Ten Crazy-Cool Experiences in India

Thomas at the Chariot Festival in Hampi

Having spent almost a year and a half in India, we know there is no other country on the planet more overloaded with cultural attractions, spectacular architecture, gorgeous scenery, impressive wildlife, and bustling markets. India is also full of quirky surprises. The country managed to leave us gaping in astonishment on a daily basis.

To capture just a bit of what this awe-inspiring country has to offer visitors, we decided to put together our list of ten unique experiences that make a visit so intriguing. And with Etihad booking, finding a flight into any corner of India is easier than ever.

Explore the erotic temples of Khajuraho

Erotic carvings on Khajuraho temples

Travelers be warned, the extraordinary Chandela temples of Khajuraho are covered with eye-popping erotic sculpture that definitely wasn’t done for the prudish at heart. If you can imagine the act, it has been carved into some column or lintel here. The figures are exceptionally “bendy” and, occasionally, animals are involved, so bring your cameras. But seriously, these are some of the most gorgeous examples of temple art and architecture, not only in India but in all of Asia.

Learn to ride a camel

Tony learning to ride a camel

You are not a certified world adventurer until you can hold your own on a camel. I’m not talking about being led around by some guide; I mean you need to be able to take the reigns and gallop off into the desert like a pro. There is no better place to learn to really ride a camel than the Thar Desert in Rajasthan. We spent days exploring isolated desert communities and windswept dunes while living out our nomadic fantasies.

Track lions rather than tigers

Asiatic lion in India's Gir Forest National Park

Anybody but anybody can track tigers in India. That’s such a cliché, right? But did you know that the Indian state of Gujarat also harbors the last surviving Asiatic lions on the planet?! Now, you understand why temples from Greece to China portray an animal that most people associate with Africa. Ahh, that explains it!

Visit a temple dedicated to rats

Tony at the Karni Mata rat temple

Rats, rats, and more rats! The Karni Mata temple in Deshnoke, Rajasthan is easily one of the most unusual temple experiences in India, maybe the world. Featuring more than 25,000 black rats scampering freely around your bare feet, this temple visit is not for the faint of heart. Keep your eyes peeled for the white rats, they bring good luck.

Discover the birthplace of the entire universe

Kurukshetra, birthplace of the universe

To most tourists, little Kurukshetra may appear at first glance to be just another run-of-the-mill Indian town. WRONG! What looks like another rail stop is actually the birthplace of the ENTIRE universe according to Hindu tradition. As if that weren’t enough, it is also the place where good triumphed over evil. And you thought it wasn’t worth visiting! (Skeptics questioning the underlying logic… shush!)

Dodge pick-pocketing monkeys

Pickpocketing monkeys in Shimla

Experienced travelers know cheeky monkey behavior is common across Asia. But our simian friends in the British-influenced hill station of Shimla actually managed to shock us when we witnessed several monkeys attempting to pickpocket locals and foreign tourists alike. We have no idea why they were specifically going for the pockets. What can a monkey do with a credit card?

Eat dinner in a graveyard

The New Lucky Restaurant doubles as a cemetery

No, this is not a theme restaurant; it’s not a sick gimmick. The New Lucky Restaurant just happens to have a few Sufi graves here and there between the tables. We can honestly say, we have never had to scoot over while eating before, so someone could sprinkle flower petals on the graves under our table. This place has become quite the social media star since we randomly stumbled across it in 2008.

Get blessed by an elephant

Tony getting blessed by an elephant

We’ve been blessed by any number of religious figures over the years, priests, ministers, monks, shamans… but India is the only place on earth where an animal has done the blessing. And if you know my opinions on religion, you’ll understand why this blessing actually meant the most. (Some question the ethics of temple elephants, but we think the issue is more complex as Asian elephants struggle to survive in rapidly urbanizing Asia.)

Attend a crazy, colorful, chaotic festival

Bulls decorated for Chariot Festival in Hampi

There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of colorful festivals each year in India. And any one could end up being your most memorable experience in the country. Our personal favorite was the Virupaksha Chariot Festival in Hampi. This sprawling, chaotic ritual features towering carved chariots, or temple cars, which are dragged through the streets as tens of thousands of people throw bananas at them! Armies of monkeys were descending from the hills to gather the banana debris scattered throughout town. This is a major event. So major that even the cows got dressed up for it!

Drive the worst road on the planet… but it’s really beautiful!

Scary road through Kinnaur and Sangla Valleys

Lonely Planet called the roads through the Sangla and Kinnaur Valleys towards Spiti the most terrifying in all of India. As authorities on the world’s most terrible roads, we would go so far as to call them the most terrifying on earth! Having said that, they are also extraordinarily beautiful as you pass through soaring canyons past beautiful isolated villages backed by snowed-capped Himalayan peaks. Just don’t repeat our mistake: skip the public bus and hire a Land Rover instead (with a driver you can tell to slow down.)

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