Even experienced travellers, who have been to India countless times, will be the first to admit that they have barely scratched the surface of this fascinating country. There is so much to hear, see, smell and feel.
From the snow-capped mountains and tea plantations of the North, to the magical forts of Rajasthan and spectacular beaches of the South. A trip to India is quite simply an assault on the senses. Its rich history, diverse mix of cultures and natural beauty will enchant you, as well as give you an exhilarating shock.
Delhi is the hub that tends to first greet tourists arriving in India. You are immediately struck by an array of wonders and sights which reflect both the country’s past and future. The Red Fort and Jama Masijd mosque are highlights but it is worth perusing New Delhi with its stylish bars and hip cafes, not to mention the famous Edwin Lutyens designed buildings.
To the west of Delhi is India’s star attraction and the area that welcomes by far the most tourists each year, Rajasthan. Meaning the ‘land of kings’, it is aptly named. It is an enchanted land of palaces, forts and bazaars. There is the desert citadel at Jaisalmer, stunning Mehrangarh towering over azure-blue Jodhpur and the Lake Palace at Udaipur.
However competing with Rajasthan’s fairytale splendour is of course the Taj Mahal at Agra and the Golden Temple at Amritsar, Sikhism’s holiest shrine. Visiting these sights, you will begin to appreciate the central role spiritualism plays in local life. Why not further explore the role with a visit to Varanasi? Regarded by Hindus as a crossing place into the celestial world, it is one of India’s holiest places. The appeal of this city is the intimacy with which visitors can view these ancient rituals that take place on the banks of the Ganges (like sending flaming funeral pyres down river). Moreover the prospect of being able to wash away a lifetime’s worth of sins in the waters ought to be motivation enough to visit this most fascinating of cities!
A trip to India is never complete without a sighting of the majestic Bengal tiger in the wild and nowhere will you have a better chance than in the tiger reserves of Ranthambore, Kanha, Pench and Bandhavgarh. They are some of India’s finest reserves, as well as the setting of Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Jungle Book’. What better way to observe the animals and track tigers than on the back of an elephant?
A trip to India is quite simply an assault on the senses. Its rich history, diverse mix of cultures and natural beauty will enchant you, as well as give you an exhilarating shock.
After the adrenalin pumping experience of tracking tigers in the jungle, wind down on the beaches of laid back Goa. Head inland again to Hampi, to see the ruins of Vijayanagar, a World Heritage Site and the capital of a once mighty Hindu empire. Set in a boulder strewn landscape, the ruins are some of the best in India. For those having caught a glimpse of Indian history at Hampi and have a thirst for more, the province of Madhya Pradesh is ideal. Its history can be traced back to pre-historic times. The forts and decadent palaces offer wonderful insights into the state’s past and are evocative of a bygone golden era.
In the South-East of India, in the region of Tamil Nadu, are some of the most intriguing ancient Hindu temples, where pilgrims far outnumber tourists. Temple complexes sprawl over vast tracts of land and are characterised by steeply stepped, vibrantly coloured gopurams (gateway towers) and intricately detailed stone carvings. For anyone visiting this area, that constitutes the heart of Dravidian civilization, Mamallapuram and Sri Meenakshi temples are must-sees. The latter, covering an area of six hectares, is worth allocating plenty of time to explore.
Continuing south of Chennai, the delightful city of Pondicherry ought to appeal to those beginning to feel a bit ‘templed out’. With its colonial buildings, churches and avenues, this former French colony retains a distinctly French ambience. Before crossing over the Western Ghat Mountains into Kerala, stopping off at the ‘temple city’ of Madurai is a must.
To discover Kerala’s still unspoilt charm, why not head down the back waters on a Kettuvallom (an old rice boat converted into a luxury house boat). The lakes, connected by canals, span over 900km and this lateral diversion offers unrivalled seclusion and relaxation as you drift along. In addition expect throughout Kerala to experience culinary delights thanks to the fusion of European, Indian and Middle Eastern flavours.
The Himalayan region of India is relatively untouched by mass tourism, and there are some real hidden charms to be discovered. Sikkim serves as a base for some fantastic trekking in the Himalayas past cedar forests and gompas (Buddhist monasteries). The region of Ladakh is often described as Little Tibet and a visit to Leh will leave you breathless due to the beautiful mountain vistas and the 3,500 metres above sea level!
In the foothills of the Himalayas lies hidden the tea plantations of Assam, which span across hundreds of acres. There is no better way to round off the day strolling through this pleasant scenery than to sit on the verandah of one of these plantations, perched on a hill top, and have a ‘cuppa’ direct from the source. For those train enthusiasts take the narrow gauge railway from Chandigarh to Shimla; one of the famous British Raj hill stations.
Those who are enticed by India’s charm after their first visit, will find the country lures them back time and time again. A glimpse of the country’s historical treasures, diverse scenery and cultures will have you craving for more.