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10 Things you didn't know about India

Written by
Rachel O'Leary

Bustling cities, dusty remote villages, exquisite temples, lush tea plantations and fragrant markets - India is a country bursting with fascinating culture and history. But if you're looking for more reasons to move it up your must-see destination list, we've rounded up ten things you might not have known about this wonderful country.

Largest film industry
Ancient games
Many languages
Check mate

Leisurely games between old friends, tense tournaments between young champions and even long games played out over months via the post office – chess has found its way across the globe, transcending age and cultural barriers. But did you know that historians believe that if first originated in India, way back in the 6th century? By the 15th century, it had evolved to look something like the game we play today. The pawn, knight, bishop, and rook and started out as the infantry, cavalry, elephantry, and chariotry.

Ancient languages

Two of the oldest languages in the world belong to India. Sanskrit, which is still spoken by a small group of people, dates back to around the second millennium BC. It is still widely used in Hindu and Buddhist rituals and practices. The second is Tamil, which is still spoken by close to 80 million people today. It can be traced back to 300BC in Sangam literature, but some historians maintain that it is even older.

Stamp of approval

The country’s postal network boats a whopping 154,939 post offices, from remote rural villages to busy cities. The state-run system offers financial and other services as well, and has close to half a million employees. If you want to send a postcard from the highest post office in the world, head to Hikkim, which stands at a dizzying 15,500 feet above sea level. Or visit Dal Lake, were you’ll find India’s first floating post office.

Many languages

When it was last checked, in 2001, there were 122 major languages and 1599 other languages in use in India, but because of the blurred lines between various dialects, it’s difficult to be certain. Among the main languages are Hindi, Marathi, Telugu, Bengali, Tamil and Urdu. And while there isn’t a national language, Hindi and English are both considered official, with 53 and 12 percent of the population speaking then respectively.

Evil and Virtue

Before pretty much everything went digital, many children grew up with old-fashioned board games lying around, slowly losing pieces. Alongside favourites like Ludo, you’ll have found the old faithful Snakes and Ladders in many a compendium. Like chess, this fun game also originated in India. Back in the 2nd century BC though it was known as Mokshapat or Moksha Patamu, and was generally used to teach youngsters about morality. The ladders signified virtue, while the snakes were the path to evil. Bonus fun fact: Ludo or Pachisi was also an ancient Indian invention.

Picture credit: Wellcome Library, London.
Lights, camera, action

With Bollywood’s massive success globally, you may probably already suspect that the Indian film industry is the largest in the world. But it may surprise you to learn that most of the over 1000 films the industry puts out each year, aren’t actually under the banner of Bollywood, the Hindi sector of the business. That honour belongs to the South Indian film industry, which includes Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam and Tulu films. The first film produced in South India was Keechaka Vadham in the late 1910s.

Open door

These days, people hardly pop out to fetch the post without first making sure their front door is properly locked, but in Shani Shingnapur, a village in Maharashtra, the houses don’t even have doors, and it’s been that way for centuries. In the village is a temple of Shani, which is believed to be inhabited by a deity in the form of the Swayambhu Shanaishwara statue. Locals believe that anyone who tries to steal in the village will be punished by Shani.

Marvellous mangoes

This juicy treat is the national fruit of India – with the country claiming the title of the world’s biggest producer. More than 40% of the mangoes around the world are grown in India. Harvest and sales take place from March to May – and are most newsworthy. You’ll spot many mango references in historical documents and religious artworks. Lord Ganesha is often depicted holding a ripe mango and Mango blossoms have an important role to play in the worship of the goddess Saraswati. And you’ll find the tasty fruit starring in various meals and beverages as well.

Days gone by

Ask someone to picture an ancient civilization and they’ll possibly conjure images of Egyptians and pyramids – but Indian civilization is actually even older. The Indus Valley Civilization, or Harappan civilization, dates back to around 3000 BCE. Together with Egypt and Mesopotamia is was one of the three earliest cradles of civilization. It is believed that the people had developed accurate systems for measuring length, mass, and time, and a variety of sculptures, vessels, jewellery and anatomically detailed figurines have been unearthed during excavation.

Lofty pitch

Cricket is a big deal in India, with informal games going on in towns and villages across the country, and international games filling stadiums at home and abroad. But India has taken their love of the sport to impressive heights with the Chail Cricket Ground standing proud as the world’s highest pitch at 2441 metres above sea level. The field doubles as a playground for school children as well as a polo and football pitch.

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Indian Wildlife and Palaces

India’s cities are littered with beautiful palaces and majestic forts, but venture a little further and you’ll discover awe-inspiring natural landscapes, teeming with wildlife. This 14-night trip takes you to the beating heart of this vast nation as well as to its vast wilderness in search of tigers and leopards. What’s more, you’ll be accompanied the whole way by your very own expert guide.

You’ll start in the thriving metropolis of Mumbai, the country’s economic powerhouse and the picture of modern India. Explore its markets and open-air laundries and see the remarkable dabbawalas in action as they deliver hundreds of thousands of lunch boxes across the city to hungry office workers. From here you will take a short flight to Jodhpur, known as the Blue City thanks to the sea of cornflower-coloured houses. Visit the mighty Mehrangarh Fort, one of the largest in India, and explore the bustling bazaars filled with fabric, jewellery and a mind boggling array of spices.

You will the head south to JAWAI, a luxury safari camp nestled deep in the Rajasthani wilderness. This incredible landscape is home to leopards and nomadic Rabari herdsmen and is one that few visitors to India get to experience. Go in search of its incredible wildlife, explore the vast plains by bike or unwind with a yoga session in the shade of a kopje, before coming back to camp for a dip in the pool and dinner under the star-studded night sky.

It is then on to the romantic city of Udaipur and the vibrant regional capital of Jaipur, enjoying privately guided tours that help you get to grips with the local culture. Your next wildlife encounter is at Ranthambore, one of India’s most famous tiger reserves. Keep your eyes peeled for these majestic creatures on morning and evening game drives through the park, as well as for deer, monkeys and flocks of colourful birds.

Your epic Indian discovery ends in Agra, home to one of the world’s greatest sights – the Taj Mahal, visiting at both sunrise and sunset when it is at its most beautiful.


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A Family Adventure in India

With its colourful markets, vibrant cities and amazing wildlife, India is the perfect destination for an unforgettable family adventure. You’ll be taken care of every step of the way with your own expert guide who will accompany you from the minute you step off the plane until the very end of your trip.

You’ll start by exploring Delhi, India’s vast and fascinating capital. Wind your way through its bustling streets, past rickshaws, bicycles and cows on privately guided tours that offer an insight into the local culture and day-to-day life in the city. You’ll also visit the Gurudwara Bangla Sahib Sikh temple where you’ll have fun making chapattis and stirring the huge pots of dal in the community kitchen.

It’s then on to Agra, home to the beautiful Taj Mahal. You’ll visit the iconic marble mausoleum at sunrise when it is looking its most magical, illuminated by the soft morning light. You’ll also get to explore the surrounding area with a village walk, a wonderful opportunity to get a glimpse into life in rural India.

From Agra you’ll make tracks to Ranthambore in search of its majestic tigers. Driving through the park with your expert guide, all sets of eyes will be on stalks as you look out for pawprints in the ground and flashes of orange between the trees. There are also plenty of sprightly deer, colourful birds and mischievous monkeys to keep you entertained along the way. After a day of exploring, your luxury safari lodge is the perfect place for some quality time together and family dinners under the stars.

The next wildlife encounter is a night at Dera Amer elephant camp where you’ll spend time in the company of these gentle giants. There’s more of the countryside to be explored with a walk through the Aravalli Hills and a visit to the magnificent Amber Fort before you make you way to Jaipur, the final stop.

The capital of Rajasthan, Jaipur is a city full of energy and there’s lots of fun to be had with a block printing workshop and a visit to the Galta Ji temples, frequented by tribes of monkeys who come to splash in the water pools. On your final night you’ll visit Nahargarh Fort and gaze out across the city as the sun sinks behind the horizon.

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A Luxury Grand Tour of India

From the grand palaces of Rajasthan to the lush backwaters of Kerala, this 15-night adventure is India at its very best. In a country this size, landscapes and cultures change in the blink of an eye and you’ll get to explore this rich tapestry, accompanied the whole way by your very own expert guide.

Your journey begins in the southern state of Kerala, whose palm-fringed beaches and tranquil waterways have earned it the moniker, God’s Own Country. You’ll spend a day crusing along the backwaters on a houseboat, navigating your way through the emerald labyrinth past water lilies, rice paddies and coconut groves. Southern India is known for its wonderfully fresh cuisine and you’ll learn how to get the delicate blend of spices just right in a hands-on cooking class at a local farm.

The next stop is the colonial town of Fort Cochin. Having been ruled by the Portuguese, Dutch and British it has a distictly European feel to it with elegant churches and colourful cottages. It is also known for its iconic Chinese fishing nets that line the waterfront; visit in the evening and admire these intricate contraptions silhoutted against the pink and orange sky. A short flight will then bring you to the heaving metropolis that is Mumbai.

The City of Dreams is the epitome of modern India and privately guided tours let you really get under its skin. Join the early rising Mumbaikers with a sunrise tour that lets you witness the city waking up, then see the dabbawalas in action as they deliver thousands of tiffin lunch boxes across Mumbai. Varanasi is India’s spiritial capital and here you’ll enjoy morning and evening boat rides along the sacred River Ganges before heading to Delhi for the next part of your adventure.

Explore Old and New Delhi and enjoy the buzz of life in the capital while visiting some of its most iconic sites. From here you’ll venture on to Agra, visiting the Taj Mahal at both sunset and sunrise when it is at its most atmospheric, the marble domes glowing golden and rose in the soft light. The colourful city of Jaipur is a great place to soak up the atmosphere of one of Rajasthan’s most vibrant hubs and you’ll discover its unique character with private tours of the City Palace and bustling bazaars as well as the magnificent Amber Fort nearby.

A short flight brings you to Udaipur where you’ll spend two nights exploring one of India’s most romantic cities, enjoying a sunset boat cruise around Lake Pichola on your last night before making your way to Delhi for your international flight home.

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