Eat, shop, dance; my India hot spots

by Marlies Dekkers
I have to admit it, I’m addicted to India. Here are my 3 favorite places to visit in this sometimes maddening, but always mind-blowing country.

1. Chandni Chowk – market madness
“If you can survive the craziness of the Chandni Chowk market, you can easily handle the rest of India,” my friend said and took me straight from the airport to the oldest, busiest and craziest market in New Delhi. The “moonlit market” was designed in the 17th century by Jahan Ara, daugher of Emperor Shah Jahan and was once divided by canals (now closed) to reflect the moonlight. Now there are many narrow lanes with shops selling everything from Indian delicacies and sweets to gorgeous hand-embroidered saris. Not only did I survive the market; I loved it! And needless to say, I felt the same way about the rest of India. A perfect first stop.

Tip: Start your trip right, and buy your travel wardrobe here! When I’m in India, I usually wear a kurti (a long tailored pyjama-like top) with loose-fitting pants or a three-piece salwar kameez. These outfits are are inexpensive, comfortable, feminine and offer the perfect amount of coverage.

2. Taj Mahal -momument for a power empress
Often described as one of the wonders of the world, the stunning 17th Century white marble Taj Mahal was built by emperor Shah Jahan as a mausoleum for his beloved third wife Mumtaz Mahal, who died giving birth to their 14th (!) child. But did you know that the empress wasn’t just an obedient ‘trophy wife’? Supposedly Mumtaz was a very good chess player, far better than her husband, and there are plenty of historical documents confirming her involvement in administrative matters and government orders. And you know how you sometimes expect so much from a site that it can only dissapoint when you actually visit it? This shrine to a power woman avant la lettre definitely won’t!

Tip: On full-moon nights, and one night before and after a full-moon, the Taj Mahal complex is open for visitors who wish to view the Taj by moonlight – a truly spectacular sight.

3. Rishikesh -the birthplace of yoga
Yes, this is where the Beatles used to hang out in the sixties and where Kate Moss still likes to come to do yoga with her fabulous friends. This gorgeous town at the foothills of the Himalayas is a must-visit for anyone interested in yoga, ayurveda, and classical Indian music. And the food! This is where I had some of the best vegetarian meals of my life. It’s such a magical place, I never wanted to leave! Make sure you get a room at a riverside hotel or pension to wake up every morning to a stunning view of the holy river. Speaking of the Ganges, have you always dreamed of bathing in it? Do it here, where the water still runs clean and clear.

Tip: With Mirabai, the dancing princess as your inspiration, treat yourself to a few sensual Indian dance classes.

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