A taste of the exotic
With its vibrant colors, intoxicating smells and vivid sounds, an India vacation stimulates the senses like no other country can.
Nothing can prepare you for the experience of traveling around India. While the chaotic streets of its biggest cities may be what you were expecting, the friendliness of the locals, the vibrancy of the colors, and the extraordinary variety of cultural gems will surely take you by surprise.
On an India vacation, you’ll discover the striking contrasts between the country’s famous cities and its sleepy backwaters. You’ll experience landscapes ranging from tropical island paradise to rugged national parks, and from arid deserts to steamy jungles. Amongst it all, life has changed little in centuries and ancient temples are as much a part of everyday life as they’ve always been.
Plunge yourself into an authentic encounter with India with a hair-raising rickshaw ride through the streets of Old Delhi, where you're surrounded by frenetic activity, pungent smells and vivid colors. Whether you're sampling the rich flavors of Indian street food or haggling for a bargain souvenir in a traditional bazaar, an immersive experience is guaranteed. When you've had your fill of Old Delhi's chaotic streets, contrast them with the colonial charms of leafy New Delhi and visit historic sites such as Humayun's Tomb, Jama Masjid and the Red Fort.
A vision of elegant white marble, the Taj Mahal is the most famous building in Agra, not to mention India, not to mention the world. The person responsible for it was the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, who built the monument as a gloriously grand mausoleum for his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. See it glowing orange in the low light of dawn or sunset, and then explore some of Agra's other historic sites, such as the red sandstone fort or the abandoned city of Fatehpur Sikri.
Ranthambore National Park
Celebrated Ranthambore National Park is a 130km journey from Jaipur, and it's well worth making the trip if you're into wildlife or bird-watching. It's home to a huge array of species, from tigers and leopards to porcupines and Indian pythons. Look out for them on an adventurous safari into this sprawling park, where you'll also be in the company of exotic birds such as bee eaters and orioles.
The legendary Pink City seems to capture the essence of exotic India. As well as being the gateway to Rajasthan, this colorful city is famous for its dusky rose hue. Discover the city's colonial history in the British buildings that mix with Rajput architecture, and get a taste of local life in the bazaars, where traders sell fine silk, leather and jewelry. At the opposite end of the architectural spectrum is the city's regal gems, such as the City Palace, Amber Fort and the Hawa Mahal, or Palace of the Winds.
Not for nothing is Jodhpur known as the 'Blue City'; its buildings really are a striking blue color. Towering over them is the impressive Mehrangarh Fort, which dominates the skyline of this desert city and is widely thought of as the finest in India. Down below, daily life carries on as it's done for centuries in a network of historic streets, where colorful bazaars sell heavily-fragranced incense and sacred cows wander freely.
Nestled in the rugged Aravalli Hills by the picturesque Lake Pichola, Udaipur certainly lives up to its reputation as India's most romantic place. Its whitewashed buildings stand out photogenically against the lake, and among them you'll find stately palaces and bustling markets teeming with life and color. The city's most famous landmark stands in the lake for all to see: the majestic Lake Palace, now a luxury hotel.
Famously decorated with elaborate erotic carvings, the surviving 1,000-year-old temples of Khajuraho are protected by UNESCO. These Hindu and Jain temples fell into disrepair during the Muslim dynasties, only to be discovered hidden in vegetation by a British army engineer in 1838. Rumor has it that in the intervening years, local Hindus still used the temples in secret.
The Hindu pilgrims who flock to India's spiritual capital, Varanasi, believe that bathing in the waters of the Ganges will wash away their sins. That's why you'll see so many colorfully dressed people entering the water down on the ghats (the long steps that lead them down to the river). People also come to this holy city to die, believing that this will bring nirvana; cremations are carried out by the river. Though startling, it's a spellbinding sight. Away from the ghats, explore the historic streets of Varanasi and go into some of the city's two thousand temples.
Frenetic Mumbai bears the telltale signs of British colonials in the Art Deco buildings that still line some of its streets. But this cosmopolitan city has heaps of its own style, with gleaming skyscrapers looking down on busy street life scenes in the markets and temples below. See the dhaba wallahs race by delivering steaming hot food, and sample the array of flavors on offer at the Chowbatty Beach food stalls.
Officially known by the name Mysuru, the Southern Indian city of Mysore is justly famous for the Mysore Palace, a UNESCO-listed monument that was the seat of the Wodeyar maharajas. Its opulence is abundantly apparent as you traverse its mosaic floors, admiring the stained glass and sculptures that contribute to its impressive interior. Yoga fans will also be interested to know that Mysore is becoming famous for ashtanga yoga, which makes a great way to unwind after a busy day's exploring.
Wandering the streets of Pondicherry, you might be surprised to hear strains of French in the air. That's because the town was ruled by the French until 1954, and they've left behind a lasting legacy of leafy, cobbled streets and European villas covered in foliage. Explore glorious cathedrals and enjoy fusion food served up in quaint courtyard cafes before strolling the seafront, which is blissfully car-free between 6pm and 7.30am. If it's spiritual enlightenment you seek, look no further than the Sri Aurobindo Ashram.
Known as the 'City of Jasmine', and one of the oldest cities in India, Madurai's origins date back to the 4th century BC. These days, visitors flock to the colorful Meenakshi Amman Temple, an expansive complex with imposing gateway towers and twelve ornately carved gopurams. The air is thick with heady incense as you witness one of the nightly ritual processions, an unforgettable spiritual experience.
You're never far from water in the delightful ancient spice trading city of Cochin, as it's built on six islands linked by ferries and bridges. Also known as Kochi, it's a cultural melting pot that owes its heritage to a mix of international influences from as far afield as Holland and Portugal. Its harbor is the perfect spot for a walk as the sun goes down, its famous Chinese fishing nets silhouetted against the flaming orange sky as they hang suspended over the Lakshadweep Sea.
Kumarakom & the backwaters
India's largest freshwater lake is the setting for Kumarakom, a laidback tropical paradise of small islands where you can leave your troubles far behind you. Get to know the area on a houseboat trip, keeping an eye out for the exotic birds, plants and fish that call these tranquil backwaters home. One of the highlights has to be the flavorsome Southern Indian food you can enjoy here: don't miss the fresh seafood and spicy veggie dishes.
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See the Taj Mahal at dawn
With fewer tourists and the most magnificent colours, dawn sees the sublime Taj Mahal emerge from the darkness.
Spot an elusive Bengal Tiger
A safari in one of India’s rugged national parks reveals exciting wildlife and the possibility of sighting an elusive Bengal Tiger.
Stay in a heritage hotel
Staying in heritage accommodation, you can become a part of India’s living history whether you choose a maharaja’s palace or a country-style guesthouse, backwater bungalow or colonial tea estate.
Heritage walk in Cochin
With history around every turn, this ancient spice trading town is a melting pot of cultures including Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch, British and Indian. Discover historic buildings telling the story of this diverse town on a walking tour to get amongst the city and its people.
Discover the cuisine
Whether learning family recipes on the rooftop terrace of a Rajasthani palace or wandering through the food markets of Old Delhi, the cuisine of India is as delicious as it is varied.
A rickshaw ride through Old Delhi
Hurtling through the bustling streets of Delhi by rickshaw is a sure-fire way to get amongst the action like a local.
Watch pilgrims bathing in The Ganges in Varanasi
Watching pilgrims bathe in The Holy Ganges is a magical sight, especially at dawn when the light is soft and the thronging crowds have not yet arrived.
Visit a traditional milk market in Jaipur
Watch turbaned farmers and buyers banter over the quality and value of this Indian staple.
Temple towns in Tamil Nadu
Explore the ancient and riotously colourful temple towns of Tamil Nadu in India's tropical south.
An overnight cruise on the backwaters at Kerala
Let all your worries float away when you spend the night cruising on the tranquil waterways of the Kerala backwaters. Pass local children playing by the banks surrounded by tropical gardens and soaring birds, for an idyllic escape.
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