Without question, India is the most engaging, colourful, chaotic, spiritual and life-affirming country in the world. It is an assault on the senses – all of them, nearly all of the time.
I have been visiting the country for 25 years and still find myself full of wonder at the diversity of its cultural riches, from temple sculptures and murals that rival the best of the Italian Renaissance to the artistry of ordinary people in a land where much is still made by hand.
It is not a place for the faint-hearted, as Mrs Moore and Adela discovered in EM Forster’s A Passage to India. There is much that is shocking: the poverty, the noise and dirt, the overladen vehicles playing dodgems on the road.
There is also a distinct lack of privacy in this country of a billion people. It’s important to understand that the naturally friendly, curious Indian, sitting too close, staring too long and asking too many questions, sincerely believes he is behaving in a polite and hospitable way to foreigners who have left the protection of their families.
When I have taken friends on a first visit, we have often started in a small town – somewhere like Maheshwar on the Narmada River, a two-hour drive from Indore, or Dungarpur, a three-hour drive from Ahmedabad – before moving on to the cacophony and crush of Rajasthan’s big cities.