rajput
city of Jaisalmer in the desert, the
monument to love, the Taj Mahal in
Agra, and Udaipur,
home of the maharajas.
Mountain escapes are an integral part of the India
experience - the old British hill top retreats such
as Ooty and Darjeeling
offer a relaxing slice of colonial life, but if that's
too sedentary then we go trekking in some of the world's
most fabulous scenery in the Himalayas
or in the northeast region of Arunchal Pradesh
where we meet the Adi people.
The Indian cuisine is a real draw for travelers and
there's almost nowhere on earth that you'll find such
a rich and varied array of dishes. In Southern India
we dig into a thali served up on banana
leaves, eat an idli (rice dumpling)
breakfast, find out just how big paper-thin dosa
snacks are, before visiting Cochin
in Kerala, former centre of the spice trade to see the
only pepper exchange in the world. Even better, we drink
sweet chai tea, party with the locals
at a hot toddy bar in Kerala and sample the infamous
bhang (marijuana) lassi.
Away from the cities, India has some of the best beaches
and islands in the world. We head to Lakshwadeep,
the beautiful coral islands in the middle of the Arabian
Sea, back to the mainland to the new hippy hangout of
Varkala, and then inland to the backwaters
of Kerala. Up the coast we relive the sixties in the
old Portuguese colony of Goa before
jetting west to the Andaman Islands
with their stunning untouched reefs and protected tribes.
A perfect way to end a grueling but inspiring trip to
bring you the Ultimate India!