9 Unique, Hands-on Things to Do in India

I leave no trace of wings in the air, but I am glad I have had my flight.' As the birthplace of the world's literary heavyweights and one of the oldest eastern civilizations, India has been, for centuries, shrouded in mystery; a chequered history, rich culture, and gourmet food have made this country a Mecca. Here are nine things most worth doing in India that'll spice up your trip in this wonderland.

1. Awaken Inner Buddha Yoga

Its name originates from 'Yug' (which means 'harmony' in Indian Sanskrit), Yoga is India's time-honored sport and something you couldn't afford to miss when traveling in the country!

Amongst the hustle and bustle of New Delhi hides a cabana surrounded by lush flame trees that shelter passers-by from the blazing sun. Inside the house is a Zen setting dotted with greenery. The founder of Awaken Inner Buddha Yoga is a peripatetic, which explains why mentors are recruited from all around the world. Anne is our private coach, a Dutch yoga mania who has set her heart on settling here, the birthplace of yoga.

Unlike yoga courses in China which typically focus on poses, India's counterparts stress the unification of body and spirit. Despite the absence of accompanying music, the mentor's voice alone is inspiring and purifying enough to lead everyone into another world. 'Relax, relax, and have your fatigue washed away…' This one-hour ceremony seems to have an immediate effect----you'll feel so reinvigorated after the workout.

Duration: 1 hr

Tips: Mentors of Awaken Inner Buddha Yoga are teaching on an itinerant basis, so you'd be well-advised to book in advance.

Yoga Class in DelhiYoga Class in Delhi

2. Saffron Palate Cooking Class

Lucky enough, Neha has a cozy house in New Delhi with an attic, garden, rocking chair, and swing, four key elements that every girl might have dreamed of. As a gourmet housewife, she has collected all the ancestral recipes and will teach you, in a step-by-step manner, how to cook genuine Indian cuisine.

You can not only learn local recipes for chicken and India's roti prata (savory pancakes) in Neha's delicate kitchen but also enjoy refreshments and sweets while drinking a cup of mellow Masala chai (spiced tea) in her beautiful garden.

After a self-cooked lunch, Neha would show the guests around the local market in search of the sources of those colorful spices.

Duration: 3~4 hrs

Tips: The cookery of Indian cuisine is a tad complex, so don't forget to leave your email address for detailed e-recipes sent by Chef Neha.

Cooking Class in IndiaCooking Class in India

3. Jaipur Bazaar Walking Tour

Founded by Jai Singh II in the early 18th century, the entire town has been painted pink under his order to distinguish itself from others, and the epithet of 'Pink City' has, since then, stuck.

Our bazaar stroll in Jaipur starts from Pink City's renowned Hawa Mahal, a building that has been exposed to a chequered history of more than two centuries yet miraculously remained intact with fresh colors. During the 18th century, artisans with unprecedented craftsmanship gathered in Jaipur from across the country in response to the King's call, turning the city into a hive of activity.

'The best bazaar is located in Jaipur'— this turns out to be a well-justified statement. Previously an essential stop during the Indian leg of the Silk Road journey, the city has intersecting alleyways that, with their flanking stores, exude a charisma of Indian traditions. These tiny shops surprisingly boast an eclectic local collection—copper teapots, ironware, lacquerware, ivory products, candy, leather shoes, jewelry, etc. Browsing through the celebrated wedding dress street is just like time-traveling into a technicolor world.

You would fancy sitting down for a respite at the roadside. With stone stools and screen walls in every household, the legacy of North African Islamism lives on in Jaipur's time-honored architecture. Your bazaar trip wouldn't be complete unless you quench your thirst with a cup of genuine Masala chai and then enjoy an ice cream handmade from pure milk.

Duration: 1~2 hrs

Tips: Keep an eye on your belongings amongst the hustle and bustle.

4. Eleday

Since ancient times, Indians have had a deep attachment to elephants as part and parcel of their routine life. As an incarnation of one of the five Hindu deities, these giants are an absolute necessity for transport, entertainment, and sacrifice. If you fancy close contact with such adorable creatures, Jaipur's Eleday would no doubt be your best option.

With a verdant meadow in the vicinity of Amber Fort, Eleday is a paradise for elephants. It is customary that wedding-attending elephants are painted with delicate patterns. Using multi-hued organic paints, you can also 'groom' them with customized motifs.

After 'grooming' your elephant, you can also bathe it, which would be a lot more fun. Let me paint a picture for you: beneath the cerulean sky and white clouds, a breeze is caressing the emerald grassland. You are bathing an elephant with a hose in your hand; the sun is casting a rainbow through the spray; the elephant siphons the water with its trunk and then jets it out into the air… such a fairytale should come into reality!

Duration: 3~4 hrs

Tips: You might get yourself dirty when painting or bathing the elephant, so prepare a change in case.

5. Jaipur Saree Demo

A floating scene, namely curvaceous ladies, each in a piece of colorful cloth, is staged in stark contrast to the filth of India's avenues and alleyways. The piece, 5 or 6 meters long, typically wraps the upper body and offers occasional peeks at a slender, alluring waist. And when these ladies sail along, the waving hemline gives them an extra aura of grace and romance.

In this mysterious country, a Saree can count as a woman's calling card that summarises her identity, belief, age, marriage status, and profession. Fisherwomen tie Sarees around their waists; farming-friendly short Sarees are female peasants' favorite; women professionals usually wear darker, monochromatically streaked ones, whilst those rosy with golden-thread embroidery are always brides' first choice.

The pattern of a Saree is mainly subject to its raw cloth. From monochromatic to embroidery-hemmed, the roughness of a Saree has been preordained. It'll be a treat to try on a Saree: you pick one particular piece from the displayed collection from A to Z, and the assistant will beautifully pleat it with their delicate hands before twining it around your upper body in less than a minute.

Sarees are slim-cut and have to be bespoke. However, its tailoring is extremely simple, and a skillful tailor can finish one piece in a single day and have it delivered to your hotel as a peculiar souvenir.
Duration: 1hr

Tips: It may take a longer time to customize a Saree during peak seasons for tourism, so you'd be well-advised to do it upon arrival in Jaipur.

Jaipur Saree DemoJaipur Saree Demo

6. Camel Safari in Jaisalmer

Located in Rajasthan, West India, Thar Desert is believed to be the world's smallest. If the appeal of the Sahara is the boundless expanse of sand, then the highlight of Thar lies in the delicacy of Mother Nature.

To access Sam, Thar Desert's most renowned sand dune, you have to drive along a well-paved desert highway for about 40 minutes from downtown. Indian drivers like refitting their horns for customized honks. On a press of the buttons, these horns would play an en-route 'concerto' of mundane toot and other melodies. That's hilarious!

Camels typically crouch and await meekly beside the highway, so you don't have to enter the desert to ride them. It'll take a two-hour ride from brush to the Gobi and to the dune, and you can feel the ever-softening ground beneath camels' feet. Allow them to ascend the dune bit by bit, and—voila! a vista of the vast sand sea.

Sit down with the locals and beers to admire the setting sun before its last tint at the horizon finally merges into one with the golden desert. At this point, the guide would take out his flute to play an ethnic ballad unique to West India towards the afterglow.

Duration: 2hrs

Tips: Precautions against the burning sun are needed

Camel Safari in JaisalmerCamel Safari in Jaisalmer

7. Jaisalmer Fort Exploration

Legendarily a palace in heaven, Jaisalmer Fort is singular nationwide. Unlike Delhi's Red Fort, Agra's namesake fort, and Meherangarh Fort in Jodhpur, this fort remains in use and houses thousands of citizens. The towering gates are open 24/7 without an admission charge. Weren't it for the crisscross electric wires and water supply pipelines, you must've thought you have traveled back through centuries?

Walking through the Fort is like reading a history book, where the bread-and-butter colonial architecture is barely seen, and India's native culture encounters its desert Islamic counterpart, forming a West Indian custom unique to Jaisalmer. This is a showcase for the ultimate beauty of arcades and hollowed-out architecture.

The narrow, crisscross alleyways inside have made the Fort a labyrinth. Following our guide, we walk through the most classical route and pass by rope-jumping girls, clothes-airing matrons, and takeaway deliverers, all in technicolor outfits, which constitute a stark contrast to the monochromatic gold of the old town. Under the shining sun, the guide leads us into a peculiar gate--- the Wind Gate ( Hawa Pol ). In ancient times, brilliant architects took full advantage of Jaisalmer's invariable wind direction and introduced cross ventilation as a cooling system against the outside heat waves; they were even considerate enough to have equipped the place with several stone stools for passers-by. Having taken a brief respite, we feel so refreshed as the summer breeze drives away our heat-related dysphoria and angst.

There are some vintage points to observe the spectacle of Jaisalmer's sunset. When the sun sinks ever lower during the twilight, the afterglow lightens the land, turning the whole city into flamboyant gold. This is the moment when the city, also well known as the Golden City, is most true to its sobriquet.

Duration: 1~2 hrs

Tips: You'd be well-advised to take extra heed of the dense traffic in the Fort's narrow alleys.

8. Jodhpur Heritage Walking Tour

As the godforsaken borderland of the Thar desert, Jodhpur harbors the bluest town in India. On a par with Jaipur's 'City of Rose', this 'Blue Enchantress' is a must-see, where residences have all been painted cerulean. This color, previously a byword for the Brahmans, India's highest caste, was used to demonstrate their blue blood. Later on, the paint was found mosquito-repelling by other castes and hence became widespread, and residents, eager to follow the trend, have turned the entire old town into a sea of cobalt.

Walking through the narrow back streets in the old town area is very much like traveling through time: vintage bicycles chugging away, brats horsing around, and artisans at a corner gold shop crafting a quaint bracelet… When you unconsciously saunter atop the acme of the city, a cobalt expanse would heave into sight on a turn, which complements the gold of Meherangarh Fort and thickens the mysterious charm.

Deeper into the alleyway and across a blue settlement is Jodhpur's most renowned bazaar, which spreads around the bell tower, the landmark, to the newly built avenue. Besides basic necessities, also on offer are fruits and vegetables, spices, silverware, pottery, antiques, and textiles. If time allows, pay a visit to the gallery north of the market, where you could have the boss paint a mung bean-sized elephant on your calling card, and teach you this miniature painting technique unique to India.

Duration: 1~2 hrs

Tips: Make sure you don't get pickpocketed in the bazaar

The "Blue City", JodhpurThe "Blue City", Jodhpur

9. Delhi Food Walks

Love and delicacies are the only things that we can't afford to fail.

What a shame it would be if you remain ignorant of its local gourmet food when traveling in a foreign country! There are dozens of street-side breakfast variations in Delhi. At nine in the morning, you can start from the front gate of Jama Masjid and walk into the alleyways in search of authentic local flavors.

Gol Gappe, also known as Puchka, is a globular, hollow snack with a crispy crust. Tear one and fill in with aromatic cheese or a spicy-braised potato of a buttery texture, and----voila! commuters' favorite brekkie. Interestingly, Puchka stalls offer no chairs for patrons, so they have to stand around the table while eating, which, as believed, accelerates the process. So, It's quite literally a type of fast food.

Founded in 1913, Karim's has been rated one of Asia's best restaurants by Time magazine. Luncheonette as it is, the shop boasts surprising popularity and is always jam-packed at mealtimes, a textbook example of 'Good wine needs no bush'. Its specialty includes Indian meat delicacies like simmered lamb, kebab, and roast chicken, but only braised meat and pastry are served at breakfast. The aroma is so mouthwatering!

After a heavy meal, you may fancy a walk. Deep into the alleys spreads the local market, where fresh fruits and vegetables are on sale. Check out the newly plucked fruits, coconut juice and, most scrumptious of all, icy mango yogurt. This signature dessert of Delhi is a dry mix of fresh mango juice and thick yogurt, which really hits the spot in the sultry summer.

One post-brekkie dessert you definitely don't want to miss is Chinana Ram's pistachio-laced almond crisps and silver paper-wrapped Turkish delight; your snack tour would be incomplete unless you take some aromatic cashews from the dry fruit shop next door.

Duration: 2 hrs

Tips: Skip breakfast for the wide range of en-route snacks

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