Chaotic, crazy, exasperating, wonderful, unpredictable, squalid, splendid, mesmerizing, daunting, overwhelming and fantastic – India is all these things, and much, much more.
This magical country pulsates with a spectacular mix of people, traditions and landscapes, to flood your senses from every direction. With its billion-plus population, numerous official languages and more than a million square miles of land, India is larger than life.
Few nations are home to such an incredible wealth of history and culture. As one of the world’s oldest living civilisations, India’s customs are an ancient cultural heritage. Even though contemporary India is changing at a rapid pace, it stills clings to time-honoured traditions that have been in existence for centuries.
Any journey through this mind-blowing country will blaze in your memory long after you’ve left its shores.
India, a Multi-Dimensional Country
No other land can boast such verdant jungles and glorious stretches of golden beaches; barren deserts and huge, arid plateaus; rolling foothills and one of the mightiest mountain ranges; wildlife sanctuaries and innumerable ancient monuments. Each of India’s many regions is unique, and each holds its own wonders, secrets and beauty.
India packs a lot into its massive space – experiencing it all will take more than just a few lifetimes!
The mistake many people make is trying to ‘see it all’ in one visit. To get the best out your holiday to India, be realistic about how much you can fit in.
Concentrate on a few places, instead of trying to tick off as many as possible. Seeing one place slowly can be much more rewarding than seeing many places, but not having time to appreciate any of them.
Pick your perfect route
Think about what interests you, what you like doing and how much time you have, then tailor your trip accordingly. Instead of trying to see the entire country, maybe concentrate on selected cities or on a distinct ‘theme’ or a specific region.
For example, there’s the all-time classic India tour, the ‘Golden Triangle’. It’s a fantastic introduction to three of India’s top destinations, namely, Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. Start in Delhi, with its wonderful bazaars and sights – Humayun’s Tomb, the Red Fort, and the mosques and minarets of the Qutb Minar complex. Then move on to Agra with its Taj Mahal and Agra Fort, and then the pink city of Jaipur. If your time is short (a week or 10 days), then the Golden Triangle will afford you a great introduction to this mesmerizing land.
Follow your theme
Alternatively, you may want to pick a theme for your travels in India. For example, your focus could be on ‘spiritual’ India.
For religious fervour, you cannot bypass Varanasi, with its ancient funeral ghats where Hindus pay their last respects to the dead beside the sacred River Ganges. India is a land of temples and religious sites, with the Golden Temple in Amritsar, the erotically carved structures of Khajuraho, the Jain temples in Rajasthan and Gujarat, and the distinctive gopuram temples of the south just some of the stand-outs.
If it’s wildlife or natural wonders that you’re after, then your best chances of spotting a tiger are in the national parks of Madhya Pradesh or Rajasthan. However, there are national reserves all over India where you can track down exotic wildlife. From the soaring snow-dusted peaks of the northern mountains to the sultry sun-washed beaches of the southern coast, India’s dramatic terrain is breathtaking.
For adrenaline seekers, the north is the place to be, where you can indulge in pretty much every outdoor activity imaginable, including trekking, skiing and white-water rafting. The classic hill stations of Shimla and Manali are great places to start. The best season for trekking is September/October, after the monsoon.
North or south – your choice
Alternatively, you may like to focus your tour of India on the north or the south. In the end, the trick with India is probably to do less, rather than more, and plan to go back.
Glamorous and beguiling, North India crackles with energy and colour. You couldn’t help but be captivated by the north. It’s a vibrant land buzzing with sounds, smells and colours. There you can admire the dazzling pink hues of Jaipur, the ‘Pink City’, and visit the splendid ‘Blue City’ of Jodhpur. Another must-see is Udaipur, the ‘city of lakes’, ranked as one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
Nothing really compares to the splendour and romance of Rajasthan, spilling over with ancient temples and Mughal monuments, and the impossibly glamorous palaces and forts of the maharajas.
Then there are the vibrant and exciting cities of Mumbai, Delhi and Calcutta – each with their own uniqueness. And everywhere in between are walled cities and forts, desert villages, colonial hill stations, and blissfully cool tea plantations.
The topography varies from colossal Himalayan peaks in the far north to the exotic deserts of Rajasthan, to the forested tiger country of the central regions.
Slow and soothing, tropical South India moves at a different pace to the rest of the country. Famous for its friendly people, lush scenery, delicious food and distinctive gopuram temples, the south is the perfect destination if you’re looking for a more relaxing yet culturally stimulating experience.
The southern states stretch from the palm-lined beaches of Goa down to the quiet backwaters of Kerala and across the Western Ghats to the thriving city of Chennai, with Bangalore, the ‘Garden City’, on the plains in between.
The former French colony of Pondicherry has its own distinctive style of architecture, and Goa’s legacy of more than 400 years as a Portuguese colony can be seen in its wealth of churches.
India is fast emerging as a growing luxury travel destination, owing to the increasing number of luxury hotels across the country, including in many former royal palaces. Luxury travel in India can also include private chauffeur-driven cars and licensed personal guides.
Top train travel
While India is indeed a country of many marvels, smooth flight connections and good roads aren’t among its top qualities. Luxury train travel on the other hand is a very viable option. Besides the ease and convenience of being spared the chaos of airport transfers and the car-to-car combat on the roads, nothing quite beats experiencing the marvels of India from the comfort of a luxury train. The Golden Chariot and the Maharajas Express are two notable luxury train options.
A great luxury option – perhaps as an add-on to finish off a tour of India – is a wellness break. (You can read more about the growing popularity of wellness holidays in one of our other articles.) Here are two ‘north’ and ‘south’ India wellness holiday options.
- Located in the tranquil foothills of the Himalaya, overlooking the peaceful Ganga River and the Rishikesh Valley is the luxurious Ananda Spa. Given its location, the resort’s surroundings are truly spectacular! The Spa focuses on holistic wellness that nurtures a combination of the finest ancient Indian traditions of Ayurveda, yoga and Vedanta, as well as western and oriental wellness philosophies. You’ll be spoilt for choice with their range of over 80 treatments!
- In the south, near Goa and nestled in the hills overlooking Om Beach in the state of Karnataka, is SwaSwara. Marketing itself as a retreat for the mind, body and soul, SwaSwara offers several well-being programmes, including a wide range of yoga, meditation, Ayurveda and more.
India travel tips
Food, glorious food
When it comes to food, travellers in India can look forward to a tasty smorgasbord of regionally distinct offerings, each with its own delicious repertoire of dishes and style of presentation.
Breathe in the intoxicating aroma of fresh spices as you wander through a bustling market. Treat your taste buds to the spicy flavours of a traditional aromatic curry, then cool them down with a refreshing Lassi.
In India, you will experience one of the wildest culinary trips of your life!
Of course, it’s important to stay healthy while on tour in India, so here are a few tips to avoid the dreaded ‘Delhi belly’. Never drink tap water and avoid any food that may have been washed in it. The same applies to ice, ice cream, and salads and fruit you haven’t just peeled yourself.
Whenever you’re tempted to buy street food, assess the stall’s level of cleanliness – is the vendor freshly cooking the food or has it been standing there for a while? Are there lots of local customers at the stall? If you do eat meat, make sure it’s well cooked.
Carry anti-bacterial wipes and gel with you for a last minute clean up before eating.
Fusing modernity with tradition, India’s fragrant bazaars, modern boutiques and village markets are filled with wares reflecting centuries of artistic tradition. With many thousands of talented artisans and heaps of top quality items at low prices, India is a shopper’s paradise.
Best time to visit India
Owing to India’s size and topography, there’s considerable variation in its climate. One of the best times to visit is from September to March when temperatures are at their coolest. During winter (December-January), temperatures can even get quite cold in the north, especially at night.
The monsoon, with its hot and humid weather, lasts from late May to around October.
Timeless beauty and mesmerizing cultures
India cannot be easily described or summed up! It’s a heady mix of peoples and places, a patchwork of a thousand traditions and cultures all culminating in one colourful expression. Any journey through India is an enriching, inspiring and unforgettable experience.
Tailor-made travel offers the finest way to experience India just the way you want, in private and at your own pace. Your travel specialist at The Luxury Holiday Company will be able to fashion an itinerary to your specifications, built around only the things you want to see and do so you get the most out of every day on your journey through India.
The Luxury Holiday Company – The fine art of travel.