JAIPUR, INDIA — The man with the snake asked me to sit beside him to get a closer look at his black king cobra. He then suggested I pick it up. Sound absurd? Not in the amazing land of India, where snake charmers offer tourists a chance to handle the merchandise (the snakes have been defanged, but be warned, they can grow back).
My travel companions looked on in horror as I sat cross-legged beside him and petted the reptile, whose skin felt soft and silky, like suede — not what I had anticipated.
But that was just one of the many awesome experiences I encountered while travelling through Northern India.
Above: The markets in India are where the colorful spices and dyes are piled high.
At the Amer Fort (also called the Amber Fort) here, elephants painted in glorious colours shuttle tourists up the steep incline to the entrance of the palace, which is itself an amazing experience. It is here you will find the Peacock Throne. And peacocks!
Going to a bazar in India is an experience that will awaken all your senses. From the remarkable hues of the fresh produce — I had no idea cauliflower could be so vibrant — to the piles of spices and powdered dyes, not to mention the flowers. Bundles of chrysanthemums in colours of yellow, saffron, orange and red scent the air.
Above: Whether it's the snake charmer or the elephant trainer, they're all decked out in bright colours.
In Varanasi, the holiest city in Hinduism, which is located on the Ganges River, men in colourful tunics and women in vivid saris make their way down the ghats (steps) to the river, joining the naked ascetics smeared in ash, and plunge themselves into the cold water in a ritual to wash away their sins.
Varanasi is also the holiest of cremation sites in Hinduism, where men dressed in white prepare the pyres for the bodies, each wrapped in colourful shrouds that denote their standing in the community.
My experience of India was a feast for the senses, but also for the soul. The people who live here are, in my experience, deeply spiritual and connected with their community.
It was their faces — young and old, rich and poor — that made my voyage through charming India one of the most exceptional in my travel history.
Above: The rugged features of the people of India are what stays with you forever.