Thanks for writing, it is good to hear from you. It is very kind of John to put us in contact re India, as we would probably not get in touch on that, left on our own devices. it is great you are planning this trip with your wife and I hope you will enjoy it. Although, having traveled to four different states in India over the last three years hardly makes me an “old India hand”, I should confirm that like many I stayed fascinated with the country, its complexities and its people.
The best way to enjoy might be to let it all in, good and the bad and sort out the impressions later. If one tries to do it on the spot it quickly becomes overwhelming and one might start focusing on the difficult parts. If that sounds kind of abstract, well I am afraid it is. However, in practice it works especially if one uses a blend of traveling styles, meandering the full range between the “barefoot”, “tuk-tuk”, taxi, limo and “luxury train”, to put it figuratively. If one forgoes some if it you are going to miss something, and switching from one to the other is really both fun and a necessity. The whole country is a fantastic experience exactly because it is so kaleidoscopic and complex. Without idealizing, my experience of its people is fascinating, their manners, education, personal cleanliness, composure in the midst of the chaotic social scenes, poverty and large scale changes utterly impressive and pleasurable. The society is generally conservative but people are open in expressing their views and listening to others’. Their food, if you are not avoiding hot spices and keep minimum precautions on where do you eat will be another gateway to Indian being. After a couple of weeks one gets the entirely different idea on how much one should eat, how sated one can feel after a meal etc. It is worth trying it in full, but it was much more demanding for me than eating our in Japan, for instance. I mostly eat fully local without much “western” filtering.
I traveled mostly to the South (Maharashtra, Goa, Uttar Pradesh and Kerala), so I am afraid I don’t have any direct tips on eating out. We have found that a minimum studying of the standard guides sets you an the right course. As always and everywhere, eating food prepared by locals out of the restaurants, such as we had by the cooks that we encountered on our rented boats in the Kerala backwaters were outstanding. Indian wines are slowly getting better and some Sula bottlings are now of a reasonable quality. Many other labels were bellow our desired average quality. If you are not too demanding Kingfisher beer takes you somewhere – but not too far. Cocktails tend to be fantastic at the better bars.
From what I have heard from my friends who traveled India, the North that you are planning to visit is is of great tourist interest and is more often approachable, for example the food is not necessarily uniformly hot as it is in Kerala and Hyderabad. IT helps to take cooking lessons not only if you plan learning how to cook Indian, but also in order to understand how the tastes and spices are composed and what is being used to achieve those heady combinations of spices. For instance, many Indian dishes require “cooking the spices” separately on their own before you start preparing the dish itself.
This is just a glimpse in our experience. let me know if you have any other specific questions as I will be most happy to share more. Let’s be in touch. All the best for the holidays and a happy New Year.
Best regards, Mladen