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Our top authentic things to do in India
As the largest democracy on Earth continues to find its place in the world, travellers continue to flood to this enticing land of adventures. We believe that the deeper you dig and the further you get under India’s skin, the more rewarding your experience will be. The only problem is that every visit just leaves you with a longer ‘must-see’ list than when you arrived.
Here are few lesser-known experiences that will help you grow that list some more:
1. Early morning cycle through Jaipur
Granted, cycling through one of Rajasthan’s largest cities sounds like it would be something from your worst nightmares – let’s face it, driving around one would be scary enough! But if you have the inside knowledge of a local guide, a cycling tour around Jaipur can be one of the most unforgettable experiences – for all the right reasons. Our Jaipur cycling trip leaves at 6am which gives you time to explore the city in the saddle, while the streets come to life, before any of the traffic appears.
There are other benefits to being up this early as you’ll visit popular landmarks before any of the other travellers have finished their breakfast! You’ll also get to head to a local market which is only open until 9am, affording you a genuine local’s experience as you mingle with the other shoppers as if you were a resident Jaipurian.
When looking for restaurants in some of the major cities, use the website or app ‘Zomato.’ It was orginally an India start-up and is still preferred by most locals so will give you a locals view on where is best to eat.
2. Learn to cook like a local in Chittorgarh
Who doesn’t want to be able to cook an Indian curry like a local? But does a 2-hour cooking class really give you the necessary skills to be able to cook up a spice-infused storm back home? It depends on your culinary wizardry of course, but we recommend staying with Parvati and his family in the lesser-visited village of Chittogarh. Here, the residents live within the walls of one of the largest forts in the whole country. You’ll soon feel at home with your host family who’ll teach you to cook in their kitchen, using a whole bunch of fresh ingredients they have at their disposal. Delving this bit deeper gives you a greater immersive experience and a much more ‘two-way’ cultural exchange between you and your hosts, who’ll undoubtedly want to learn more about you too!
3. Learn to track wildlife on foot
A more low-key affair than some of the larger parks (but equally as riveting!) is taking a walking safari in Periyar National Park with a local guide. This experience will give you the opportunity to spot larger mammals, like tigers and elephants, but also ensure that your presence is less disruptive and affording you the opportunity to enjoy some of its smaller delights, like its butterfly and bird species. This more intimate experience will also give you the chance to learn some of the tricks of the trade and have a better understanding of how these masters of the local area manage to find the wildlife with such a high success rate.
With its location at the foothills of the Western Ghats, it’s the perfect destination to break up a trip between the beach and the tea plantations further in the hillside.
4. Relax on unspoiled beaches
Relaxing on the Keralan coastline is the perfect way to slow down the pace of your India holiday, allowing you to unwind and reflect on everything you’ve experienced in a relatively short space of time.
In general, the best way to describe the coastlines of India would be hit and miss, but when they hit, boy do they do so! There are areas which have been over-developed, so we recommend avoiding these sea-side towns with beaches full to the brim of jewellery and shawl vendors. Instead, we recommend a stay in a small resort at the edge of a friendly fishing village, like Marari. A relaxing end to your trip where your only disturbance will be hearing the fisherman pull in their catch early in the morning and squabbling over their cut of spoils.
5. Ride a camel off into the night
A trip out to Jaisalmer before heading deeper into the desert on a camel safari is an experience you are unlikely to forget. The starting point of Jaisalmer is a desert city from a film, the fort that it is centred around is made from local sandstone which gives the illusion that it has risen directly from the sands it sits upon. The sprawling city around it is an intoxicating mix of markets and residential areas.
When it’s time to leave, you’ll be sad to do so but it is only so you can delve deeper into this desert wilderness with only your camel companion between your legs, as you head to your camp nestled between towering sand dunes. Here you will only have your local guide and the stars to keep you company as the only worry you have is whether to sleep in your tent or under the night sky.
6. Give back to the local community by staying in a 300-year-old fort
Chandelao is 40 km from Johdpur but you’ll feel like you’re a thousand miles from the bustling city as you settle into the homestay in this lesser-visited part of Rajasthan. Your host isn’t just any host. In fact, he is a direct descendant of the ruling clan of the area, who has gone above and beyond by transforming the 300-year-old fort, where his forefather ruled, into an unforgettable piece of accommodation.
When you find a destination that’s hardly visited by other travellers and is also part of a local initiative, then we think this is a match made in heaven. Staying here not only offers you the chance to interact with locals and learn about their way of life, but it also ensures that your stay has a direct impact on those you are meeting; enabling these new friends to earn a fair wage and get something back from your visit.
7. Ride the rails
India isn’t just about the destinations you visit and the people you meet along the way. In fact, just the getting from A to B is a huge part of the joy and there are few more evocative experiences than train travel across this vast country. A legacy of the British Raj, the railways of India have been drawing travellers onto their tracks for decades. Whether it is a 19-hour overnight train from Jaisalmer back to Delhi or a 2-hour jaunt on a toy train through the tea plantations, each ride is one to be savoured; whether you’re mingling with locals, observing the beautiful scenery or just grabbing some much-needed shut-eye as the wheels chug steadily beneath you.
Meaningful travel in India
Travelling the Rickshaw way means that you’ll always benefit from experiencing independently-run and locally-owned excursions and accommodation wherever possible. Experiencing tourism in this way ensures that you get the best, most up-to-date knowledge and that your visit gives as much back to the locals as possible.
One wonderful thing about the people of India is how open they are. In many of their day-to-day lives, privacy isn’t something that they are blessed with; this makes interactions very easy to come by. We believe that a key part of travelling is ensuring that the experiences are as two-way as possible. We want you to be able to build meaningful connections with the hosts you stay with at homestays and teach the guides something about yourself as well.
For even more India travel tips, head to our travel guide below.