Books to read before travelling to India

India is a vast country teeming with stories, and has long been the subject and setting for them. They give you a glimpse of life in the country through the eyes of the characters and the pages of books. How could you possibly hear them all? Remember that what you see in certain Oscar winning movies and music videos is not the real deal. To get a deeper hold on the slippery psyche of our country, here’s a list of books to read before travelling to India! Be warned though, nearly all of them are the size of a well -fed child, sometimes two. We’ll list them in order of page count so you can choose wisely.

Our recommendations of books to read before travelling to India are sure to get you excited about our country- Photo Credit César Viteri

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

Travelling to India to visit God’s own country? Slip through the pepper-cloaked coconut trees of Kerala, dip into it’s rushing streams, feel the spice dust tickle its way up your nostrils through the evocative descriptions of Roy’s only novel. This book will make you sob in pain and giggle at the antics of the twins joint at the hip as their idyllic world is torn apart by a sudden death. A must-read before visiting Kerala, it brings the mannerisms and predicament of its people to life.

356 pages

A must-read when visiting Kerala, this one makes it to our list of books to read before travelling to India- Credit: Gaurav Dhwaj Khadka

City of Djinns by William Dalrymple

Planning on dropping by our capital city? Then this one goes on your list of books to read before travelling to India. Indraprastha, Lal Kot, Tughlakabad, Red Fort, East India Company’s Delhi and Lutyens’ Delhi. They all stood where the Indian capital now stands, living on in pigeon holes and strains of sufiana drifting across the terraces in the evening. Watch as the gifted Dalrymple unravels the city, sifting through its architecture, its people and its lore asking if we can ever truly put the past behind us. An added bonus is a thorough breakdown of Delhi’s treacherous weather that’ll give you some great packing tips. 

360 pages

books to read before travelling to india City of Djinns will give you some great tips before visiting Delhi – Credit: Mayank Austen Soofi

Great Indian Novel by Shashi Tharoor

A plotline lifted straight from the Indian epic ‘Mahabharatha’ and recast with the most prominent political figures from the country’s Independence struggle. Knock off mythology and history in one fell swoop carried on the wings of Tharoor’s singing prose. The MP returned to Indian politics after nearly three decades in the UN and is no stranger to open criticism of the status quo. You’ll find beneath the puns and poetry startling opinions and thought-provoking questions, both of which you will also come across when travelling to India. These expose the layers of the Great Indian Denial that is our political situation.

423 pages

books to read before travelling to india A great novel for those interested in Indian history and politics-Photo Credit Steffi Pereira

The City of Joy by Dominique Lapierre

A foray into the gritty underbelly of Kolkata and the saints that call its run-down hospitals home. It has been rumoured to be the source of the city’s now popular nickname. This makes for a great factoid to know when travelling to India! The book puts joyous leper weddings, kite flying marathons and unadulterated goodness in the spotlight, without hesitating to discuss the dilapidated surroundings in which these joys are borne.

544 pages

A novel based on the grittiness and joy of living in Kolkata- Photo Credit Prasanna Kumar

Maximum City by Suketu Mehta

Mumbai the city of dreams delivers it’s harsh reality in Maximum City. Almost overpowering in the intensity of each story, it transcribes one man’s struggle to reconcile with the city he once called his own. It delves into its darkest drug dens and deepest political infestations to make sense of a city of wanton chaos. Power hungry fundamentalist rub shoulders with glamour-struck film stars in a city famously said to be built on dichotomies.

600 pages

Read about the city of dreams and it’s harsh realities- Photo Credit Elaine Howlin

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

Voted the best among 25 years worth of Booker Prize winners, this is a bitingly humorous epic tracing the lives of those bone on and around the fortuitous stroke of midnight on the 14th August 1947. Each has been gifted with shades of magic that carry them through the treacherous shifting ground of a massive nation in unrest. Read it for the beauty of the words, and the magic of the characters. Sink into the history of a country too large to hold laced with a sugary sprinkle of absurdism.

672 pages

books to read before travelling to india A humourous epic tale- Credit: Jabiz Raisdana

A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth

A volume of this size can only be for the serious readers out there. But, the delicacy of Seth’s words is for everyone. Simple, straightforward and gut-wrenchingly lyrical, he moves at the same placid pace as the small town of his creation. Gently, he ekes out star crossed lovers, religious tensions, filial frustration and the shifting paradigms of a country newly reborn, drawing you deeper and deeper into his characters minds and hearts. This book is immersive and comprehensive. It would probably be our first recommendation for anyone who really wants to understand the continuously contradicting loyalties that fuel each new generation of Indians.

1,552 pages


books to read before travelling to india One for the dedicated readers – Credit: Mayank Austen Soofi

If you’re still pondering if India is meant for you, we guarantee it is meant for every type of traveller out there. As varied as our list of books to read before travelling to India, it is mesmerising and exciting, all in one. We can help you plan a trip to India that feels just like you’re a part of your own Great Indian Adventure! For more information or assistance in planning the perfect trip, get in touch with us !

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