5 Unique & Authentic Ways to Experience India

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Unique experiences in India

India has so many things to offer a traveller.

You can visit the tourist hotspots like the Taj Mahal, India Gate and the Palaces of Rajasthan, BUT with a little deeper digging and a peeling back of her layers, you’ll discover so many more enriching experiences.

5 tips to experience the REAL India

1.Stay in Unique Properties including Bed & Breakfast

Fort Palace
Fort Palace

India has some amazing property options available. Bed and Breakfast style accommodation are becoming quite popular, especially in the major cities.

Some may be on the commercial side and are run more like hotels. However, you will find many are run by families, or couples that love to host travelers.

It’s a great way to taste local cuisines (sometimes with a touch of home-made motherly love), find out the hidden gems in the area, and learn to cook an authentic Indian meal or enjoy an Indian breakfast.

Our recommendations:

  • Delhi – Check out Colonel’s retreat or Indee Home in South Delhi. Colonel’s retreat offers spa services as well as yoga classes and cooking classes.
  • AgraGarden Villa is a good basic B&B option outside the hustle and bustle of Agra.
  • Rajasthan – Why not stay in a traditional Haveli style or Fort Palace? We recommend Neemrana Fort Palace a 15 century fort restored with rooms for all budgets. Or Splash out and treat yourself to a luxury Haveli stay at Alsisar Haveli in Jaipur. This group of heritage hotels are owned by a sub clan of rajputs started by the grandson of the Maharaja Udaikaran of Amer.
  • Northern India – Our Himalaya Elements experience is a 10-night experience in the foothills of the Himalayas which include hand-picked exclusive B&B properties, plus some hotels and lodges along the way. The highlight is definitely Vanghat Lodge in the middle of Corbett Tiger Reserve. Also experience a beautiful heritage Bed and Breakfast property 2,500m above sea-level  and inside Binsar Sanctuary  with 180 degree views of the western Himalayas.

2. Visit Local Markets Outside the Tourist Traps

markets haridwar

Let’s face it, to the locals, western tourists can stand out like a sore thumb.

It’s for this reason that the tourist shopping areas near popular monuments like the Taj Mahal can be a little overpriced, and a little on the tacky side.

It can be a bit overwhelming when you’re being coaxed by a tout or guide shop hopping from one place to another looking to make a quick commission, a regular experience in Jaipur.

Do a little research before you travel or use a reputable travel company to help you find those little local gems that you’ll be telling your friends about and remember for years to come.

Our Recommendations:

Delhi:

If there was one place we would call the ‘One Stop Shop’ it would be Dilli Haat. Dilli Haat is located in South Delhi and has that traditional market ambiance, with vendors represented from all corners of India.

Prices are reasonable and you can bargain till your hearts content without being hounded by vendors, you might even have some fun with them while you’re at it.

The vendors rotate their stall positions every 15 days to keep the peace and make it fair for all the stall holders. It’s not just a place to buy your handicrafts, clothing, shoes, fabrics, jewellery, but it’s also a place to tantalise your taste buds with delicious authentic cuisines from all over India. We recommend momo’s from Sikkim, but there is just so much to choose from.

Rajasthan:

If you are doing the traditional Golden Triangle (Delhi – Agra – Jaipur), why not add in a 2-night safari experience at Ranthambhore Tiger reserve, then make your way to Dhonk Craft?

Dhonk craft supports tiger conservation by providing sustainable employment opportunities to the local community, in particular, a community which is currently in the process of moving away from poaching endangered species like tigers, deer, leopard, and moving towards sustainable, responsible tourism.

Spending a couple of dollars here is your way to support them in this transition from exploitation to conservation of both animals and environment. Their handicrafts and clothing are pretty awesome too.

Read more: 10 reasons why Rajasthan is perfect for solo female travellers

3. Put Away Your Guide Book and Listen to the Local’s

Dilli Haat
Dilli Haat

Guide books are great and they have a time and place, but it’s ok to occasionally put your guide book away, and just follow your intuition and start exploring.

I bet you can remember a time you did this and ended up not only with an awesome experience, but a great story as well!

Stop at a sweet shop where you see locals congregating. If you buy something from a shop, ask the owner for a recommendation for dinner or lunch. You’re likely to go where the locals go rather than where the tourists go. (This is one of our favourite ways to explore a region – Caz)

If you’re staying in a homestay, don’t forget to ask your host family as well. They’re always grateful for the opportunity to be of service. The best experiences are always those where you are present in the moment, connecting to people.

4. Connect with the Locals

Travel to India

A little similar but different to point 3 in that when a street vendor approaches you to make a sale, most people recommend no eye contact. Just keep walking.

This is good advice, as they can be pretty tenacious characters and just a glance in their direction, to them says ‘I’m interested in what you’ve got to sell’.

Try this instead – make a joke, or ask him a personal question like where is his family from? Does he like cricket? Who is his favourite batsman (9 times out of 10 the answer will be Sachin Tendulkar!). The point is to do something they aren’t expecting to disrupt their ‘sales flow’.

The next thing you will notice, his selling will stop and he will connect with you, and most likely a big smile will form on his face for having met someone who responded a little differently than the rest of the tourists he met. (By the way, this can also lead to a killer deal if you’re actually interested in what he’s selling.)

The thing to remember is that annoying vendor’ is a person like you and me at the end of the day. They are often in a personal situation where pushing for the sale could mean the difference between food or no food on the table for his kids that night, or medicine or no medicine for his sick mother.

This doesn’t mean you become a push over; it’s just something to keep in mind. Keeping this in mind can help you connect to the locals on a deeper level than you ever would have.

5. Forget Everything Your Friends and Family Have Ever Told You About India.

Vanghat Lodge
Vanghat Lodge

My clients will often tell me about how their friends and family are so shocked they are travelling to India.

“Oh my God, you will get Delhi belly” “Be careful, it’s not safe, women are getting raped over there!” “Oh the poverty, it will make you sad the whole time”, “so many beggars on the streets”…and the list goes on.

Here’s the deal, everyone has an opinion and it’s none of your business what they think.

Family and friends will often have the intention to keep you safe. India is a place of contrast and contradiction. India will be challenging and it’ll force you to step out of your comfort zone. However, the journey will be life changing leaving an imprint on your soul forever.

Smile and say “thanks for that, I’ll keep it in mind” and be open to the journey that will come to you personally. I’d like to leave you with this quote from Mark Twain, which sums up India so well:

[yquote cite=”Mark Twain, Following the Equator, 1897″] This is indeed India; the land of dreams and romance, of fabulous wealth and fabulous poverty, of splendour and rags, of palaces and hovels, of famine and pestilence, of genii and giants and Aladdin lamps, of tigers and elephants, the cobra and the jungle, the country of a thousand nations and a hundred tongues, of a thousand religions and two million gods, cradle of the human race, birthplace of human speech, mother of history, grandmother of legend, great-grandmother of tradition, whose yesterday’s bear date with the mouldering antiquities of the rest of the nations—the one sole country under the sun that is endowed with an imperishable interest for alien prince and alien peasant, for lettered and ignorant, wise and fool, rich and poor, bond and free, the one land that all men desire to see, and having seen once, by even a glimpse, would not give that glimpse for the shows of all the rest of the globe combined.” [/yquote] 

Worried about travel to India, especially as a solo female traveller?

Check out this webinar with tips on travelling to India safely

Question:

What other tips can you offer to have a unique and authentic travel experience in India?

Read More Posts on India:

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59 thoughts on “5 Unique & Authentic Ways to Experience India”

  1. Great post, I haven’t made it to India yet but reading this has given me a serious hankering to get there! Love the tips on getting a more authentic experience, everywhere I go travellers are trying to get the “real” experience but finding it hard to get past the tourist traps & being viewed as walking ATMs by street vendors! Definitely going to try asking for recommendations from shop keepers, great idea.

  2. Cool! Since I am an Indian I can relate to all of it. 🙂 Staying in a heritage property would be fun and wandering the local markets would be the best way to smell the essence of India.

      1. Reena tory

        You do not seem Indian. Maybe you are half indian half australian. Maybe your mother is aussie. Surname Tory does not seem Indian too. But anyway. What i can about safety of women is that, The PER CAPITA RAPE is lowest in India. All the western countries such as USA, UK, SWEDEN are top in rape list in spite of their less population. I don’t know about australian rank or rape numbers. But i’m sure they are high.
        another thing. India has millions of middle class people too in addition to poor and rich people. Many western countries have homeless people.

    1. India is not, as people keep calling it, an underdeveloped country, but rather, in the context of its history and cultural heritage, a highly developed one in an advanced state of decay.

  3. India sounds so exciting and I can’t wait to visit later this year with Mantra Wild Tours. Looking forward to the lodges and safaris, the food, the accommodation, all of it!

    1. Sarah, thanks for your comment. I’m so gald you enjoyed my tips. We would be happy to help you craft your perfect India experience when you’re ready 🙂

      Reena Tory
      Mantra Wild Adventures
      Travel on Purpose

  4. Awesome post, I can speak from experience that all the above are great tips! By venturing out of your comfort zone and out of the tourist traps is where you create the most amazing memories, stories and connections with the country, culture and locals! Aaah you have me dreaming of going back to India…hopefully one day soon… 🙂

  5. Nice Tips 🙂

    We grew up in Delhi and listening to the Locals for advice on where to go, shop, and eat is definitely a must. Dilli Haat is great, but is becoming quite “touristy” now – some other cool markets are the ones in Sarojini Nagar and North Campus.

    Love Neemrana fort too 🙂

    Cheers

  6. Great tips. I think it’s so important to talk to the locals. Staying at little family run guesthouses was my favorite part of India. After backpacking, I moved here a little over a year ago and now love showing people around where I live. I think it helps them get a better experience! I think when people tell me “be careful, it’s not safe” I usually take some time to explain how safe I find it to be and explain some of the stereotypes and why they happen

  7. Awesome to see a reassuring, positive article about travel in India on your site! And I agree with all the advice, too. Getting to know locals, getting off the beaten path, local markets, guest houses — these are all the things I do when I’m in India.

    1. Thanks Mariellen. It was great to meet you at KTM and in Delhi briefly! I’m sure we will catch up again very soon. Reena x

  8. One of my favourite memories of the time I spent in India was wandering around a non-touristy market, was absolutely fascinating! All the ideas are really great, but that’s the best way to explore any country in my eyes 🙂

  9. All great tips, and I love that you included recommendations. We almost always stay at B&Bs or homestays, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I can especially relate to the one about asking local merchants questions unrelated to the product. They almost never get that, and it’s true that it completely changes the tone of the conversation!

    1. Katie, great to hear you liked my tips especially when talking to Vendors. I found this really helped me connect with with them on a deeper level, and then we would talk about what they were selling. Because of the connection I made, they really felt like they HAD to give me a good deal (even a couple of freebies!). B&B’s are great too. My guests tend to spend at least 20-40% of their tours at B&B’s. Many will do impromptu cooking classes with you, or invite you to have dinner with them. They are great!

  10. Cool tips! Thanks for all the details about places to stay! We try to stay in a B&B or AirB&B so we can stay around more local neighborhoods. I definitely agree with going outside the regular tourist areas. You can find the most amazing hidden treasures when walking off the beaten path.

  11. WOW! Awesome blog! Having been to india, it was a pleasure to read this. Next trip is DEFINITELY going to be with Mantra Wild Adventures. You’re obviously a professional outfit 🙂

  12. Great post! I’m planning a trip to India soon a good friend of mine just got married and moved there from the states. Super helpful and eye opening tips! Thanks for sharing!

  13. I loved India!! I want to go back, so when I do I’m taking this list of recommendations.
    I loved meeting the locals there, so many people just wanted to chat and find out more about us and where we are from!
    x

  14. Great tips, Reena! I’ve always wanted to go to India and this just convinced me to do it! I’ve traveled a bit myself and agree with your tip on listening to the locals. It makes for such a different (and better!) experience. I love your advice about forgetting what your family and friends have told you. Thanks for sharing!

  15. I love the reminder that pushy salespeople are often pushy for a reason. Its easy to get annoyed with people and we forget that the sale usually makes a profound difference for that person.

  16. India is such a huge country, so planning is more important than ever before a trip because you can’t just “go over there” on a whim if you only have a limited time to get a great first impression of the country. We are looking forward to visiting parts of India soon – thanks for the tips.

  17. Cheryl Dutcher

    I went through the tips and got glued to them. Last year I was in India, and was on a short volunteer and travel programs by Active Internationals. I really liked their work, and I believe the tips written here are an exact reflection of what I learnt after being to the wonderful country.
    I recommend all people to visit this beautiful country and explore it to its depths.

  18. When you visit india, India’s memories & experiences will stay with you forever. You could visit Taj Mahal, the Himalayas, the palaces and desert landscapes of Rajasthan, Mumbai, the beaches and Portuguese relics of Goa etc.
    Key attractions are the enchanting Taj Mahal in Agra, the holy Ganges river at Varanasi, the Indian Himalayas in the north, the palaces and desert landscapes of Rajasthan in the west, Mumbai (formerly Bombay), the beaches and Portuguese relics of Goa and the former capital Calcutta in the east. Hundreds of religious and cultural festivals each year provide a fascinating and colourful spectacle. – Incredible India Tours with http://www.holidaytravel.co/

  19. Hii Reena..very nice post. have you forgot to mentioned south india and kerala ( Gods own country ) ? How you can skip great back waters, house boats, beaches…..

    1. Sujith, Oh yes, so many more experiences to add! We use some amazing B&B’s in Cochin and in Coorg, Karnataka. India has so much to offer and Kerala – God’s Own country deserves a blog post of it’s own 🙂

  20. There are several places in India where one does not find beggars Ladakh is serene area and one of the most beautiful part of India.
    Ladakh the land of lamas worth a visit a paradise for photographers

  21. Awesome listings, I also read the novels and online blogs so i have finding great place for traveling trip in budgets and some special places going to our family and friend. I really like to this blog, it’s very nice travel blog with authentic ways experience in India.

  22. Really good post, this. I traveled around India for four months this year and after spending the first two weeks flitting from one tourist attraction to the next I decided to skip the big tourist sites and just wander without a map. You’re right, you have to dig deeper in India to really get to know the country and its people.

  23. India is always top on traveller’s list . Because of culture and heritage. Every state and city has different cultures… So it always good experience.

  24. I just booked my trip to India for my birthday next year. After booking I googled, and what confronted with horror story after horror story and warning after warning. Everyone has also said “omg why are you going to India?”. But then you come across various travel bloggers, particularly solo female travelers who say WHY INDIA! I’m going, and not going to listen to other’s opinions. Excited!!!

  25. Hi Reena, nice post and great tips to make people start loving and traveling India. However to explore real India, one can’t miss south and east India having full of Scenic beauty and traditional markets.

  26. I am so glad to have read a very different perspective from you. No, its not about India but more so on your way of looking at the sales agents you meet on the road. That one sentence “Food or no food on the table for his kids” just struck the chord with me. These are everyday scenes outside so many temples and historical monuments but I myself never ever thought about it like this. Cheers !

    I am following you, for sure !

  27. So happy to hear that you liked our country.I am backpacking and covering whole of India and will put details of every place in write ups to help the other travelers visiting our country.
    Anyways great article 🙂

  28. Great post! I’m planning a trip to India soon a good friend of mine just got married and moved there from the states. Super helpful and eye opening tips! Thanks for sharing!

  29. Being a adventurous tourist do not forget to visit Zuluk.
    Zuluk (The Curving paradise of East Sikkim) is the main Point of Interest in Old Silk Route Tour (East-Sikkim). Taste the charm of mountain climate on 10,000 feet . Enjoy the adventurous ride on most curving roads(95 Turnings point) in India. Now days it is fast arising as a new tourist destination. Zuluk creates its tourism undisputed value due to the excellent view of the eastern Himalayan mountain range including the Kanchenjunga from here. For this trip to the area requires special restricted area permit(RN/GN Permit). The permit shall be issued by us with necessary documents.During the summer months, the area and its surrounding hills are covered by thousands of blooming rhododendron.

  30. Loved the way you have represented India. I have been born and brought up in a small town in India and good to see that country has inspired travellers to go beyond usual route of exploring golden triangle. May be you want to add south Indian heritage exploration as one of the points which is offbeat thing to do in India. Written some blogs on this 🙂

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