Discover India

A pair of sandals, a shoulder bag, cheap local cotton clothes, long hair and a new-found love of sitar music. Half a century ago (yes, that's when the 60s was), the Hippie Trail led to India. The first overland travellers found India in the mid 60s, but after the Beatles visited in 1968 the numbers shot up. Searching for meaning in the mystic east; dropouts in Goa.

And they didn't just come down the overland route from Western Europe. Australians, with their ardent backpacking tradition, adopted India too. Some were genuinely looking for spiritual enlightenment and a sense of purpose, while others sought to alter their minds in other ways. Some just wanted to break out of this old colonial continental jail and see the world. They certainly all shared a sense of adventure, in the broadest sense.

It was all a long time ago, but the sense of adventure is still there in the modern traveller to India. There are just more (and easier) ways to visit the subcontinent.

A trip can be sophisticated and luxurious. To give one example, Oberoi Rajvilas Jaipur is one of my favourite hotels - a 13ha oasis of luxury, quality and service.

My big marble bath looks out into a private garden, there's a four-poster bed, and the main building, in "fort-style" architecture, has a 260-year-old Hindu Shiva temple at its heart.

A Hindu priest comes twice a day to conduct ceremonies.

Yet The Peerless Inn, in Nehru Road, Kolkata, is a home away from home for me. Inexpensive (just over $100 a night), clean, with helpful and caring staff.

And then there are many places where you can walk in to a room for literally a few dollars a night but, obviously, with facilities to match.

There is a conveyor belt of air flights to India. Two hops (say, five hours and four hours) and there you are, popped out of isolated and privileged Perth and landed in the second most populous country on Earth. India, with a billion people. A land of dramatic contrasts. Passion, philosophy, poetry, poverty, pain and philanthropy. Faith, hope and charity.

Why would you leave our neat, blessed, politically isolated, religiously unchallenged, well-laundered and largely empty little corner of the world and land among the 16 million people of Mumbai, 13 million of Kolkata or 12 million of Delhi?

To stay in palaces with sumptuous bedrooms and the whiff of history, or to travel on comfortable trains run for tourists, to tour great temples and see gems being cut, or to see and buy fabrics of every colour. For the wonderful food, and the spiralling local music. To see elephants or maybe even spot a tiger. To sit in a cool hill station with a pot of tea or to drift through the Kerala Backwaters on a converted rice boat, book in hand. To stay at a resort for Ayurvedic treatments and yoga.

You'd want to sample a riot of scents and colours, and a kaleidoscope of celebrations.

Because for the thinking traveller, there is 5000 years of human history, a maze of religious and social beliefs, and complexity. Because India is complex and because learning to love something that will always be partly unfathomable is challenging and rewarding.

Because there are 330 million gods in the Hindu Dharma - as many as there are devotees to suit their emotions and moods. Because there are 108 names for perhaps the most lovable, Lord Krishna: Shrikanta, Beautiful Lord; Vishwadakshinah, Skilful and Efficient Lord; Ravilochana, One Who's Eye Is the Sun.

(And, just to complicate it, I should point out that Lord Krishna is regarded as the eighth incarnation or avatar of Lord Vishnu.)

And religion in India isn't about a stuffy Sunday service. A sense of community isn't about giving a few tax-deductible dollars when there's a national disaster.

Family isn't about getting together when we hatch, match and dispatch. They are all intrinsic to life, all the time.

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