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Books to Read Before Travelling to India

books to read before travelling India

Books on travel in India

If you are planning a trip to India or perhaps you are already in India, what better way to make the most of your trip then to read all about India. It’s complex culture, history, and traditions. When I took my first ever Solo trip to India I was fascinated by the country. It is hard not to be. Nowhere else in the world is like India. It’s vastness, history and spiritual essence mixed within the crazy, noisy, colourful yet depressing, stressful and well… what better word than crazy! Just crazy, crazy India.  Perhaps in my books, the hardest country to understand. That is why these books will really help you. You will learn little bits of extra to help you with your trip. You will learn how to talk to the locals, understand why certain things are happening and perhaps even find a hidden gem or two.

Books to understand Indian Culture

India is a crazy, crazy, but wonderful place. It will confuse you to no ends. You’ll constantly have questions and never really understand the answers. Remember that sometimes there is no logic as to how and why things happen. This is one of the magical things about India. It really is a place like no other. These books about India will take you to a new understanding. Whilst these books will never help you understand everything, they may give you a heads up on the culture.
Indias culture is a  complex one and your trip to India will leave you wondering why!! You’ll never quite understand the extent of the corruption. You’ll never feel right about the harsh realities of the cast system. The traditions will never hold logic to you. But this all forms Indias culture. These books will help you understand Indian culture.
A Strange Kind of Paradise: India Through Foreign Eyes

This is a fun read and I recommend A strange kind of paradise for anybody travelling to India. When I travelled around India this book really helped me to get a grasp of the realities. It is a fresh and funny view of India from its earliest times till now and told by an outsider with clear eyes and a love and curiosity of India
The author Sam Miller has spent an extensive amount of time in India and he writes well to explain the culture of India. You are sure to learn a lot from this book. Sam Miller has done a fantastic job at describing India and with such an interesting perspective. He is easily able to explain and make sense of Indias history without the book being dry and tedious.
I like that this book is not biased for or against India. The author has included both good and bad stories because India is not for everybody but this creates a more open mind and realistic view.
Who better to try and learn about India and prepare yourself than with someone who has spent a lot of time there.

We all have our patchwork ideas of India, our notions and opinions and prejudices–often fallacious and absurd–of this enormous, disparate country, which, as I take pleasure in reminding newcomers, bigger in population than all but its own continent: Asia. It is a place onto which foreigners have projected their own exotic fantasies and fears, their explanatory and simplifying schemata. And they never seem quite to make up their minds–as they swing from one extreme to the other–whether this country is of great wealth or of appalling poverty, of spiritual renunciation or of unabashed materialism, of fasting or of gluttony, of erotic sophistication or of sexual puritanism, of corruption or of moral superiority. They probably fail to admit that it might be all these things, and even more so, everything in between.

Sam Miller

The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian History, Culture and Identity

In sixteen linked essays, Nobel Prize–winning economist Amartya Sen discusses India’s intellectual and political heritage and how its argumentative tradition is vital for the success of its democracy and secular politics. The Argumentative Indian is “a bracing sweep through aspects of Indian history and culture, and a tempered analysis of the highly charged disputes surrounding these subjects–the nature of Hindu traditions, Indian identity, the country’s huge social and economic disparities, and its current place in the world” (Sunil Khilnani, Financial Times, U.K.).

A Fine Balance

If it’s Indian culture you want to understand than first you must understand Indias corruption. Whilst this novel is set in 1975 it doesn’t mean the corruption and culture has changed dramatically. Besides, learn about a places history and you’ll understand it’s ins and outs.

This book will have you understanding that where you come from in India makes a huge difference to the quality of your life. Indias caste system is something you will hear a lot about but never really understand it. As are the regions of India. This book greatly touches on those issues.

This tragic book will tug at your heart strings and bring compassion into exsistance. You will want the story to be over but you won’t want to stop reading at the same time. It’s dark but so well written and perhaps the kind of dark that we need to feel to have that compassion and understanding.

The reason I recommend this book so highly is because it’s the kind of book that sticks in your mind for some time and makes you really feel how unfair things can be in India. This is something I think that everyone should carry with them on their trip.

To understand collonialism

Colonialism is a huge part of India’s history. To understand a place’s history, means you have a better connection with the how’s and why’s of their current culture.

A Passage to India

Among the greatest novels of the twentieth century and the basis for director David Lean’s Academy Award-winning film, A Passage to India tells of the clash of cultures in British India after the turn of the century. In exquisite prose, Forster reveals the menace that lurks just beneath the surface of ordinary life, as a common misunderstanding erupts into a devastating affair.

An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India

In 1930, the American historian and philosopher Will Durant wrote that Britain’s ‘conscious and deliberate bleeding of India… [was the] greatest crime in all history’. He was not the only one to denounce the rapacity and cruelty of British rule, and his assessment was not exaggerated. Almost thirty-five million Indians died because of acts of commission and omission by the British—in famines, epidemics, communal riots and wholesale slaughter like the reprisal killings after the 1857 War of Independence and the Amritsar massacre of 1919.

Freedom at Midnight

On 14 August 1947 one-fifth of humanity claimed their independence in India. But 400 million people were to find that the immediate price of freedom was partition and war, riot and murder. In this reconstruction, Collins and Lapierre recount the eclipse of the British Raj and examine the roles enacted by, among others, Mahatma Gandhi and Lord Mountbatten in its violent transformation into the new India and Pakistan.

To make you feel like you are in India

Kim by Rudyard Kipling Unabridged 1901 Original Version

This novel tells the story of Kimball O’ Hara (Kim), who is the orphaned son of a soldier in the Irish regiment stationed in India during the British Raj. It describes Kim’s life and adventures from street vagabond, to his adoption by his father’s regiment and recruitment into espionage.

To understand the superstitious side of India

Midnight’s Children: A Novel (Modern Library 100 Best Novels)

Born at the stroke of midnight at the exact moment of India’s independence, Saleem Sinai is a special child. However, this coincidence of birth has consequences he is not prepared for: telepathic powers connect him with 1,000 other ‘midnight’s children’ all of whom are endowed with unusual gifts.

Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard: A Novel

Sampath Chawla was born in a time of drought that ended with a vengeance the night of his birth. All signs being auspicious, the villagers triumphantly assured Sampath’s proud parents that their son was destined for greatness.

Twenty years of failure later, that unfortunately does not appear to be the case. A sullen government worker, Sampath is inspired only when in search of a quiet place to take his nap. “But the world is round,” his grandmother says. “Wait and see! Even if it appears he is going downhill, he will come up the other side. Yes, on top of the world. He is just taking a longer route.” No one believes her until, one day, Sampath climbs into a guava tree and becomes unintentionally famous as a holy man, setting off a series of events that spin increasingly out of control. A delightfully sweet comic novel that ends in a raucous bang, Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard is as surprising and entertaining as it is beautifully wrought.

To understand Modern India

India After Gandhi by Ramachandra Guha

Among the greatest novels of the twentieth century and the basis for director David Lean’s Academy Award-winning film, A Passage to India tells of the clash of cultures in British India after the turn of the century. In exquisite prose, Forster reveals the menace that lurks just beneath the surface of ordinary life, as a common misunderstanding erupts into a devastating affair.

Holy Cow by Sarah Mcdonald

Holy Cow is Macdonald’s often hilarious chronicle of her adventures in a land of chaos and contradiction, of encounters with Hinduism, Islam and Jainism, Sufis, Sikhs, Parsis and Christians and a kaleidoscope of yogis, swamis and Bollywood stars. From spiritual retreats and crumbling nirvanas to war zones and New Delhi nightclubs, it is a journey that only a woman on a mission to save her soul, her love life—and her sanity—can survive. (less)

To understand Religon

The Hindus: An Alternative History

An engrossing and definitive narrative account of history and myth, The Hindus offers a new way of understanding one of the world’s oldest major religions. Hinduism does not lend itself easily to a strictly chronological account. Many of its central texts cannot be reliably dated within a century; its central tenets arise at particular moments in Indian history and often differ according to gender or caste; and the differences between groups of Hindus far outnumber the commonalities. Yet the greatness of Hinduism lies precisely in many of these idiosyncratic qualities that continues to inspire debate today. This groundbreaking work elucidates the relationship between recorded history and imaginary worlds, the inner life and the social history of Hindus.

The Ramayana: A Modern Retelling of the Great Indian Epic

India’s most beloved and enduring legend, the Ramayana is widely acknowledged to be one of the world’s great literary masterpieces. Still an integral part of India’s cultural and religious expression, the Ramayana was originally composed by the Sanskrit poet Valmiki around 300 b.c. The epic of Prince Rama’s betrayal, exile, and struggle to rescue his faithful wife, Sita, from the clutches of a demon and to reclaim his throne has profoundly affected the literature, art, and culture of South and Southeast Asia—an influence most likely unparalleled in the history of world literature, except, possibly, for the Bible. Throughout the centuries, countless versions of the epic have been produced in numerous formats and languages. But previous English versions have been either too short to capture the magnitude of the original; too secular in presenting what is, in effect, scripture; or dry, line-by-line translations. Now novelist Ramesh Menon has rendered the tale in lyrical prose that conveys all the beauty and excitement of the original, while making this spiritual and literary classic accessible to a new generation of readers.

Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India (Vintage Departures)

India is a very religious country and much of your trip to India will be exploring temples. Learning about India’s religious commitments and beliefs will have you buffelled and maybe even make you into a believer.

This book does a fantastic job at diving into people’s beliefs and faiths. At the same time Nine lives does a great job at showing how the 21st century is changing their ancient traditions and how it affects peoples lives.

The people in this book live extraordinary lives and you are invited into them. This book will help prepare you for India by opening your mind and having empathy for the people in the story, as well as the people you will meet on your Indian trip.

Siddhartha: A Novel

Siddhartha is an allegorical novel by Hermann Hesse which deals with the spiritual journey of an Indian boy called Siddhartha during the time of the Buddha. The book, Hesse’s ninth novel, was written in German, in a simple, yet powerful and lyrical, style. It was first published in 1922, after Hesse had spent some time in India in the 1910s. It was published in the U.S. in 1951 and became influential during the 1960s.

Before travelling to Mumbai

Shantaram: A Novel

Shantaram is a 2003 novel by Gregory David Roberts, in which a convicted Australian bank robber and heroin addict who escaped from Pentridge Prison flees to India. The novel is commended by many for its vivid portrayal of tumultuous life in Bombay.

Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found

A native of Bombay, Suketu Mehta gives us an insider’s view of this stunning metropolis. He approaches the city from unexpected angles, taking us into the criminal underworld of rival Muslim and Hindu gangs, following the life of a bar dancer raised amid poverty and abuse, opening the door into the inner sanctums of Bollywood, and delving into the stories of the countless villagers who come in search of a better life and end up living on the sidewalks.

To understand the vast craziness of India

Lion: A Long Way Home Young Readers’ Edition

Saroo had become lost on a train in India at the age of five. Not knowing the name of his family or where he was from, he survived for weeks on the streets of Kolkata, before being taken into an orphanage and adopted by a couple in Australia.
Despite being happy in his new family, Saroo always wondered about his origins. He spent hours staring at the map of India on his bedroom wall. When he was a young man the advent of Google Earth led him to pore over satellite images of the country for landmarks he recognised. And one day, after years of searching, he miraculously found what he was looking for.
Then he set off on a journey to find his mother.

Disclaimer: I didn’t read this book but I watched the movie and I thoroughly recommend it. A perfect little break from reading books. Also great if you are sick of watching bollywood but still want to get ready for your India trip. Watch it here

Empire of the Soul: Some Journeys in India

Paul William Roberts’s journeys through India span twenty years, and in Empire of the Soul, he creates a dazzling mosaic, by turns tragic and comic, of the subcontinent and its people. From the crumbling palaces of maharajas to the slums of Calcutta; from the ashrams of holy men to a millionaire drug dealer’s heavily guarded fortress on India’s border with China, Roberts captures the lure of this enigmatic land?this empire of the soul. “India is a harsh mistress,” he writes. “She seems to appreciate individual sacrifice so little. Yet she has never wanted for lovers…”

Around India in 80 Trains

When she was a child, Monisha Rajesh’s family uprooted to Madras in the hope of making India their home, but soon returned to England with a bitter taste in their mouths. Two decades on, Monisha turns to a map of the Indian Railways and takes a page out of Jules Verne’s classic tale, embarking on an adventure around India in 80 trains, covering 40,000km – the circumference of the Earth.

To understand the cast system

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity

In this brilliant, breathtaking book by Pulitzer Prize winner Katherine Boo, a bewildering age of global change and inequality is made human through the dramatic story of families striving toward a better life in Annawadi, a makeshift settlement in the shadow of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport. As India starts to prosper, the residents of Annawadi are electric with hope. Abdul, an enterprising teenager, sees “a fortune beyond counting” in the recyclable garbage that richer people throw away. Meanwhile Asha, a woman of formidable ambition, has identified a shadier route to the middle class. With a little luck, her beautiful daughter, Annawadi’s “most-everything girl,” might become its first female college graduate. And even the poorest children, like the young thief Kalu, feel themselves inching closer to their dreams. But then Abdul is falsely accused in a shocking tragedy; terror and global recession rock the city; and suppressed tensions over religion, caste, sex, power, and economic envy turn brutal. With intelligence, humor, and deep insight into what connects people to one another in an era of tumultuous change, Behind the Beautiful Forevers, based on years of uncompromising reporting, carries the reader headlong into one of the twenty-first century’s hidden worlds—and into the hearts of families impossible to forget.

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

The White Tiger follows a darkly comic Bangalore driver through the poverty and corruption of modern India’s caste society. “This is the authentic voice of the Third World, like you’ve never heard it before”

Tell A Thousand Lies

In a land where skin colour can determine one’s destiny, fraternal twins PULLAMMA and LATA are about to embark on a journey that will tear their lives apart.

To understand the hippy trail influence in India

Memoirs of Hippie Girl in India

Ann BeCoy is a Canadian woman of Dutch descent who traveled extensively in the 1970s to India and Nepal – lands of gurus, sadhus and maharishis – and into the so-called counter-culture of the day. Here presented are her fascinating accounts of life in those places and in those times; of ideals, values and the practical reality of trying to live up to them in a foreign culture thousands of miles from home. BeCoy takes you into the depths of commune culture, Hindu mysticism, the drugs, the sex and the rock-and-roll lifestyle she lived during those years, and gives her insights into how it worked and why it didn’t. From first to last, this profusely illustrated book will transport, enchant and entertain you.


(Available on Kindle Unlimited, Free Trial)

Karma Cola: Marketing the Mystic East

Beginning in the late ’60s, hundreds of thousands of Westerners descended upon India, disciples of a cultural revolution that proclaimed that the magic and mystery missing from their lives was to be found in the East. An Indian writer who has also lived in England and the United States, Gita Mehta was ideally placed to observe the spectacle of European and American “pilgrims” interacting with their hosts. When she finally recorded her razor sharp observations in Karma Cola, the book became an instant classic for describing, in merciless detail, what happens when the traditions of an ancient and longlived society are turned into commodities and sold to those who don’t understand them.

Before travelling to Kerala

Kerala is featured as one of the best places to travel in India. So if you do decide to take a trip there, be sure to read these books

The God of Small Things: A Novel

This is the story of Rahel and Estha, twins growing up among the banana jam vats and peppercorns of their blind grandmother’s factory, and amid scenes of political turbulence in Kerala. Armed only with the innocence of youth, they fashion a childhood in the shade of the wreck that is their family: their lonely, lovely mother, their beloved Uncle Chacko (pickle baron, radical Marxist, bottom-pincher) and their sworn enemy, Baby Kochamma (ex-nun, incumbent grand-aunt).


2 States: The Story of My Marriage

This is a story of a love affair between two IIM students hailing from two different states, Punjab and Tamil Nadu. Miles apart in distance and custom, Krish and Ananya’s love blossoms within the confines of their college walls. But with the end of college and beginning of a career, the question of marriage does not stand far away.

They embark on a journey of convincing their parents for the marriage. But the persuasion takes a lot more than just a few words. The journey that the couple takes from being romantically involved to getting married is full of twists and turns. This is more because, in India, it is easy to fall in love but tricky to convert that love into a love marriage.

A Suitable Boy: A Novel (Modern Classics)

Vikram Seth’s novel is, at its core, a love story: Lata and her mother, Mrs. Rupa Mehra, are both trying to find — through love or through exacting maternal appraisal — a suitable boy for Lata to marry. Set in the early 1950s, in an India newly independent and struggling through a time of crisis, A Suitable Boy takes us into the richly imagined world of four large extended families and spins a compulsively readable tale of their lives and loves. A sweeping panoramic portrait of a complex, multiethnic society in flux, A Suitable Boy remains the story of ordinary people caught up in a web of love and ambition, humor and sadness, prejudice and reconciliation, the most delicate social etiquette and the most appalling violence.

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books to read before travelling India


  1. Carly says:

    Great post. Even though I currently don’t have any plans to travel to India these look like some interesting books. Xx

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