Category Archives: India

Cultures of India- An Introduction

India is sort of an overwhelming assignment, but guest blogger Laura Rutgers is willing to give it a try. To find flights to India use our Vagobond Flight Tool and for the best deals on hotels, try our India Hotel Search Engine

India has always been a captivating destination for travelers from all over the world. The enticing unity of Indians reflects a diversity of religions, cultures, customs and languages. This diversity itself is the pride of the nation. The living styles of people, their clothing, thoughts, food and culture, everything has imprints of this diversity. So much so that all together they seem to be a part of an inseparable unit. A traveler can feel this inherent character of Indian culture by simply passing across these streets for its diverse heritage.

Bollywood IndiaIndia possesses one of the oldest civilizations and richest cultural heritages on the planet. It has experienced a multifaceted socio-economic development in the last 61 years after getting its freedom from Britain.

Today, the country has become self-sufficient in agriculture and is now the tenth most industrialized nation in the world. A unique geographical position has given India a chance to develop a unique culture of the Indian subcontinent and this uniqueness is a big ‘pull’ factor for travelers from different countries who visit this amazing country.

culture of IndiaThis cultural uniqueness has become a type of magic attraction for curious travelers visiting India every year. The people and their peculiar lifestyles, their folk dances and music, art & handicrafts. All of these have epitomized the nationality of the country. Be it a festive occasion or a moment of grief, Indians participate in every occasion with an open heart.

Wonderous IndiaPeople wonder how a rural Indian calls any stranger as brother with such an ease. Following the philosophy of “the whole world is our family” an Indian welcomes any guest and offers the best of his hospitality to the person coming to his door. These characteristics surprise anyone who is coming from a distinct culture.

The diversity of India in terms of languages, religion, ethnic origin and geography has led to the development of this distinct cultural structure that has enveloped all differences in a common identity and from Kanyakumari, the outhermost part of India to the peaks of the Himalayas, the country shows a bondedness that is rare in any nation today.

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India the Culture

India, is known as the land of surprises, and that is why it is one of the most fascinating tourist countries in the world. Most surprisingly the country has preserved its historical uniqueness and regional differences in language, religion, ethos, customs, traditions, food and even costumes.. Its glorious forts, temples, mosques and churches; tasty foods, colorful and vibrant festivals, all are yet intact with the common lives of people. Travelers get surprised to see strangers pouring colors on each other in the Holi festival and nobody taking that otherwise.

Dancer in IndiaMost famous cultural destinations of India that are reputed for their cultural and architectural uniqueness are Rajasthan’s palaces, Tajmahal in Agra, and Delhi the capital of India, which embraces culture, ancient glory and architectural riches altogether.

But if someone is searching for the cultural uniqueness, the best place to visit is Banaras or Allahabad, where thousands of people take baths in the holy water of the Ganges and meditate and pray for the freedom of their souls.

The search for the end of desires ends here, where people of any religion, any country, or culture live together, die together, and worship their different idols in their own unique ways with a common notion of getting freedom from the circle of birth and death.

This is India and it is magical.

Laura Rutgers is a dancer and photographer who lives in Palm Beach, Florida, USA. She has take a journey to India and plans to take many more.

Travel in India : Social Concerns

India has always been one of the world’s favorite destinations due to its diverse culture and uniqueness; however there are several societal elements that have directly or indirectly impacted upon growth of tourism in this country.

The unique hospitality of Indians has attracted travelers to the country on the one hand while; unfriendly gaze and racism have put them off on the other hand. Be it behavioral unfriendliness, or social prejudices have always kept Indians much away from the tag of ‘global brotherhood’ that it boasts of for ages.

Social problems for India Travel“Incredible India” tourism campaign and the growth of communication and media has helped India in getting millions of travelers and business tourists however, the tourism industry is hampered by many social problems.

E.M. Forster in his “A Passage to India” described the real social and political atmosphere within colonial India. He criticizes Anglo-Indian colonial society, quoting their wide cultural differences and distinct thoughts. But the contemporary prejudice and misunderstanding prevalent in Indian society is yet a great obstacle in the development of tourism. Not only travelers face a lack of proper accommodation and hygiene the excessive bureaucracy also comes in their way to get proper assistance in these matters.

Many a times, local people exploit the tourists and harass them, making their trip to “Incredible India” a horror. Be it a taxi driver, or local shopkeepers or beggars, everybody tries to fool tourists and extract money from them.

Most of the famous attraction for tourists, especially pilgrimages are damaged by pollution. Allahabad, Baranasi, Hardware etc are favorites of all tourists who come to soothe their spirits and search for peace of mind but pollution and dirt make them off.

The Lonely Planet for India is recommended for anyone venturing to India.

Beggars are a big problem everywhere in India, be it Haridwar or Tirupati, or Mumbai’s Haji Ali, hundreds of beggars surround the tourists making it difficult for them to appreciate the aesthetic beauty of the place for which they come here.

Safety- ahs always been a great concern for travelers in India, despite the principle of global brotherhood, Indians do not welcome everyone with a friendly gesture. Men are found staring at foreigner women causing them discomfort. The embarrassing incident of rape of a British girl in Palampur has led to serious concerns over the safety of tourists, particularly foreigners, in this country, which has been known as place of peace and tranquility.

Problem of interaction with local people also keeps tourist away from the rural interiors of this country, despite the fact that rural areas are the real treasure f natural beauty and culture. Very few people understand English in the villages and most of women do not talk with tourists due to hesitation and social restrictions.

Indian beautyMost of these social problems are hampering the growth of tourism in India, yet the Indian government is far from eradicating them. Forbid the social problem, the country is indeed lacking infrastructures for educating people.

Therefore, despite cultural uniqueness and diverse heritage, the social restrictions, lack of volunteering and real hospitality in Indians may stop the international travelers from coming closer to taste the uniqueness of ‘Incredible’ India.

Kochi: City of Many Faces

Story and Photos of Kochi by Dave Stamboulis

kochi by Dave StamboulisTravelers often get confused over the various names given to Kerala’s port city of Kochi. The city used to be known as Cochin, and internationally as Fort Cochin, which is actually the name of the old harbor area of the city, while many Keralans may be heard referring to it as Ernakulam, which is actually the larger mainland part of the town. Yet names aside, Kochi is a fabulous mélange of cultures and people, perhaps due to its history of openness to the outside world.

kochi by Dave Stamboulis

Kochi has been known throughout the ages as the center of the spice trade on the subcontinent. Jewish, Roman, Arab, and Chinese merchants visited it from the 13th Century and the city became Europe’s first settlement in India when the Portuguese colonized it in the early 1500’s. The Dutch and later the British also had their period of rule, and even as an Indian city today, Kochi is characterized by its large numbers of ethnic minorities, ranging from Tamils to Jews to Gujaratis to Syrian Christians, and probably the largest concentration of Catholic churches and followers you’ll find in Asia outside of the Philippines.

kochi by Dave Stamboulis

Vestiges of all this multiculturalism can be seen everywhere, from the city’s iconic Chinese fishing nets, which date back to the 14th Century and are still used sparingly today, to the imposing Santa Cruz Basilica Cathedral and the St. Frances Church, the first European churches built in Asia (1502 and 1503) and still the site of well attended masses today. Kochi also boasts a Jew Town, with the Paradesi Synagogue as its centerpiece, and a living heritage site today. The father of the warden of the synagogue built the still standing Koder House (, reconstructing it over a 19th century Portuguese mansion, and is just one example of the fine colonial architecture one will find meandering the pleasant back streets of Fort Cochin. The house serves as a fine boutique hotel today and gives a feel for what life must have been like during the days of old.

 kochi by Dave Stamboulis

Kochi prides itself on culture and spectacle. Leading the way is Kathakali, Kerala’s famed dance-drama performance art in which long periods of training, makeup, and ritual are fused into a colorful and mesmerizing spectacle. While short performances are staged for visiting tourists, the real deal still involves all night long temple shows and is a major part of the elaborate Keralan festival calendar each year.

kochi by Dave Stamboulis

Not far from one of the Kathakali performance theatres lies the ornate Dharmanath Desar Jain Mandir, a Jain temple founded by Gujaratis that engages in a rather bizarre pigeon feeding ritual each afternoon, in which pilgrims come and pray to the thousands of pigeons which descend from the rooftops to eat the birdseed put out by the temple monks each day. Needless to say, Kochi never ceases to astound.

kochi by Dave Stamboulis

While the heat of the day drives many to shaded cafes, it’s still easy enough to find an auto rickshaw driver out seeking a fare who will be more than happy to show you all the old colonial buildings and act as a history lecturer at the same time, all the while trying to get you to stop in for a purchase of some of Kochi’s famous products such as pepper, cardamom seed, or tea from the nearby plantations in the Western Ghat Mountans.

kochi by Dave Stamboulis

He will also be quick to point out his favorite Ayurvedic shop, as most of the plants used in this ancient traditional medicine practice come from Kerala and are traded out of Kochi’s busy port. An Ayurvedic massage, which features warm herbal oil head massages and relaxing steam treatments are extremely rejuvenating and yet just another reason to pay the bustling Kochi a visit.

Chinese fish nets at sunset in Fort Cochin (Kochi) in Kerala, In

It is a popular ritual for visitors and locals to gather along the promenade next to the Arabian Sea in Fort Cochin each night, drinking fresh mango shakes and portions of fried fish served up by enterprising hawkers. The backdrop of the sun setting behind the Chinese fishing nets is the most photographed site in Kerala, and yet this long running tradition may be seeing its final hours. The novel land operated cantilevered fishing nets which are counterbalanced by large rocks on ropes and need 5-6 men to work, have been reduced to only a dozen or so in the past decade, as the trade is no longer profitable enough for the fishermen due to market prices and local dredging. While cultural heritage and trust foundations have tried to get behind movements protecting the long running practice, the Indian government has not done anything to make the nets a natural treasure.

kochi by Dave Stamboulis

Yet undoubtedly Kochi will survive, just has it has all these years of the Portuguese, Dutch, British, and more, always open to the sea, to new faces, new ideas, and perhaps India’s most inviting destination, just waiting for what the drifting tides will bring in next.

kochi by Dave Stamboulis

Travel Tips:

Transport: Kochi’s International Airport is one of India’s busiest, with dozens of carriers calling in from around the world. The airport is about an hour’s drive from the city. In town, local ferries are a great way of getting around and avoid the heavy traffic that pervades Kochi during rush hours.

kochi by Dave Stamboulis

Stay and Eat: The Koder House Boutique Heritage Hotel has a fantastic location in Fort Cochin opposite the harbor and Chinese fishing nets, and the hotel’s unique restaurant serves sumptuous Keralan and Jewish cuisine. There are not many rooms at this gem, so make sure to book in advance especially during high season. The Koder House: Phone: +91 484 2218485,

kochi by Dave Stamboulis

Do: aside from all the local attractions, it is easy to visit the famed Kerala Backwaters for a boat trip or go up to the tea plantations of Munnar for an excursion from Kochi. Travel agents abound in Fort Cochin and can set this up.

kochi by Dave Stamboulis

Dave Stamboulis (Facebook Page)  is a global nomad who spent seven years traveling 40,000 kilometers around the world by bicycle. His book Odysseus Last Stand chronicles that journey. Dave resides in Bangkok, Thailand, where he works for magazines, newspapers, and stock agencies as a freelance photojournalist.  His quest for stories and images in off the beaten track places has taken him to spots such as Borneo, Ethiopia, Bolivia, and other way out locations, often reached via bicycle, kayak, or on foot.  you can check out his work at and his most recent photography at his Flickr.