A trip to India is an all-out assault on the senses. You'll travel through dusty heat (or snowy cold in the north), sharing roads with a parade of bicycles, auto-rickshaws, sputtering motorcycles, tinsel-draped trucks, cattle, livestock and the occasional elephant.
At India's sights and markets, the chaos continues: throngs of beggars, hawkers, tourists, near-naked holy men, businesspeople, children and scurrying monkeys. Amid the cacophony, some of the globe's most majestic and historical sights will emerge—the Taj Mahal, the Ganges and the Himalayas.
India, with all its variety, feels more like a series of countries strung together than a cohesive whole. As you move from region to region, you'll be exposed to dramatic changes in cuisine, dress, language, religion, custom and tradition.
Some parts of the country are rife with modern conveniences, and Indians there live in fashionable real estate, surrounded by the trappings of 21st-century consumer capitalism. The growth of the economy is due, in part, to a burgeoning IT, infrastructure and communications industry. Malls, multiplexes and lifestyle stores are opening all over. Yet in some areas, people still don't have access to clean water, electricity, adequate food and medical care. Many people, attracted to cities in search of jobs, stay in clumsy shacks because of unaffordable real estate, resulting in slum regions. This is especially prevalent in India's commercial capital, Mumbai, where the government is building multistoried housing complexes to accommodate these people.
With these contradictions come complications. The mass of humanity that populates India requires that you be patient, flexible and tolerant, which can be difficult if you're troubled by the disparities between India's rigid social classes. The country's religious conflicts and ongoing dispute with Pakistan are also concerns, though these events have been largely confined to certain regions. Most travelers will find these difficulties well worth the rewards, however: India remains an incomparable travel experience.
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