India. My fascination with this country started on my 12th birthday. My grandma handed me one of her always perfectly wrapped gifts. I vigorously ripped it open to find a book. To be honest, books were my least favorite present, but there was something about this particular one that intrigued me. On the cover, in all its grandeur, sat the stunning Taj Mahal, and right below, in big bold letters, it invited me to Discover India. 15 years later, here I stood, on Christmas day, directly in front of the Taj Mahal.
There is nothing subtle about India. The smells, the tastes, the sounds, it is all so in your face. I had a lot of respect for this country prior to roaming its lands. Though we’ve traveled many countries similar to India, there were so many horror stories that, up until this past year, made me reluctant to go. But what we found when we arrived in India was in total opposition. The hospitality there is on another echelon. It is as if their culture is born for customer service. From the smiles and waves that you find on the streets, to random conversations with locals in the markets, wanting to tell you everything possible to see and do in the surrounding areas.
We had the luxury of zigzagging around the country for over a month. One would think this would be plenty of time to explore, but it was only enough to scratch the surface. Each and every corner of India is packed full of culture, architecture, food and much, much more.
If you go to India, then you can’t leave without seeing the Taj Mahal. Though we aren’t so keen on visiting the most popular tourist destinations, we couldn’t just skip one of India’s most iconic structures. The key is to get here early to not only shoot this majestic site in the morning light, but to also avoid the crowds. We rolled out of bed at 5:30am and made the 10-minute walk from our guest house to the east entrance. The ticketing counter opened at 6am, but the line had already grown with antsy foreigners, ready to get a glimpse of the biggest statement of love in the world. After grabbing our ticket for a whopping $15/person, we had to stand in yet another line to enter the east gate. The old adage says it best – the early bird gets the worm.
Our favorite part of India that we ventured through was Rajasthan. In English it means, The Land of Kings, and I couldn’t describe it any better. The amount of affluence that was present during the Mughal empire is apparent in all of the cities of the area. Magnificent palaces, intricate temples and huge artificial lakes are strewn throughout.
Though there is so much to see and do, our two beloved places in this kingly land are Udaipur and Jodhpur. Udaipur is known as the Venice of the East. The heart of the city is built right up to the largest and oldest lake in Udaipur – Lake Pichola. As the city lights begin to burn and the sun dips down below the horizon leaving pink colored clouds in its wake, you will get a glimpse of its European charm.
Jodhpur is the famed Blue City of India. As you meander through the back alleys of the old city you will find whole buildings awash in different shades of a cerulean. Above the blue streets sits one of the largest forts in all of India – Mehrangarh Fort. Stretching 400 feet above the city it boasts the best views from its colossal walls.
Back in 1935, Paul Sperry created a sneaker that became an icon of prep style. Today, we’re reinventing it.