Indian culture is repository and manifestation of thousands of years old traditions, ancient wisdom, evolved lifestyle, refined philosophies, intricate architecture; festive, earthy and godly music styles, numerous dance forms, delicious but nourishing cuisines, varied religious practices etc. One of the oldest living civilizations, rich heritage of India beckons people from all across the globe since time immemorial.
No experience can be considered total unless the five senses of the human body are satiated. Each is perhaps a satyr dwelling within us that demands gratification on the altar of perception. A strange interplay generated by sensory perception keeps our mind busy in a cosmic evolution of thoughts and processes. When the mind "sees" it directs the body to behave or act in a particular manner. It also keeps storing experiences in the memory bank classifying them as happy or sad or bitter. The senses play a dominant role in our lives. So, visit India and discover the all persuasive consciousness opened by your own senses like never before.
There is a divinity in the sights and sounds of India. There is an ethereal quality in the fragrance of India. There is an earthly candidness in the taste and touch of India. Yet, all these combine to lead one who is just "matter" towards a superior consciousness that we define as spirituality. This distinguishes Indian Tourism from the rest.
An experience in India elevates the mind, uplifts the mood and opens the "third eye" to perceive all that is hidden from the ordinary view. The Panchendriyas (five senses) represent the Panchmahabhutas (five elements)- Ether, Air, Fire, Water and Earth of which all living bodies are composed, as per beliefs recorded in the Vedas in 5000 BC. This science of life also aims to keep a human being in a state of equilibrium. Any imbalance can upset the cart of life. Such is the paramount importance of keeping the five senses in good humour.
Sight of India: The sights of India are magical. At any given point of the year the country opens up to the traveler snowbound territory, desert sand-dunes, mystical seas, gorgeous palaces, wondrous forts, untamed wildlife and spiritual quests. Quite a rendezvous! Isn't it? Begin the excitement in the moon-land of India, that is, Leh. Beyond the Pirpanjals are the mighty Himalayas cradling the immortal river Indus, the same which gave birth to the ancient civilization of Harappa and Mohanjodaro. Who can forget the image of "Dancing Girl" of this civilization that still rules the ancient art as an icon. Leh, is exactly the countryside, which allowed the waters of the River Indus to create a glorious tale in the plains.
The undulating mountains breathe fire into your senses and release it from the hold of routine. Houses are hung in the hills like windows of the majestic mountain wall. A palace rules the landscape by virtue of its superior location and sheer force of its lines. The habitation runs towards the valley and merges with the rounded stones of the yore. Life is delicately housed in the ruthless weather. The rich costumes and elaborate musical instruments, the tempestuous drumbeat during the Ladakh Festival are all but attempts to pronounce the everlasting truth that "life is here to stay". Beautiful people, in a beautiful environment and a harsh circumstance!
Come down to the valley of Srinagar and face the great gardens of Shalimar, Nishat and Chashm-e- Shahi. If ever gardens were bestowed with more than human sensuousness, a soft transcending beauty that could be subtle at one, verbose at another, and pronounced at yet another time, a largely appealing demeanour, that can charm and hold one transfixed, an illusive quality that would mirage like blear all perception beyond, it was here and only here. Imagery is brought to fulsome life, by the stately chinars, ascending terraces, cascading waterfalls, blooming fountains and effervescing fragrance oft dainty stalks. Then there is a vast expanse of the Dal Lake, which reveals in all its moods imposed by the changing seasons. The far boundaries are lined with houseboats, each with a distinctive name and quality. On one of them you can live and experience in amusement the surge of sublime human emotions. When flowers bloom, the lakeside by the gardens is crowded with flower-laden boats. Long trusses of flowers, their reflections colouring the Dal Lake, scent invigorating the atmosphere, are treat to the famished eyes. Kashmiri girls, clad in brightly embroidered phirans (overalls), cheeks flushed by the cold breeze, silver bangles jingling as they move the oars, smile as purely as does the mountain air, when they approach a traveler to offer a bunch of flowers. There was a time when Kings and Queens favoured the gardens and sometimes came to dwell in their pavilions for few days.
Gone are those hay-days of royal patronage but the green gardens and the blue lake are still there to weave magic before your eyes.
To contrast is the colour of the desert. Miles of golden sand dunes suddenly give away to an oasis of lakes, trees and habitation. The hills are coarse and rugged in Rajasthan. There is a visible romancing life spirit in inhospitable terrain. The Rajputs built their forts wrapping the hill. They excelled in strategic planning and built gigantic bastions mounted by menacing canons, innumerable chhataris, tweeny-weeny jharokhas, thin staircases and winding pathways to the fort, each u-turn guarded by a gateway. The fort walls were huge in proportion and formidable in defence. Usually a moat ran round the fort prevent attackers from approaching the walls. But, they delicately ornamented the interiors, displaying a superior artistic sensibility. The Sheesh Mahals (mirror palaces) were the ultimate in imagination and conceptualization. Convex mirrors, small and thousands in number, were fixed on the walls to create these dreamy sleeping chambers. Light up a candle and thousands will glow in tiny mirrors. What a sight? What a celebration of beauty? Watching one such desert fort Rudyard Kipling exclaimed in excitement- "a work of angels, fairies and giants".
Such are the sights of India. Such is the colour of life, carried as if in a palanquin, by each sight for your eyes.
Sound of India: Get submerged in sounds- subtle and suitable to every shade of mood. The Bhagirathi at Gaumukh, Jadh Ganga at Bhauran Ghati, the Alaknanda at Dev Prayag, the Beas at Kullu-Manali, the Ravi at Chamba and so many wonderful rivers fill up the quite mountainside with music of their own making. It is the pure riverside song that needs no composer, and of which no two notes are ever similar. As your eyes caress the hills, the music of a cascading waterfall engaged your attention. An offering of the mountains, it comes down joyously before it crashes in a roar. The flowing winds try to create a symphony as it rushes through rustling the leaves and swaying branches. The sweets call of the winds fill up scene. A woodpecker knocking at a bark shall hold your ear for one moment, and the determined dash of a kingfisher, straight as a stone, on locating a prey, will bring to your ears the never-ending voices of nature. If you are lucky you may hear the whistle Thrush sing in enjoyable, undulating notes, so much gratifying that its song begins to hurt. The call something lifts from the valley and at others wafts across from an enclosure in the pines. Close your eyes and give in to melody unheard.
The sea waves too have their orchestra to play. The sea entices you to come to Goa where more than 100 Kms of costal line reveals different moods of the sea. At Arambol in Pernem, the music of the sea is like a lullaby. At Vagator, a rocky beach, the wave keep falling on rocks and breaking into foam with a force. It is a splash and more, that fills the mind. The Anjuna and Baga beaches have a sea that is alive and playful. Surfers romp upon the waves that celebrate life to the utmost. At Calangute and Aguada the waves are still higher upon the sand close to your ears, before it decided to return to the deep fathoms. At Palolem, the waves are gentle. You can sit in the sea with just the head above the water, closed your eyes as if in meditations and listen to the heavenly lapping of the waves softly permeate your consciousness.
The jungles reveal more sounds that previously heard. At Bandhavgarh (MP) or Ranthanbhore (Rajasthan) hear the roar of the tiger and the surprised flight of birds in fear. Listen to the trumpeting of elephants at Periyar (Kerala) and the twittering of birds In Keoladev Bird Sanctuary, Bharatpur (Rajasthan). The Jungle King at Gir, the majestic lion, sometimes roars for effects too! The one-horned rhinoceros at Kaziranga, grunt when confronted and the deer call out to each other on sensing danger.
The Indian culture richness can be gauged from the facts that there are musical Ragas for each time of the day from dawn to dusk. The Sohini and Paraj are ragas of pre-dawn, Lalit and Bhatiyar of the early more, Ahir Bhairav, Komal, Rishabh of the morning, Bhairavi and Jaunpuri of late morning, Bhindavani Sarang and Bhimpalasi of the afternoon, Poorvi of the dusk, Yaman of the evening, Jayjaiwanti and Kedar of late evening, Bihag, Bageshri of the night and to top it all Malkaus, Darbari and Shahana of the midnight. The remarkable genius of music composers has given birth to musical compositions of rare beauty and worth. We have music from the Rivers, Desert, Mountains, and the seas, capturing the essence of each face of glorious nature. The Indian tradition of spirituality gave rise to devotional music. Beginning its evolution from the temple bells ringing in unison, the prayer chants, and the kirtan (songs in praise of God) rendered by devotees, it has come a long way. But, still what is spontaneous and real cannot equal in purity that what is composed by man. So sit an evening by the ghats of Rishikesh, or Haridwar or Varanasi and let the sounds clothing the elaborate prayer service down your intent to leave those sanctified moments.
The music and melody of India is unending. Each region has strong traditions and in earlier days these were called Gharanas. Ustaad Bismillah Khan of the Shehnai fame, Sitar maestro Ravi Shankar, Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia of the flute, all owe their allegiance to different gharanas (School of Susic). The Agra, Lucknow and Benaras gharanas were the most prominent. All this could happen because in the field of music there are instruments which are the gift of India to the world of music-Shehnai, table, sarod, sitar, flute, santoor, veena, Jal-trang, ek-tara, nagada and many more. Each has a different musical note and registers itself with a forceful presence.
Smell of India: The olfactory response enhances the quality of any experiences. It is perhaps the fastest signal going to the brain to accept a smell as favorable and release hormones to heighten the pleasurable experiences. Yes, isn't it strange that something so transitory can trigger a responses so lasting in nature.
To being with there is the Monsoon in India. The rainy season brings in dark and heavy clouds that bless the earth with heavenly showers. The first response of the earth to the rain is of releasing a fragrance so pure and unique, that it cannot be described in the words, the Sondhi Khushboo. The seasonal flowering trees of gulmohar, amaltash, Jacaranda, Kachnar, Champa, Chandni and plants of raat-ki-rani, rajnigandha, varieties of Indian roses, are peculiar to the Indian environment and fill it with scents that can be make a heart throb excitedly or the heartthrob excited! The traditional of gulab-jal and itra began in India as Kings and Queens expressed a desire dwell more in perfumes made by distilling flower petals. It transformed bathing into rituals and brought it elaborate flower decorations at ceremonious occasions.
South India is rich in spices and that is what adds flavor to your meals. Should you get an opportunity to visit a spice garden in Kerala, fill up your nose and mind with the strong smell of cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, black pepper and a host of other spices, one by one. Realize the differences each can make separately to food.
Realizing the potential of distinctive fragrances to generate an electric impulse in the mind and thereby create a benevolent effect upon the human body, aromas were caged in bottles by enthusiastic herbalists. The success of the Shehnaaz Hussain tradition of beauty owes a lot to olfactory sensations. The caging of pheromones in bottles, to be released when the night is young, and the mood is right, is sure approach to enhance personal pleasure. Such is the power of the sense of smell. You do not have to necessarily 'go for it'. The fragrance will travel
Taste of India: Of all the senses, the sense of taste is experienced internally as opposed to external sensations. It is the food that matter most in any tourist adventure. On food, India has plenty to say on the plethora of culinary traditions.
The north Indian taste has the mighty wazwaan traditions of Kashmir to boast of. Then the delicacies of Awadh-rolled out in detectable kebabs, the tandoori gift of Punjab, the Mughlai spread for the kings of tastes and many other lesser-celebrate but distinguished cuisines. South of the Vindhya maintaining range, the cuisine changes dramatically.
The discernible South Indian cuisine takes over with its Dosas, Vadas, Uppams, Uttapams, Upmas and biryani served in banana leaf, Curd assumes prime importance as a compulsory ' go-along-with' every meal combined with rice as curd rice. The Tamil cuisine made some brave variations and developed the Chettinad and Arcot styles. Of courses the Malabar too developed its own cuisine. Then the most enterprising Keralite, ones who brand their country as -'Gods' own country', were quick to roll out their own Kerala Kitchen. However, coconut remains the basis ingredients of all Southern Indian dishes. Its paramount importance is unquestionable.
Hyderabadi cuisine still acts as a bridge between the north and the south. Close to the spice heartland we find it developing a peculiarly 'rich in spices' taste. The Hyderabadi Biryani, of course, is classical dish. Goa has a taste of its own.
Deriving from the Portuguese style, it inherited the Vindaloo, and the Chicken Caffreal tastes. However, the Goan Fish Curry Rice finds no equals to a 'fish and rice meal' in India. Bebinca, the ultimate taste of cake, again has no parallel in the nation.
The Bengali and Assamese base their culinary achievements on fish and only fish. But the Bengal sweet tooth could not be satisfied with just fish. It led to development of mouth-watering sweets like sandesh, rassogulla and cham-cham. The sweets of the north, the laddoo, the barfi, the gulab-jamun, jalebi and imarti, all can cause tingling sensations to the taste buds. What the tongue tastes and approves becomes a sweet tradition. And if there be so many of them in India, it sure is a country to be tasted, not hurriedly but leisurely, not once but ever more.
Sixth Sense of India: There has always been acknowledged the presence of a sixth sense in India, a new dimension to the sensory perception. Probably, like the proverbial 'third-eye' of Lord Shiva, it can only be experienced by the serious traveler, who is interested in the metaphysical, in the spirituals and in the divine. The spirituality of India is visible in its celebrations of life.
The phallic worship, the concept of Devi Ma (mother goddess), the binding of its regions through the Twelve Jyotirlinga Temples, congregation of millions of people for community bathing at Kumbh Mela, the inherent tolerant attitude of the common man, the worship of a guest- Atithi Devo Bhav, are all indicative of a deeply spiritual mind at peace with itself and nature. Come evening, when temples bells toll in an ordered confusion, when earthen lamps are kept over river waves to travel with flickering lights on a spiritual quest. an India of the six senses comes alive to pervade your innermost self. This is the beauty of India. These are the 'sensations' of India!