• books to inspire travel to india

My Favorite Books to Inspire Journey to India

Thinking about traveling to India but not ready to pull the trigger? Pick up a book to inspire you! Ok, but to be fair, before I went to India, I didn’t read a single one of these. While I was there I read a few, and since I’ve been reading India books quite often because they make me laugh out loud when I relate to something funny that happens. These 5 books will seriously inspire travel to India!

Update: I wrote a book! I wrote the e-book the Insider’s Guide to Goa. After five years of living here, I’m sure this 170-page book is the most comprehensive guide to Goa on the market. Click here to buy it before your trip to Goa!

 5 Books to Inspire Journey to India 

1. Holy Cow: An Indian Adventure by Sarah Macdonald

I read this while backpacking in Rajasthan. I’d been on the road about one month before I picked this book up and could not believe how spot-on she was with her descriptions about India. She starts out with her desperation to leave the country, while a creepy man tries to touch her thigh at the airport and thinks, “I will NEVER come back to this place!!!” Fast-forward to when she has to move to India to be with her husband and his new job. It’s hilarious and completely relatable. I also never saw myself living in India, but here I am waking up every morning in Goa (also because of a boy). This book will make you laugh out loud and is great for the solo traveler because you won’t feel so alone in your “I hate India” moments, or in your better “India is Incredible” times.

“Mild-mannered Abe, however, is Tarzan of the traffic jungle. He knows the strict species pecking order: pedestrians are on the bottom and run out of the way of everything, bicycles make way to cycle-rickshaws, which give way to auto-rickshaws, which stop for cars, which are subservient to trucks. Buses stop for one thing and one thing only. Not customers – they jump on while the buses are still moving. The only thing that can stop a bus is the king of the road, the lord of the jungle and the top dog. The holy cow.” 

books to inspire travel to india photo sourced from flickr and edited by me

2. The White Tiger: A Novel by Aravind Adiga

My boyfriend bought me this book while I was in Hampi with him so it’s quite special to me… even though there is nothing romantic about this dark book. The inside look at the under-belly of the “forgotten people” of rural India. A boy shares his life with you from where he starts (nowhere) to where he ends up (the CEO of a huge company. He gets there through deceit, murder, lies, and corruption. You can’t be mad at him because you were with him from the beginning. You hate first class Indians right along side him, and are a little pleased deep inside when he starts to take matters into his own hands- even while the way he works is highly illegal and immoral. Written in a letter-style, it is easy to read and will show you what’s really going on with the poor in India. You’ll start to realize how realistic his scenario is. Sometimes shocking, it’s a tale you’ll never forget.

“Sometimes I wonder, Balram. I wonder what’s the point of living. I really wonder…’

The point of living? My heart pounded The point of your living is that if you die, who’s going to pay me three and a half thousand rupees a month? ” 

books to inspire travel to india

3. Life of Pi by Yann Martel

You may have already seen the movie, but the book is still worth reading. It’s a quick tale of heartache and adventure. Follow along as a boy from Pondicherry helps his family move a zoo on a boat to Canada. He doesn’t quite make it there. The book is unique in that it gives you a choice on how the story ends (well, really how the story evolves). You can ask yourself, “would I rather this were a happier story?” and you can make it be one. The author tells you to believe what makes you happy… he’s not just talking about this story, but about life. It’s and ending you’ll flip back through and read a few times. The start of the book in French Pondicherry will turn your itinerary all around to make sure you can walk the same streets as him. I hear they are adding “tourist” spots from the book which isn’t ideal, but I suppose always happens after a movie comes out.

“A tie is a noose, inverted though it is, it will hang a man nonetheless if he’s not careful.”

“Hindus, in their capacity for love, are indeed hairless Christians, just as Muslims, in the way they see God in everything, are bearded Hindus, and Christians, in their devotion to God, are hat wearing Muslims.” 

books to inspire travel to india

4. The Art of Living: Vipassana Meditation

If you’re curious about the spiritual side of India and plan on taking yoga classes or meditation classes this is a great introduction book. It’ll give you step by step instructions so you can read slowly and try out techniques at the end of the chapter. Want to be at peace with yourself and all others? Do you want to only feel happy?

Started by S.N. Goenka in Burma far before Buddha made it popular in India, it started being taught in India in 1969. People came from all over to learn, including the Beatles. The book teaches you a code of discipline, but also prepares you for things your teachers will mention throughout your journey in India. It’s a great book to keep in your backpack (very thin) and read at your own pace. Had I not read this, I wouldn’t understand most of what I learned from the Dalai Lama when I went to his classes in McLeod Ganj. I was incredible lucky. If you’re interested in taking the 10 days Vipassana course, this is a MUST read. It is not for the weak of mind. If you’re curious to read more, check out the website.

meme ashram yoga

5. Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

How could I not include Shantarm? After about a year in a half in India, I finally read it. First I want to say it’s great to pick up a few Hindi words from the almost 700 page book. It’s very long. Basically a gora “white dude” comes to Bombay after escaping jail, joins the Bombay mafia, traffics guns to Afghanistan in the war, and lives in a slum where he helps treat sick people. It was a little far-fetched, but he does call it a “fictional story” even though the writer DID escape jail, did go to Bombay, and really lived in a slum. It’s hard to tell which parts are embellished. The people in his old slum say he’s a heroin junkie and lied, but Hollywood decided it was movie-gold and plans to make a feature film. My favorite part of the book were the conversations he has with Prabu, his friend and fellow slum-dweller. Prabu is hilarious. The book is a must-read and I’m shocked so many people hated it. I think they were just jealous of Linbaba’s awesome Hindi, Marathi, and Urdu skills / ability to connect with locals.

“Nobody is ever naked in India. And especially, nobody is naked without clothes.

So…how do you take a shower?

By wearing the over-underpants over underpants.”

books to inspire travel to india


Want more travel books about India? Me too!

Here are some of the many books I have on an iPhone list that I’m reading slowly, one by one out in the sunshine that’s finally peaking through this Goan monsoon (which wasn’t that bad this year!). I’ll either update this post and add them as a review (if I like them) or I’ll just make another post up once I’ve read a few. Most of the ones listed below are by Indian authors. I loved the ones by westerners when I first came, but now I’m curious to see what the Indian writing style is like and they’re perceptions on their own country. I think my Hindi classes are making me want to delve even more into the Indian culture- if that’s even possible!

Right now I’m reading The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy and LOVING IT! Highly recommend. Also:

  • A Passage to India by E.M. Forster
  • Following Fish: Journeys Around the Indian Coast by Samanth Subramanian
  • May You Be the Mother of a Hundred Sons: A Journey Among the Women of India by Elisabeth Bumiller
  • India: A Journeyer’s Literary Companion by Chandrahas Choudhury
  • A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
  • Midnight’s Children: A Novel (Modern Library 100 Best Novels) by Salman Rushdie
  • Journeyers’ Tales India by James O’Reilly

For more books to inspire travel, check out my post on ones not India-related: best travel books to induce severe wanderlust


There are affiliate links in this post; if you make a purchase of a book it’ll give me a small percentage of the sale from Amazon. Thanks for supporting Werkenntwen!

feature image photo source flickr


About the Author:

Rachel Jones left a career in nursing and lived on the beaches of Goa, India for the five years. Now she lives in Mexico where she gives advice on the 40+ countries she’s visited in the last 10 years. She’s the author of two India travel e-books: Guide to India and Insider’s Guide to Goa. Her blog, Werkenntwen, like its name, is a contradiction combining off-beat adventurous places with glamorous and bespoke travel. Werkenntwen has been featured in ELLE, Marie Claire, Grazia, and Cosmopolitan magazines. She’s a writer for Bravo TV.


  1. Ashley | Ashley Wanders October 1, 2014 at 8:31 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the suggestions! I’m about to start reading Shantaram!

    • Rachel Jones October 3, 2014 at 7:11 am - Reply

      You’ll love it! There are some boring bits where he talks about “the world philosophy” lol

  2. Julie (The Red Headed Journeyer) October 1, 2014 at 11:56 pm - Reply

    Not sure if you’ve read either, but I would also recommend “The Inheritance of Loss” and “The Toss of a Lemon.” Both are very sad but excellent.

    • Rachel Jones October 3, 2014 at 7:13 am - Reply

      never heard of either! thanks though always looking for more :)

  3. Sarah G October 2, 2014 at 4:23 am - Reply

    I LOVE Shantaram, and have no idea how anyone couldn’t! I recommend that book to everyone (my husband is reading it now). It even makes me want to go to Bombay :)

  4. Colleen Brynn October 2, 2014 at 5:32 am - Reply

    I have only read Shantaram, but it was a page turner for me. I should re-read it now that I have experience in Mumbai.
    When I was in India, I perused the books at the airport and was surprised by the vast selection of Indian books in English… I don’t know why I was surprised, but there is actually a huge array! Something for everyone.

    • Rachel Jones October 3, 2014 at 7:14 am - Reply

      Oh yeah now that you’ve been in mumbai you should SO re-read it! Did you ever go in a crosswords while you were here? so. many. books.

  5. Joella in Beijing October 2, 2014 at 12:38 pm - Reply

    Great list- I love reading travel related books even if I know I won’t be going to that country anytime soon. A couple of people recommended Shantaram to me before, but because there are also loads of bad reviews, I was put off. I think I’ll have to give it a go though. I was supposed to read Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children for my university degree..don’t tell my professor but I never read it ooops!

    • Rachel Jones October 3, 2014 at 7:16 am - Reply

      I do too! Even within states in big countries i like to read up a little more… even in fictional stories you learn more about what they eat, how they talk, etc. And yes, shantaram has bad reviews mostly b/c people see him as a liar (but he does call the book fiction) & also he goes on and on about boring philosophy sometimes on a whim.

  6. Wolfgang October 2, 2014 at 1:25 pm - Reply

    A fine list, Rachel, and I´m glad you mentioned Salman Rushdie..
    But let me recommend Tahir Shah`s “Sorcerer’s Apprentice”: An Incredible Journey into the World of India’s Godmen. Give it a try!

    • Rachel Jones October 3, 2014 at 7:16 am - Reply

      Thanks! That sounds so familiar (the tahir shah one) I’ll have to get a copy!

  7. Laura October 2, 2014 at 1:36 pm - Reply

    I really loved Shantaram. It was the first peak I had into Indian culture/traveling through India. Holy Cow sounds very funny. I’ll have to add a few of these to my list!

  8. Alana - Paper Planes October 3, 2014 at 2:08 am - Reply

    I’m gearing up for a trip and have been looking for book suggestions – thanks!

  9. Glamourous Journeyler October 3, 2014 at 7:47 am - Reply

    I LOVED Shantaram. It has deff stayed on my list of top books ever =)

    I bought it when I was working in India and it really captured the magic of Bombay for me. No idea why people wouldn’t enjoy this book.

    • Rachel Jones October 5, 2014 at 12:48 pm - Reply

      Yeah it does capture Bombay like no other book I’ve read. I think people have issues with his philosophy stuff.. like it wasn’t necessary & that he just wanted to sound smart , or so I’ve been told!

  10. Michelle October 3, 2014 at 8:50 am - Reply

    City of Joy
    Saw the movie 1st (Patrick Swayze – swoon!) and then read the book

  11. the paper boat sailor October 7, 2014 at 1:23 pm - Reply

    I was going to recommend A Fine Balance and then I spotted it in your second list! What a powerful book. I’m waiting to get my hands on Following Fish, and thought William Dalrymple’s City of Djinns and Suketu Mehta’s Maximum City would be right up your alley!

    • Rachel Jones October 7, 2014 at 8:52 pm - Reply

      Awesome, thanks I’ll check them out :) So happy to be getting some recommendations.

  12. Rachel Jones October 7, 2014 at 9:10 pm - Reply

    I totally agree with you about Shataram and I skipped some parts like that.

  13. Tim | UrbanDuniya October 8, 2014 at 6:38 am - Reply

    They’ve talked about making a movie out of Shantaram for ages… in some ways I hope it happens, and in other ways I hope it remains a matter of imagination.

  14. juli October 9, 2014 at 5:59 pm - Reply

    Don’t forget Are you experienced? by William Sutcliffe.

  15. Jade Lee Wright October 16, 2014 at 2:45 pm - Reply

    I’m halfway through Shantaram and absolutely loving it – fab list of books! I am so excited to travel to India and attend the Holi One Colour Festival.

    New follower to your stunning blog xxxx


    • Rachel Jones October 17, 2014 at 2:00 pm - Reply

      Thanks Jade!! Happy you found the blog & you’ll love Holi

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