The largest monument of love. God’s own country. Paradise on earth. These are some of the phrases used by travel gurus, when talking about India’s tourism marvels.

An elephant safari in Rajasthan

Relaxing on a beach, conquering mountains, or dancing the night away are just some of the pleasures you can enjoy on a visit to India. Eating spicy Indian curry under the stars, with a hurricane lantern swaying gently in the sea breeze is what comes to mind, when one thinks of Mumbai, India’s most vibrant metropolitan. It is the first stop for most foreign tourists as they get ready to explore India. It has a modern side to it, with many nightclubs, restaurants and coffee shops where you can soak in the local culture. The National Stock Exchange is located in this city. It also has a number of five star hotels like the Taj group of hotels. Home of the Indian film industry, Bollywood, you may encounter some stars of the silver screen on the streets. It is one of the rare cities to have a national park, the Sanjay Gandhi national park within its limits.

South of Mumbai is the beach town of India – Goa. Blessed with beautiful weather it is world renowned for its beautiful beaches. It has a strong Portuguese influence due to its occupation by Portuguese colonists prior to the Indian independence movement. It is a party town at night, which has a beautiful historical feel to it in the day time. It has numerous beautiful churches because of a predominant catholic population. It is a prosperous town, due to its tourism profits. This makes it “India for beginners”, as the vast disparity between Europe and India, evidenced in it’s poverty in other parts of the country, are missing.

The Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal, one of the Seven Wonders of the World is one of India’s largest tourist attractions. It is located in Agra, a city in the northern part of the country. It is a white marble mausoleum, which was declared as a World Heritage Site in 1983 by the UNESCO. Its gardens, made in the Islamic image of Jannat, or heaven, are picture perfect. It is a true monument of love constructed by Emperor Shah Jahan in the memory of his second wife Mumtaz, after she died during childbirth.

Moving further north, the natural beauty of the Kashmir valley beckons all tourists. Its main attraction is the Dal lake, which is in Srinagar city. Taking a tour of the house-boats lining the lake is a favorite with the tourists. In addition, taking a tour of the lake in a gondola – like boat or shikara, reveals breathtaking scenery.

Kashmir is also the home of two famous shrines of Hinduism and Islam. The first is a cave shrine, known as the Vaishno Devi temple, and the other is the Hazratbal mosque, which is said to house a hair of the sacred Prophet of the Muslims. These sights are a good way to explore India’s religious side.

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Indian spices

Indian food conjures up images of tear – inducing, steaming, and spicy curries. The Indian curry has become the most popular stamp of Indian cuisine. However, there are many more facets of the famous Indian cuisine. The wide variety of spices used makes it a tough task to define Indian cuisine.

The main ingredients generally used in all varieties of Indian food are chilli pepper, black mustard seed, cumin, turmeric, fenugreek, ginger, coriander and asafoetida. Another very important spice is garam masala which is usually a powder of five or more dried spices, commonly comprised of cardamom, cinnamon and clove. These are just some of the basic spices. They branch out into many more spices which are region specific.

Not many people are aware that there are vast variations in the cuisines of north, south, east and west Indian food. A typical north Indian meal consists mainly of whole wheat bread, soup – like stew made of pulses called Dal and a mix of various vegetables called Sabzi.

Traditional Indian food -Dal Naan

In south India however, there is a staple use of rice instead of whole wheat bread. There is also lesser use of Garam masala (a mixture of five different spices) in south Indian food as compared to north Indian food.

If you are more of a seafood person, sticking to the coastal regions of the east, west and south India would be the best option for you.

There however, is no dearth of vegetarian or non – vegetarian delicacies in India, due to the varied influences of the British, Portuguese and Persian colonial rulers who settled in different parts of India throughout its history.