Everyone should visit India at least once in their life; it's a magical place of stark contradictions that will jolt every single one of your senses. It's impossible to go to India and not come back a little bit changed, a little bit wiser, a little bit more open.
If a 16 hour flight from New York to New Delhi sounds daunting, there is another way to experience India without purchasing a plane ticket. Call up your local Indian takeout, order in a bowl of dal makhani and some naan, and cozy up with these books that provide a window into the unique, colorful experience that is India.
Holy Cow: An Indian Adventure by Sarah MacDonald
On her first visit to India as a backpacker, Australian Sarah McDonald is disgusted by the poverty, heat, and pollution. She can't wait to leave the country and vows never to return, scoffing at a prophecy a fortune teller gives her at the airport that she'd be back.
11 years later, she does indeed return, leaving a career behind as an entertainment reporter to follow her journalist boyfriend at his post in Delhi. She has a hard time adjusting to the realities of Third World living and begins a spiritual journey to try to find meaning in all the madness that is India. She experiences Vipassana (silent meditation) in the Himalayas, nearly dies at one point and goes on to explore the multitude of religions present in India - from Buddhism to Sikhism and Hinduism, Islam and Zoroastrianism, even Judaism and finally takes a look at Christianity from a renewed perspective.
Shataram by David Gregory Roberts
Be prepared to be held hostage for however long it takes you to read Shantram. Nothing short of a literary masterpiece, this 900-page tome is a page-turner from start to finish. The true story of a convict who escapes a high security prison in Australia, makes his way to India with a forged passport and ends up living in a Mumbai slum with so many twists, turns, ups and downs, it's both gut-renching and heart-renching.
There is love, deception, harrowing action, incredible feats of human strength, joy, sadness, and everything in between. The people Roberts meets along the way, the things he does (which range from joining the Indian mafia to fighting against the Soviets in Afghanistan, nearly dying a hundred times) all intertwine to weave an unbelievably rich story that you don't want to end. It's written with poetic mastery and immense sensitivity.
A Journey in Ladakh: Encounters with Buddhism by Andrew Harvey
The book is full of insights on life and gives a window into the remote mountainous northern region of Ladakh, home to many exiled Tibetan Buddhists. Written in a slow, contemplative pace, it captures the feelings of quiet and inner search that the high Himalayas inspires. Harvey spends time with the Rinpoche of Leh and takes part in Tibetan ceremonies.