With reference to India, the writer Pierre Loti wrote that “Nothing surprises any more, in this country where everything is always an unexpected spectacle before your eyes, phantasmagoria, and changing mirages.” Many are the great travellers who, like him, have been swept away by the sensory and dreamlike whirlwind of this fascinating country which is continental in scale. On landing there, the first thing you experience is a dense crowd: skilfully turbanned Sikhs, women swathed in shimmering saris, young people dressed in Western style, rickshaws and sacred cows.
In the jewel in the crown of the former British Empire, secular traditions and vibrant spirituality brush against the ultra-modern. In India, chaos becomes scenery or a spectacle, the concrete and glass of Mumbai or New Delhi touch the sky studded with Hindu myths and legends. Their romantic faces fill Bollywood’s flamboyant productions, a vehicle for exporting the Indian Dream. From the Taj Mahal to Varanasi, set on the banks of the Ganges; from Madurai, the Tamil cradle, to Udaipur, the jewel of Rajasthan, “Land of Kings”; from dense tropical jungles, where hordes of monkeys, solitary tigers and majestic elephants lie in wait for one another, to arid deserts; from high snowy peaks to the canals of Kerala… The evocative halts on an Indian journey are inhabited by the ghosts of showy maharajahs, by deities that are half-man half-animal, by Gandhi or even by hippies overcome by Goa in the seventies. Among these infinite possibilities for trips, a multi-faceted art of living, opulent and sumptuous, takes shape, inspired by luxurious palaces. Whilst on the tables of prominent restaurants in cosmopolitan megacities, gastronomy, subtle, spicy and refined, is reinventing itself and mixing the West into its origins coloured by the Orient, led by chefs like Atul Kochhar. There are so many contrasts to explore… Isn’t there a proverb which says you would need three lifetimes to know India?