Lonely Planet editorial intern Soumya Rao hails from Hyderabad, India. So we asked her to write an article about how travellers can get to the heart of the country. As she explains, the best way to get to know India is to meet its people - en masse.
You can never get too far from the madding crowd in India. The world's second most populous nation is home to 1.18 billion people, and that makes everything crowded, crazy and chaotic.
If you're feeling adventurous it's a good idea to meet India's people – up close and personal. That could mean being part of a booming audience at a cricket match or simply taking a daily train ride with millions of others. To feel India's chaotic numbers, here are some great ways to experience crowd sourcing in a literal sense:
A cricket match, anywhere
We often say in India, 'In some places children might be born with a golden spoon, but in India they’re born with a bat'. Cricket is played everywhere - in movies, on public grounds, in the street, in the living room, awake and asleep. Cricketers are treated like gods.
If you want to experience the cheer of a crowd like never before, buy a ticket to a cricket match in a local stadium. You could try, for example, Eden Gardens in Kolkata or the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore. Don’t forget to carry a hat and sunscreen for company and gear up for some random Mexican waves, a lot of name-calling and weird cheering sounds.
A Rajnikanth movie opening in Chennai (Madras)
It's not just cricketers: there are other kinds of god in India. Take actors. Why not try to meet the highest paid actor in Asia after Jackie Chan, South-Indian action hero Rajnikanth. A bus conductor before he was an actor, this man has a reputation for queuing up people in Japan for every new movie. Even President Obama paid respects to Rajnikanth when in India recently.
If you happen to be in India at the time of one of his releases and want to see long queues of fans waiting to get a ticket while holding life-size Rajnikanth posters, try a movie hall in Chennai. If you want to see if there's a movie coming up, check for the latest film listings at www.google.com/movies (change the location to Chennai to see films for the area). And should you happen to get your hands on a ticket and experience the fanfare, just remember not to say anything negative about Rajnikanth (if you want to get back home in one piece).
A ride on the railway in Mumbai
It is said that if you haven’t been on a train in Mumbai you haven’t seen Mumbai. Everything you’ve heard about the railways is probably true – the doors never close and you’ll constantly see people hanging out of them. Complete the Mumbai experience by buying a coupon for the Western Railway from Mahalaxmi to Bandra - it's one of the shorter rides you can take and considered to be one of the best for travellers due to views of the Haji Ali Mosque. Don't wait in line to buy coupons, or you might never get served. Just walk straight to the counter, push your way to the front of the line and demand coupons.
If you're adventurous, travelling by train also happens to be the cheapest and quickest way to get around in Mumbai. Be warned, however, that you should brace yourself for some foot stamping and shoulder rubbing.
A free concert in Bangalore
Apart from being the software hub of the country, Bangalore is the best place in India to see touring bands, artists and singers. The Black Eyed Peas, INXS, Iron Maiden and many more have played to full houses here. But even more of a guaranteed crowd-puller than these bands is any concert that's listed as 'free'.
Going to one of these shows is a great way to be part of a crowd buoyed by chaotic rhythm and melodious song. To find out if there's a free concert when you're there, read the events listing in a local newspaper like the Bangalore Times. One of the most popular venues is Palace Grounds, but be aware that the earlier you get there, the better your chances of seeing your favourite singer.
Pandal-hopping in Kolkata
Autumn in India marks the season for Bengal’s most popular festival, the Durga Puja. Celebrated with a lot of pomp and pride, it is the most exciting time to experience a crowd that's holy and happy as you visit the many pandals (marquees set up for the puja) and make a beeline to get some delicious prasad (sweetmeat offered to the deity) and chaat (street food).
To celebrate with thousands of others, join the immersion procession at the end of the festival and jump on a truck with fancy decor and colourful lights in the company of many other women and men as they dance and shout on the way. Just don’t forget to carry your ear plugs if you're bothered by loud drum beats.