I feel privileged to have experienced incredible places and cultures in my career, both while making films and in my initial foray into travel journalism. So many of those shoots—whether for Monsoon in Vietnam, Snake Eyes in Japan, Crazy Rich Asians in Singapore and Malaysia, or as a host for the BBC’s Travel Show—have been inspirational. My passion for travel is natural, since my mom is Malaysian and my dad is British. I grew up partly in England, partly in Southeast Asia, and, in fact, my wife and I moved from Singapore to LA right before COVID lockdowns began.
I was based in Southeast Asia for a good 10, 12 years of my life, but the Travel Show has given me even more opportunities to visit incredible places—to explore Cappadocia’s Soganli Valley, to sail up the Mekong River in search of Laos’s mahout elephant trainers. One of the most eye-opening trips I’ve made was to Rajasthan, in northwestern India. Rajasthan includes the majority of the Thar Desert, and there you’ll find the spectacular temples at Mount Abu, the Sariska Tiger Reserve, and Ranthambore National Park. I think the countryside in India is one of the most beautiful places on earth. It’s only once you get outside the major cities that you can really take in the place and the people, and Rajasthan in particular is spectacular.
I visited in 2015 with a news crew to do a feature on various kinds of “oldest” things celebrated in different countries. We went to Okinawa for a celebration of their oldest people, the centenarians, and we went to Rajasthan to visit the oldest functioning fort, in Jaisalmer. The city of Jaisalmer was a key stop on camel trade routes, and its name translates as “the hill fort of Jaisal.” The fort is one of India’s greatest architectural achievements—a massive, gorgeous sandstone structure built on Meru Hill in the 12th century. Even today, it still houses much of the city’s population. For the program, we were there to ask how the fort lasted so long, how it related to the Silk Road, and how it shaped the culture. Just to be in Rajasthan was life-changing in itself. A lot of it was the people—their openness, their kindness, and the richness of their education. The majority of people we spoke with had an amazing grasp of English, which surprised me, since we were so far away from any major cities.
Rajasthani food is my favorite of any Indian cuisine. There are a lot of tomato-based curries, and it’s among the spiciest that you’ll find. That may be the biggest peril: There are these huge chilis in the salads, and if you mistake one for a green bean, you’re in for a surprise. It’s communal food: You break bread with each other, with naan, and you have pots of curry. You sit together and share, eat with your hands, and physically connect with the culture more directly.
I have to remember, when I go to places like Rajasthan, that in many ways I’m different from a visitor from the West. I spent a lot of my childhood in Malaysia, so you’re not going to shock me with strange food. But I think anyone would find the culture in Rajasthan incredibly welcoming.
Outside the densely populated urban centers, where it’s like survival of the fittest, people in the countryside will take you into their home and share what they have without expecting something in return. We stayed with such nice hosts, who treated us like family. They presented us with a banquet, and we talked so freely and for such a long time. If you’re a seasoned traveler, you’ll have no issues. In the first few days, be sensible with what you’re eating: Don’t eat too much street food, and make sure it comes from a reliable source. Wander the streets, meet as many people as you can, connect with the locals, and just keep an open schedule—the key is not to make too many plans.
Henry Golding stars as the title character in Paramount’s Snake Eyes, a new installment of the G.I. Joe action film series, in theaters July 23.