India has always offered a wealth of treasures to its visitors. The stunning Mughal architecture, incomparable natural beauty, and exceptional food have drawn travelers for centuries. India’s recent emergence as a technological and economic world power provides new and compelling reasons for travel as well. Keep reading to find out why India is the hottest destination in the world.

Technological Boom

The Indian technology and services industry is on track reach $225 billion in revenue by 2020, and it will change the economic face of the country. India has quickly emerged as the second largest mobile phone market in the world, and there’s still plenty of room for growth: Almost 20% of the population (800 million people) still lack internet access.

India technological boom

Facebook’s Internet.org recently started offering free mobile internet service to many in India who would not otherwise be able to afford it. Both startups and tech giants are increasingly interested in India as a new market base, and many are using it as a testing ground for new software and features.

Mark Zuckerberg himself is also invested in India’s technological growth and deepening the connection between India and Silicon Valley. When Facebook was floundering in its early stages, Zuckerberg took the advice of his mentor Steve Jobs and visited a temple in India. The trip inspired him to double down in his efforts, much as Jobs’ seven month Indian excursion inspired him to launch Apple in 1976.

Would-be tech entrepreneurs looking to recreate the success of Facebook and Apple will be drawn to India, and it’s never been easier for them to make the trip. India’s strong and lasting connection with Silicon Valley will be cemented with a recently announced direct flight from San Francisco to New Delhi. Operated by Cathay Pacific, the flight will run three times a week, and in the words of San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, it will unite “two great cultural and economic centers of the world.”

Travel Boom

The new flight is part of a general increase in Indian travel: India welcomed 7.68 million visitors in 2014 and expects more this year. Indians themselves are also traveling more frequently. In 2014, 9.6 million Indians traveled internationally, up from 3.5 million only a decade ago. Part of the growth is due to the rise of travel agencies designed exclusively for women. Groups like Women on Wanderlust organize women-only groups that travel within India and internationally, providing a safe and supportive community of female travelers.

Women dressed in traditional Indian clothing

India is also experiencing a huge expansion in air travel that will making getting around the country vastly easier for both residents and visitors. Over 20 airlines are currently operating in India, six of which have started flying in the last year alone. The proliferation of options has led to lower fares, making it very cost-effective to travel around India by plane. Domestic air travel is up 19% from last year, giving India has the highest growth in domestic air travel in the world.

It’s also easier to get a visa to India as of this August. Over 100 new countries, including the United States, are now eligible for e-Visas to enter India. Rather than waiting in long lines to apply in person, visas are now accessible online. Processing time has been reduced from two weeks to four days, and the fee has been reduced to $60. The new visa system is part of an initiative by Prime Minister Narenda Modi to incorporate more technology into government and education.

Wellness Boom

In 1968, The Beatles made a pilgrimage to an ashram in Rishikesh to study Transcendental Meditation. Their trip helped to introduce Eastern spirituality to the West and opened up the idea of India as a destination for enlightenment and spirituality. Since then, travelers seeking a holistic mind/body experience have come to India to practice yoga, pray at temples, and embrace meditation and mindfulness.

Yoga at the temples of Rishikesh, India

The explosion of yoga’s popularity has also helped to fuel travel in recent years. Yoga originated over 5,000 years ago as an eight-fold path to spiritual enlightenment, and asana, the series of postures that make up its physical branch, is now a $27 billion industry in the United States with more than 20 million practitioners.

To capitalize on the demand, many ashrams are offering packages for yogis to experience their discipline in its homeland. Sivananda Yoga Vedanta, for example, has put together a Yoga Vacation that involves two weeks of silent meditation, lectures, and yoga classes with vegetarian meals provided.

Now there’s no excuse not to book a trip to India. Flights are cheap, visas are easy, and there’s never been more to see and do in this fantastically beautiful country. Get a visa, book a flight, and prepare to experience travel nirvana.

  This article was posted on Hipmunk's Tailwind blog by The Hipmunk on October 16th.

Published in India

Like anyplace else in Egypt, Siwa and its people were just living their normal daily life, during their high tourism season, January/February, when suddenly the revolution started, and the police forces were withdrawn from all of Egypt.

In big cities like Cairo and Alexandria, people were terrified because of the lack of security, thugs were let loose and stealing and killing was something normal, and that brought to the civilians the idea of securing their own homes together, where all people living on the same street would leave their homes at night and gather together in the street with any weapons they can have (sticks, kitchen knives...etc) until the morning.

Siwa, Egypt 2011 pre-revolution
The Serenity and peacefulness of Siwa.

On the other hand, in the serene Siwa, where all people live together peacefully and they all know each other, they were not afraid of thugs, because simple even if there was a Siwan thug, he wouldn’t harm Siwa (it's the Siwan code, no stealing!) But still, airports were closed; traveling on highways was not safe at all, let alone traveling on a highway like that which connects Siwa and Cairo, through the desert and barely used.

And this was when the Siwan elders and wise people gathered together, along with the couple of hundred tourists there at the time. And they offered them what I have never heard of before except in movies. Siwa offered its guests homes, food and water until its safe for them to go back, and for those who didn't have money they would give them money. And if someone wants to leave, they would safely drive him all the way to Cairo's airport. An office was put in the market that had 3-4 Siwan men who spoke different languages, this was their own made info/help/tourism desk. Where the guests were to come and ask for whatever they needed at any time of the day and Siwans would make sure their guests are feeling welcomed and comfortable.

What really surprised me is that I have never heard of that story before, even though I live in Egypt, but not the TV nor the internet told any of it. I wonder of the couple of hundred foreigners that were here didn’t include any bloggers who could have shared such a story. I was only told the story by the locals and they were saying it as something normal, something that Siwi people would do without thinking.

The Silence of the Desert, Great Sand Sea, Egypt
The silence of the desert, great sand sea

And that is true :) Those people are nicer and kinder than most of the people I have met in the world...it's all about their simplicity in life, which reflects on their minds and souls, making them very simple and content about all they have. Everyone must visit Siwa and get immersed in the desert and in that culture; it's something you cannot experience anywhere else in the world.

Have you ever been in a situation where you were stuck in a country and you got helped by the locals until your issues were solved? Please share the stories :)

Published in Egypt

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