India is a beautiful and bamboozling place, where holy cows amble along the streets, bask on heavenly beaches next to modern hotels and where ancient temples sit perfectly at home besides shiny new offices.
The most enigmatic of countries, India is a relentless assault on all of the senses at once. It is an extraordinary place, one of the world's great human melting pots where an incredible array of cultures, religions and ethnicities live in reasonable harmony. It teems with one-sixth of the planet's population from rural villages where life hasn’t changed for hundreds of years, to ultra-modern cities like Mumbai that ooze western sensibilities. India is simply vast, varied and, above all, unforgettably beautiful.
You could spend a lifetime exploring the echoes of ancient cultures, and the country's dramatic landscapes, including the mighty Himalayas. The most frequently visited part of India is the Golden Triangle, comprised of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. The people-packed cities of Mumbai (Bombay) and Kolkata (Calcutta) have a bustling, colourful charm, while the holy city of Varanasi and the awe-inspiring temples of Tamil Nadu are rewarding places of pilgrimage. Ancient frescoes are on view in the Anjanta Caves in Maharastra and dotted across India are 28 World Heritage Sites. Every region in India is stippled with an unmatched depth of history, diversity in cultures and language, monuments and beauty of settings.
As a tourist there is something to cater to every taste be it adrenaline-fuelled explorations, luxurious pampering or simply relaxing. India's real allure and magic comes from the sheer assortment of things to do in every region: In Delhi, catch a rickshaw through the narrow lanes to the Red Fort, take a ride on the new world-class metro or visit it’s wonderful Lodhi Gardens. Perhaps you would prefer a more sublime treat such as floating on a houseboat through Kerala’s dreamy landscapes. You can choose to be overwhelmed by the vivid colours and overpowering aromas of a spice market. Or in Rajasthan, you can bounce up and down on a camel through the mystical deserts or sweat with the locals on a train through mountainside tea plantations. And, even if you do all that, you still won't have scratched the surface.
Still, India is a wonder wrapped in contradictions. It is hard to overlook the fact that it has extraordinary displays of wealth as it does poverty. Modern architecture and corporate parks are growing but there is still a paucity of infrastructure. However, as a tourist there are responsible ways to visit as discussed in this guide.
Don’t expect to absorb all it has to offer in one visit, this is a country best approached as one would a smorgasbord. It’s a much more palatable experience if you take a sampling of what is on offer and then revisit for more.
It can be a baffling and at times an overwhelming place to visit but one thing is for certain, no matter how ready you are to leave by the end of your trip, within a few days after departure, you'll be longing to return.