India Maps & Facts
India gained independence from the British in 1947. Prior to 1947, the region extending from Pakistan to Burma was part of the British Empire. India’s history is vast and varies greatly from north to south. The most dominant influences are from Persia, Moghul Muslims, Buddhist empires, Great Britain and current western society. Two excellent books on Indian history are Percival Spear’s “A History of India, Vol. II” and the colorful “A Concise History of India” by Francis Watson.
India’s weather is dominated by two monsoon seasons. Late fall means clear and relatively cool weather in northern India. That said, it will be warm.
India offers an outrageous variety of food for both the vegetarian and non-vegetarian. Spices are used to enhance basic rice and vegetables to create an entire gastronomic experience. Often these spices are considered ‘hot' by Western standards, but once you become accustomed to the subtleties, this food becomes irresistible. For those who still find the food too spicy, those cooking are happy to prepare foods more palatable to Western tastes. Some of the best food is found on street corners, in bus stands and train stations. Markets provide the usual fare of luscious fruits (bananas, papayas, pineapples, lychee, jack fruit, durian fruit, etc.), vegetables and spices. The most common drink is a milky, sweet tea called chai. Chai is drunk throughout the day and is the common denominator in this diverse country. We will explore a wide variety of food, optimizing experience and health.
India has 15 national languages. Most citizens learn their local language first, then Hindi or English. English is the most widely spoken language in India. Learning some Hindi will be useful and rewarding.
India is primarily a Hindu country with great religious diversity. India’s religions include: Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Jainism, Sikhism, Judaism, Zaroastrianism, Christianity as well as a large number of tribal religions.
India’s riches have provided a wonderful stomping ground for writers. Some outstanding native authors include: Amitav Ghosh, Arundhati Roy , Gita Mehta, Kushwant Singh, Rohinton Mistry, Anita Desai, Anees Jung and R.K Narayan. Non-native authors include: Rudyard Kipling, Salman Rushdie, E.M.Forster and Alexander Frater. For Indian architecture, Phaidon’s “History of Architecture in India” by Christopher Tadgell is an excellent resource. Diana Eck’s “Banaras, City of Light” is a fascinating read. Also to note are works by Octavio Paz and Ved Mehta’s “A Portrait of India.” The fall 1997 edition of Granta is devoted to India. (Also see the New Yorker and National Geographic, Spring 97). We would be happy to suggest a host of modern Indian authors and titles such as “A Fine Balance, Death of Vishnu,” “The God of Small Things” and “Love and Longing in Bombay.”
The most popular film maker is Oscar winning Satyajit Ray, best known for his series “Pather Panchali.” His films have an amazing ephemeral quality to them and are quite moving and poignant. An older and excellent Hindi filmed about village life titled “Murgh Masala” is also quite absorbing. Western films about India include Mira Neer’s ward winning “Salaam Bombay” and Louis Malle’s seven hour epic, “Phantom India” (or the shorter documentary, “Calcutta.”) And of course there are Hindi pop films, an industry bigger than Hollywood and a number of Indian filmmakers producing unique English language films such as “Masala” and “Bend it like Beckham.”
Indian classical music was popularized in the 1960’s. Some wonderful new artists are U. Srivanas, Sheila Chandra and Nadja. Quawali music native to Pakistan is an incredible art form that began in India. Popular performers include Nusraat Fateh Ali-Khan and the Sabri Brothers. Jai Uttal performs traditional Indian songs with a western rhythm. Asian dub, which mixes modern DJ music with classical Indian tunes, has become popular in the US.