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Postcards from India: North to South

India. Over a billion people speaking 780 languages and dialects across 28 states. The diversity inside India is astonishing, something we didn’t fully compr...

by Daniel Noll and Audrey Scott Posted on 01 October 2013

India. Over a billion people speaking 780 languages and dialects across 28 states. The diversity inside India is astonishing, something we didn’t fully comprehend until we had the chance to travel across India by train from south to north, east to west and back again. From Kerala to Tamil Nadu in the south, from Udaipur to Kolkata in the north.

From the three months we traveled through India, here are a selection of our few favorite memories – memories of a country which often feels as though it may take several lifetimes to truly appreciate.

Kathakali Dancing in Kochi

Arrive early at the Cochin Cultural Centre daily performance of Kathakali, Kerala’s traditional dance.  You’ll witness actors donning fabulous costumes and elaborate makeup like you’ve never seen. It’s a pre-performance that you might just appreciate as much as the event itself.

A Kathakali Performance in Kochi, Kerala. It’s in the eyes!

Canoe Trip Along the Kerala Backwaters

The Kerala backwaters are about as relaxed as you can get; they offer a welcome retreat from India’s big city chaos and crowds. Take a leisurely canoe or boat ride around in the early morning and see southern Indian village life unfolding along the water’s edge.  Be sure to stop off and say hello along your way.

Going for a paddle in the Kerala Backwaters

Going for a paddle in the Kerala Backwaters

Flower Market in Madurai

Madurai’s flower market on the edge of town is keeps its famous Hindu temples filled with colorful and fragrant flowers. Go early in the day for the best activity.

Flower vendor at Madurai flower market.

Flower vendor at Madurai flower market.

Hanging with School Kids at Five Rathas in Mamallapuram (Tamil Nadu)

Although we enjoy religious and historical sights (India is flush full of them), we enjoy hanging with local kids at those sights even more. Mamallapuram, the home of the Five Rathas has a laid back beach vibe and always seems to feature curious Indian school kids on road trips to the Butter Ball, an odd boulder seemingly precariously balanced on a knife edge that hasn’t known movement in eons.

School kids hanging out at Five Rathas in Mamallapuram

School kids hanging out at Five Rathas in Mamallapuram

Crawford Market in Mumbai

Indian markets are a blast, even if a bit overwhelming.  The nice thing about Crawford Market: as Indian markets go, it’s relatively self-contained. Perhaps you’ll even be lucky enough to arrive in time for mango season!

Alfonso mangos arrive at Crawford Market, Mumbai.

Alfonso mangos arrive at Crawford Market, Mumbai.

Dawn Boat Ride in Varanasi

Varanasi is arguably India’s holiest city, filling with and disgorging astonishing amounts of pilgrims throughout the year.  We recommend a boat ride at dawn to get a glimpse of morning puja (prayers) along the Ganges River and relaxing atop, along and astride the various ghats (steps).

Morning prayers along the Ganges River, Varanasi.

Morning prayers along the Ganges River, Varanasi.

Fresh Market in Udaipur, Rajasthan

Among our top five fresh markets in the entire world, the Udaipur fresh market is flush with wild colors and fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices and all manner of natural goods that will take weeks to sort through. A few hours wander around the market and you’ll have newfound Indian food knowledge and likely a few new friends in the local vendors and craftspeople.

Piles of vegetables and fruit at the Udaipur Market.

Piles of vegetables and fruit at the Udaipur Market.

Human-Powered Rickshaw in Kolkata

Kolkata is our favorite big city in India.  OK, there we’ve said it, much to the dismay of our friends from Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai.  But hey, don’t despair.  They are fine, too.  There’s just something about the inimitable spirit of Bengalis, their culture, and beat of the city that spills to the streets.  The problem: when the heat and hectic become too much, it’s time for a rest – even for the restless rickshaw drivers.

A Kolkata rickshaw driver takes a nap.

A Kolkata rickshaw driver takes a nap.

Waking up to Fresh Snow on Kanchenjunga Mountain in Darjeeling

Catch of bit of mountain air and high tea with a view of the fresh snow-covered mountains in the hill town of Darjeeling.  After all the running around through the Indian cities and plains, you might just find a little respite in the Indian alpine refinement that is Darjeeling.

Snow-covered peaks in Darjeeling.

Snow-covered peaks in Darjeeling.

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