What to read/watch/listen to before traveling to Northern India

What to Watch, Read, and Listen to before Traveling to NORTHERN INDIA AND THE HIMALAYAS

India is such a vast, diverse, and vibrant country that it offers endless exploration. On our Meetup Tour to Northern India, your local guide will give you an insider’s view into the bustling cities, ancient wonders, and breathtaking monuments like the Taj Mahal. But with so much to discover, why not get acquainted with India before your departure?

Below are a few of our favorite books, movies, music, and video clips that begin to scratch the surface of India’s beauty, history, and modern culture.

Books to read before TRAVELING TO Northern India and the HImalayas

THE WHITE TIGER
By Aravind Adiga 

THE INHERITANCE OF LOSS
By Kiran Desai

THE SPACE BETWEEN US
By Thrity Umrigar 

The White Tiger follows a darkly comic driver in Bangalore through the poverty and corruption of modern India’s caste society. Over the course of seven nights, by the scattered light of a preposterous chandelier, Balram Halwai tells us the terrible and transfixing story of how he came to be a success in life—having nothing but his own wits to help him along. Born in the “dark heart” of rural India, Balram catches a lucky break as the chauffeur for a wealthy family. Soon, he becomes ensnared in the family’s corruption, and his ambition to escape a life of poverty leads him down a dark and dangerous path.

In a crumbling, isolated house at the foot of Mount Kanchenjunga in the Himalayas lives an embittered judge who wants only to retire in peace, when his orphaned granddaughter, Sai, arrives on his doorstep. The judge’s cook watches over her distractedly, for his thoughts are often on his son, Biju, who is hopscotching from one gritty New York restaurant to another. Kiran Desai’s brilliant novel, published to huge acclaim, is a story of joy and despair. Her characters face numerous choices that majestically illuminate the consequences of colonialism as it collides with the modern world.

This poignant novel about a wealthy woman and her downtrodden servant offers a revealing look at class and gender roles in modern day Bombay. It follows the close but unusual bond between Sera, a Parsi widow whose pregnant daughter and son-in-law share her elegant home, and Bhima, the elderly housekeeper who must support her orphaned granddaughter. Through their triumphs and tragedies, Sera and Bhima always shared a bond that transcended class and race; a bond shared by two women whose fate always seemed to rest in the hands of others, just outside their control.

what Movies to watch before TRAVELING TO NORTHERN INDIA AND THE HIMALAYAS

MONSOON WEDDING

THE DARJEELING LIMITED

PUNJAB 1984

DILWALE DULHANIA LE JAYENGE

Monsoon Wedding follows a Delhi family’s frantic preparation for the marriage of their only daughter, Aditi, to a computer programmer from Houston. This 2001 hit has a bit of everything: comedy, drama, music, and of course, all the decadence of a traditional Indian wedding!

Three estranged brothers reconnect on a journey through India a year after the death of their father. This film showcases the starkly beautiful hills of Northern India, as well as the romance and surprises of train travel, with a colorful Wes Anderson flair that’s sure to get you excited for your visit.

A woman searches for her missing son, who has been misjudged and labelled a terrorist, during the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. This award-winning film sheds light on one of the darkest periods of India’s recent history and the tension between its diverse ethnic groups.

This beloved Bollywood classic is an essential introduction to the genre; it’s also the longest-running film in India’s history, airing in theaters for over 25 years! It features a classic hatred-turned-romance and an arranged marriage love triangle. The movie’s most famous romance scene will have you searching for the nearest field of mustard flowers outside of Delhi for a photo op!

what music to Listen to before TRAVELING TO NORTHERN INDIA AND THE HIMALAYAS

GURU RANDHAWA

Guru Randhawa is one of the biggest names in Indian pop music today, shooting to stardom after his debut in Hindi Medium. We can’t get enough of this party anthem and Nora Fatehi’s incredible dance moves!

NEHA KAKKAR

Singer Neha Kakkar is the reigning queen of Bollywood vocals. The romantic ballad “Oh Humsafar” is one of her classics, but there’s much more to explore!

RAJA KUMARI

Raja Kumari is a bad B if we ever saw one. Previously a songwriter for Gwen Stefani and Iggy Azalea, this Indian-American artist now performs a mesmerizing blend of West Coast rap and Indian influences under her own name. She even has her own record label, Godmother Records.

ASHA BHOSLE

An absolute legend of Bollywood, Asha Bhosle has recorded more than 11,000 songs in 20 different languages, landing her in the Guinness Book of World Records. This popular number from the ’90s will make you want to dive head-first into the world of Bollywood.

Watch Videos to watch traveling to NORTHERN INDIA AND THE HIMALAYAS

ALONG THE GANGES: INDIA'S HOLY RIVER CITIES

Explore daily life, sacred rituals, and stunning scenery along the Ganges River—the physical and spiritual heart of India. This documentary features gorgeous photography that will make you wish your trip could start right now.

15 LOCAL NORTH-INDIAN DISHES TO TRY

Whether it’s Kashmiri waazwan, Kakori kebabs from UP, Delhi’s butter chicken, or Chandigarh’s chole bhature, these are some local and authentic dishes from states of Northern India that you should definitely try. Don’t watch hungry, because this video will have your mouth watering in anticipation of your trip! 

THAR DESERT: SACRED SANDS

During your journey in India, you’ll experience desert glamping and authentic cultural connections in the Thar Desert. Uncover the strange beauty of this region in Part 1 of the Wildest India miniseries—from the sunbaked desert, to the Temple of Rats, to city-loving monkeys that are as mischievous as they are cute.

*Some of the links on this page are affiliate links, which means we make a small commission if you purchase something. It costs you nothing and every penny goes to improving and operating our free community, The Network

What to read/watch/listen to before traveling to Southern India and Sri Lanka

What to Watch, Read, and Listen to before Traveling to Southern India and Sri Lanka

Our Meetup Tour in Southern India and Sri Lanka takes you to some of the most magical places on earth. You’ll enjoy insider access to tea and spice plantations, mind-boggling ancient monuments, and local home-cooked meals. But with so much to discover, why not get acquainted with India and Sri Lanka before your departure?

Below are a few of our favorite books, movies, music, and video clips that begin to scratch the surface of India and Sri Lanka’s rich cultures

Books to read before TRAVELING TO Southern India and Sri Lanka

THE GOD OF SMALL THINGS
By Arundhati Roy

SONG OF THE CUCKOO BIRD
By Amulya Malladi

MIDNIGHT'S CHILDREN
By Salman Rushdie

This critically acclaimed, modern classic is equal parts powerful family saga, forbidden love story, and piercing political drama. The story centers on twins Estha and Rahel, who live in Kerala. Their lives are destroyed by the “Love Laws” prevalent in 1960s India. The novel explores how small, seemingly insignificant things shape people’s behaviour and their lives.

Barely a month after she is promised in marriage, eleven-year-old orphan Kokila comes to Tella Meda, an ashram by the Bay of Bengal. But instead of becoming a wife and mother as planned, Kokila decides to remain at the ashram. Through the years, Kokila makes a home in Tella Meda alongside other strong yet deeply flawed women. From the 1940s to the present day, this novel chronicles India’s tumultuous history as generations of a makeshift family seek comfort and joy in unlikely places.

Saleem Sinai is born at the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947, the very moment of India’s independence. Greeted by fireworks displays, cheering crowds, and Prime Minister Nehru himself, Saleem grows up to learn the ominous consequences of this coincidence. His every act is mirrored and magnified in events that sway the course of national affairs; his health and well-being are inextricably bound to those of his nation; his life is inseparable, at times indistinguishable, from the history of his country. Perhaps most remarkable are the telepathic powers linking him with India’s 1,000 other “midnight’s children,” all born in that initial hour and endowed with magical gifts.

what Movies to watch before TRAVELING TO SOUTHERN INDIA AND SRI LANKA

THE LUNCHBOX

LIFE OF PI

THE GREAT INDIAN KITCHEN

A lonely housewife in Mumbai tries adding some spice to her marriage by preparing a special lunch for her husband… but the delivery winds up in the wrong hands, sparking an unusual friendship. Besides being a heartwarming tale, this movie is sure to get your mouth watering with its focus on home-cooked Indian dishes!

Life of Pi is the awe-inspiring true story of a boy who survives a shipwreck and, as fate would have it, spends many months on a lifeboat with a live Bengal tiger before finally returning to civilization. The first act of the movie was shot in the coastal paradise of Puducherry, so it gives you an alluring taste of the beauty you’ll see in Southern India.

After marriage, a Kerala woman struggles to be the submissive wife that her husband and his family expect her to be. The story is not exactly uplifting, but gives a realistic and nuanced view of how the patriarchy and modern caste system affect women in India today.

what music to Listen to before TRAVELING TO SOUTHERN INDIA AND SRI LANKA

A.R. RAHMAN

Known as the “Mozart of Madras,” A.R. Rahman is a legendary Tamil musician who’s won countless awards, including two Academy Awards, two Grammy Awards, a BAFTA Award, Golden Globe, and four National Film Awards.

TRIBE MAMA MARYKALI

Tribe Mama Marykali, who hails from beautiful Kerala, creates an irresistible blend of musical styles including hip hop, reggae, jazz, and pop. She’s also well known for celebrating femininity in her lyrics and music videos. 

ANIRUDH RAVICHANDER

While Northern India has Bollywood, Southern India has Tollywood (Telegu-language cinema) and Kollywood (Tamil-language cinema). Anirudh Ravichander is one of the most popular Kollywood musicians today; this infectious song from the movie Master will have you ready to dance in the streets!

"CELEBRATING SRI LANKA"

Sri Lankan students at the Berklee College of Music created this project to showcase traditional musical styles from their home country. It’s an enticing introduction to the music, dance, and costume of Sri Lanka!

Watch Videos to watch traveling to SOUTHERN INDIA AND SRI LANKA

WHO ARE THE TAMIL PEOPLE?

Tamil culture is the last surviving classical civilization, having preserved their beliefs, culture, and language intact for 2,000 years. Who are the Tamils, what is their story, and what does it have to do with 700 billion golden coconuts? Let’s find out!

WILDEST ISLANDS: SRI LANKA

Get a small (virtual) taste of some of the delicious dishes you’ll be noshing on in Havana and beyond! Keep an eye out for these staples in restaurants and street carts.

GREEKS & ROMANS IN ANCIENT INDIA: 8 THINGS YOU MIGHT NOT KNOW

In ancient times, the Greco-Roman world and India were closely interconnected. The religion, trade, philosophy, science, and art of these regions influenced one another and created a fascinating melting pot of ideas and peoples.

*Some of the links on this page are affiliate links, which means we make a small commission if you purchase something. It costs you nothing and every penny goes to improving and operating our free community, The Network

What to read/watch/listen to before traveling to Cuba

What to Watch, Read, and Listen to before Traveling to Cuba

On our Meetup Tour in Cuba, you’ll enjoy true insider access to this fascinating island. You’ll be welcomed into locals’ homes for authentic meals, witness the art of cigar making firsthand, and much more. But before you go, get a taste of what makes Cuba so special—from its complicated political history to its bold new voices.

Below are a few of our favorite books, movies, music, and video clips that will introduce you to Cuba before your trip!

Books to read before TRAVELING TO CUBA

Made in Cuba
By Molly Mandell

The Old Man and the Sea
By Ernest Hemingway

Cecilia Valdés
By Cirilo Villaverde

Years of cultural and economic isolation made DIY culture a necessity in Cuba—and this ethos goes well beyond classic cars. Made in Cuba features 30 creative professionals, makers, and entrepreneurs on the island with deeply personal interviews and beautiful photographs. From farmers living almost entirely from their land to artists restoring once-luminous neon signs, this book highlights the resilience and creativity of Cuba’s citizens.

The last novel Ernest Hemingway saw published, The Old Man and the Sea has proved itself to be one of the enduring works of American fiction. It is the story of an old Cuban fisherman, down on his luck, and his supreme ordeal: a relentless, agonizing battle with a giant marlin far out in the Gulf Stream. Not only is this a literary classic, but with Hemingway’s firsthand experience living and fishing in Cuba, it truly captures the spirit of the country.

Cecilia Valdés is arguably the most important novel of 19th century Cuba, in which a vast landscape emerges of the moral, political, and sexual depravity caused by slavery and colonialism. Set in the Havana of the 1830s, the novel introduces us to Cecilia, a white-passing Black woman, who is being pursued by the son of a Spanish slave trader named Leonardo. The ensuing story of passion, betrayal, and revenge sheds light on the complexities of race in colonial Cuba.

what Movies to watch before TRAVELING TO CUBA

Buena Vista Social Club

Cuban Food Stories

Chico and Rita

Campesino

If you’re interested in Cuban music, this documentary is essential. Filmed in 1996, it brings together legendary Cuban musicians—all of whom were over 60 years old at the time of filming—and illuminates the country’s thriving music scene of the 1950s, as well as the political turmoil that followed.

After a decade of living in the United States, filmmaker Asori Soto returns to his homeland of Cuba to search for the missing flavors of his childhood. This unique (and mouthwatering) film about food, society, and culture on the island of Cuba will make you eager to visit and experience Cuban cuisine for yourself! 

This one’s for the romance lovers out there! Chico and Rita is an enchanting, animated, musical love story. A Cuban pianist falls in love with a sultry singer, leading to a passionate but star-crossed romance that reaches across six decades. We dare you not to fall in love with Cuban music after watching this!

An amateur photographer documents the disappearing way of life of Cuba’s Campesino farmers over the course of 15 years. On your trip to Cuba, you’ll visit Viñales and see firsthand the amazing work and artistry that goes into a Cuban cigar—all of which is still done by hand. Consider this excellent film a sneak peek!

what music to Listen to before TRAVELING TO CUBA

Los Van Van

Want to feel like a local in Cuba? Get acquainted with Los Van Van, one of the country’s most famous and influential post-revolutionary bands! “Me Mantengo” is a fabulous introduction to Cuban salsa. 

Daymé Arocena

This up and coming neo-soul artist is developing a cult following in the U.S. thanks to her enchanting musical fusions and infectious energy. Her ode to rumba music is essential listening before you witness a live rumba performance in Cuba!

Danay Suárez

Danay Suárez represents Cuba’s new and evolving musical styles, blending hip hop, R&B, and reggae. Her second album Palabras Manuales earned her four Latin Grammy nominations, including best new artist and best new song.

PAUZA

Female duo PAUZA is another excellent example of Cuba’s new wave—in this case, the rising house and techno scene. This irresistible track offers a fresh take on traditional Cuban styles.

Watch Videos to watch traveling to Cuba

History vs. Che Guevara

His face is recognized all over the world—the young medical student who became a revolutionary icon. But was Che Guevara a heroic champion of the poor, or a ruthless warlord who left a legacy of repression? This quick and engaging overview examines both sides of the story.

Wildest Islands: Sri Lanka

Get a small (virtual) taste of some of the delicious dishes you’ll be noshing on in Havana and beyond! Keep an eye out for these staples in restaurants and street carts.

Cuba in a Bottle

Anyone with even a fleeting relationship with Cuba knows that rum has influenced virtually every aspect of Cuban culture. From belief systems to music to revolution, rum has been there, playing its part. This excellent documentary tells the story of rum throughout each step of the island’s history.

*Some of the links on this page are affiliate links, which means we make a small commission if you purchase something. It costs you nothing and every penny goes to improving and operating our free community, The Network

Featured traveller: Jennifer Fein

At the Solo Female Traveler Network, we want to create a community that celebrates and empowers women and their achievements. We love listening to our network members and hearing stories such as Jen’s, who gives us a first-hand account of her experience summiting Kilimanjaro for her 40th birthday. 

Do you have a story worth sharing? Apply to be featured on our global community!

ON CLIMBING MOUNT KILIMANJARO

I spent six months training for summiting Kilimanjaro – although living in a largely flat area of Australia, that training mostly consisted of endurance. I did everything I could to prepare, and I kind of assumed that if I don’t make it, it’d be because my body didn’t adapt well enough. That was almost the case.

I unfortunately didn’t react well at all to altitude sickness. I had nausea and diarrhoea. I couldn’t keep much food down, and was living off of sugar, like candies, because my body wasn’t able to digest rice and food like that. This wasn’t giving me the long-term protein kind energy – afterwards I was like, I don’t ever want to see a hard candy ever again in my life!

The day of the summit begins at 11pm. You are woken up and fed tea and a biscuit, and then you start walking at midnight. You walk in the dark for six hours to the summit. And I’ve never been more cold in my entire life. I read all the blogs and I had like all the layers – now when people ask me what to pack for the ascent, I’m like, you think you have enough layers? Bring one more. At one point I remember thinking that I couldn’t feel my fingers and toes. I started walking with those walking sticks and I had to give them up because I needed to poke my hands in my pockets within the first 10 minutes of walking. 

Along the way I became so dehydrated and hit a crazy sugar low. I just sat down at a rock and started crying. And then the sun came up and I swear it was this moment of like, ‘this is why humans worship the sun’, this moment of salvation of like, ‘I will now live because that ball of fire is coming up over that horizon’.

Within five minutes, all the warmth was back in my body and I thought, ‘I can do this’. A little bit of hot tea and sugar later and I managed to do the last little bit, only another like hundred meters up or so which takes an extra hour to get to the true summit. 

 

I made it all the way to the top on my own power, and from there the guides assisted me down from the peak because I was moving so slowly, and was so exhausted. They literally just picked me up on both sides, like one big guy on either side, with my feet kind of dangling. It was ridiculous, but at the time I felt like the scarecrow from the wizard of Oz. Because I was so altitude sick, I started singing ‘I’m off to see the wizard.’ I was gone. I was very gone. 

People say that they hallucinate and see fish. I don’t think I hallucinated, although in my mind I remember seeing an aeroplane flying by, but I think that’s an actual true thing that happens because you’re at 5,800-ish meters. We went up the Lemosho route, which takes longer, but is so scenic. I highly recommend following this route up. 

So the big question: would you do it again?

Personally, I’m not hiking above 4500m again. But this experience will always be one of my ultimate success stories, and I am glad that I have done it.

Where to next then, if not a hike?

I’m going to Europe next, starting off in Spain and then attending a wedding inside the Vatican, which comes with a whole host of dress requirements!

Have you read the story of Jeanette Dijkstra, all-round superwoman destroying landmines in Angola? No?  Read here! Or what about tips of preparing for your first solo hike? 

Our Favourite Walking Shoes

‘I would walk 500 miles and I would walk 500 more….’ but only in the right footwear! A good pair of shoes not only lasts you years, but also lives your adventures along with you as a trusted, reliable and utterly-essential gear item. Here’s our selection of the best walking shoes out there right now. 

“Help! I’m going on a trip and am looking for a comfortable pair of walking shoes – what do you recommend?” Questions like this come up often on our FB group and we always love reading the responses. From day walks to Camino hard slogs to preparing for your first solo walk, our community knows just what shoes to recommend based on tried-and-tested experience.

Best shoes for CIty walking

As voted by Mandy: Anothersole is amazing. Free international shipping too. Very pretty and super comfortable. I only wear them for everything now, including travelling for months! Bonus points – they match everything. Even dresses so you don’t have to compromise style for comfort. I don’t work for them I’m just a huge fan.
As voted by Victoria: AllBirds are excellent and can be thrown in the washing machine. I prefer the wool ones (no, my feet don’t overheat in summer) but they also do ones made from bamboo. They’re not the cheapest shoes but I think they’re great value. Comfy. Look smart. Have a variety of styles. No blisters. I live in mine.

As voted by Anne:  Check out Teva Tirra sandals. I find them very comfortable for walking long distances over different surfaces. When my feet tend to swell (e.g., when flying), I adjust the straps. They’re just as effective around water, and they transition from daywear to smart casual in the evening. Look for a colour that will blend with your capsule wardrobe, for me, that’s brown or black.

[These would be the ideal shoe for our Ecuador meetup!]

As voted by Dawna:  I’ve also done pretty well with one set of Tevas and a set of Chacos. The Chacos I have are leather and are a little dressier looking, but unfortunately, I think they’ve discontinued that model… But maybe they have something new that’s similar?

[Readers, we’ve got you! We’ve listed a recent version of Chacos in leather.]

Best shoes for hiking

As voted by Kirsstina: Hoka speedgoats. I wear them for my thru hikes of 400km (250 miles). Altra Olympus are super cozy too. 

As voted by Caroline: I have these, they were perfect for all the hikes I did, including in Borneo. They also seemed to be leechproof as my feet were completely leech-free while other people were less fortunate.
As voted by Rachel: I have these and they’re the best thing I’ve ever bought. Super comfy, didn’t take long to break in and 100% waterproof.
As voted by Kate: Love love love my Lowa Renegades! 4 Camino walks and the W Trek in Patagonia….(3 pair overall) Lightweight!

We’re firm believers in testing shoes out in-store to make sure they are the right fit for your specific shape, however, this list will get you started in the right direction. Take the time to wear your shoes in before embarking on a trip – your feet will thank you later – and be sure to pack moleskin for blisters and wear wool socks.


Planning your first solo hike? Read these tips first. 

best shoes for walking

Ed’s note: This post contains affiliate links to help support the running of the SoFe Travel team and SoFe community at large. Wherever possible, we support women-owned businesses and ethical, sustainable organisations. Got any product recommendations? We’d love to hear about them! email us on inspo@sofetravel.com