This region’s origin stories stretch back to around two million years ago, when it is believed hominin’s expansion from Africa reached the subcontinent. Yet, it was really the 3rd millennium BC that saw the beginnings of ‘urbanisation’ with the growth of the Indus Valley civilisation in what is today Pakistan and the Western parts of India. A region that is, in fact, recognised as one of the three cradles of early civilisation in the old world. Migration was a constant phenomenon that placed the regions at the forefront of development. To explore the magnitude of some of the history of even this early era you can visit Chand Baori Stepwell, close to Jaipur. Constructed by King Chanda of the Nikumbha Dynasty in 8000 BCE, the massive rectangular well is approximately 30 meters deep and consists of over 3 500 steps intertwined in a precise maze-like pattern on three sides.
The rest of the ancient period up until the 8th century AD was characterised by a mixture of civilizations, kingdoms and dynasties and included the invasion by Alexander the Great and the Gupta reign, which is often hailed as the Golden Age of Indian history. The 10th century brought with it considerable influx of Islamic influence and the periods that followed included the establishment of many Muslim kingdoms, which alongside a number of Hindu kingdoms, vied for influence and control across the subcontinent until the mid-16th century. Like many of the other periods of history, there are multiple sites that display the awe-inspiring architecture and pure beauty of the kingdoms that graced the region. For example, there is the Ranakpur Jain temple in Rajasthan which is supported by 1444 intricately detailed marble pillars or the tiny medieval town of Orchha which, since 1501, has remained a bustling centre encased by multiple palaces and monuments.
Unity came by way of the Mughal Empire, established in 1556 and famed for its effective and centralised rule of the entirety of the region for close to two centuries. A quick visit to the Taj Mahal in Agra or the Red Fort in Delhi shows the magnificence of the empire. Similarly, Lahore’s Shalimar Gardens and Fatehpur Sikri, the City of Victory, in Agra, are just a few of the sites that demonstrate the incredible architecture of the time. The centuries that followed the fall of the Mughal Empire was India become a centre of world influence as many nations sailed to its shores searching for riches. The rule by the British East India Trading Company and then the British Raj is well documented and is an important part of the country’s history. It has also left multiple culture influences in its wake, such as the popularity of cricket. After a long and complicated struggle for independence, India was formally recognised in 1947 and today remains a thriving democracy with an extensive constitution.
Religion and spirituality are an immense part of Indian culture. As mentioned, Hindu and Islamic influence has been prominent in the region since some of the earliest kingdoms. However, amidst this is a complex mix of multiple religions and spiritual beliefs. The country is also noted as being the birthplace of a number of the world’s major religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism. Today, it continues to be kaleidoscope of traditions and practices. Along with diversity, the country is celebrated for the harmony with which this mix of religions and cultures coexist. In fact, multiple rulers across the centuries in India practiced religious tolerance including Emperor Ashoka in 260 BC, Harshavardhana in 620 AD and the founder of Sikhism – Guru Nanak – in the 16th century. The latter of these figures is quoted saying ‘There is no Hindu, no Mussalman—all are human beings’. Across the country it is easy to join in the pure celebrations of multiple religions and cultures – such as Diwali, Holi, Christmas, Easter, Ramadan, Maha Shivratri, Losar festival and many more.
In keeping with dazzling the senses, India is the home of spices. The cuisine varies from region to region based on the local produce available but all food is remarkable for its dynamic flavour and unique taste. Although the list is close to endless, some of the unmissable dishes include traditional tandoor butter chicken, Rogan Josh (Kashmiri braised lamb chunks cooked with gravy and spices), the vegetarian Malai Koftas, Masala Dosa (a kind of south Indian rice crepe), the various Chaats (savoury snacks that are the mainstay of Indian street food), smoked pork from Nagaland and dhoklas (a vegetarian snack made from rice and chickpeas).