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To define India in a sentence is a task that has had world’s best scholars and linguists scratching their head. At the risk of a grave error though, we could say that India is a land of paradoxes, the best example of which was noted by an Indian politician and diplomat, Shashi Tharoor in his article for a leading Indian daily. He said “One of my favourite images of India is from the last Kumbha mela, of a naked sadhu, with matted hair, ash-smeared forehead and scraggly beard, for all the world a picture of timeless other-worldliness, chatting away on a cellphone.”

However difficult it might be to have a consensus on India as a country and the nature of many experiences that await the visitors here, it can be said with some certainty that the country best reveals its mysteries to those who approach it with an open heart and a little familiarity to its culture, traditions and people before the visit is the best way to help get rid of any biases, pre-conceived notions and unpleasant surprises on your way.

In this post, we bring you the top 5 books that you can read to brace yourself for your life-altering (hopefully) trip to India:

Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India, William Dalrymple

Written in 2009, William Dalrymple Nine Lives can be the perfect start to understanding the ethnic and religious diversity in the country. Centred on the lives of nine Indians from varying backgrounds, each of whom are walking on a different religious path, the book explores the themes of, travel, faith and ‘world’s innate cosmopolitanism’.

Around India in 80 Trains, Monisha Rajesh

Inspired by Jules Verne’s classic tale, Around the World in 80 Days, Monisha’s book is perfect treat for adventurers and fans of long train journeys. Infused with elements of wit and humour and interspersed with fascinating stories of people she met on her journey, the book describes a 40,000km adventure of the author around India in 80 trains including luxury trains, toy trains, and Mumbai’s infamous local trains.

Eat, Pray, Love; Elizabeth Gilbert

If you haven’t already watched the Julia Roberts starrer film adaptation of the novel, and if looking to delve deeper into India’s spirituality, you may appreciate Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love. Although, only a part of the novel is based in India, you will find enough parallels to faith and self-discovery, biggest draws for tourists to India and two of the most prominent themes in the novel.

Holy Cow, Sarah Mcdonald

An expat’s account of life in modern India, Holy Cow by Sarah Mcdonald is closer to the picture of real India than any other novels written about the country in the recent times. Frustrated by India’s chaos and contradictions on her backpacking trip to India, 21 year old Sarah swears to never come back to India. But as fate would have it, she lands right back on the rollercoaster that she jumped from 12 years ago to follow her boyfriend on his job assignment in India. The novel is a hilarious account of her dealings with Indians, their faith, religion and way of life.

Made In Kolkata by Fiona Caulfield

Touted as the insider’s guide to one of the most soulful cities in India – Kolkata- Made in Kolkata takes its readers into the heart of Kolkata, its neighbourhoods and small lanes. A go-to guide for exploring finest artists, artisans, craftspeople, designers, makers and shopkeepers as well as restaurants and best places to stay, Fiona Caulfield’s Made in Kolkata will make you want to visit India’s intellectual, artistic and cultural capital right away.

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