(Daily Star, The (Beirut, Lebanon) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Jan. 24--NEW DELHI/AGRA /HYDERABAD -- Colors, fragrances, history and paradoxes -- glaring paradoxes -- characterize the Indian experience.
A pioneer in the fields of information technology and pharmaceuticals, India has emerged in the past decade as the world's third-largest economy, after the United States and China. The rapid and wide-scale changes witnessed by the South Asian country, however, haven't dented the authenticity and cordiality of the Indian people.
At tourist landmarks such as Agra's Taj Mahal and New Delhi's Red Fort, for example, cheerful Indians sporting colorful saris and turbans populate the premises. Although their country now exports the best software programs, tractors and generic medicines to the rest of the world, Indians' attachment to their rich cultural heritage hasn't diminished one bit.
On the contrary, the enthusiasm displayed by Indians visiting their own country's tourist attractions is remarkably unique and heartwarming. Don't be afraid to approach locals at tourist sites as they will enthusiastically answer questions, give advice and even offer to pose for pictures with you.
"Our traditions are our anchors. We must always remain in close contact with them to stay healthy and serene," confides Hansa, who along with her husband, two kids, and in-laws was visiting Raj Ghat, the memorial dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi in Old Delhi.
Tourists should endeavor to see that their stay in India is a holistic, highly enriching human experience, instead of a mere trip to an exotic destination. For instance, in the evening, after you've visited main tourist sites and bustling bazaars, head out on a tour of the city in one of Delhi's fastest and most convenient means of transport: the legendary yellow and green rickshaw.
In the vehicle's back seat -- preferably guarded by the caring embrace of a significant other to help ease the chaotic cruising of the streets -- discover the unhurriedly changing face of the strikingly green capital, New Delhi.
In India, and New Delhi in particular, some rigid norms that once governed the society are slowly fading away, as the younger generation, which makes up the majority of the population, gradually shuns the infamous caste system and embraces tolerance and equality.
The unrivaled popularity of the Aam Aadmi Party, or Common Man Party, reflects the progressive views of the majority of New Delhi's residents. The anti-corruption policies of AAP's charismatic young leader Arvind Kejriwal propelled him to the post of chief minister of Delhi in last year's election.
With new elections nearing, pictures of a serious Kejriwal are plastered on the walls side by side with posters of the latest Bollywood releases. At any given moment, you're likely to encounter one or another of the country's numerous intriguing facets.
From the overpopulated narrow streets where homeless people, stray dogs, and nosy monkeys all cohabit with the filth, to the nearby luxurious palaces and hotels, sharp contrasts are part of India's peculiar charm.
Despite the advanced road infrastructure and modern highways, the bus breaking down at some point during the almost four-hour journey from Delhi to Agra appears to be a common occurrence too. The most important point is not to stress out -- instead, chalk such incidents up to the fascinating Indian experience.
Visitors will also quickly realize that it's difficult to grasp the full Indian experience so easily, thanks to the country's immensity and cultural and religious diversity. India is the world's seventh-largest country in terms of area and a hefty chunk of time is required to fully explore all of its distinctive regions, each one boasting its own set of cultural, linguistic and culinary traditions.
This means that if you have the means, it's definitely worth devoting more than one trip to India. The country's most majestic monuments such as the Taj Mahal in Agra and the erotic sculptures of the Khajuraho temples are located in the northern part of the country. The historic cities of Kolkata, Jaipur and Mumbai are also located in the north.
If you want to learn about India's Urdu culture, Hyderabad in the center of the country is the perfect place to go. Nestled between a network of lakes and parks, the four-minaret Charminar complex is a landmark of the Muslim presence in India.
In the south, the scenic Goa beaches and Bangalore, India's Silicon Valley, are also must-sees.
And visitors shouldn't limit themselves to touristic endeavors and activities.
A trip to India can be geared toward achieving business deals, India being the third largest economy in the world in terms of purchasing power. The workforce in India is growing larger and more qualified, while talented Indian scientists and researchers are enhancing their reputation with global firms, which seek out the country's expertise in various sectors.
Steadily progressing and devoid of pretense, India has plenty to offer to all its visitors. As the country's External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid likes to point out to journalists: "[Here in India,] we have our own style; we don't want to copy anyone."
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