What to See and do in India ( Part 2 )


Goa remains in the collective imagination as the mythical destination of backpackers and other hippies during the ’70s, where one made rhyme distant lands and artificial paradises. This former Portuguese colony is today a tourist destination for both Indians and Westerners, who appreciate the paradisiacal beaches and the atmosphere so different from the rest of India, here strongly influenced by the mixture of the two cultures, Indian and European.

A strip of land representing the smallest state in India, Goa belongs to the Konkan region and overlooks the Arabian Sea. It is bordered to the west by superb beaches of fine sand, planted with coconut palms, quite wild towards the north and sheltering superb lagoons, and is dotted with villages and rice fields, but above all with all white, unexpected and yet omnipresent churches.

The pediments of these immaculate monuments, traces of the Portuguese occupation, are particularly remarkable, with their rich and loaded decorations.

The state capital, Panjim, is also home to a very picturesque Portuguese district, with its azulejos and very colorful houses. You can also admire in this city the work of woodcarvers, meet betel sellers installed on all street corners, be surprised to discover shrines everywhere mixing the effigies of gods of all origins, Muslims, Hindus, or Christians.

Velha Goa, the old capital, however, offers only the religious remains of a superb past, but now deserted. You will visit the Sainte-Catherine chapel, the first church built in Goa, with its sober facade and its characteristic tower, but above all its admirable altarpiece in carved gilded wood.


Despite this very strong Christian influence, you can also discover Hindu temples, mainly around the city of Ponda, in particular Shree Mangesh temple, with its white towers, perched on a hill surrounded by greenery.

Another small town to visit is Margao, one of the oldest towns in Goa, very dynamic and lively with its market, large colonial mansions, its pretty municipal garden, and its reputation as the state’s cultural capital.

But even if Goa is worth the detour during a trip to India, know that it represents a kind of cultural enclave on the fringes of the country and that it emanates a less typically Indian atmosphere.

You will of course taste the serenity of the beaches, water sports or simple swimming, as well as night outings to the rhythm of Bollywodian music very popular with Indians, you will eat in the straw huts the specialty of Goa (very spicy pork with garlic and curry), but this will only represent a kind of enchanted parenthesis far from the atmosphere of the rest of India, with its hectic megalopolises and majestic landscapes.


Located in the northwest of India, Rajasthan, or Land of Kings, is a state whose capital is Jaipur. Coming in the second position for tourism in India, its main assets lie in its colorful artisanal productions, its arid landscapes, and its cities with magical atmospheres, with their impressive constructions, majestic forts, or sumptuous palaces. You will undoubtedly have the impression of a journey back in time, discovering its predominantly rural population, whose simplicity contrasts with the treasures of this ancient kingdom.

Jaipur is not the least of the attractions of Rajasthan: pink and hectic city, vibrant with life and colors, it will also intoxicate you with its rustling and its smells: it also offers an astonishing mix of Rajasthani and Mughal architecture, with the Hawa Mahal and its five floors, still called Palace of the Winds, but also the Jantar Manta observatory, of futuristic beauty, and its collection of instruments, in particular the largest astrolabe in the world, not to mention the sublime Palace on the water from Jal Mahal at the entrance to the city.

Jal Mahal Jaipur

For many visitors, Jaisalmer Fort represents a special symbol of the past in the desert, with its streets built in sandstone, its palaces, and its citadel. The city of gold offers magnificently sculpted facades, Jain temples, houses carved in sandstone, haveli, and its fortress with impressive gates. The city is also the starting point for desert safaris, very popular with tourists.

Other cities of Rajasthan not to be missed, Pushkar at the edge of the desert with its lake set with 400 temples and its famous camel fair, which leads the viewer into an abundance of sounds and colors; Bundi and its blue houses, its bazaars, its hills and the extraordinary paintings of the Bundi Palace; Udaipur, and its City Palace, the largest in Rajasthan, with its domes overlooking Lake Pichola; Finally, Jodhpur, the blue city placed under the protection of the magnificent Mehrangarh Palace.

Apart from the cities, other magical sites are to be explored in this region those are rich in surprises. The Keoladeo Ghana National Park, a former hunting reserve of the Maharajas, is a wintering area for a multitude of species of aquatic birds, which you can discover on foot, by bike, or by tuk-tuk. The region of Shekhawati, former place of residence of the rich merchants on the caravan route, has kept from this period sumptuous residences, the Havelis, often enclosing treasures, frescoes, furniture, and where you will perhaps have the chance to find a hotel in a former maharajah castle!

You can also determine your itinerary according to the different events that mark the year: Camel Fair in Bikaner in January, Summer Festival dedicated to Rajasthani music in Mount Abu in May, or Dussehra Mela with its gigantic effigies filled with firecrackers in October in Kota.

Tamil Nadu

The state of the extreme south of India, Tamil Nadu, roughly includes the regions where Tamil is spoken. Around its capital, Chennai, formerly called Madras, is made up of a coastal plain to the east, and mountainous regions to the west. It is an area that does not suffer much from the summer monsoon but can experience rather violent rains during the winter, in October and November. Hinduism still strongly marks this part of India.

Chennai, the capital, is the fourth largest city in the country, and it has the second-longest beach on the planet. It is also famous for promoting traditional Indian cuisine. An active cultural center, it is home to music and dance schools, and in winter there is a Carnatic music festival that attracts many visitors. The cinema also occupies a very important place there, just after that of Bollywood. You will undoubtedly like to stroll in the small streets of George town, to visit the museum of Pantheon Road, and of course to discover the beach of Marina Beach that is 12 kilometers long, lively, and colorful with its street vendors.


But many other places outside the capital are worth your visit. South of Chennai, Mahabalipuram is home to an archaeological site worthy of interest: superb temples have been carved out of the granite rocks of the site, in a magnificent natural setting. The sculptors are also still very present in the village, which resonates with the noise of hammers permanently. Here you can admire the largest narrative bas-relief, The Descent of the Ganges, to be seen preferably in the morning for the quality of the light, and dating from the 7th century. Also, visit Kanchipuram, nicknamed the “city of gold”, where there are more than a hundred temples, and which is also famous for its beautiful silks. Other stages not to be missed, Tanjore and its temples, Madurai, or the altitude resort of Kodaikanal with its lake and waterfall.

Pondicherry and its region are also one of the strong points: posed along a white sand beach on the Bay of Bengal, the city of Pondicherry, white with its streets perpendicular to each other, offers you its promenade to stroll along with its museum, a monument dedicated to Gandhi, and the famous Sri Aurobindo Ashram, as well as, a few kilometers from the city, the construction of Auroville. Other remarkable sites, Gingee, a fortress perched in the middle of its rocky hills and rice fields, with its dazzling panorama of the surrounding landscapes.

Tiruchirappalli, the city of the Sacred Rock, will also leave you with a special impression: this 80-meter rock which dominates the city served as a support to build several temples, and you can reach its summit by more than 410 steps whose ascent is interspersed with different stages: mandapas, chapel, pillars, oratory, statue, cave, bas-relief, trees. You finally reach the temple of Ucchi Pillayar, another form of the god Ganesh, from where you will contemplate an extraordinary view of the city.

The monsoon in Asia, a sometimes violent reality

Name given to a tropical wind system, the monsoon mainly affects Asia and the Indian Ocean. Originally the word “monsoon” comes from the Arabic language, diverted from the word “season”, and it, therefore, designates by extension the precipitation which is linked to this period and to these winds.

Due to completely explicable climatic phenomena, the fact remains that the consequences of the monsoon in Asia cause gigantic disturbances, which can last for weeks or even months. In India in particular, the monsoon has been increasingly violent in recent years, creating deplorable effects on crops, with flooding over thousands of hectares, hundreds of deaths, and millions of people affected. Monsoon images are often apocalyptic, yet they fascinate with their end-of-the-world aspect, and the mute admiration they arouse for these men who seem to struggle almost serenely against the raging elements.

Monsoon india

The summer monsoon produces 8 tenths of the rainfall of the year, and it thus allows the irrigation of the land and the production of local crops, but its unpredictable aspect, both in terms of its precocity, its magnitude or its brutality. The Asian population in a precarious situation, making them depend entirely on this rain with beneficial or dramatic consequences. A good monsoon will bring enough water for the rice fields and cotton fields and will refresh the polluted and suffocating atmosphere of the cities, without devastating everything or flooding the streets causing deaths by drowning or by infection due to the swarming of insects. But some cities, like Cherrapunji in India, having 12 meters of rainfall in a year, including 5 meters in July and August during the summer monsoon!

Mudslides, landslides, deluge, outbreaks of cholera, cut roads, ransacked crops, homeless families, not to mention the dead and missing, monsoon periods therefore wreak havoc and obviously do not bring together the best conditions for a trip to Asia. However, these drawbacks must be put into perspective depending on the country and the year: Laos and Thailand can be visited during monsoon periods, despite some roads cut off, and the deserts of Rajasthan or the northwest of the Himalayas only reveal their true beauty during this time. Vietnam is suitable for sightseeing just about any time, and only the heat and humidity can be a pain during the summer monsoon. As for India, it is undeniable that you will appreciate its discovery more between October and March.

The monsoon in Asia is a very real phenomenon, which must be taken into account when planning a trip to these regions, from which you will undoubtedly bring back images that are sometimes surreal, sometimes shocking, but always astonishing.

Indian cuisine, a festival of flavors

For those who have been to India, the memory of the smells of spices is undoubtedly as significant in their minds as that of the noise, the colors, and the inexpressible atmosphere of this incomparable country. Multiple essential spices, which give Indian cuisine all its identity and flavor. Indians use more than 25 flavors and spices for dishes, which are moreover available according to their regional origin rather than being reduced to a uniform and unique cuisine.

Whatever the place, the meal is a privileged moment of welcome and sharing in India, and if you have the chance to take it with an Indian family, you will discover the rites linked to these moments in addition to the particular tastes: You should know that eating with your fingers is more common as long as you are not in a restaurant while eating food with the local pancake (chapati).

You will also see that the meal is presented on a circular tray (or a banana leaf in more rural areas), with all the food at the same time, either in small bowls or directly on the tray. Dishes like rice or pancake, yogurt, dessert, generally make up a complete meal in wealthy families. Many Indians are vegetarians and this will be an opportunity to taste fresh and well-cooked vegetables.


All over the place, you will therefore smell the aromas of the spices which will make your dish a different one like chili, ginger, and nutmeg, cinnamon, cumin, turmeric, saffron and coriander, sesame and dill, not to mention mixtures, such as garam masala, which combine between them several of these elements. In tandoori cuisine, a specialty of the north of the country, you will find dishes cooked in a terracotta oven heated over a wood fire, (called tandoor), and served with spices marinated in yogurt before being cooked: for example, chicken marinated in mint and garlic. Kashmiri cuisine offers sweeter but equally aromatic flavors: a little less spices are used, yogurt is used a lot by adding almonds, which gives a sweeter note to the various dishes.

Going west, you will more easily find seafood and fish, cooked in fried or curried, as well as in Bengali cuisine, among which you can taste among other dishes of shrimp curry with coconut. But you will never be disappointed either by the vegetables accommodated in a varied and always tasty way like the famous dal or lentil puree that we find served with rice, alu dum or potato curry, bharta or mixture of eggplants, onions and tomatoes grilled over a wood fire, all these preparations can easily make you forget the absence of meat.

Finally, let’s not forget the desserts, most of the time made from milk, but also the confectionery, the multitude of tropical fruits, and the rite of concluding a meal by chewing a betel leaf filled with spices with digestive properties.


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