Before traveling became a popular pastime and accessible for backpackers and budget travelers, it was initially an expensive affair enjoyed by only the nobles and aristocrats, the businessmen and the soldiers. From time and again, people succumbed to books with the hope to see distant places through the words as narrated by the author.
In the present decade, when traveling has become a much affordable affair and almost everything is available on the internet, few books still exist to give travelers a new perspective to see a place or to connect with a place differently.
There is a price treasure of information available for travelers who are embarking on their journey to India, that it’s often too hard to decide exactly where to start. While there are hundreds of websites offering useful travelers’ tips about where to go and what to eat, nothing can get under the skin of the country like the way these books can do.
If you are traveling to India to volunteer, then grab these books for a quick read. Trust me – you won’t regret spending time reading these.
India After Gandhi – Ramachandra Guha
An insightful look into modern Indian history, this book narrates the story of the largest democracy in the world after it came out of the shackles of colonialism. The colors, vibrancy and exuberance tells the full story – about the pain and the struggle, the humiliations and the glories, the life of the tribal and that of the aristocrats and much more. This book will give you an idea about how time and people shaped the country through decades, and if this doesn’t prepare you for your trip, nothing will!
Behind the Beautiful Forevers, Katherine Boo
This book circles around one of the biggest Mumbai slums (or ‘undercity’ as the American author narrates it) – and how life moves there. Winner of the National Book Award 2012, it effectively explores the ethos and spirit of one of the world’s greatest cities with immense diligence and compassion, exposing its wonders and horrors for what they really are – extremely deep and profoundly humane.
City of Djinns, William Dalrymple
When it comes to Indian travelogues, William Dalrymple is considered to be a pioneer who has lived in the Capital city of Delhi for nearly 25 years and documented his account in the most brilliant manner. His descriptions of the Delhi streets, the autowallahs and the Sikh landlady would make everything seem real to you. And then when you’ll be in Delhi for volunteering, you might have a feeling of deja vu – such is the power of Dalrymple’s narration.
A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth
To peep into the Indian culture and the matrimonial scenario that most of the Indian women faced till the last decade, you need to read this book by Seth. An impeccable fictional novel, set at the backdrop of a newly independent post-partition India, the story circles around Lata and her mother, who wishes to find ‘a suitable boy’ for Lata to get married to!
Around India in 80 Trains, Monisha Rajesh
When in India, you just can’t afford to miss a train ride! But you can definitely get a taste of it even before coming to the country, by flipping through the pages of this book, as the author will take you through 40,000 km on a quest to rediscover India in the most unconventional manner. Take a ride and explore the places that aren’t known by majority of the Indians as well!
A Strange Kind of Paradise, Sam Miller
This book is written from a foreigner’s perspective – from the time of Alexander till Steve Jobs, Miller describes how people from different parts of the world viewed India. Being a journalist by profession, Miller’s narration will definitely make you think about how you want to perceive India and take you for a 2500-year-long journey through Indian history, culture and society.
If you haven’t read these yet, then buy them ASAP and tickle your senses before packing your bags for India. This gorgeous country will leave no stones unturned to make you fall in love – and you’ll surely feel a longing to return back.
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