Visitors might be astonished by some of the more accepted norms.
India is made up of 29 states, 7 Union Territories, over 400 languages; and stretching just shy of 2000 miles from north to south, it would be easy for even the most experienced traveller to have a sense of journeying between different countries.
The North West states of Punjab and Himachal Pradesh offer something truly unique for the first time visitor. With much to see and experience, you can easily tour the area comfortably in 2 weeks, and experience your very own Indian adventure.
One thing that is common throughout your visit is the ‘way’ of doing things in India. Be prepared to experience shock at the sheer amount of people, the noise, the smells and the abundance of street food everywhere you go.
Try not to rush into sampling all of those delights immediately and to allow your digestive system to acclimatise itself to the variety of spices in the food. Also, keep yourself hydrated in the humid climates, be sure to drink bottled water only and even that to be purchased from more reputable outlets.
Whilst locals seem to take most things in their stride, visitors might be astonished by some of the more accepted norms, particularly the driving experience.
Look out for the myriad of animals that appear to have equal rights to the roads as their human counterparts. From bullocks through to camels and elephants, Indians tend to show respect to animals and are not fazed by them casually walking up and down the busy roads and motorways.
The driving will challenge western sensibilities; a wide range of vehicles from bicycle-drawn rickshaws and the abundance of scooters (sometimes carrying whole families) through to huge lorries cover the country’s roads.
Whilst driving laws are very similar to that of the UK, they are not generally followed, so you may witness vehicles driving down the wrong way, or without lights on a dual carriageway.
Once you get over this initial shock, however, it is clear that there is much more to India than its driving and food. A deep sense of spirituality has long attracted those travellers seeking self-realisation across all faiths. The variety on offer is so wide that it is advisable to have an idea of the kind of experience one is seeking before travelling.
The farming state of Punjab derives its name from the five rivers that traverse it. It is beautifully green but also has a number of large cities, all of which make for excellent shopping, from the modern malls of Jalandhar to the bustling, more traditional bazaars of Ludhiana.
Key sites to visit would be the sprawling city of Amritsar, now sporting its own modern international airport, where one can experience the magnificent Golden Temple to the more sombre yet thought-provoking Jallianwala Bargh, built in 1951 to commemorate the mass shooting of Indians on the orders of Brigadier General Dyer.
A short drive towards the Indo-Pak border brings you to the daily ‘lowering of the flags’ ceremony at Wagah Border. This is a blistering demonstration of marching, with legs of soldiers from both sides thrown unbelievably high into the air as they parade at the gate separating the two countries before both flags are lowered with perfect timing.
Leaving Punjab, take a long drive up to the northern state of Himachal Pradesh; as you travel further on, you can experience the magnificence of the Himalayan mountain range. The spectacular views are breathtaking. Be prepared for a long 8-10 hour drive, much of it through steep mountain roads that just seem to keep going up but you could easily lose yourself in the scenery.
Dharamshala is a ‘must see’ in this state. This houses the residence of the Dalai Lama and the McCleodganj area is home to the main Buddhist temple. The hillside bazaar offers some amazing artwork at very reasonable prices.
Shimla is a ‘short’ drive of a few hours and is regarded as the ‘Queen of the Hills’. A walk along the famous Mall Road almost makes you think you are in a European market town, having gone back 100 years in time. Look out for the lifts built into the hills to allow shoppers coming from the lower parts of the city up to the shopping area.
If you are looking for adventure (and not overly concerned about Health and Safety), jump back into your car and take the 170 mile trip to the hill town of Manali, 2000 metres above sea level.
Begin with a rather daunting drive up one of the mountain passes over roads with sheer drops. Finally arrive at a beautifully confused ski resort, with a multitude of activities going on all at once.
From the moment you park the car expect to be offered different experiences, from someone driving you around for the whole day on a snowmobile, through to tandem paragliding off one of the higher peaks.
The local people have thought of everything, even hiring horses to carry you further up the peak to the point that you are required to run off the cliff edge with your instructor for the paragliding.
There is so much to see and experience in vast India. With the two states mentioned being just one small corner of this beautiful country, imagine what else could be hidden in the jewel that is India.