Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Real India: Lonely Planet

Map of India (courtesy of

Visiting India can be daunting. But the allure of fulfillment promises adventure, growth, and no small dose of culture-shock. Lonely Planet guides, the shoestring traveler's Bible, have been escorting intrepid pilgrims for years. Here's a sample excerpt.

Morning bathing, Ganges river, ancient Benares (Lonely Planet)

  • Varanasi, the city of Shiva, on the bank of the sacred Ganges, is one of the holiest places in India. Hindu pilgrims come to bathe in the waters of Ganges, a ritual that washes away all sins. The city is an auspicious place to die, since expiring here offers moksha -- liberation from the cycle of birth and death. It's a magical city where the most intimate rituals of life and death take place in public on the city's famous ghats [bathing steps]. It's this accessibility to the practices of an ancient religious tradiontion that captivates so many visitors. In the past, the city has been known as Kashi and Benares, but its present name is a restoration of an ancient name meaning the city between two rivers -- the Varuna and Assi.

For independent and first-time travelers, a good guide is a must. One that tucks away in a backpack is ideal. You'll get the most out of your trip at the lowest possible price by following its timely advice. Frequently updated and rarely outdone, Lonely Planet is the gold standard in down to earth travel information.

Volunteering in India (Korina Miller, Lonely Planet, June 2007)Group of Paharia children (Lonely Planet)

The week before I arrived, they found a cobra in the kitchen. I'm not a snake person (nor a bug person for that matter) and when I'd agreed to volunteer for a month in the foothills of Jharkhand, in India, I hadn't realised that tree snakes, cobras and scorpions would be part of the deal.

Not that it would have stopped me. As an undergraduate in Communications and Development, I wanted first-hand field experience, and Dakshinayan promised me just that. Cheo Project was based amidst a group of small villages of mud and grass huts, home to the Paharia tribes. Considered "untouchables" in the Indian caste system, these communities survive by hunting, gathering, and cultivating maize. Maize is roasted on campfires and eaten all day. Every day.

My life in the village was a stripped-back existence. I was teaching rudimentary English in an informal school to a group whose numbers ranged from three to thirty students, depending on how much work there was to do at home or in the fields. Three times a day I carried buckets of water from the well, which was the only water source and a 20-minute walk away. I learned how to make chapatti (flat bread) and how to keep the cookfire going in the rain, so I was able to help out with meals. I walked on the narrow forest trails from village to village for meetings, classes or visits. I'd trek the three hours to the weekly market and back up the hill with supplies. Checking my sleeping bag for scorpions and the tree near the outhouse for deadly snakes became second nature. Such drastic adjustments to my lifestyle were quickly absorbed into routine. What required more time was fitting in.... Read the entire story

All that adventure and potential danger, too!

  • Travel Warning: Areas of Conflict
    Foreigners in the western state of Rajasthan should be aware of ethnic conflict in the region....On June 18 [2008], the Gujjar community reached a peace deal with the Rajasthan State government and this is expected to relieve tension; however, travelers in both Delhi and Rajasthan should stay alert and avoid getting caught up in any public protests. Several Indian regions are prone to occasional conflict; Jammu and Kashmir (as distinct from [predominantly Buddhist] Ladakh) are subject to political violence and travelers should seek consular advice before entering any area bordering Pakistan. Similar advice should also be sought before travel to Assam, Nagaland, Tripura, and Manipur in northeast India. There are militant groups operating sporadically in some rural areas of Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal, and Orissa.

Well, package tours and traveler's insurance are always available. Of particular interest to Buddhist wanderers is India's only remaining Buddhist city, the enchanted Leh, Ladakh. If you visit the Buddhist Circuit, remember to walk directly into Nepal to see the Buddha's birthplace and hometown, Lumbini and Kapilavastu. The real danger is actually invisible and likely to take you down unless you're meticulous, as one female traveler found out:

For everything you need: Lonely Planet - India

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