India is developing fast with time but cultural activities and traditions are the same as in earlier days. A journey across India is incomplete without experiencing its festivals and culture. India is no more just the land of silk and spice or snake charmers. India can be explored with an open mind and you should expect the unexpected. There are many UNESCO world heritage monuments and beautiful places in India but to understand the soul of India you should experience the culture. India is incredible in many ways and you can have some unique experiences in India.
In metro cities like Delhi and Mumbai, I didn’t see many traditional things but when I traveled to different parts of India, I come across so many incredible things and different customs. I have noticed that many of the foreign blogger’s emphasis on showing the cows on the road or crowded public transport.
Well, India is a country of 1.2 billion people with diverse culture, ethnic values, religions, different food habits, different language, etc. Still, at the core, most Indian are family oriented people and follow the family traditions & rituals. Which can be strange or weird or interesting for travelers from other countries.
I am an Indian and general perception of a foreign traveler is that I know almost everything about India but that is not true. When I traveled to different parts of India I came across new and interesting things. I live in India’s capital Delhi and at times in some of the unique experiences in other parts are surprising for me.
During my travel in India, I came across so many different things. Some of these surprised me and some made me speechless.
Some unique things to see and do in India
Worship of Menstruating goddess of Kamakhaya
During my Guwahati trip when I visited Kamakhaya Temple, I was surprised to know that the Goddess is worshipped in the form of female genital. In India where menstruating girls and women are considered unclean. Infect people don’t talk about it and women don’t disclose when they go through these days every month. Most importantly women are not allowed inside the temples during their periods. I always thought that this is the way it is followed everywhere in India but it is not true.
Infect there is a fair in Kamakhaya temple in the month of June for 3 days. It is known as the Ambubachi festival. It is believed that during these 3 days goddess menstruate.
Interestingly the “Prasad” is different and sounds weird if you don’t know about this festival. It is given in two forms. i.e. One is red water coming out of the main sanctum, which is considered as a body fluid of goddess and another is red cloth, which is considered as the fabric used by goddess during these 3 days.
I feel that India’s culture and traditions are so different in every part and it is not right to consider it just a land of silk and spice, there is so much to see and learn.
It was a surprise for me when I came to know about this interesting fact.
Theyyam dance of Kerala
I love the dramatic and heavy makeup of Kathakali dancers. But the energetic dance performances of Theyyam are strange and left me to spellbound.
Costumes are a very important part of all traditional dance forms from Kerala and Theyyam is not an exception. Theyyam costumes are mostly bright red colored with a very heavy headgear, which can be of several kilograms. The painting on face & other body parts and wearing of costumes generally takes a few hours.
Theyyam is mostly performed at night or before the dawn in local temples of north Kerala. It is believed that gods or goddess posses the body of performer and that’s why he can perform wear such heavy costumes or play with fire. Watching a Theyyam performance can be one of the most strange cultural experiences in India.
Theyyam performance at times is so weird that you feel thrilled and frightened at the same time. Artist performs with fire on their headgear or waist, sit of burning coal, dance and make a strange noise.
There is nothing comparable to Theyyam dance. It is performed in temples in north Kerala between November to February. There is an annual calendar for place and performance. You have to watch it to believe it.
Celebrating life and death in Varanasi
Death is a time of mourning for every human being. In Varanasi, life and death are looked upon in a different way.
Generally, people visit Varanasi for it’s famous Kashi Vishwanath and other temples. But there is another side of Varanasi, which is a strange but unique experience in India for any traveler. It can be overwhelming.
Many people believe that if you die in Varanasi or as it is traditionally known as Banaras then you will get salvation. Hindus believe that the soul never dies, the body is like cloth and the soul changes the body when a person dies. A soul can be free from the circle of life or death if it reaches a higher form of spirituality. Which is not as an easy task according to spiritual text.
Since Varanasi is the city of Shiva and the holiest place in the world. So, if a person will die here and cremated on Manikarnika or Harishchander ghats of Ganga river then he or she will be free from the cycle of birth and death.
Due to this many elderly or terminally ill people come to Varanasi from across India seeking salvation. When I visited Varanasi, I was surprised to know that Varanasi has guest houses that serve exclusively to the people who come to die here. The most famous guest house is Mukti Bhawan, where people stay for weeks to die. The thought itself is unnerving that a person is planning his or her death.
For a normal traveler like me, the sight of burning ghat Manikarnika can be overwhelming. At this ghat, I saw several pyres burning and they work here 24×7. As darkness falls these huge fires looks mystic and at times nerve-wracking. It is hard for a visitor like me to suppress a shiver at the reality of death.
Jain temple food culture in Kulpakji Temple
Jyoti Baid from Story at every corner visited the Kulpakji Jain temple near Hyderabad and she is sharing her amazing experience.
Many places of worships provide free food or snacks to visitors. It’s one of the things that draws in worshipers and volunteers that want to provide service. Many Jain temples in India provide meals to visitors, many of who would have traveled great distances to come to the temple. It’s particularly important because Jain food isn’t easy to find, even in India.
It’s especially important for remote temples like Kulpakji. For decades and centuries, it has been a remote temple, that was hard to reach. I can imagine that finding Jain food would not have been easy. So the Bhojanshala (dining facilities) at Kulpakji is particularly important. The temple’s Bhojanshala serves three Jain meals to all visitors. The food is free but donations are expected, it’s a pay it forward model that works quite well.
So what is Jain food? There are many variations of Jain food based on the temple and its tradition. But the basics that all Jain food services and certainly temples can be expected to follow these rules
* Food is served during the daylight hours typically between 7:30 AM to sunset.
** The food is vegetarian (not vegan).
* Other than dairy there are no animal products. So no eggs.
** None of the ingredients would have grown under the ground. So, no onion, garlic, ginger, carrots, radish, etc.
* The food is fresh, made daily from scratch. Some Jain traditions don’t allow for food that has stayed overnight, not even for fermentation.
the food is delicious 😋
The day we visited Kulpakji temple, turned out to be an important festival which had brought 600-700 of devout followers from most of southern India. The kitchen was ready to serve delicious meals for all the travelers. We got to have an elaborate and scrumptious breakfast with Khakra, masala & ghee, vada & sambas, Upma, Poha, Boondi, tea and more. We didn’t stay for lunch and dinner but it would surely be awesome. Read more about our visit to Kulpakji temple.
If you’re ever visiting a Jain temple, check out if they serve meals. If so, give it a shot. You might love the Jain food.
Read more about Vegetarian food of North India.
Experience of Belly dancing in India
Zaina Brown is a professional bellydancer, relentless traveler, writer, and filmmaker. She’s the creator of World Of Dancers, an online community. Her book Fire In The Belly: A Memoir of Falafel, Flings, and Shiny Things (2019) uncovers the seedy Middle Eastern entertainment industry and takes the reader on a journey across Africa and the Arab world. Her documentary “Traveling Bellydancer In India” (2015) is the winner of the Canadian Accolade Award and has screened at film festivals in the US.
She is sharing her experience of belly dancing in India and how it was so different from other countries.
Working as a bellydancer in India is a rollercoaster ride, and different from any other country. I’ve performed throughout the Arab world and the US, and still many of the craziest situations I’ve been in as a dancer fit into the five months I was a Delhi-based bellydancer.
First, there are the giant, over-the-top weddings, where the bellydancers take turns with Bollywood dance groups and other performers all evening long. Dancing at an Arab or a Western wedding, my main concern is always ‘Is the bride happy? Will she dance with me?’ but at an Indian one, the only glimpse of the bride I ever caught was if she had to make her way through the performers’ backstage, with an entourage propping her up at the elbows so she didn’t trip on the power cords and metal structures, to get to her own stage to do her Hindu rites. I wasn’t there to entertain her, but the hundreds of guests.
A club performance, on the other hand, could be happening in the middle of the afternoon inside a shopping mall, and yet when I entered the club it looked like midnight. Security of performers is always a cause for concern, as mob mentality can quickly arise in a thick crowd of young, slightly desperate guys. A bouncer is a girl’s best friend.
Corporate events, oh my. These are true wild cards. Usually, they are the most professionally satisfying experiences for a dancer, with a solid stage built indoors, great bathrooms, a decent changing room with a floor, not grass, to stand on. However, alcohol can derail things faster than you can say Punjab. At one in the afternoon, a fight can break out in a perfectly well-organized event, sending a performer scurrying off the stage. The end!
Bellydancing in India, then, is much like traveling there: often surprising, sometimes frustrating, and always worth it.
Fascinating and diverse wildlife of India
Anna Hall from Would be Traveller traveled across India and visited National parks. She is amazed at the wildlife of India. She is sharing her experience of visiting wildlife sanctuaries.
Did you know that India is home to some fascinating species of wildlife? With multiple national parks across the country, there’s ample opportunity to see some of the world’s best-loved animals from monkeys and wolves to sloth bears and elephants.
But what makes India truly unique is the likelihood of seeing tigers. Your chance of spotting a tiger is greater in India than any other country. With fewer than 4,000 tigers left in the wild, half of them live in India. To give yourself a good chance of seeing one, it’s best to book a safari between October and June.
The warmer temperatures in February, March, and April make it easier to spot tigers through the drier vegetation or as they head for the waterholes in search of hydration. If you go after the monsoon rains in October, the scenery will be more green and beautiful but tigers will be more difficult to spot through the dense forests.
There are plenty of national parks to choose between in India, including Pench, Jim Corbett, Bandhavgarh, and Ranthambore National Park.
Located a few hours’ drives from Jaipur, Ranthambore is a favorite amongst visitors to India who want to combine a safari with the cultural sites of the Golden Triangle. The number of tigers in the park is said to be steadily growing with a 2014 census counting 62. This figure has almost certainly increased since.
As a wildlife lover, the opportunity to see animals against the gorgeous backdrop of lush jungle and historic forts makes India one of my favorite places in the world to see wildlife.
Daisy Li from Beyond my Borders stayed in India for a few months. During her visit to Gwalior, she experienced the beautiful culture of Gurdwaras in India.
She is sharing her wonderful experience of staying in Gwalior gurudwara.
India is a mystical land. My four-month stay in Delhi really opened my eyes to the diversity of its population. In the mornings, I often hear different forms of prayers coming from four directions. During the day, I witnessed varying places of worship that drew neighbors and strangers alike.
While visiting the city of Gwalior, I had the pleasure of staying at a gurdwara. A place of gathering and worship for Sikhs, gurdwaras are beautiful havens equipped with a langar hall, where vegetarian meals are served for free, resting areas, and other noted facilities. As a religion that speaks on unity, equality, and selfless service, they didn’t hesitate to invite my friend and me into the complex for a stay.
Gwalior Fort Gurdwara was beautiful. In the setting sun, the marble white temple contrasted its brick-red platform. A few palm trees stood tall, and a few devotees strolled nearby. The entire space was silent, calm, tranquil. Our host, Mr. Singh, showed us the temple space and the seamless preparation process for food in the langar hall. His gracious demeanor left a lasting impression on me.
Gurdwaras are a common sight throughout India. If given a chance, I’d recommend anyone to pay a visit and learn more about the Sikh people and their views!
Also read about the holiest Sikh temple Golden temple in Amritsar.
I have shared a few unique experiences in India in this post and would be adding more to this. If you have experienced something interesting during travels in India, please share.
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