India is known to be a land of contrasts and you’ll understand why by looking at these pictures.
Parts of India are really modern, with everything you'd see in the US. There are futuristic malls like Cyber City in Gurgaon, a suburb of Delhi where a lot of multinationals have their headquarters.
Signs all over the place advertise classes where you can get your tech skills up to date. Tech jobs are highly desired and pay a lot, just like in the US.
This clothing store could be in any American mall.
There are tons of American chains, even semi-obscure ones like Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf.
Music stores with all kinds of modern and traditional Indian instruments.
And yeah, Starbucks.
People are even obsessed with the Oscars, just like at home. Here was the Business Insider India team gathered around the TV watching Leo DiCaprio's acceptance speech.
But most of India is not modern at all. Cows really do roam the streets, especially when you get out of the bigger cities and into places like Agra, the city where the Taj Mahal is located.
After a while you don't even notice them.
Horse-drawn carts are not out of place among the many cars and trucks.
People carry tons of stuff on their bikes.
Stray dogs are all over the place.
This is what a typical street looks like in Agra. Very different from the Cyber City mall.
India is filled with amazing music. This was a local Sufi rock band called Faridkot. Sort of a more complicated Pearl Jam vibe, but with a great singer.
These guys would play you a song on the harmonium for tips.
And this small band was marching down the middle of a crowded street outside the main market in Agra. Why? No idea.
The restaurants in Delhi rival any major city in the world. I ate mostly Indian dishes, and they were better than the best I've had outside India. This chicken Tikka at the Farzi café was a highlight.
As were these lamb tacos.
One dish was served inside a British-style phone booth.
The interior of this restaurant, Sodabottleopenerwala, wouldn't have looked out of place in New York. It served Bombay-style food.
My favorite meal was at a place called The Toddy Shop. Toddy is a kind of alcoholic drink served in Kerala state in southern India. This restaurant didn't actually serve toddy, but the food was Kerala style.
It's hidden away in a nightclub area in Delhi called Hauz Khas village, which was built on the ruins of an ancient village.
The meal at Toddy Shop was so good I ate most of it before remembering to take a picture. That's a spicy beef dish in the front, Goan fish curry in the middle, and bread. Amazing. Go there.
And this is real Tandoori chicken. It's not pink like at most places in the US! That's food coloring, and only the sub-par places use it.
By the way, all that delicious food is really cheap. Usually around $5 to $10 per plate. But the beer is expensive — about $8 on average. And it's not very good. No India Pale Ale in India — only lagers and some Belgian-style beers.
Another thing that's really cheap is phone service. I wanted to avoid AT&T's egregious overseas charges, so I bought a SIM card at the airport. It cost $20 and got me one month of voice plus 2GB of data. One of my contacts in the country pays about $12 a month for unlimited data. But there was just one problem ...
Rookie move: Don't bring a locked iPhone overseas. When I tried to put the SIM into my AT&T iPhone, it refused to activate.
I ended up using this borrowed phone from LeTV, the "Netflix of China." It was fast, had all the apps and features I needed, and it costs only about $100. I'd buy one in a heartbeat if they were available in the US. The only drawback was the camera, which wasn't as good as the iPhone's. I ended up taking nearly all these pictures on my (otherwise useless) iPhone 6S.
In India, the air pollution is really bad. The World Health Organization recently named Delhi the most polluted city in the world, and it's clear why. This picture has no filter on it. That's what the sky looks like during the day.
Part of the problem is millions of cars with minimal emissions controls. Traffic is awful and cars can be stuck for hours, just throwing out exhaust. Vendors and beggars take advantage of the traffic jams by moving between cars.
Outside the cities, wood and coal smoke contribute to the problem.
My first view of the Taj Mahal was from Agra Fort, a couple miles away. It was barely visible. (Agra is the 19th-most- polluted city in the world, WHO says.)
The Taj Mahal does not disappoint. You've seen it a million times in pictures, but unlike, say, the Statue of Liberty (sorry, New Yorkers, you know it's true) or Mount Rushmore, it's actually more impressive in person.
The line to get in is a little brutal, but if you're a foreigner you have a special faster line. (You also pay more for your ticket — about $12.)
But it's totally worth it.
It's a lot bigger than it seems to be from pictures.
The entire surface is covered with carvings made from semiprecious gemstones. It's perfectly symmetrical on every single side.
The four minarets are equally beautiful. They all lean slightly away from the main building — in case there's an earthquake, they fall away from it.
There's also a lot of great lore around the Taj. The king who built it, Shah Jahan, built it for his dead queen. He was supposedly going to build an symmetrical black one across the river for himself. This is the foundation site.
But, the story goes, before he could start on the mirror-image Taj, his son overthrew him in a coup and imprisoned him in this part of the Agra Fort. The room was constructed so that if you put a mirror on any wall, you can't help see the Taj Mahal.
He died here with this view.