Beverly Hills, California Travel Agent
Two Sides of India
India is a very multi-faceted destination, but to me, the biggest distinction for travelers is between northern India, with popular attractions like the Taj Mahal, and the less-known southern region.
The perfect metaphor for this difference came to me a while back when I was having lunch with friends. On one hand, I had a gorgeous light blue aquamarine ring which came from northern India. It is so beautiful that everyone stops to admire it. On my other hand, I had six black bracelets made of fabric that came from southern India. People admire those bracelets as well, but they are simply crafted, very inexpensive and they have a much simpler beauty.
First-time visitors will always want to see the treasured sites of northern India: the ancient palaces and forts of Rajasthan, the holy pilgrimage city of Varanasi, historic, vibrant Delhi, and the “Pink City” of Jaipur.
I had toured northern India many times before my first visit to southern India and when I arrived, I felt as though I had crossed into a surprising new land. Most of southern India is not on the radar of visitors and sees few tourists.
There were huge temple complexes where we were the only tourists. Locals were genuinely curious about us. Some children had probably never seen a white person before. And in many restaurants and hotels, we were among a handful of Westerners.
Since there is no established tourist route through the south, many fascinating sites are not formally recognized. One of my favorite moments happened when we were driving along an unbelievably curvy road. The guide stopped seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Everything was overgrown with jungle. He led us along a dirt trail and suddenly we came upon rows of incredible sculptures of horses. The horses looked ancient. Our guide said they had been found in the fields and the villagers had lined them up and adorned them with colorful scarves. It felt mysterious and beautiful.
One specific place I wanted to see was the city of Cochin. It harbored many Jews escaping the Nazis and has welcomed Jews for many centuries. The city has a long history of religious tolerance—a respectful attitude that lives on. Here, you can see Moslem and Hindu temples, a Christian church, and a Jewish synagogue all on the same street.
The most elegant hotel in southern India is the Taj Falaknuma Palace. Perched 2,000 feet above the city of Hyderabad, it was built in 1894 as the palatial residence of the Nizam, thought to be the world’s richest man at the time. The grounds span 32 acres and there is a dining room built to seat 100 guests. Staying there is extraordinary. As you arrive by horse-drawn carriage, rose-petals are gently tossed on you.
India holds unspeakable treasures. Whether you are visiting India to see its most famous sites or returning to delve deeper into your specific interests, I would love to chart your journey through this incredible country.