Cultural Practices of India When visiting any country, it helps to understand the basic customs of the culture. The basic rites associated with birth and marriage are covered here. Understanding these basic attitudes, as well as those regarding death, will foster understanding from visitors to this country. Central to Hindu society is the joining of two families through arranged marriages. Adolescent girls offer negotiated dowries to the selected husband and the two are married. This is more than a joining of two people; it is a joining of two families. Money, land, tradition and social convenience all play a part in this union. India is slowly moving into the modern world in regards to marriage. Education and more widely available birth control methods have given women more say in who they will marry and why. As women gain more control of their own lives, the middle class is showing an increased tolerance of marriages for love. Before long arranged marriages may become rituals of the past. Rituals surrounding fertility range from making offerings at naga shrines dedicated to the snake-god of fertility to donating black stones to an ancient cactus at Calcutta's Kali temple. When a woman in Rajasthra dons a pido, a yellow veil with a large red dot, it announces her accepted pregnancy by her community. Male children are honored in Indian society. When a boy is born, conch shells are blown in Bengal and Assam and drums are beaten in Maharashtra. When a girl is born, the women of Rajasthan hide behind their veils and wail loudly. In traditional Hindu homes throughout the country of India, an ancient ritual to invoke the producing of a male child is still performed over pregnant women. In a society where it appears women are starting to make strides, it is still evident that they are considered second-class citizens. Manners are Essential When visiting a country where customs are vastly different than what you are accustomed to, it is always a wise decision to make a note of them, especially those customs dealing with age-old beliefs. We will cover here a few of the basics you should be aware of when visiting India. Indians, whether Hindu, Muslim or Buddhist, have a strong code of conduct and are polite when addressing strangers. Long train and bus journeys are often punctuated with inquisitive grillings by fellow travelers. Hindus and Muslims traditionally use the left hand for performing ablutions, so it is never used for eating or touching others. If eating with your fingers, use only your right hand. Body contact in public is not accepted, except in very Westernized places where hand shaking may be permitted. Very often the most you will see is men holding hands -- a sign of comradeship. Feet should be kept on the ground as they too are perceived as "unclean". When entering any home, temple or mosque, always remove your footwear. If necessary, carry a clean pair of socks with you to protect your feet. Remember above all to respect worshippers. In some inner sanctuaries, non-Hindus are forbidden to enter. This also applies to mosques for non-Muslims. Jain temples post strict rules outside, which include banning menstruating women, any items of leather and often cameras. Give donations when appropriate but never under duress. If a temple guardian or priest takes time to explain the history or significance of a site, he will appreciate a small tip. Women especially should dress modestly, avoiding cropped tops, shorts, above the knee skirts and tight clothing. Local clothing is often the best bet for appropriate dressing when visiting India. You can often find these items in abundance and at very cheap prices in just about any area. India's Spectacular Trains If you have some time to spare, take a slow toy train up to the hill resort of Shimla, Ooty (Udhagamandalam), Darjeeling or Matheran. There is nothing to match the experience of chugging up the hills, past little hamlets and terraced fields, making your way through tunnels and over breathtaking bridges. Its slow pace gives you a panoramic view of changing vistas. The invigorating air and the delights of a scenic hill resort provide a welcome breather from the hustle and bustle of the city. Shimla -- The toy train journey from Kalka to Shimla is entertaining with 107 tunnels and lofty arched bridges. The dazzling view and the stops at the picturesque stations along the way -- Dharmpore, Taksal, Gamma and Solan all add up to an exhilarating experience. Access to Shimla -- A broad gauge line up to Kalka connects Shimla. 'The Toy Train' covers the distance of 96 km between the two stations within six hours. Ooty (Udhagamandalam) -- The Nilgiri Mountain Railway starts from the town of Mettupalayam and thus begins a journey full of twists and turns as this narrow gauge train ascends 46 km, on its way to the hill resort at Ooty. At a maximum speed of 33 km per hour this 'toy train' treks across plains, plantations and forest clad hills. The 16 tunnels and tall bridges on the way along with the breathtaking view make this toy train journey to Ooty an extraordinary experience! Access to Ooty -- Ooty is connected by a narrow gauge line from Mettupalayam, which serves as the railhead for mainline trains. Major Trains to Mettupalayam -- The Nilgiri Express conncets Mettupalayam with Chennai daily. Coimbatore, the nearest city is 90 kms away and linked to all the major cities by rail . Mettupalayam is easily accessible from Coimbatore by frequent bus or train services. Take a Train Excursion A couple of train rides worth taking while in India are listed below. Whether you have a few hours or several day, India's trains can accommodate your needs. Darjeeling -- The most famous of the little trains, is the one linking the town of New Jalpaiguri the plains to the lovely hill station of Darjeeling. With a 2 ft gauge, the Darjeeling Hill Railway is indeed a 'toy train' being the narrowest of the regular narrow gauges. The tiny century-old engine is connoisseur's delight. The 86 km Darjeeling line has no tunnels, thus allowing the traveller an uninterrupted view of the breathtaking scenery of the Himalaya. The 7 1/2 hour ride is a journey especially for rail buffs. Access to Darjeeling -- New Jalpaiguri , the starting point of the hill train to Darjeeling, has direct connections to Calcutta, Delhi, Guwahati and other places in India. Matheran -- The 77 year old line, connecting Neral (on main line of Central Railway) to Matheran , is the main way to reach the tiny hill resort, close to Mumbai. As the little train wheezes up into the clear mountain air one can view the scenic vista of hills and plains below. The lack of vehicular traffic at Matheran makes it an unusual and peaceful retreat. Access to Matheran -- The toy train to Matheran commences from Neral (Mumbai- Pune line), which is connected from Mumbai by local train. The journey up to Matheran from Neral takes about 1 1/2 hours. The toy train runs between sunrise and sunset. Various trains offer excursions ranging in time from a couple of days to nearly two weeks. If you have the time, it is experience you will long remember. Four of the major tours are aboard Ther Deccan Odyssey, The Fairy Queen, the Palace on Wheels and The Royal Orient. These tours include stops at various sites, meals and lodging. The prices are reasonable. A Train Ride to Remember Welcome aboard the Royal Retreat, the pride of India, the wonderful wonder, unparallel, unique and unforgettable Palace On Wheels. Palace on Wheels has been rated amongst the top ten luxury trains of the world. It happens to be one of the finest ways to travel through the intoxicating, incomparable, incredible, impressive, inimitable, inspirational land of India. Take a royal retreat and be the king or the queen through the splendid journey of Palace on Wheels. It's a journey worthy of kings. No wonder the experience is labeled the Palace on Wheels. With its cream saloons, embellished with intricate designs, chug through Rajasthan on a journey through the former royal kingdoms of this state. Once ruled by kings whose presence lingers on in forbidding fortresses and fairytale palaces, now converted into museums, hotels, and restaurants where retainers serve truly royal repasts. The 14 coaches of the royal train are named after former Rajput states matching the aesthetics and interiors of the royal past. Each saloon has a mini pantry and a lounge to ensure availability of hot and cold beverages and refreshment and a place to relax and get together. The train has two lavish restaurants "The Maharaja" and "The Maharani" with a Rajasthani ambiance serving palate tickling Continental, Indian and Rajasthani cuisine. The train also boasts of a well -- stocked bar offering the choicest of spirits of Indian and International Brands. Each coach also offers a good collection of books to choose from. In 1991, The Palace on Wheels has been refurbished to a great extent. The decor in the saloons, bar lounge has been changed, keeping in mind the traditional aesthetic yet modern, Palace on Wheels. Toilets have been redone and are maintained sparkling clean. Each saloon lounge has been equipped with a color television and a CD player. A satellite phone is on the to make you communicate anywhere in the world from the train. Festivals Abound No matter when you choose to visit India, you are bound to enjoy the chance to experience one of their many festivals first hand. There are festivals devoted to gods, seasonal agricultural celebrations, political events, camels, elephants and many other reasons Indians find as a chance to celebrate and re-enact centuries old customs. Each religious group in India has its own calendar of major festivals. For Hindus, the beginning of winter is marked by Diwali, the festival of lights, which inspires the lighting of millions of oil lamps inside homes and firecrackers outside. These celebrate the home comings of the hero Rama and his wife Sila. Prayers are given to Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, and boxes of sweets are exchanged between friends and family members. This five day festival is the equivalent of Christmas. Spring brings Holi, a riotous festival where colored water and paint are scattered, leaving most people who venture outside covered in pink, blue and silver. Northern India in particular revels in this festival. In addition, specific gods all enjoy their own festivals throughout the year. The Muslim community holds major celebrations for Id-E-Milad, the birthday of Mohammed, the Islamic New Year and Idul Fitr, the feast that ends the 28-day Ramadan fast. Sikhs pay annual homage to each of their ten gurus, with parades to gurudwaras. Places of worship, reading of the holy Granth and feasting. The largest Jain festival celebrates the birth of the religious fournder, Mahavir, in April. Buddah's birthday at the full moon in May, is marked by major processions in Sarnath and Bodh Gova.. Pushkar's camel fair is one of the most popular regional festivals. Oters take place throughout the country and offer visitors a rare glimpse into the exotic side of India. Camels aren't the only animals that enjoy festivals-cows and elephants also enjoy their own. Spectacular nature Walks Located thirty-eight kms from Mannarkkad, is a place consisting of generally hilly highland terrain, fed by the tributaries of the River Cauvery. An extensive mountain valley above the crest of the Ghat ranges with numerous rivulets of the Bhavani River. Mainly tribes and some settlers from Tamil Nadu inhabit Attapady. A beautiful blend of mountains, rivers and forests, Attapaddy is of great interest to anthropologists, as this is the habitat of many tribes like the 'irolas' and 'mudugars' Another hill station can be found at an altitude of 1600 m above sea level. It was once the summer resort of the erstwhile British government in South India. Sprawling tea plantations, picture book towns, winding lanes and holiday facilities make this a popular resort town. Among the exotic flora found in the forests and grasslands is the 'Neelakurinji'. It is located 7 kms north east of Thirunelli Temple in Brahma Giri Hills. This is a challenging tourist spot. A trekkers' paradise, this place is accessible only by trekking. Located at an altitude of 1740 m above sea level, this hill station offers great opportunities for bird watching. One has to trek 17 kms through the wild forests, to reach 'Pakshipathalam' Many who are searching for a vigorous workout in the outdoors find their way here. The forests of Wayanad are a veritable treasure house of Flora and Fauna. Wildlife freely roams in the sanctuaries of Matthunga, Begur and Tholpetty. Home to stunning orchids, pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, rubber, bamboo and coffee, Wayanad has a surprise in store for you around every corner. Tucked in the lush tropical womb are the twin lakes of Vythiri & Lakkidi. Three Km from Lakkidi is the Pookote Lake, covered in parts with lotus, a picture out of a fairy tale book. At 6,890 ft is Chembra Peak just 24 Km from Vythiri Silence and Snakes One of the least disturbed forests of 'God's own country' the Silent Valley. It is named so because it is devoid of the most common sound found in the Rain forests--the incessant chirping of cicadas. The local name of the forest is 'Sairandhri', another name of Draupadi, the wife of the Pandavas. Some believe its name is derived from the lion-tailed Macaque, whose scientific name is Macca Silenus. Due to its topographic isolation no human being has ever made it their home. Malampuzha Dam is in the foothills of the Western Ghats. It is known as the abode of Yakshi, because of the exquisite sculpture of Yakshi in the landscaped gardens of the irrigation dam at this popular picnic spot. The fundamental appeal of this town is the unabashed yet enticing sculpture created in concrete by Kanai Kunhiraman, Kerala's best-known contemporary sculptor. Referred as the Vrindavan of Kerala, the place derives its name from the Malampuzha River a tributary of Bharatpuzha, the state's second largest river. The Rock Garden here, created by the famous re-cycling artist Nekchand, is above all worth spending time exploring. Also boating on the reservoir is another favorite sport. Set up in 1984 by the state govt. the park houses several snakes like the Forsten's cat snake, the brown vine snake and of course the King Cobra, Indian rock python, kraits, the trinket snake and the rock pit viper, the wolf snake, and a variety of vipers like the saw scaled viper and Russel viper. There are various types of cobra like the common cobra, the monocled cobra, and the spectacled cobra. Also in the park are some varieties of water snakes, crocodiles and the American green iguana. Also in Malampuzha is the thread garden, a museum of a replica of nature, all made of thread. Go on a Camel Safari Rajasthan, India's westernmost state is the very essence of exotic India. To really get a sense of the desert state, nothing comes close to a camel safari. Climb up on one of these seemingly awkward beasts, hang on for dear life, and let the good times roll, for the Ship of the Desert walks in a way which would certainly remind any sailor of a rolling, pitching deck in tumultuous waters! Winters are the best time for a camel safari. Rajasthan's summers are almost unbearably hot and arid, so going on a camel safari during this time is impractical. November to March, when days are cool (and nights cold) is when most camel safaris are organized. Desert nights can get very chilly, so it's necessary to take along warm sweaters and jackets. Although mattresses are usually provided by whoever's organizing the camel safari, you'll need to carry bedding -- a warm sleeping bag is suggested. During the daytime, the sun can be scorching, so make sure you get your hat, a pair of sunglasses and sunscreen lotion. Take a first aid kit along with you, as well as any other essentials you might need -- out there in the desert, trying to find a shop can be a difficulty. It's a good idea to carry along added blankets to cover the wooden saddle, which you'll most likely be sitting on. Blankets are excellent padding, and can protect you from a sore bottom after a hard day's riding. Most camel safaris start from Jaisalmer, which is connected by air, train and road to the rest of India. All camel-safari towns in Rajasthan, such as Bikaner and Mandawa, are connected by road to Jaipur. Buses run between all the major towns of the state, and private cars or taxis can be hired to do the trip. Himalayan National Park Characterized by dazzling high ridges, glaciers, deep gorges, alpine meadows and valleys with closed virgin forests, the Great Himalayan National Park with an altitudinal variation from 1,300m to 6,100m in Kullu district is one of the best destinations for Himalayan flora and fauna lovers. Supporting a diverse wildlife of over three hundred species of birds and over thirty species of mammals, the region was declared a national park in 1984. One third of the park area is under forest, mainly along the Nalas and their tributaries. The forests vary from sub-tropical, to alpine, to dry alpine shrub types. Himalayan forests of 'Chir' Pines, Conifers, Oaks, Firs, Rhododendrons and Junipers can be encountered within the park. The presence of undisturbed Oak forests at low and middle altitudes is worth noticing here, for it is rare outside the park. Alpine meadows above 3,800m hold a high diversity of herbaceous species, many of which have medicinal and aromatic properties of great commercial value. The excellent habitat shelters a large number of mammals and peasants. One of the few known viable populations of Western Tragopan, a highly endangered species of pheasants, lives in this protected environment. It is possibly the only place in the Himalayas where the 'Bharal' (blue sheep) occurs virtually side-by-side with the Himalayan 'Thar'. The largest population of the Himalayan Thar endemic to India is in this park. The endangered Musk Deer can also be found here. Herdsmen have also reported the elusive and highly endangered Snow Leopard The best seasons for visiting the park are summer from April to June and autumn from September to November. The relatively high density of wildlife in the area assures the visitors of sighting the Monal, Western Tragopan, Musk Deer, Goral, Bharal, and the Himalayan Thar. The rainy season from July to August and the winter season from December to March are not advisable periods to visit the park. Himalaya Mountains India is home to one of the most beautiful mountains in the world, the Himalaya Mountains, which boast the world's highest and most famous mountain peak, Mt. Everest. In a memorable verse of the 'Kumarsambhava', the famous Sanskrit poet Kalidasa compares the Himalaya to a gigantic measuring rod striding the earth between two oceans. The snow-capped peaks are indeed the most impressive feature. Himalaya, a Sankrit word, which means ' The Abode Of Snow' and all other names used to describe this mountain range associate it with eternal snow -- "Himvan", "Himvat", "Himachal" and "Himadri". Interestingly, a vast shallow sea, the Tethys, existed where the Himalaya stands today. The submerged landmasses on either side started pushing towards each other, giving birth to these mountains. This was a relatively recent occurrence in the geographical time frame, so the Himalaya is considered a young and fragile land formation. Scientists speculate that the whole process took five to seven million years. Fossil finds at heights of over 26,000 feet support these theories. The Himalaya has risen about 6,600 feet in the past 20,000 years and continues to rise at the rate 3-4 inches a year. No other chain can boast of peaks of 26,000 feet. In the Himalaya there are 14 such peaks and hundreds of summits over 23,000 feet high. The range of mountains stretches 1,700 miles across an area between Assam and Kashmir. In the east, Namche Barwa stands sentinel; the western extremity is guarded by the awesome Nanga Parbat. The Himalaya is the source of many great rivers of the Indian subcontinent. The Indus or Sindhu (the river rising out of a lion's mouth) rises in the trans-Himalayan Tibetan Plateau, as does the Brahmaputra. The Ganga and Yamuna, with their countless colourful Himalayan tributaries, are inextricably intertwined with local myths and legends. Wildlife Reserves India is home to some of the most famed National Parks and Sanctuaries in the world. India owing a diverse ecology boasts of plush vegetation and dense forests, often housing house rare medicinal plants and exotic flowers. The wildlife dwelling in these sanctuaries and reserves are abundant. Also the Conservation programs to save wildlife have saved many species from near extinction along with successful breeding programs. The most pleasant time to visit any wildlife sanctuary in India, with the exception of Dachigam is the months between October and March. However, the chances of spotting wildlife are better from March to June when the weather is hot. Below are listed just a few of India's wildlife sanctuaries. In total, India offers nearly sixty reserves in addition to a great number of national parks. Gahirmatha Turtle Sanctuary is close to the Bhitar Kanika of Orissa. This is the breeding ground for the giant Olive Ridley Turtles, who travel all the way from the Pacific Ocean to mate and lay their eggs here. The Gharial sanctuary at Tikarapada is a must for wildlife fans. Located at about 211-km from Bhubaneswar and 58-km from Angul, it offers forest bungalow accommodation at strategic places. If one wants to camp inside the sanctuary then he has to take special permission to do so. Chandaka elephant reserve is located in the Bhubaneshwar in the state of Orissa. Simlipal National Park is one of the earliest to come under Project Tiger. It was declared as one of the nine tiger project reserves in the country in 1973. It was declared a sanctuary in 1979. The floral treasures of Simlipal National include about 501 species of plants belonging to 102 families including medicinal and aromatic plants. The waterfalls, tribal settlements and mountain peaks, increase the glory of the park. What to see in Agra, India Nobody visiting Agra will want to miss the most famous of its landmarks, the Taj Mahal. After that, it is only a short distance to Fort Agra, yet another marvel in architecture. Indeed, India is full of such wonders, a testament to the rich and ancient culture that inhabits this area of the world. The Taj Mahal stands calm and breathtaking, on a raised marble platform, by the banks of the Yamuna, testifying to the timelessness of art and love. Its pure white marble shimmers silver in the soft moonlight, exudes a shell -- pink glow at dawn, and at the close of the day, takes on the tawny, fiery hue of the majestic sun. Shahjahan built the monument in memory of his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal, the 'lady of the Taj', who died giving birth to their 14th child. It has been called the most extravagant monument ever built for the sake of love. The construction of the Taj commenced in 1631, and was completed in 1653. Workers were gathered from all over the country and from Central Asia, and about 20,000 people were recruited to translate this wild dream into a reality. The main architect was Isa Khan, who was brought all the way from Shiraz in Iran. After he was deposed and brutally imprisoned in the Agra Fort, by his son Aurangzeb, Shahjahan spent the rest of his life looking wistfully at his wife's final resting place, just across the river. The Taj remains a symbol of eternal love where the heart -- broken Shahjahan was subsequently buried, re-united finally with his beloved Mumtaz. Among the other monuments that Agra takes pride in is the Agra Fort. Armed with massive double walls, punctuated by four gateways, the fort houses palaces, courts, mosques, baths, gardens and gracious pavilions lie within its premises. The palace is also notable for its smooth blending of Hindu and central Asian architectural styles. More to see in the Agra area A short drive from Agra you come upon the city of Fatehpur Sikri, which served as the capital of the Mughal empire between 1570 and 1586. But as quickly as it had been built, it was abandoned. A popular tale is attached to the city's origin, as is often the case in notable cities throughout India. According to the legend, Emperor Akbar did not have a male heir. Not knowing what else to do, he made a pilgrimage to ask for the blessings of the powerful saint Sheikh Salim Chisti. The Emperor's prayer was fulfilled, and it wasn not long before a son was born to him. In celebration of the saint who had granted his prayer, Akbar named the prince Salim, and decided to establish a new city to celebrate his son's birth. And thus, the magnificent Fatehpur Sikri, the new capital, came into being. The city was intended to symbolize the splendid standards, and the humanitarian bent of this dynamic emperor. Although a Muslim, Akbar was well known for his incredible acceptance of other religions, and he is said to have spent time in a immense deal of study and discussion of other religions, in his new capital. He also created a new religion, Deen -- e -- Elahi which attempted to blend positive aspects of all the major religons into one composite whole. This didn't work as well as he had hoped, but his ideas were noble. The finest monuments within this area are the Diwan -- i -- Am, Diwan -- i -- Khas, Panch Mahal, Jama Masjid, Panch Mahal, Buland Darwaza and the tomb of Saint Sheikh Salim Chisti. This area is a wonderful place to learn of the rich religious culture of India. Peace can be found among the many monuments that inhabit this land. Waterfalls of Karnataka The gurgling waterfalls against the backdrop of brilliant sunset offer an enchanting view. Small and big waterfalls that splash and ripple down the glorious heights of the tall mountains, mark the landscape of Karnataka. Let's explore some of this area's most beautiful ones. A big attraction for tourists and filmdom alike the Abbey Falls look magnificent with waters cascading down from scintillating heights. Even during the summers, there is plenty of water in these falls. The roar of the falls can be heard from the main road, from where a path goes through lovely coffee and cardamom plantations right up to them. The chirping of innumerable birds, which are easier to hear than to see, fills the air with sweet music. Do remember to take your binoculars and camera when you go there. The Gokak Falls are created by Ghataprabha River that takes a 170-ft leap here over a sandstone cliff. The cliff is in a picturesque gorge of the Gokak valley and is in the shape of a horseshoe. The rugged valley and the picturesque gorge inspire poetry. The dull roar of the falls can be heard from a distance. The general features such as the height; rapidity and the shape of the falls are very similar to that of the Niagara Falls except width and color of the falls. Located 10 kms from Kemmanagundi, at Kalhatti Falls, also known as Kalahasti falls, the water cascades down from a height of 122 meters. All around are fascinating scenic delights. There is also a local temple here constructed in a gap between rocks. A 'jatra' is held here for three days every year and attracts pilgrims from far and near. Jog is famous for its magnificent waterfalls. The Sharavati river flowing over a rocky bed takes a spectacular leap from a height of 292 meters and divides into 4 smaller ones known as the Raja, Rani Rocket and Roarer presenting a glorious view Valley of the Flowers High in the Himalayan ranges of Garhwal hills of Uttranchal lies an enchanting valley. Here flower pastures with clear running streams are set against silver birches and shining snow peaks. Dew lies thick on the flowers, birds sing in the surrounding forest and the air is pure and charged with floral smells. Hidden from the probing eyes of civilization, this valley had been known to the inhabitants as the Bhyundar Valley, the playground of fairies and nymphs. Trespassing their celestial abode was avoided although shepherds did take the liberty to graze their cattle here. Legends associate this valley with the area from where Hanumanji of Ramayana collected "Sanjeevani" herbs to revive Lakshmana, the younger brother of Rama. Hanuman had to visit far-flung areas in his search for the life -- saving herbs. Frank S. Smith -- mountaineer, explorer, botanist who camped here for several weeks in the monsoon of 1937 and did valuable exploratory work, introduced the valley to the world as the Valley of Flowers. The 7 kms. trail from Pulna to Bhyundar village is full of nature's scenic splendours including cascading water falls and cold water springs. Shrubs and wild roses grow abundantly and rhododendrons color the area with pink and dark red. Small wayside tea stalls run all across the route and young and enthusiastic tourist guides can be engaged at Bhyundar village. After resting awhile here, the trek on the right bank of the Laxman Ganga continues through the rich vegetation till a log bridge, supported on now, the trail becomes, steeper and harder and 2kms. from here, you will reach Ghangharia, the base camp for treks to Valley of Flowers and Hemkund Sahib. Since camping and overnight stay is not allowed in the Valley of Flowers, Ghangharia is the logical base camp for the trek Tigers, Tigers Everywhere The Ranthambore Park is set between the Aravalli and Vindhya ranges. Its deciduous forests were once a part of the magnificent jungles of Central India. The terrain is rugged and there are rocky ridges, hills and open valleys with lakes and pools. The park is famous for tigers and due to conservation efforts, the tiger population has stabilized if not increased here. The tigers can be spotted quite often even during the day, at their normal pursuits-- hunting and taking care of their young ones. Old crumbling walls, ruined pavilions, wells, and other ancient structures stand witness to the region's glorious past. The entire forest is peppered with the battlements and spillovers of the Ranthambhore fort -- tigers are said to frequent these ruins, too. Ranthambhor National Park is an outstanding example of Project Tiger's efforts at conservation in the country. The forests around the Ranthambhore Fort were once, the private hunting grounds of the Maharajas of Jaipur. The desire to preserve the game in these forests for sport was responsible for their conservation, and subsequent rescue by Project Tiger. In 1972, it was estimated that there were around 1927 tigers in India, of which Rajasthan had 74, and the number of big cats in Ranthambhore Sanctuary was 14. 1972 was also the year that Project Tiger was launched, and this sanctuary was taken into its wings, along with seven other sanctuaries and national parks. As a result of stringent efforts in conservation, tigers, the prime assets of the park, have become more and more active during the day. More than in any other park or sanctuary in India, tigers are easily spotted here in daylight. They can be seen lolling around lazily in the sun, or feverishly hunting down Sambhar around the lakes. Therefore, Ranthambhore is probably the ideal park for wildlife photography, and it does attract professional wildlife photographers, from all over the globe. The Pushkar Fair The ancient town of Pushkar is transformed into a spectacular fair ground in the month of Kartik. The fair attracts a great number of tourists from far and wide. It has become one of the country's largest fairs. The fairgrounds reverberate with festivity, as rows of make shift stalls display a bewildering array of items that compete with each other for the visitors' attention. But the highlight of Pushkar fair is the trading in camels. Camels are bought, sold, decked up and paraded on the sand dunes, presenting a picturesque sight. The camel, horse and donkey races are events that draw huge attendance. Body tattooing is yet another favorite activity that attracts a large number of enthusiasts. The Pushkar fair brings together a large number of villagers from different parts of the state. Some come here to sell. Some come here to buy. Some come here on a pilgrimage. Still others come here just to enjoy the festivities. The days are filled with fun and activity. The evenings are filled with music and dance. Come dusk, and the rich strains of haunting music are carried across the desert sands as the merrymaking continues deep into the night. The profusion of colors that run riot in the desert sands, the glee and the contagious enthusiasm of the village folk are a unique experience for every visitor. On this special occasion, the Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation (RTDC) puts up a tourist village. The tourist village is self-sufficient and specially designed to complement the natural beauty of the site. It has a Coffee Shop and Dining Hall, which can cater to 1500 guests at a time. The village is arranged in blocks of tents, each with its own identity, named after the famous dances of Rajasthan. The village also has huts with attached western style toilets and running water. The Kumbh Mela Since time immemorial, The Kumbh Mela, the greatest of the Indian fairs, has enamored people from all walks of life. Irrespective of all worldly barriers of caste, creed, region, the Kumbh Mela has wielded a mesmeric influence over the mind and the imagination of the ordinary Indian. The mela brings alive the most spectacular India, now almost relegated to the pages of history. Symbolically speaking, the forces of creation are collected in one vessel (Kumbh) and a celebration (mela) ensues, which is why this event is called 'Kumbh Mela'. "Kumbh" meaning the pot and "Mela" a sacred Hindu pilgrimage, attracts the world's largest congregation of religious pilgrims. Millions of Hindu worshippers take a dip in the holy River Ganges at the flowing together of the three rivers; the holy Ganges, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati, to wash away their sins as part of a festival, in the small town of Allahabad. The month long Mela (festival) represents a time when the river is believed to turn into purifying nectar, allowing the devotees to cleanse their souls as they bathe. This Mela presents the surrealistic view of a mini-India, where trans-sectarian Hindus are one on the issue of the virtues of the holy bath. All the devotees experience and understand the invisible, ultimate reality of wholeness and oneness, in the same way, as does a pilgrimage to Mecca to Muslims and Jerusalem to Christians of different quarters of the world. Displaying a passionate paradigm of Hinduism both at its best and its worst, it is undoubtedly, the greatest religious fair and the highest state of water symbolism. Though representing the infinitesimal Indian civilization, this mela in its magnificent form, reminds us of our extraordinary religious and spiritual legacy, and helps to maintain national integration by arousing psycho-traditional urges of the people. Take a Beach Holiday: Thousands of sun-deprived tourists visit India because it has the most diverse varieties of beaches anywhere in the world. Calm backwaters and lagoons, bays and rough lava-rocked seas, marine estuaries with fish, crashing surf, powdery golden sand or palm fringed shores -- India has them all. The West Coast with the Arabian Sea and the East Coast with the Bay of Bengal offer many a lush vistas to the traveler. The coasts of India have their own seafood cuisine, relaxing spas, diving and water sports and great places to stay for a balmy holiday. Kovalam is one of India's best sea resorts. The long coastline lined with swaying coconut palm trees dotted with an occasional fishing hamlet is quickly developing into one of the world's finest string of beaches. The sea applauds the beach temple in Mahabalipuram, gloriously silhouetted against the spectrum of the seven colors in the sky. Puri, on the East Coast, is surely one of the world's most picturesque beaches. The beach holiday to beat them all is in the Isles of Andaman and Nicobar and Lakshwadeep, where you can see the myriad colors of the flashy fish in the coral reefs from above the green waters. Goa offers the best holiday villages on its beaches. Everything about Goa is spellbinding from the landscape dotted with Portuguese architecture, to the way of life that exudes an irresistible Old World charm. Anjuna or Calangute Beach, and Miramar Bay in Panjim are quieter. The beach at Calangute is rocky. At Anjuna the waters are gentle and offer opportunities for boat rides, sea scooter rides, spot-the-dolphins rides, and motorboat rides. Colva and Benaulim are quieter and less crowded than Anjuna. Sinquerim and Candolim are also quiet beaches that afford anonymity. Every beach in India makes a picture perfect holiday destination. Visiting Bangalore: Bangalore is famous for its fine extensive gardens, Lal Bagh, was laid out in the 18th century by Hyder Ali and his son, Tipu Sultan. Covering 240 acres, the park contains a variety of plants and trees, a deer park, and one of the largest collections of rare tropical and sub-tropical plants, in the country. The Glass House, a huge conservatory is the venue of the annual flower, vegetable and fruit shows. Cubbon Park, laid out in 1864 covers an area of 300 acres. Within its grounds are the Public Library, the High Court, the Government Museum and the Visveswaraiah Technological & Industrial Museum. The Attara Kacheri, as the High Court building is known in these parts, was built in 1864. The Government Museum, one of the oldest in India, was built in 1886, and houses collections of coins, art, and relics. Located near the City Market, are the remains of a fort dating back to the days of Hyder Ali, and Tipu Sultan's summer palace. The palace, an elaborately decorated structure, has ornate arches and minarets. Bangalore boasts of some of the oldest, and most beautiful temples in the country. Adjoining Tipu's summer palace is the Venkataramanaswamy Temple, a 300 year old temple which is still in very good condition. South of Bangalore, in Basavangudi, is the Bull Temple, built by Kempe Gowda. The idol is a massive Basava or bull, which has been carved from a single boulder. Another notable temple is the Gavi Gangadhareswara temple, an unusual cave temple. It has been designed in such a manner so that, on the festival of Sankranti, the rays of the sun pass between the horns of a Nandi Bull placed outside the temple, and thereby, light up the image of Lord Shiva. Another temple dedicated to Lord Shiva is the Someshwara Temple, built by Kempe Gowda, in Ulsoor. Visiting Ahmedabad India: Ahmedabad is the largest city and former capital of Gujarat. It is made up of a remarkable mix of the splendid past and an exciting present. Named after the Sultan who founded it in 1411, the city is associated with Mahatma Gandhi, Father of the Nation, whose simple ashram on the banks of river Sabarmati is now a site of national pilgrimage. Ahmedabad is a great textile and commercial center and known as the "Manchester of India". The city is today the second largest flourishing city in Western India and is a place where tradition and modern join together in perfect harmony. We shall cover some of the wonderful places to explore in this area of India. On a quiet stretch of the Sabarmati River lies the Gandhi Ashram, built in 1920. During the lifetime of Mahatma Gandhi, it was known as Satyagraha Ashram and was the center of the struggle for Independence. It was from here, in 1930, that the Mahatma started on his famous "Dandi March" to the sea to protest against the Salt Tax imposed by the British. 'Hridaya Kunj', the simple cottage where he lived, is preserved as a National Monument. A Gandhi Memorial Center, a Library and a Sound-and-Light show offer in depth insight into the Mahatma's life and work. Hussain-Doshi's Gufa is a gallery housing the collaborative efforts of artist M. F. Hussain and the architect B. V. Doshi. Here, art and architecture fuse to become a unique experience, both complementing each other magnificently. Located in the campus of the Center for Environment Planning and Technology, the Gufa is a configuration of cave-like structures buried under the ground. This marvel of contemporary architecture was constructed using computer aided design and tribal initiative. These are just two of the must-see areas of Ahmedabad. We will explore further areas at a later time. The Garden City of India: A visit to India would not be complete without a stop at Bangalore. This city is located one thousand meters above sea level. Being the capital of the state of Karnataka, Bangalore, is an exciting cosmopolitan city. It is also a major industrial and commercial center of the country. Kempe Gowda founded the city in the early 16th century. Two centuries later, it became an important fortress city under Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan. The ruins of those periods can still be seen on the Bellary Road, at Lal Bagh, Ulsoor and Gavi Gangadhareswar Temple. You could spend many hours exploring the numerous ruin sites in this area. After a day among the ruins, you come away with a strong feeling of knowing the history of this area and understanding how it grew to its present glory. Bangalore is known as the Silicon Valley of the country, the nerve center of India's software industry. Its other major industries include aircraft and electronics and machine tools. Despite being one of Asia's fastest growing cities, Bangalore remains one of the most elegant metropolises in India. The sense of class will cause you to stop and wonder at what you see. Bangalore is a well-planned city, sporting tree-lined avenues, a large number of parks, gardens and lakes, Bangalore is aptly called India's garden city. The city attracts people in large numbers, from all over the country, and abroad. Most people come for the peaceful atmosphere of the gardens, while others come to look for better job opportunities and higher education. Surprisingly, all this frenzied industrial expansion and the large increase in the population, has not robbed Bangalore of its vital old-world appeal. It is a true blending of old-world class and modern-day industry, a place for everyone. Nature and industry reside side by side and thrive on this blending in a way not found in many other places. Chennai: India Chennai, also known as Madras, the capital of Tamil Nadu, is the country's fourth largest city. Compared to the other major metros of India, it is far less congested and polluted. Chennai was the site of the first settlement of the East India Company. It was founded in 1639, on a piece of land given by the Raja of Chandragiri, the last representative of the Vijayanagar rulers of Hampi. The city has reasonably competent public services, public buses, and the commuter trains run smoothly. A great deal of industrial expansion has taken place in Chennai recently, with the rising of engineering plants, car-assembly plants, educational institutions, and textile manufacturing units. Though there are no major attractions as such, it does have the second biggest beach in the world, the Marina Beach. Though a popular tourist spot, the beach is not really a favorite with swimmers, as the sea is known to house a large population of sharks. Built in 1640 AD, Fort St. George once served as the very first bastion of the East India Company. Now, it houses the Secretariat and the Legislative Assembly. The 46 meter -- high flagstaff, that adorns the front of the structure, is actually a mast salvaged from a 17th century shipwreck. The Fort Museum has a remarkable collection of memorabilia, dating back to the days of the Raj. Within the Fort complex, is also the oldest Anglican Church in India, St Mary's Church, built in 1678-1680. It also happens to be the oldest surviving British construction The National Deer Park is the only place in the world, where one can still find a sizeable number of the endangered species of Indian antelope (the black buck). The Deer Park, along with the Madras Snake Park, which is supported by the World Wildlife Fund, are located in the Raj Bhavan premises, at Guindy. Humavan's Tomb: India is a lot like Egypt in that many of the tourists attractions happen to be tombs of history makers that are revered by the people. One of the most famous tombs of India's history was built almost five hundred years ago. This tomb actually holds more than one body. Humayun's Tomb is situated in Delhi. Humayun's senior widow Bega Begam, popularly known as Haji Begam built the tomb, at a cost of 15 lakh rupees. It was built in the year 1565. It is among the first examples of Mughal architecture, with high arches and a double dome. There are two high double-storey gateways on the west and south that lead to the enclosure. There is a pavilion in the center of the eastern wall and a bath chamber in the center of the northern wall. To enter the tomb's chamber one has to come through the south entrance while the other three sides are covered with mesh wire in white marble. In the quietude of the central chamber lies the tomb, though the actual resting-place of Humayun is directly beneath in an underground chamber. The lofty mausoleum is in the center of the enclosure and rises from a podium faced with series of cells having arched openings. The central octagonal chamber contains the cenotaph, encompassed by octagonal chambers at the diagonals and arched lobbies on the sides. Their openings are closed with perforated screens. Three arches dominate each side, the central one being the highest. This plan is repeated on the second story too. The roof surmounted by a double dome (42.5m) of marble has pillared kiosks (chhatris) placed around it. Several rulers of the Mughal dynasties are buried here. Bahadur Shah Zafar had taken refuge in this tomb with three princes during the first war of independence (AD 1857).
Peaceful Getaways Vacations can be hectic. India is so rich in variety that it is hard to see everything. Taking time to visit the more serene areas of the country will help revive your spirit and make your vacation all the more enjoyable. Let's explore some of these peaceful mountain escapes. Located at the elevation of 996 m. above sea level on the south bank of the Ravi River, the ancient Pahari capital was founded in 920 A.D. by Raja Sahil Verma, who named it after his favourite daughter Champavati. The valley is noted for the magnificence of it's scenery-touching the fringe of the Shivaliks and having three well-defined snowy ranges, the Dauladhar, constituting the outer Himalayas, the Pir Panjal or the mid Himalayas, and the Zanskar range or the inner Himalayas. Located in Himachal Pradesh at an altitude of 1220m. Kullu was once known as Kulanthpitha, which means the end of the habitable world. Beyond rose the forbidding heights of the Greater Himalayas, and by the banks of the shining river Beas, lay the fabled 'Silver Valley'. The mountain-scapes remain spectacular regardless of the weather. The 'Silver Valley' has nature's treasures that lie carelessly scattered as flowers on the high meadows. The town of Kullu has long been a center of faith. In the 17th century, Raja Jagat Singh built here an idol of Lord Raghunathji, which he brought from Ayodhya. As a mark of his penance, he placed the idol on his throne and it became the presiding deity of the valley. Lahaul and Spiti, situated at an altitude of 6,500 mtrs are two remote Himalayan valleys of Himachal Pradesh lying on the Indo-Tibet border. Strange, exciting, primitive, these valleys are incomparable in mountain scape, in the rugged beauty of their rocky escapements and the splendor of their snow covered peaks. Nature Retreats Chail is located at 43 km higher then Shimla it was created by Maharaja of Patiala who was banned from Shimla as a result of a mild romantic fling at scandal point on Shimla's Mall. He created his own seventy-five acre Himalayan resort, which has now become a well-known tourist spot. Chail is set amidst tall cedars & stately oaks. When trekking through the forest you are no doubt going to meet up with barking deer and the highly endangered kaleej pheasant. And when tired, sit down & be refreshed by dazzling views of the Choor Chandani Peak Kufri, located a mere 8,602 ft 17 km away from Shimla, is watched over by the vast expanse of ancient cedar forests. When you visit, you will bring back memories of day long picnics, horse riding and lazy walks during languid hazy summer days. Mahasu peak the highest point in Kufri, offers a challenging hike. When the sky is a cloudless blue, watch the views of snowy clad peaks of Badrinath & Kedarnath The hills come alive with shouts of young voices throwing snow balls during the many long days of the winter season .Kufri also provides some of the finest ski slopes. This attracts ski expertise from all over the country and is a wonderful place if you wish to learn skiing from the best. This tiny Raj-era retreat is at height of 7,047 ft, 10 km north of Shimla. Mashobra was the first choice of British officials and their families who wanted proximity to as well as privacy from Shimla. Decades after they left, their indulgence still marks Mashobra's stylish properties Two of the village's most prominent structures, The Wildflower Hall and The Retreat are considered some of the finest retreats India has to offer. They offer an upper class stay in the midst of wilderness. National Parks of India Besides its numerous wildlife sanctuaries, India also sports nearly twenty national parks. All manner of flora and fauna can be found within the boundaries of these parks. Below are a few of the most popular. Sri Venkateshwara National Park extends over two districts of Chittoor and Cuddapah of Andhra Pradesh in an area of 353.62 sq.km. The park established in October 1989, is named after Lord Venkateshwara of Tirupati. It is located in Rajampet of Cuddapah district and Chandragiri and Bailapadu of Chittoor district. The hilly terrain bounded by Seshachalam and Tirumala hills is rugged and beautiful with gorges, steep slopes, plateaus and valleys. The park is also famous for its beautiful waterfalls like Talakona, Gundalakona and Gunjana. Kaziranga National Park lies on the south bank of the Brahamaputra. The Park was established in 1908 and was declared a National Park in 1974. Hemis High-Altitude National Park is the largest high-altitude reserve of India. Very close to Leh, in the area of Markha and Rumbak Valleys, the area in general is rocky and sparsely covered. The park comes under the district of Ladakh and represents the Trans-Himalayan ecosystem. The park was established in the year 1981 to preserve the dwindling population of wildlife in Ladakh region with an area of 600 sq km. The park has been earmarked as one of the snow leopard reserves under a central government project to conserve the species, its prey population, and fragile mountain habitat.It takes its name from the world famous Buddhist Gompa situated here. Sunderban is located in the Ganga delta in West Bengal and was declared a National Park in 1984. It covers a vast stretch of mangrove swamp, lush forested islands and small rivers near the Bay of Bengal and comprises mainly of estuarine mangrove forests and swamps. The Sajnakhali sanctuary, famous for its rich avian population, is regarded as a part of the Sunderbans National Park. Namdapha National Park Namdapha National Park in India is now a protected area, having been declared in 1983 Namdapha National Park under Wildlife (Protection) Act. The same year, it was also declared as a Tiger Reserve under project tiger. With a total area of 1,985-sq-kms, this is the largest national park in the Northeast and one of the larger protected areas in the country. About 150 species of trees have been identified which include Dipterocarps like the Hollong growing up to 50 metres. The floral species' richness and composition are very impressive indeed and show density, variation and endemicity, which may have few parallels. This includes a rich gene pool of indigenous crop plants along with their wild relatives and ecological variants such as the wild banana, citrus and mango. A formidable list of medicinal and ornamental plants including the wild orchids can be also be made. Of a total of 135 kind of land mammals found in India, as many as 75 kind are represented in Namdapha which no other reserve in the country can match. Perhaps the richest assemblage is in the order carnivora with 22 kinds identified in Namdapha and it is surely the only protected area in the world having four big Cats- Tiger, Leopard, Snow Leopard and Clouded Leopard. In herbivores also, the variety is amazing considering that apart from several Deer species, Namdapha is home to the bison as much as to the Himalayan Tahr and the Bharal. Besides, it has all the three Goat Antelopes found in India -- Goral, Serow and Takin. Amongst primates, it is the habitat of the rare and endangered Hoolock Gibbon, the only Ape species found in India. The different species of flying squirrels include one that is endemic which has been named as the Namdapha Flying Squirrel. This is a must-see stop on any tour of India. Muslim Music in India While the Hindu dancers of India dominate, there is a very large Muslim population that contributes to the rich diversity of India's music. While Hindu music revolves mainly around dance, Muslim music is based on instrumental pieces, with voice and dance being secondary. String instruments include the sitar, invented in the thirteenth century, its smaller version, called the sarod, and the sarangi. The sarangi is considered one of the most difficult in the world as its forty plus strings are held by the fingernails. Also used is the santoor, a zither of Persian origin. The shahnai is the main wind instrument. This is similar to an oboe. Bamboo flutes are also often played. Percussion is dominated by the tabla, whose invention is attributed to the creator of the sitar. The courts of the Turks and Mughals gave rise to the tradition of the ragas, melodic structures of between five and twelve notes, within which musicians improvise. These are defined and played according to the time of day and season and their suitability for a masculine or feminine audience. Each raga consists of several movements. Traditionally, each would have lasted hours, but modern attention spans have seen these being shortened. The final movement, which is divided into three sub-sections, introduces percussion in complex patterns of sound and rhythm. Although instrumentals have traditionally been a male area, with women contributing as vocalists, women are now starting to venture into the instrumental portion of performances. Southern India's Carnatic music developed in Thanjavur and, althoughit follows the raga structure, it is livelier and uses modified versions of the traditional instruments. Major music festivals are held in New Delhi, Mumbai in Bombay, and Chernai in Madras. Gwalior's Tansen Festival is a highlight every December. No visit to India is complete without listening to a performance of this traditional musical form. Music and Dance of India Music and dance abound in India. Travelers to the country enjoy it for the sake its beauty, never realizing that the music and dance is steeped in history, each movement conveying a message. Often worship rituals involve dances created hundreds of years ago. Each step, gesture and musical note brings with it a meaning, however subtle. The dances or India are an art. Rajasthan is one of the most richly rewarding regions for folk dances, devotional songs and music. Professional tribal performers in brilliantly colored costumes entertain visitors and residents throughout the area. Their performances include fire dances, dramas on mock horses and cymbal and drum dances. All this is accompanied by haunting ballads and handcrafted instruments. Originating from the chanted hymns of the sacred Vedas, music evolved to express the seasonal cycles and the rhythm of agricultural work, became interlinked with dance forms to celebrate the harvest, greet a particular season or worship a specific god. Originally, these dances were performed in Hindu and Jain temples. In time, however, temple leaders began to consider the dances too suggestive and the ritual dancing was banned within the temples. Today, you can only find these traditional dances performed in temples at three events each year. The Khajurako Dance Festival is helf\d in March. December sees two festivals, the Konark Dance Festival and the Mamallapuram Dance Festival. Visitors to India at these times will enjoy a rare treat by attending one of these festivals. Two forms of dance worship bear mentioning, Kathakali and Odissi. Kathakali of Kerala is a male-only dance form. The performers wear colorful costumes and the dances are full of intense drama. Odissi is Orissa's ancient dance form. The performers act out ancient myths in extravagant costumes, accompanied by musicians and singers. These dances can often be seen during the Konark Dance Festival in November. Mountain Retreats If you are looking for a place to get away from the hustle and bustle and enjoy some time in contemplation, India offers many such retreats. Below are three of the best. Darjeeling is the paradise of the East. Lofty mountains surround Darjeeling. Except for the monsoon months, the Kanchenjunga peak can be seen. Down below in the valley flow the rivers swollen by rain water or melting snow. Darjeeling is a fascinating place rich in natural beauty and surrounded by Buddhist monasteries. Its beauty surpasses any other hill station. The real fun in coming to Darjeeling is on the toy train. It takes six to seven hours to cover a distance of 82 kms and the slow speed gives you enough time to watch and appreciate the beauty which nature has provided it. This train passes through the forests, waterfalls, over deep valleys and through the mountains and tunnels A small but bustling town in the Himalaya foothills of West Bengal- Kalimpong is at an altitude of 1250 meters. Kalimpong is famous for its monasteries, churches and a private library for the study of Tibetan and Himalayan languages, culture etc. This place also has the Sericulture center and the orchid nurseries and of course the place provides some beautiful sights of the Himalayan range. Though not all travelers visit this place, which demands some attention. The journey from Darjeeling along the Teesta River is very interesting. Tea estates, orange orchards and cardamom plantations surround Mirik. Mirik has all the facilities to fulfill the needs of a tourist, it is surrounded by forests, flowers and is a very peaceful place which attracts tourists automatically. This place is 5,800 feet above the sea level and has a population of 10,000 people. Mirik has not yet acquired the hustle and bustle of the regular hill station and is free of pollution. Any time spend here is enough to refresh you. Meher Bab's Shrine India is a land of intense religious activity -- it is littered with shrines and holy men assert their divinity from every street corner. If you find yourself in this wonderful yet confusing country and are looking to immerse yourself in the search for enlightenment, then a visit to Meher Baba's shrine in the heart of India is the best place to start. Meher Baba lived in India from 1894-1969 and is believed by many to be the Christ, the Ancient One, come again "not to teach but to awaken" through divine love. For 44 years he maintained silence in the midst of intense activity, serving the needy in India as well as travelling to the West on a number of occasions, gathering followers from all over the world. Today it is possible to experience some of Meher Baba's special silence at his shrine at Meherabad, near Ahmednagar in the state of Maharashtra. You can visit this sublime place at any time of the year and from June to March you can stay at the Pilgrim Centre located close to the shrine. This beautiful building consists of a series of simple yet comfortable rooms set around four internal gardens bursting with flowers and buzzing with brightly-coloured insects and hummingbirds. In the centre is a large communal dining room where a delicious menu combines Indian and Western food. Meher Baba was emphatic about not creating a new religion; everyone's spirtual journey is unique. There are no techniques to practice, no rules and regulations. This is not a place for people who need structure and activity. The only ritual on offer at Meherabad is afternoon volleyball! Those who travel from all over the world are content to simply be in a place that seems to emanate peace and tranquillity and to listen to stories of Meher Baba's life from those who met him. All are welcome Keralan Backwaters From north to south, the dreamlike watery expanse known as Kuttanad extends forty-six miles, from Kochi through Allapuzha to Kollam and inland to kattayam. This area boasts 930 miles of waterways. Meandering channels edged by lush vegetation, groves of coconut and banana palms and rice fields connect with wide open rivers and lagoons. Life moves slowly in these parts. This area offers a fascinating insight into the rural lifestyle of its inhabitants. Colorful thatched or tiled houses cluster together in small communities, complete with worsip centers, banks and hospitals that rely on water ambulances. Tourists can get to this area by boats-both arranged tours and ferries. Buses also travel close to the area. Plan on spending a lot of time regardless of how you choose to travel. Transportation in this area matches the slow pace of life in this area. If you have extra money, you might consider spending a night or two at the Coconut Lagoon, an elaborate resort built in the grandest of traditional Keralan architecture. Nearby is an old colonial house known as the Taj Garden Retreat. Both of these places offer sunset cruises in converted cargo boats and overnight excursions on houseboats. Not a bad way to explore this beautiful area. January, July, August and September are the months given to Alappuzha's snake boat races. These events find boats manned by a hundred men each racing at top speed through the waterways of this region. The most famous of these races is the Nehru Trophy Race that takes place on the second Sunday of August every year. Forty highly decorated boats compete in this race and are often accompanied by naval helicopters showing their prowess. Crowds are large for this yearly event and anyone who is in the region only for the races would never guess how laid back life normally is in the backwater area. India's Wildlife Over the years places like Mahabaleshwar have developed para-gliding, and parachute rides. It takes your breath away, watching the beauty of the hill station from a height. The valley below and the sky kissing the earth far away has its own beauty. The Buddhist monastery of Bir in Kangra, has been the venue for national and international para-gliders for past sixteen years. If you are passionate about mountaineering then India is the place to be. It has a wide range of mountains to choose. You have the chilling Himalay, the Aravalli, the Sahyadri, the Vindya and many more exciting mountain ranges. The pulsing climbs are at Bhimashankar, Saputara and others in Maharashtra. Manali in Himachal Pradesh, the Beas Kund region and lower reaches of Hanuman Tibba, Shitidhar peaks around the source of the beas river and the Deo Tibba are quite nursery in nature. India has a varied and rich wildlife. It has the Stripped Royal Bengal Tiger, one horned Rhinoceros, Wild Buffalo, Swamp Deer and many other exciting animals. The government, a few environmental activists and organizations have taken efforts to maintain the beautiful sanctuaries, a home for many birds and animals on the verge of extinction. Most of the sanctuaries have lakes which makes them picturesque and supports rich aquatic life including fresh water crocodiles and a number of species of fishes and snakes. Water birds like corrnorants, darter, ibis, white breasted water hen, moorhen, jacanas, stilt, river tern, ringed plover, sand piper and herons (gray, and purple) are quite common. The wildlife population in India includes elephants, Indian bison, swamp deer, sambhars, hog deer, sloth bears, tigers, leopard cats, jungle cats, hog badgers, capped langurs, hoolock gibbons, pigs, jackals, porcupines, pythons, buffaloes and of course the one horned rhinoceros. Pelican, duck, geese, hornbill, ibis, cormorant, egret, heron, black necked stork, lesser adjutants, ring tailed fishing eagles are also in plenty. During winters a large number of migratory birds are regular visitors India's Bird Sanctuary: Located in eastern Rajasthan, about 176 kms away from Delhi, and 50 km west of Agra, is the Keoladeo Ghana or Bharatpur National Park, one of the most spectacular bird sanctuaries in India, nesting indigenous water- birds as well as migratory water birds and waterside birds. Sambar, chital, nilgai and boar also inhabit this national park. More than three hundred different kinds of birds can be found in this small park of 29 sq. km. of which 11 sq. km. are marshes and the rest scrubland and grassland. The name Keoladeo comes from an ancient Hindu temple, devoted to Lord Shiva, which stands at the center of the park. 'Ghana' means dense, referring to the thick forest, which used to cover the area. While many of India's parks have been developed from the hunting preserves of princely India, Keoladeo Ghana is perhaps the only case where the habitat has been created by a maharaja. It is often full of the singing of birds and other animals. In earlier times, Bharatpur town used to be flooded after almost every monsoon. In 1760, an earthen dam (Ajan Dam) was constructed, to save the town, from this destructive force of nature. The depression created by digging the soil for the dam was cleared and this became the Keoladeo Lake. At the beginning of this century, this lake was developed, and was divided into several portions. A system of small dams, dykes, sluice gates, etc., was created to control water level in different sections. This became the hunting preserve of the Bharatpur royalty, and one of the best duck-shooting wetlands in the world. Hunting was prohibited by the mid-sixties, however, because of frequent complaints. The area was declared a national park on 10 March 1982, and accepted as a World Heritage Site in December 1985 Glaciers of India The Siachen glacier lies in the extreme north-central part of Jammu and Kashmir near the border of India and Tibet. With a length of about 72-km, Siachen is known as the largest glacier in the world outside the Polar Regions. Located on the north-facing slopes of the Karakoram Range, Siachen feeds the Mutzgah or Shaksgam River that flows parallel to the Karakoram Range before entering into Tibet. Large tributary glaciers like the Shelkar Chorten and Mamostang open into the main glacier from both sides of its trough. The trunk glacier and its tributaries are in the form of a vast ice field, particularly during the winter season when there is continuous snowfall for several weeks at a stretch. The Siachen glacier lies in a vast trough more than 2-km wide and the sides of the glacier are strewn with rocks and boulders. The central part of this glacier, however, is a vast snowfield. Numerous icefalls have been formed at the junction of small valley glaciers and the trunk glacier. Lateral moraines occur at the confluence of larger tributary glaciers and the trunk glacier. The sidewalls of the glacial trough are steeply sloping and avalanches roll down these slopes quite often, particularly in winter This glacier encompasses a vast area in winter. There are virtually no signs of recession. This tract is more or less devoid of a vegetative cover due to its high elevation as well as its latitude. The bulk of the total annual precipitation is in the form of snow. To the east of the Siachen lies the Rimo glacier group, a group of three glaciers -- North, Central and South -- located at an altitude of between 6,000 and 7,000 m above sea level. Between them, these glaciers have almost 700 -sq-kms of ice, which at places is 100 m deep. Thus the Siachen glacier empire contains about 2,000-sq-kms of ice surface and almost 200 cubic kilometers of ice. Exploring Hill Stations A Hill station is the term used for mountain retreats in the country of India. Some of these boast religious temples, others a chance to interact with nature at its most spectacular, and still others a simple quiet place to lay aside the hurry and worry of everyday life and just relax. Let's explore!! Located at an altitude of 2,050m. The Kullu valley has an ancient town in its lap called Manali. Surrounded by towering peaks seemingly at an arm's length, Manali's major asset is its nearness to the snowline. It is a flourishing orchard industry, a popular honeymoon destination and trailhead for numerous treks as well as a great countryside ideal for adventure sport lovers. This hill station spreads over five low-level hills at the western edge of the Dhauladhar range, just east of the Ravi River. The picturesque town is interspersed with the colonial-era buildings, low roofed stalls and hotels. The pine-covered slopes around it are intersected with paths and treks, which are ideal for short undemanding walks. Set against the backdrop of the dramatic Dhauladhar mountains, Dharamsala is perched on the high slopes in the upper reaches of Kangra Valley. Dharamsala over looks the plains and is surrounded by dense pine trees and Deodar forests. A nearby snowline with numerous streams and cool healthy atmosphere makes the surroundings very attractive. Dharamsala is a busy marketplace town and has established itself as the travelers base camp. Shimla is located at an altitude of 2,159m. Shimla has been blessed with all the natural bounties one can imagine. Dwelling on a panoramic location, the hilly town is surrounded by green pastures and snow-capped peaks. The spectacular cool hills joined together with the buildings made during the colonial era create an aura, which is very different from other hill stations. Elephanta caves: The Elephanta caves are thought to date back to the Silhara kings belonging to the period between 9th -- 12th centuries. Legends and history suggest that the great warrior prince of Chalukya dynasty Pulkesin ll, raised the shrine to celebrate his victory. Some historians also suggest that the Kalchuri King Krishnaraja built these caves in 6th century AD. The entire cave temple complex covers an area of about 60,000 square feet. The World of Lord Shiva, Elephanta is the place where the main events in the mythology of Lord Shiva are depicted most powerfully, consistently and exclusively. At Ellora though other Gods appear on the panel with Shiva, but at Elephanta there is nothing but Shiva. According to Hindu Mythology three Gods govern their world: Brahma -- the creator, Vishnu -- the Preserver and Maheshwara -- the Destroyer. Elephanta has a story that there was a pillar whose end could not be found. Even the Gods failed to determine the length of the pillar. Panel 6 of the caves represents the marriage of Shiva with Parvati with the rites being performed by Brahma and scores of other Gods attending the marriage. Panel 5 of the cave describes the coming of Ganga from heaven to Earth. As the great force of Ganga might have destroyed the Earth,she lands in the hair locks of Shiva who then gently releases her. The wise and righteous Lord before whom the forces of evil and ignorance flee, and are terrified into submission is carved on the 7th panel. Similarly other wall panels narrate the story of Lord Shiva. The sculptors carved out of solid basalt rock, a representation of the heavenly mountain residence of Lord Shiva. Opening out from three sides, the temple lets in light from many angles making the sculptures seem to move with the changing angles of light. It's All in the Planning: Chandigarh was designed by the French architect Le Corbusier and is the capital of the Indian states of Punjab and Haryana. Though Simla was chosen as temporary headquarters, the need for a permanent capital resulted in the birth of a new city at the foothills of the Shivalik hills. Chandigarh then became the new capital of Punjab and Haryana. This city covers an area of fifty-six square kilometers; Chandigarh is the first `deliberate' city of India. The city has neatly laid out roads and parks, buildings ranging against mountain peaks, boulevards and streets lined by endless rows of trees and shrubs. The city is named after the Goddess Chandi Devi, whose white -- domed temple stands on the slope of a hill in the north east of Chandigarh, on the edge of the Shivalik hills. Spread over an area of 114 sq. kms, it is a modern city, built in 47 sectors (excluding the unlucky number 13). Each sector consists of market places and shopping centers. State Transport buses, auto-rickshaws and taxis interconnect all the sectors. This city has its population drawn from every community and region in India, and ranks second in literacy among the country's states and union territories. Chandigarh has about fifteen medium and large-scale industrial units. These include soft drinks, electric meters, antibiotics, electronic components and equipment, bio-medical equipment, tractor parts, cement pipes and tiles, and washing machines The Rock garden, a famous tourist spot, is an architectural wonder, covering an area of 6 acres. Nekchand Saini, with multicoloured pieces of stones and other discarded objects, built it. The Sukhna Lake is an artificial lake, spread over an area of 3 sq. kms. Boating facilities are available here, and walking around the perimeter of the lake is a very refreshing experience. Asia's largest rose garden, Zakir Gulab Bagh, spread out over 30 acres of land, boasting of 50,000 rose-trees of 1600 different species. Indian Pilgrimages: India is the land of gods and diverse religions where lies the serenity of its heritage. India is dotted with pilgrimages. Pilgrimage tourism is extremely popular in India. Great religions like Hinduism,Buddhism and Sikhism have originated on the Indian soil. The unity in diversity is the keyword for this grand country. In North India, some of the holiest places to visit are Varanasi, Prayag (Allahabad),where the Kumbh Mela is held,and Mathura,the birthplace of Lord Krishna. In the East India lies Puri in Orissa that famous for the Jagannath Temple and its Rath Yatra. Rameshwaram and Kanyakumari lie in the South and Dwaraka the kingdom of Lord Krishna in the west. Also places like Tirupati, Vaishnodevi, Shirdi, Shabrimala, Tanjore and Madurai towns are famous for their temples and shrines and very much on a must- visit list. Sikh pilgrimage sites in India include the Golden Temple founded by Guru Ram Das, the fourth Sikh Guru. This is the most sacred shrine of the Sikhs and is in the town of Amritsar. Another important pilgrimage site is Anandpur Sahib, where Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Guru, created the 'Khalsa' or the pure ones by baptizing them. Jain temples in India are an attraction to all the devotees following Jainism religion. One of the most important Jain pilgrimage sites located in the Karnataka state is the monolithic statue of Bahubali at Sravanabelagola. Also the Mount Abu in Rajasthan where the Dilwara Temple is situated is one of the finest examples of Jain art and architecture. Buddhist pilgrimage sites found in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Ladakh, and other parts of India are important destinations for millions of people in South East Asia and other parts of the world. Bodh gaya pilgrimage in India is reckoned as the most important Buddhist pilgrimage center. Also the magnificent Mahabodhi temple in Bodh gaya is an architectural amalgamation of many centuries, cultures and heritages. Vaishali is of special significance to the Buddhists. It is here that Buddha delivered his last sermon and announced his impending Nirvana . India's Culture Center: Kolkota is a city for those who love the arts. It bosasts many art performances as well as numerous museums. Kolkota is a vibrant city on the move, volatile and unpredictable. The Gateway to India, till 1912, and the capital of the Raj in India, it still bears the Victorian imprint on its streets and structures. Kolkota is home to more than 10 million people. It boasts major industrial plants, textile mills and corporate units. Regal edifices, grubby alleys, bustling bazaars, elegant hotels, people from all walks of life -- Kolkota has it all. Forming the green heart of the city is agreat stretch of lawns called the Maidan, fringed on one side by the river, and on the other by an elegant boulevard, the Chowringhee. The Maidan is the venue for an assortment of events, ranging from football matches to political rallies. The grounds are also aptly, referred to as the 'lungs of the city.' Surrounding the lawns are a number of famous landmarks. At the southern end is the Victoria Memorial, an imposing white marble edifice, a museum housing the relics of the British Empire. At the northern end is the Ochterlony Monument, a 48 metre high column, now known as the Shahid Minar. Just adjacent to it, are the Eden Gardens, with a picturesque lake and a quaint Burmese pagoda. The Birla Planetarium, one of the largest in the world, is placed at the southern end of the vast Maidan, along with the Zoological Gardens. The Indian Museum, one of the largest of its kind in India, is located in Chowringhee. The Academy of Fine Arts, Nehru Childrens Museum, Netaji Museum, Birla Academy of Art and Culture, Birla Industrial and Technological Museum, Rabindra Bharati Museum and the Ashutosh Museum of Indian Art are some of the museums that contain invaluable and rare objects d' art. Dehli Delhi, the capital of India, is an mixture of the old and the new. The ancient and the modern times are in combination here, not only in the remains of a succession of empires, but equally in present social structure and lifestyles. This is the place most people think of when they consider visiting India. The name Delhi, Dehali, or Dilli is derived from Dhillika, the name of the first medieval township of Delhi, located on the southwestern border of the present Delhi, in Mehrauli. This was the first in the series of seven medieval cities. It is also known as Yoginipura, that is, the fortress of the yoginis (female divinities). There was, however, an ancient urban settlement in Delhi known as Indraprastha on the banks of the Yamuna which is traditionally believed to have been founded by the Pandava brothers, the mythical heroes of Mahabharata, the national epic of India. Excavations at the site of the township inside Purana Kila or the Old Fort show that the date of the oldest habitation in Delhi is around the 3rd or 4th century B.C. Delhi is divided into two parts. The old Delhi or Delhi was one of the capitals of Muslim India between the 12th and 19th centuries. Old forts, mosques and monuments related to India's Muslim history are located here. New Delhi is the imperial city that was created as the capital by the British. It is spread over a wide area and is lined with imposing boulevards. Delhi is a major travel gateway into India. It is one of India's busiest entry points for overseas airlines and is on the overland route access across Asia. Delhi is the place all travelers think about, but they soon discover that Delhi is only the very beginning of the wonders India has to offer. Death Rituals of India Knowing how a culture views death helps us understand many things about the country and its people. Any time you plan on visiting a country outside your own, it is good to learn about the basic thought patterns regarding such things as birth, marriage and death. We will discuss death practices in this article. In the philosophical Vedic text, the Bhagavad Gila, Krishna explains that at death the sould passes into another body. Hindus traditionally cremate their dead on funeral pyres, usually on the banks of the Ganges or other sacred rivers. The ashes are later scattered there so the cycle of reincarnation can be continued. While the body burns, priests seem to be indifferent to the emotions of the families by bargaining over the price of each verse of the Vedas, which is the sacred text, to be recited. The oldest son performs the last rite at his parents' cremations, which guarantees their release from this world. The British banned sati, which was the ancient rite of a widow throwing herself on her husband's funeral pyre, in 1829. This ban left widows shunned by society and unable to remarry, even if they were very young. Even though it is illegal, there are rare instances where sati is still performed. It is also still a practice in rural communities to stigmatize widows. Muslims view death differently than Hindus. They believe in resurrection after death and they believe in both heaven and hell. It is for this reason it is customary in Muslim communities to bury the dead rather than cremate them. Whatever the religion, the rituals assigned to the dead are full of tradition, often going back hundreds of years. Respect for the various rituals is a must for any visitor to India. This is one area that both Muslim and Hindu place a great deal of importance. Beaches of India Beaches provide a nice change from the hectic everyday life and if you are looking for a change, then hop on to the nearest beach site with your family and catch up with the lost time. India offers several wonderful beach areas. Some of the best beach resort options include Juhu, Marine Drive and Chowpatty Beaches in Mumbai. Popular as snack joints and hangout zones of Mumbai, these beach sites provide options for evening walks on the soft sand by the sea. Kovalam Beach in Kerala provides a refreshing change from the other over crowded beach sites of India. Kovalam stands apart from the rest of the Indian beaches because of its lavish green landscape and the coconut trees along the coast. A grand feast for the eyes! With beautiful blue waters Marine and Elliot's Beaches provide a pleasant sightseeing experience to visitors and the pony rides will delight the kids. Muttukadu is a perfect picnic spot because of its beach. Tamil Nadu Tourist Development Corporation runs a Boat House at Muttukadu, where facilities for boating and wind surfing are available for the pleasure of beach buffs. Puri, and Konark Beaches in Orissa also make perfect beach destination for some exciting family vacation. The tourist inflow on these beach sites still mainly includes pilgrims, besides being important temple sites of India, the waters of these beaches are prefect whether you want to take a holy dip or go for a swim. Among the beach areas of Andhra Pradesh, the Vishakhapatnam beaches are best known for their picturesque natural environs and long beach stretches. The Ramakrishna Beach and the Lawson's Bay are foremost places for fun and relaxation one looks for at a beach site. Near Vishakhapatnam is Bheemunipatnam, one of the safest beaches on this part of the East Coast. Architectural Wonders of Ahmedabad Ahmedabad is rich in architectural art. Below we will explore four of these spectacular sites. Built by Ahmad Shah in 1423, Jama Masjid is the primary mosque of the Islamic era, situated at the heart of the city. The mosque was built in the Indo- Saracenic architectural era and is said to be the most beautiful mosque in the East. The mosque has 260 pillars supporting 15 domes arranged symmetrically. A special feature of the mosque is the Muluk-Khana, or the Royal Gallery, which is a platform standing on pillars and enclosed upto the roof with beautiful stonework. Named after the Hindu wife of Sultan Mohammed Beghara, the Rani Rupmati's Mosque was built between 1430 to 1440 A. D. It has three domes supported by pillars with the central dome slightly elevated so as to allow natural light into the mosque. The mosque has richly carved minarets, balcony windows and perforated stone lattices. Its three domes are linked together by a flat roof. However, the mosque and tomb of Rani Sipri at Astodia surpasses it for its planning and structural arrangement. Popularly known as Masjid-e-Nagina, this mosque is the most exquisite gem of Ahmedabad. Hatheesing Jain Temple was built outside Delhi Gate in 1850 by Sheth Hatheesing, a rich Jain Merchant. This is the best known of Ahmedabad's many ornate Jain Temples. Built of pure white marble, it has a paved courtyard surrounded by an imposing row of cloisters containing 52 shrines, each with an image of a tirthankara, profusely decorated with rich carvings, one containing the marble image of the 15th tirthankar. The temple is a two-storied structure with elaborate porches on three sides and front porch crowned by a large dome. It was designed by Premchand Salat and is dedicated to Dharmanath, the fifteenth Jina or Jain apostle. Ajanta Caves Ajanta caves are located 99-km away from Aurangabad district in the state of Maharashtra. Ajanta caves were carved out from the 2nd century BC to 6th century AD, and are ranked high as a world heritage site. In Cave 1,Prince Buddha is depicted delicately holding the fragile blue lotus, his head bent sideways as if the weight of his ornate jeweled crown is too heavy for his head. His half-closed eyes give an air of meditation, almost of shyness. Cave number 2,which is one of the better-preserved monasteries with a shrine, shows how sculpture, paintings and architectural elements were used together to enhance the atmosphere of piety and sanctity. The ceiling and wall paintings illustrate events associated with Buddha's birth. A sculptured frieze of the miracle of "Sravasti", when Buddha multiplied himself a thousand times can be seen in cave 7. In cave 17 one can find the paintings that depict stories from the Jatakas or tales of the previous incarnations of Buddha and also Buddha with his right hand raised,with the palm facing the viewer,which is a symbol of "Abhaya" -- reassurance and protection. The best surviving examples of a rock cut Chaitya Griha can be seen in cave 19 at Ajanta. The distinctive 'horseshoe' shaped window -- flanked by 'Yakshas' or guardians, standing Buddha figures and elaborate decorative motifs, tops the elegant porch. The interior of the cave is profusely carved with pillars, a monolithic carved symbolic Stupa and images of Buddha, which heralded the introduction of Mahayana phase. In cave 26,Buddha is seen seated under a Bodhi tree at Bodhgaya, meditating, when Mara and her voluptuous daughters attempted to tempt him. Buddha touched the earth with his left hand to witness his enlightenment. The "Parinivana" (ultimate enlightenment or liberation) came when Buddha left the world- as depicted in the 7m (23ft) image of the reclining Buddha in cave number 26. Ahmedabad: An Area Rich in History As we continue our tour of Ahmedabad, you will find four more of the places that are rich in history. In this large city, there is literally something for everyone. By the time you have explored even half of what is available, you will agree that this is one of the richest vacations you have embarked upon. The Calico Museum of Textiles is widely regarded as one of the finest textile museums in the world. It was built in 1949. The Museum is home to at least five hundred years of the finest fabrics spun, woven, printed and painted in different parts of India. It also has a collection of marble, sandstone and bronze icons and busts. These latter displays are split into two thematic sections-a gallery for religious textiles and one for historical textiles. Kankaria Lake is circular lake constructed in 1451 by Sultan Qutubub-Din. At the center of the lake is an island garden with a summer palace, known as Nagina Wadi. The lake is a popular recreation center surrounded by parks, 'Bal Vatika', an aquarium, a boat club, a natural history museum and a zoo. This is one of the most family-oriented places to visit and you should plan an entire day for this. The Mosque of Sidi Sayed, near Lal Darwaja is world-renowned for its magnificent stone tracery, in particular, the splendid Jali screen, which is framed with ten semi-circular windows. It is a fine example of Indo-Saracenic architecture and its models in miniature are the best-known souvenirs of the city The Siddi Bashir Mosque is best known for its Shaking Minaret or Jhulta Minar. When one minaret is shaken the other one begins to vibrate. The mosque was obviously built by master craftsmen and the crucial mechanism that causes the vibration is still a mystery. A Time to Laugh Whoever said laughter is the best medicine was taken very seriously. Laughter clubs have been curing stressed out Mumbai residents so successfully, they are springing up all over the world. We all need the chance to laugh and release a bit of stress, even on vacation. Take a bit of time to visit Mumbai. Hot, sweaty, sticky and frenetic, Mumbai doesn't leap out as being a particularly amusing venue, but thanks to the side-splitting wisdom of a Dr Madan Kataria, a number of 'Laughter Clubs' have been popping up to help us see the funny side of having your bags nicked at the train station. In fact, their role in the healing world in the past few years has taken off to other far corners of the globe -- the USA being one popular destination. In March 1995, Kataria thought of writing an article on "Laughter, the Best Medicine" on the basis of a large amount of scientific literature that he found on the benefits of laughter on the mind and body. Rather than publishing, he went to a public Garden in Mumbai and spoke to people about starting a Laughter Club. Those interested (only a few) stood in a circle and, under Kataria's expert guidance, invited each other to crack a joke. All went well for a couple of weeks until the jokes ran out. So Kataria set about developing ways to laugh impromptu -- no gags necessary. Such are the success of his methods that they are being imported elsewhere (visit the World Laughter Tour Website to find out more), but if in Mumbai anyway, it's highly likely you'll need to re-boot your sense of humour. Although you can laugh with the professionals throughout the year, it may be best to go when Mumbai is a bit cooler than normal (April to June). A Look at India's Crafts India is rich in artistic works. It is often confusing for visitors to this country to decide just which crafts they will carry home with them. The choices are many, widely varied and often inexpensive. The finest quality merchandise can often be found in the bazaars that populate larger cities such as Delhi, Munbai in Bombay, Kolkata in Calcutta and Chennai in Madras. Literally thousands of places, from quaint shops to roadside stands, sell crafts to visitors. Rajasthan and Kashmir are the two largest producers of crafts made for mass distribution. In Rajasthan, you will find bargains on fabrics, jewelry, glass, pottery, rugs and camel-hide products. Carpets, shawls and embroidery dominate the products produced in Kashmir. These are often considered to be of the finest quality available. The many tribal communities of India produce unusual crafts that are popular with tourists. These crafts include wire animal tarakashi of Orissa and large bronze sculptures in Nagaland. The Himalaya areas produce a vast amount of silver, turquoise and coral jewelry. Indian jewelry shops specialize in bright, 22-carat gold items. Many of the local tribes trade in their traditional silver jewelry for the more widely preferred gold. Often jewelers have bags of silver jewelry for sale by the pound. Brass and copper are worked into trays, cups and plates. The best of these can be found in Varanast. No mention of India's crafts would be complete without a mention of Bidriwork, a specialty of Aurangabad and Hyderbad. This craft is a matte gunmetal alloy finely inlaid with silver and gold. It is then used in making boxes, vases and huggas, or water pipes. These are sure to be treasured by all who obtain one. This article only touches on the rich craft culture of India. Spend plenty of time looking at the variety and choosing. You are bound to find the perfect souvenir of your trip to India.
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