Incredible India! Why South Africans should go

2014-02-07 09:20
India. It’s one of those love-it-or-hate-it destinations.  

Either you find yourself consumed by a desire to pack a satchel and explore every inch of the colour, cacophony and contrast the country offers. Or you can’t stand the thought of the crowds, the food and the chance of catching a bad bout of Delhi Belly.

At least, that’s how most people have come to see the subcontinent.

However, India’s Tourism Ministry is working hard to change this polarized view with their Incredible India campaign, arguing that a vast country of such contrast surely has something to offer each type of traveller.

In order to spread the word around South Africa, tourism officials recently embarked on a road show, visiting Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg. Interestingly enough, India sent more than 100 000 tourists to South Africa last year, while only 50 000 South Africans visited India.  

So, it really comes as no surprise that they are hoping to balance the scales slightly this year.  

We chatted to Vikas Rustagi, Incredible India’s Regional Director, West Asia & Africa about their South African drive.  

1. Why would you say India is a good destination for South African travellers?

Apart from the cultural experience, India also offers visitors a fascinating historical experience. We have a lot of monuments that date back centuries, some even more than 9 000 years. Especially if you have experienced Europe’s history, India gives you a completely different perspective.  

We also know that South Africans love adventure and the outdoors – India has a lot of that to offer. Many people don’t know this, but we have some of the most affordable and picturesque ski resorts in the world. There are also incredible rapids for white water rafting and amazing scuba diving experiences. Lastly, the exchange rate is in your favour, so you will really get a lot for your money’s worth. The current exchange rate is R0.18/Indian rupee.

2. India is such a vast country. Where would you suggest first time travellers go?  

Yes, in this lifetime you can’t see India. It’s impossible. I would suggest picking a region you’re interested in and spending your time exploring all it has to offer. So, if you’re headed to Northern India, stick to Northern India, if you’re going to Southern India, don’t attempt to do Northern India on the same trip.

However, if I had to suggest a tour, I’d say head to the Golden Triangle. Start your tour in Delhi, move on to Agra and end in Jaipur. This will allow you to see and experience a wide variety: modern India, palaces, heritage hotels, wildlife (hopefully tigers), shopping elephant rides and, of course, the Taj Mahal.  

Then, if you have more time, include one or two cities of Rajahstan to your itinerary. I’d suggest Khajuraho and Varanasi, which is an important pilgrimage location for Hindus. It’s true India and totally intoxicating.  

3. If you are interested in going on a trip to India, how would you go about finding reliable tour operators?

We have a list of accredited tour operators on the Incredible India website, so we suggest you head there first. But, you can also check out the Indian Association of Tour Operators.  

All these tour operators have set tours, but can also tailor-make packages. 

4. Finally, there have been a few unfortunate incidents involving tourists in India recently. What safety tips do you have for travellers?  

We actually have a very social and well-knit country and tourists are received with open arms.  

India is, however, also a very traditional country, so try and be aware of the social norms – that will help you understand the way things work more easily. Other than that, the normal rules for anywhere apply – be vigilant, don’t wander around by yourself after dark, stick to areas that have more people. 

Still not convinced? A few more interesting facts that may surprise you:

- Not all the food is spicy. Yes, that's right! If you dread punishing your system with hot foods, you may want to consider heading to Kashmir and surrounds, which generally offer much more mild flavours than the southern parts of India.

- Medical tourism is big in India right now. Why? Doctors are incredibly well-trained, costs are a lot less than most 'western' countries and so are waiting lists. So, is wellness tourism. Yoga and ayurveda retreats are in high demand. 

- Accommodation offerings range from super affordable home stays, which are great for students or backpackers who want to experience daily life for themselves, to super luxurious hotels and exclusive resorts. Then there are also the 'heritage hotels,' which Rustagi pointed out is a concept quite unique to India - ancient buildings (think King Louis' haunt in Jungle Book) repurposed to accommodate guests. How cool is that?  
Read more on:    travel  |  travel international

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