India is filled with ancient temples, hidden yoga retreats, and grand palaces. It’s also one of the busiest and dirtiest countries in the world.
Whatever your impressions about India, reading about the country before you travel there can help de-mystify the experience and prepare you for what you’re about to see.
Here are 8 awesome books that will make you want to travel to India — or help prepare you for your journey.
Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo
Written by an American who fully immersed herself in India's slums, this book tells the sad but uplifting true story of life in a Mumbai slum, weaving together multiple narratives about different families and characters who live there.
Passage to India by E.M. Forster
This classic novel by E.M. Forster tells the story of life in India under British rule, focusing on the underlying tension between the British colonists and the people of India.
It's based on Forster's experiences in India in the 1920s.
Shantaram: A Novel by Gregory David Roberts
Shantaram tells an epic tale of an Australian who escapes prison to hide out in India.
The protagonist, known only as 'Lin,' eventually finds himself living in a Mumbai slum, enmeshed in the city's dangerous mob, and serving time in one of the city's most dangerous prisons. It's also a story about love and friendship, set in one of India's busiest cities.
The God Of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
The God Of Small Things is a beautifully-written novel about the childhood experiences of a family in Kerala, a region in Southern India, focusing on a set of fraternal twins. The book shows has seemingly small things can affect much larger issues, from people's behaviour to national politics.
Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert
Elizabeth Gilbert's nonfiction story about her journey to find herself includes a spiritual foray into an ashram in India. While many people associate this book with the Julia Roberts film adaptation, Gilbert's tale may just inspire you to book a trip to India.
Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie
Salman Rushdie's piece of historical fiction focuses on India's transition from British colonialism to independence, from the point of view of its protagonist, Saleem Sinai. The book tells the story of Saleem (who was born on the day of India's independence and who has telepathic powers), the Sinai family, and India.
Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found by Suketu Mehta
Written by a Mumbai (formerly Bombay) native who had been living in New York City for over 20 years, this nonfiction book delves into life in Mumbai, exploring everything from the violence of Mumbai's gangs to elite Bollywood parties to the countless people who come to the big city in search of wealth only to end up living in the slums. It's a fascinating look at the thriving metropolis.
City of Djinns: A Year In Delhi by William Dalrymple
This travelogue about Delhi reads more like a novel than a travel story, filled with intriguing stories and an interesting mix of characters like dervishes, eunuchs, expatriates, and more. Dalrymple paints an interesting portrait of India's capital city, from the past to modern day.