India is known for many things: exuberant week-long wedding celebrations, thousand-year-old culinary traditions, a beyond-fanatical obsession with cricket and chaotic streets full of colour.
It’s this chaos that often throws travellers into a tailspin upon arrival. While it’s tempting to hide in your hotel room with air conditioning, a little discomfort at times should be embraced as part your India holiday.
Whether it’s being crammed into an overcrowded train carriage or dripping sweat while negotiating your way through a tear-inducing curry, accepting the uncomfortable moments means better immersion in India's unique culture.
Travelling through northern India with small-group adventure experts Intrepid Travel makes for an interesting journey big on colour, chaos and community, but low on stress and conflict.
While our cool-as-a-cucumber local guide couldn’t do much about the 46-degree heat, he was the master of everything from crossing crowded streets full of human and bovine traffic, to knowing where to find the best chai.
He took care of business, so we were free to enjoy the colours of India in all their technicolour glory.
A Colourful Cliche
Orange is a classic Indian cliche that you see on every street corner in just about every city. We see orange-robed sahdus (holy people), women in burnt-orange saris effortlessly balancing on the back of motorbikes, and a sea of orange turbans and patkas (head coverings) when visiting a Sikh temple in Delhi.
Orange features on India’s national flag, in temples and on offerings floating down the Ganges. India without the colour orange is simply unimaginable.
Sweating is a national sport for anyone in northern India during summer, but the heat is on elsewhere too. Walking through the spice markets in Delhi our local guide points out the hallmarks of Indian cuisine.
Cinnamon, cloves, coriander seeds and cardamom are all represented, but the huge bags of dried chilli are the most impressive (and quietly terrifying) of all ingredients.
Offered a taste test by a cheeky vendor, we all politely decline. We may be new to India, but we know taking the local Intrepid guide's advice is wise.
More India holiday inspiration
Northern India may not be known for its green space, but trees and manicured lawns surround many of the monuments and forts frequented by travellers for centuries.
It’s an arresting sight, moving from city streets choked with the clatter of traffic straight into such a serene, green space – another reminder that India is full of surprises.
Rays Of Sunshine
A flash of yellow from a motor zipping through the streets of Delhi; a ray of bright morning sunshine filtering through a shrub of flowers; and buttermilk-yellow Art Deco buildings left over from the rule of the British Raj.
Many shades of yellow contribute to the colourful palette of modern India. But for our Intrepid group it’s a mustard-yellow plate of fresh dhal waiting to be eaten that seems to be everyone’s favourite.
The Pink City
Known as the 'Pink City' for its pink-hued buildings, it’s no wonder Jaipur unleashes some of the most beautiful blush-pink shades ever seen.
Although Jaipur is home to some of the most photogenic heritage buildings in India, it’s an everyday sunrise that delivers the most unexpectedly magical moment of the trip.
While sunrise at Agra’s Taj Mahal is a moment chased by thousands each year, a sunrise from the top of the Amber Fort in Jaipur creates pastel pinks straight out of a watercolour painting.
A herd of mellow cows meander down the dirt road, unimpressed by the sunrise that has captured the hearts and souls of our group. For them, it’s just another day in Jaipur and they remain oblivious that they played such an important part in our travel memories (and snapshots).