Impossible to pin down, India awakens the senses like no other place on earth.
India effervesces with life. Expect to be dazzled, overwhelmed, impressed, inspired and baffled - sometimes all at once. Yes, culture shock is inevitable, but the rewards are superlative. Teeming cities are scattered with historic relics yet buzz with modernity, monuments loom from misty riverbanks and you feel the tropics pulling you south at the same time as icy peaks tempt you northwards. Really, words can't even begin to summarise this sub-continent of over one billion people, so our advice is just go and experience it. See, hear, taste, smell for yourself that India, in all her beguiling, bewildering complexity, defies description.
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Top things to do in India
There are countless wonderful experiences to be had in this extraordinary country. For further inspiration take a look at the trip ideas put together by our trusted local experts, but in the meantime here are our top things to do in India.
Explore the Golden Triangle
This classic itinerary takes in some of India’s most iconic sights. Mix the rosy splendour of Jaipur with the monumental drama of Delhi and the serenity of Agra’s Taj Mahal at dawn. Well-trodden it may be, but the Golden Triangle offers an unforgettable taste of India. Our trusted experts are on the ground and local to India, so know the ins and outs of these popular spots. They can transform your visit from a standard guidebook experience to something truly special.
Oh the flavours! Experiencing the sublime breadth of Indian cuisine is reason enough to spend a good few weeks in the country, and each region has something new to tantalise the taste buds. Tuck into delicately spiced seafood curries in Kerala, masala dosa and sambal in Karnataka or rich Rogan Josh curries in Kashmir. Part of the fun is observing the process, so keep an eye out for the most popular street vendors and watch the masters at work.
Bengal tigers, lions, Asian elephants and rhinos – India is home to many a wild and wonderful creature, as well as a whole host of national parks to encounter them in. Tigers have a particular symbolic resonance in India are the country’s national animal. There are around 50 tiger reserves where you can witness these majestic creatures in their natural habitat.
Great train journeys
Train travel in India is the stuff of legends, and there certainly are some epic journeys to be had. Take the Vivek Express, which departs the tea-planting northeast every Saturday, arriving at the country’s southernmost tip 82 hours later. This one might be a long haul, but taking to the rails is without a doubt the most fascinating way to explore. Gaze out the window as the countryside and villages unfurl around you, sip cups of sweet chai with your fellow passengers or board an overnight sleeper and wake up somewhere completely different.
Get in step with city life
India’s cities can be overwhelming, with the sheer press of people and a cacophony of noise and colour. But they are also exhilarating, fascinating and - in many senses - addictive. Delhi, with its wealth of history and heritage, as well as a deep spiritual tradition is a magnet for people from all corners of the country. The furious energy of Mumbai has to be experienced too, with its grand colonial architecture, glitzy fashion and film industry, and a sophisticated restaurant scene and nightlife to match. Allow yourself to be swept away by the colours, smells and friendly smiles of the locals (who are often happy to pose for a photo if you ask nicely!)
Lesser-known things to do in India
While there are many well-known things to do in India, what about the lesser-known highlights? Our local experts have shared some of their top tips for where to go and what to do if you fancy a bit of an alternative Indian adventure.
Head off the beaten path to the Western Ghats
Spectacular comes as standard in the Himalayas which has some of the world's most dramatic hiking trails. However, those keen to blaze some relatively untrodden trails should head to the southern mountains of Kerala. The beautiful Western Ghats range is in fact older than the Himalayas, and its deep green forests are an important hotspot for natural diversity, sheltering over 300 globally threatened species.
Get cultural at an Indian festival
Join the festivities at some of India’s lesser-known festivals and fairs. The multi-ethnic, multi-religious Indian population has no shortage of things to celebrate. A profusion of festivals are held across the land in honour of religious occasions, seasons, crops, livestock, historical events, and more. Timing your trip to coincide with one is a great way to experience the action firsthand.
Cruise Kerala's waterways
The entire state of Kerala is criss-crossed with waterways - these atmospheric stretches of canals and lagoons are known as the backwaters. Life here moves at a different pace, and many of the villages are best reached by water. The ideal way to explore them is by a ‘kettuvallam’ – a comfortable houseboat where you can relax and watch the world float by.
Home-stays in the Himalayas
One of India’s major draws is of course the Himalayas, with Manali and Shimla being focal points for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts. A great way to get under the skin of the culture here is to spend a few nights in a local home-stay. You’ll gain an insight into what life is like under the influence of this immense mountain range and experience something a little more unique.
When is the best time to go to India?
Considering the vast and varied landmass, it comes as no surprise that India's climate is complex, so deciding the best time to go depends on where it is you'd like to visit.
If you prefer to avoid extremes of heat and rainfall, it's best to aim for the cooler, drier months of October through to March. However, if a trip to either of the country's extremities appeals, take note: For the southern states, the retreating monsoon (October to December) is a consideration. Here, you find the most appealing climate between November and February. For reliable trekking weather in the Himalayas 1000 km to the north, peak season is October, November and then March and April.
Interesting facts about India
India is a fascinating country. But did you know any of our top three facts about it?
- India is the proud home of the largest postal network in the world, including more than 155,000 post offices. There is even a floating post office in Dal Lake, Srinagar.
- The largest employer in the world is Indian Railways, with more than a million employees.
- The annual festival of Kumbh Mela is the largest gathering in the world, attracting around 100 million pilgrims. This huge mass of humanity is visible from space.
Insider tips from our trusted local experts
Being local, our experts have an extensive knowledge of the secrets to experiencing the 'real' India. Here are a few of their top tips - ask them for other recommendations when you enquire to ensure you have the most in-depth experience whilst on holiday!
Taking to two wheels and exploring the countryside by bicycle can be an excellent way to experience rural India at a steadier pace. It allows you to stop and interact with the locals, doesn't mask the chirrups of birds and insects and you will finish your ride with a sense of satisfaction only found by exerting yourself a little. The best regions for cycling are rural Rajasthan and Kerala.
If you’re in Rajasthan, hop on the narrow-gauge train from Deogarh which takes you on a spectacular journey through the hills of Kali Ghati. This is one of the best rural train rides in India, well used by locals, and sometimes by goats too…
There’s no place like home…
What better way to get to know a people than by cooking and eating with them? In many cities and towns across India home-cooking experiences can be arranged. You’ll learn about regional and seasonal ingredients, pick up some culinary tips to take back home with you and sit down to enjoy the fruits of your labour together.
What to read before you go to India
If you're looking for something to get you in the mood before you set off on your travels to India, we've gathered a list of our favourite books to inspire you.
'The Jungle Book' by Rudyard Kipling
'A Suitable Boy' by Vikram Seth
'Midnight's Children' by Salman Rushdie
'White Moguls' by William Dalrymple
'White Tiger' by Aravind Adiga
'The God Of Small Things' by Arundhati Roy
'Malgudi Days' by R K Narayan
'A Passage To India' by E M Forster
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