India – the land to travel to, a haven of tourism delights, a civilization to tour through. Tourists come to India for its wealth of sights, cultural exuberance, diversity of terrain and in search of that special something, an extra punch that only India promises and delivers. Teeming with over a billion people who voice over a million concerns in fifteen hundred different languages, India is where people live with variety, thrive on diversity and are too familiar with largeness to let it boggle them. Mud huts and mansions face off across city streets. Lurid luxury and limp living are inhabitants of the same lane.
From the smoky mangroves of the Sunderbans to the steaming Thar Desert, sizzling cities like Mumbai and Delhi to the scintillating villages of Khajuraho and Hampi, from the heights of the Himalayas to the deep blue waters around the Andamans, India is a travel haven – a tour package that frustrates and delights, as demanding as it is rewarding.
It demands that the traveller be prepared for its own strange forms of tourism offerings - the crowds at Pushkar, for pushy mendicants at Haridwar, for high commercialism at spiritual retreats. But equally, it means that he be prepared for an overwhelming warmth in the people, ease of conversation, and to be stunned into speechlessness by the beauty, sometimes the manmade and often the natural.
But what exactly is it that gets two and a half million people to pack their bags, book their tickets, buy industrial size cans of suntan lotion and enough toilet paper to supply the entire population of Liechtenstein for a month, and wing their way to India? Given that this is the land of the Taj, granted too that tea, tobacco, tempestuous democracy and terrific travel are a great combination but surely that's not reason enough.
There must be more because between truisms and half-truths, India has inspired more than any one place's fair share of travel lore. And, perhaps that's what it is - the legends of India - that's what inspires people from far and near to travel here, to sort out for themselves what's true and what's just a whole lot of tourism pamphlet hype.
If that's what you're going to be doing, here's a bit of India tourism mantra to help you on your way: expect nothing and everything will be yours.