The definitive independent travelers' guidebook to the vast sub-continent of India, this Rough Guide is filled with practical and cultural information on the best places to stay in all price ranges, dynamic city and historic site coverage, and evocative and illuminating accounts of India's mysterious landscapes from the Himalayan peaks to the castaway beaches of the south. 135 maps and plans. of color maps.
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Where to go
The subcontinent's most-travelled circuit, combining spectacular monuments with the flat arid landscape that for many people is archetypally Indian, is the so-called "Golden Triangle" in the north - Delhi itself, the capital, and within easy reach of it Agra, the home of the Taj Mahal, and the Pink City of Rajasthan, Jaipur. Rajasthan is probably the single most popular state with travellers, who are drawn by its desert scenery, and the romantic Rajput past epitomized by the forts of Jaisalmer and Jodhpur, and the medieval palaces of Udaipur and Bundi.
North of Delhi stretch the mighty Himalayas. Kashmir was, until the escalation of tensions in the 1980s, the most touristed region of the mountains; see p.000 for why this book does not include a chapter on the state. We do, however, include very detailed accounts of the other Indian Himalayan regions, which partly as a result of government policy are rapidly developing their facilities for visitors. Both Himachal Pradesh - where Dharamsala is the home of a Tibetan community that includes the Dalai Lama himself - and Uttar Pradesh - where the glacial source of the sacred River Ganges has attracted pilgrims for over a thousand years - offer magnificent trekking, while deeper in the mountains, Ladakh and Sikkim are scattered with remote Buddhist monasteries.
East of Delhi, the River Ganges meanders through some of India's most densely populated regions to reach the extraordinary holy Hindu city of Varanasi (also known as Benares), where to witness the daily rituals of life and death focused around the waterfront ghats (bathing places) is to glimpse the continuing practice of India's most ancient religious traditions. Further east still is the great city of Calcutta, the capital until early this century of the British Raj, and now a vibrant centre of Bengali culture that also epitomizes contemporary India's most pressing problems, poverty and over-population.
Heading south from Calcutta along the coast, you come first to Orissa, where Puri's Jagannath Temple is the scene of one of India's greatest festivals, and the temple at Konarak has re-emerged from beneath the sands to re-state its claims as one of the most fabulous achievements of the medieval stonemasons. Tamil Nadu, further south, has its own tradition of magnificent architecture, with towering gopura gateways dominating towns whose thriving temple complexes are still the focus of everyday life. Of them all, Madurai, in the far south, is the most stunning, but you could spend months wandering between the sacred sites of the Cauvery Delta and the fragrant Nilgiri Hills, draped in the tea terraces that have become the hallmark of south Indian landscapes. Kerala, near the southernmost tip of the subcontinent on the western coast, is India at its most tropical, and relaxed, with lush backwaters teeming with simple wooden craft of all shapes and sizes, and red-roofed towns and villages all but invisible between the verdant canopy of palm trees. Further up the coast is Goa, the former Portuguese colony whose 100km-coastline is fringed with beaches to suit all tastes and budgets, from upmarket package tourists to zonked-out ravers, and whose towns hold whitewashed Christian churches that might have been transplanted from Europe.
Some of India's most memorable monuments lie far inland, on long-forgotten trading routes across the heart of the peninsula - the abandoned city of Vijayanagar (or Hampi) in Karnataka, whose ruins are scattered across a primeval boulder-strewn landscape; the painted and sculpted Buddhist caves of Ajanta and Ellora in Maharashtra; the deserted temples of Khajuraho and palaces of Orchha in Madhya Pradesh. Finally, there's much-maligned Mumbai, an ungainly beast that has been the major focus of the nationwide drift to the big cities. Centre of the country's formidable popular movie industry, it reels along on an undeniable energy that, after a few days of acclimatization, can prove compelling.
As we've said, however, to appreciate your travels to the full you'll need to conserve your energies. On a long trip, it makes sense to pause and rest a while every few weeks. Certain places have fulfilled that function for generations. Dotted across the continent are the Victorian hill stations, resorts designed to escape the summer heat, created by the British towards the end of the last century wherever a suitable stretch of hills stood conveniently close to the workaday cities of the plains. Within the last thirty years, a network of "alternative" hang-outs for young budget travellers has also developed. These are often places where a tourist infrastructure had already been created, such as the beach resort of Mamallapuram in Tamil Nadu, which is also the site of some of India's earliest surviving experiments in temple architecture, or Hampi, mentioned above, or Manali, a former hill station in Himachal Pradesh. Elsewhere, the presence of sand and sea is enough, as with many of the beaches of Goa, or Kovalam or Varkala in Kerala. In recent years, growing numbers of travellers have also been exploring the Andaman Islands, a remote tropical atoll around 1000km east of Tamil Nadu in the Bay of Bengal, whose clear waters have some of the most abundant marine life in the world.
Focussing purely on the subcontinent's touristic highlights, it is easy to gain the impression of an India little changed since Kipling's times. Clichs may well come to life on every other corner, but they are increasingly anachronisms in a country much more prosaic than many first-time visitors expect. India has modernized at a bewildering pace over the past two decades. This has made life a lot easier for the middle classes, but it has also made the country a far less 'exotic' destination than it used to be for foreign travellers, and the country's commercialism, poverty, pollution and disorder can get the better of even the most ardent devotee of India at some point. Yet for all this, India remains an utterly compelling place to travel, possessing an uncanny power to overwhelm, astonish, exasperate, delight, and transform everyone who goes there.
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Descripción Rough Guides, 1997. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. book. Nº de ref. de la librería M1858282004