Going Places
5:00 am
Thu August 7, 2014

Culture, Wildlife Await You In Diverse India

India is a natural wonderland and also host to some of the world’s busiest cities. Its 1.2 billion people make it the second most populous country on Earth, and it’s second only to the United States for the number of people who speak English.

It can also be an overwhelming place for visitors, especially those who want to see as much as possible.

“India is a country you want to absorb,” said Amit Sankhala, a Delhi-based expedition leader who hosts tourists on wildlife vacations. “You want to take time.”

Where To Begin

Most visitors arrive via Delhi or Mumbai (also known as Bombay). And most of those take a visit to India’s most iconic site, the Taj Mahal. It’s a few hours from Delhi by road.

But once you’ve seen the postcard sites, Sankhala says you should get out to more rural areas.

“We were ruled by kings for thousands of years, and then by the British,” he said. “There’s all these ruins, forts, palaces. Some of them became beautiful hotels.”

Try the state of Rajasthan if you want to see palaces and the trappings of royal life in India.

Regardless of where you choose to visit, Sankhala says you should give yourself two weeks for the trip. And don’t try to see everything in one go.

Wildlife

A tiger rests at Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve in India's northwest state of Rajasthan.
Credit Koshy Koshy / Flickr

Sankhala’s grandfather was Kailash Sankhala, a renowned conservationist who was one of the first advocates for protecting tigers. He established the Tiger Trust, which works to protect the big cats in the wild. There were about 40,000 wild tigers in India at the turn of the last century. Today, that number is closer to 1,700.

Conservation efforts continue. But India enjoys a variety of wildlife besides the tiger.

“We have one-horned rhinos and the wild elephants,” Sankhala said. “We have almost as much wildlife as Africa does.”

Culture

Sankhala grew up in Jodhpur, sometimes known as the Blue City.

“It’s in the middle of the desert, so in order to maintain its cool, the city was painted blue,” he said. “The chemical that was used in the blue paint also keeps insects away.”

Jodhpur is the second largest city in the state of Rajasthan. For Sankhala, living in India is an adventure in diversity. There are so many cultures, languages and foods — among other variants — that you don’t have to look far to find something you may never have seen before.

“Every day when I go to a different city, I feel, ‘Oh, this is so much different, just 200 kilometers (124 miles) south from where I was born,’” he said. “Every day, you wake up in India, and it’s almost a new country.”

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"Going Places" is KPLU’s weekly exploration of travel, near and far. It’s co-hosted by KPLU’s Ed Ronco and travel expert Matthew Brumley, founder of Earthbound Expeditions on Bainbridge Island. It airs Thursdays during KPLU’s "Morning Edition," with repeat broadcasts during "All Things Considered" and "Weekend Edition Saturday." We welcome your thoughts on India, or on other topics we should explore. Leave your notes in the comments below.

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