If you confine your expectations of entertainment to bars, nightclubs and other activities that you may take for granted at home, you’re going to miss out on an awful lot. Entertainment in India is everywhere – the opportunities are limited only by your imagination.
Although many of the larger cities do have independent bars and nightclubs, the majority of upmarket ones tend to be found in top-end hotels. However, many hotel nightclubs restrict admission to members and hotel guests•, couples have a better chance of being admitted. Plus, they’re expensive- once you’ve forked out the hefty door charge, a pricey drinks menu awaits inside. For gay events in the major cities, check out the websites in the Gay & Lesbian Travellers section, earlier in this chapter.
Unlike nightclubs and pubs, one thing you’re likely to find in almost all towns over India is a cinema, where admission is nominal. If you’re passing through Jaipur (Rajasthan) catch a Bollywood blockbuster at the beautiful Raj Mandir cinema. No matter where you see a flick, Indian cinema is just as much about audience participation as it is about the movie itself.
Traditional regional music and dance performances are usually held at major hotels, cultural centres and other venues (see regional chapters for details). Many major cities have a dazzling sound-and-light show, which is an atmospheric way of absorbing local culture and history.
Finally, India is an intriguing and thought provoking place to sit back and watch the day unfold. People-watching is a feast for the eves and mind. Sitting in the lobby of a five star hotel, for instance, can be a fascinating way of ‘accessing’ India’s upper crust. Within an hour (particularly in the evening) you’ll see old and young – from high-society women decked out in lavish saris and glittering jewels, to teenagers sporting the latest Western designer labels. At the other end of the social spectrum, there’s the daily slog on the streets – from traffic police battling to tame the wild traffic, to mobile vendors flogging everything from buckets to bangles.
India loves its cricket and simply showing a slight interest in the game is a great way of igniting passionate conversations. Indian cricketers were among those embroiled in the match-fixing scandals that have recently plagued the sport. When former Indian captain Mohammed Azharuddin was first accused of match-fixing, infuriated Indian cricket fans publicly burnt effigies of him and the others who had been accused, as they were considered traitors to their nation.
Intemational cricket matches are played at several major centres in India (mainly during winter) including Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium, just off Marine Drive. The best way to get a ticket here is to apply in advance in writing to the Secretary of the Mumbai Cricket Association well in advance. Tickets for one-day matches start at Rs 150. For a Test match you’ll have to pay for the full five days – around Rs 500 for general admission, or Rs 3000 if you want to do it in style in the members stand, replete with lunch and afternoon tea. For state matches at Wankhede you can just turn up and get tickets (Rs 25) at the gate. Other renowned cricket centres in India include those at Ahmedabad (Sardar Patel Stadium and Modhara Stadium), Bangalore (M Chinnaswamy Stadium), Kolkata (Ranji Stadium, Eden Gardens ), Delhi (Firoz Shah Kotla Stadium), Chennai (MA Chidambaram – Chepauk – Stadium), Mohali (PCA Stadium) and Nagpur (VCA Stadium). Tickets for cricket matches are usually advertised in the local press a few weeks in advance.
Hockey is another sport with a healthy following in India. The nation has several Olympic gold medals to its credit-although none since 1980.
At the 2000 Olympics at Sydney, the one billion-strong nation bagged just one medal: a bronze for weightlifting, won by Kamam Malleswari. India’s dismal performance at the Olympics sparked heated debate in India, with bitter accusations of corruption and mismanagement aimed at Indian officials. Many argue that if India’s Olympic team got the same financial backing as its cricket team, the country would be in a much better position to excel.
When it comes to tennis, India traces its links to Wimbledon right back to 1908 when Sadar Nihal Singh was the first Indian to ever compete there. However, the first Indian to bag a major award was Ramanathan Krishnan, who became the junior Wimbledon champion in 1954. In the 1970s India’s Vijay Amritraj reached the quarterfinals at both Wimbledon and the US Open. However, the biggest success stories are Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi, who won Wimbledon’s prestigious men’s doubles title in 1999 – the first Indians ever to do so.
Horse polo is popular among elite circles. You can see it being played during the winter months at various centres including Delhi, Jaipur, Kolkata and Mumbai – check local newspapers for current venues and events. Polo matches are also popular in Leh, especially during the Ladakh festival (early September), when teams from all over the region compete for the Ladakh Festival Cup – see that chapter for more details.
Some more traditional sports that have survived over time include kho-kho and kabaddi, both of which are essentially elaborate games of tag, but which require immense skill and stamina.