Insider’s India with Piyush Bhatnagar

Insider’s India with Piyush Bhatnagar
August 2020

India is a riot of colour, culture, smells sights and sounds. Drawing travellers to every corner from its energetic cities with bustling spice-laden markets to the calmer southern states, India offers a country full of captivating contrasts. From the snow-capped mountains of the high Himalaya, the wind-swept deserts of Rajasthan, the pristine jungles of Madhya Pradesh, to the tranquil backwaters and tropical beaches of Kerala in the south – an India holiday will leave you with memories you’ll cherish for the rest of your life. Here at A&K, we couldn’t bring your dreamy luxury India getaway to life without the expert knowledge from our local network.

If you’ve been dreaming of an Indian odyssey, let us introduce you to Piyush Bhatnagar, one of A&K India’s talented tour guides, sharing with us his insider insights to the perfect exploration of the enchanting country.

Tell us about your role. What do you do, and how long have you been with A&K?

I've been working as a tour guide and tour manager since 1985. My role means that I am responsible for providing a locally insightful, informative and exciting introduction to India for guests, showcasing the iconic sights as well as shining a light on some lesser-known gems. I started working with Indian tourists at the age of 19 while doing my Bachelor of Tourism from University of Delhi. I then worked with European clients in a touring capacity for many years, before leading tours with A&K from 1996.

What is your earliest travel memory?

My first stints of travel were with my parents to religious places in different parts of India like Haridwar-Rishikesh in Uttarakhand (a region nearby the Ganges in the Himalayan foothills, famous for studying meditation and yoga) and, Madurai, Rameshwaram and Kanjipuram in Southern India (each with many ancient temples and pilgrimage sites). These journeys were for a mixture of pilgrimage as well as cultural tourism and education. But in terms of international travel, I took my first trip to Switzerland, Germany and Austria after I had learnt German language working in a tourism role with Russian clients. After being blown away by my first visit, I frequented different destinations in Europe in my working off-season as often as I could.

What inspired you to work in travel?

Since my school days, I was keen for travel to play a big part in my life. After school, working as a guide and in similar roles within the tourism industry gave me the right opportunities to travel and earn simultaneously. I had travelled a lot across India, but it was the experiences I had on my first journey to Europe, where I visited Switzerland, Germany and Austria that made it clear travel had to become a key part of my life. Just one visit wasn’t going to do justice to these incredible countries and the experiences, they have to offer travellers. I became a passionate traveller very quickly, keen to share that with as many people as I could.

What is your favourite place in India? Why?

Two of my favourite destinations in India are Rajasthan and Varanasi. These two places are my personal favourites because the diverse cultures fascinate me. I am also captivated by the fact that the traditions in these places have survived over the years, thrived even, with each destination a vibrant and colourful drawcard in their own different ways. For example, Rajasthan is full of culture, traditions and has a variety of flavourful cuisines. It has many beautiful monuments, steeped in history and despite the years, aging gracefully. Contrastively, the divine hub of Varanasi is a city of pilgrims, one the oldest cities in the world that emanates religious reverence. Standing proudly along the banks of river Ganges, Varanasi welcomes 60,000-1,00,000 pilgrims into the city each day from every corner of the country. An age-old ritual, pilgrims take a bath in the river before visiting the temple to offer prayers. This is the spiritual city that never sleeps, as unlike many other cities, religious rites and ceremonies are performed all day and into the night.

What is one of the most interesting things you have learnt through your work?

After interacting with people hailing from all over the world, of different nationalities and following various faiths, my work has helped me realise that all these people have something to teach me, and something that I can learn. Being able to learn from such a diverse group of people has equipped me with a unique wealth of knowledge and understanding. It has been very humbling in numerous ways, and taught me to be accepting and open to the different things that each person offers as a result of their unique circumstances.

What is your favourite local dish, and where do you get it?

I thoroughly enjoy a ‘thali’, which is a sort of big (really big) tasting plate. A thali serves a variety of lentils, vegetables, yogurt (raita), rice, different types of Indian breads, condiments and a sweet dish. I like to order a Thali wherever I go as it’s a great way to try the local delicacies all at once, and savour the regional flavours. Some of the specific places I frequent include: Vega Restaurant (Connaught Place, Delhi), Suruchi Restaurant (Karol Bagh, Delhi), Sattvik Restaurant (Saket, Delhi), and Naivedyam (Delhi), among many others.

What is something interesting about India that you would like to share with travellers?

India is the oldest living civilization, a place where travellers are exposed to a captivating balance of modernity and antiquity. We have age old traditions, which are still practised day-to-day across the country, hundreds of languages, and thousands of ethnic groups making up a highly diverse population. Moreover, some of the world's important religions were born here: Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism.

The diversity, majestic ancient monuments, bustling cities and colourful, engaging traditions of the country paired with the friendliness of the people will leave travellers in awe. Regardless of your travel motivations, India offers something for everyone, and it is sure to call you back over and over again.

You can explore a kaleidoscope of experiences available on A&K India adventures here, to inspire your own discovery of this incredible country.

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