Things to see and do in India
Attractions in India
Ajanta and Ellora: discover an architectural masterpiece
The stunning rock-cut cave temples at Ajanta and Ellora are considered the crowning glory of Indian religious art. Carved into the walls of a high basalt cliff near Aurangabad, the caves stand as a testament to ancient India. The temples of Ellora were hewn by Buddhist, Hindu and Jain stone-carvers from the 5th to the 10th century. The nearby Ajanta caves are even older, with exquisite murals that may date back as far as the 2nd century BCE. The richly decorated caves are considered masterpieces of craftsmanship, earning UNESCO World Heritage status in 1983.
Andaman Islands: a taste of the tropics
For the real tropical paradise experience, there’s really only one choice. Floating off the east coast of India, the Andaman Islands are densely forested, ringed by sand and fringed by coral reefs teeming with tropical fish. This remote archipelago is also home to Adivasi tribal people whose ancient way of life endures despite the challenges of modernisation.
Bollywood: move to Indian rhythms
From the show-tunes of Bollywood to the haunting melodies of the sitar and shehnai (Indian oboe), Indian music has a way of getting into the blood. You’ll hear it everywhere, from temple courtyards and dinner shows to buses and marketplaces, where the singers of the latest movie soundtracks are treated with the kind of adulation normally seen for Beyoncé and Justin Beiber.
Buddhist India: explore India’s Buddhist communities
When the 14th Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959, he found sanctuary, along with the exiled Tibetan administration, in Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh. Today, Tibetan Buddhist communities thrive across India, from the high-altitude deserts of Ladakh to the mountains of Himachal Pradesh and Sikkim, and beyond to remote Arunachal Pradesh, offering a whole different take on Indian spirituality.
Delhi: the capital of India
India’s capital is a riot of sounds, smells and sensations. Eight ancient cities have risen up on this site over the centuries, ruled by a string of empires. The heart of the city is Old Delhi, which overflows with forts, mosques and maze-like bazaars; south of the old city, the colonial architect Lutyens laid out New Delhi in wide avenues that house the grand Mughal gardens.
Goa: a sun-seekers paradise
Although less mellow than the happy-go-lucky days of the 1960s, the hippy hangouts of Goa have evolved into India’s favourite seaside resorts. The occasional full moon party can still be found in places such as Anjuna, but today, sunbathing, sipping local spirits and sampling the Portuguese-influenced coastal cuisine is more the vibe. The only state where pork is readily served, you can feast on locally made choriço (Goan sausage) and sample spicy variations of Vindaloo.
Hindu festival’s: a calendar of culture
The 33 million deities of Hinduism are celebrated in all their vivid glory at festivals such as Durga Puja (September/October) in Kolkata (Calcutta), where thousands of rainbow-coloured idols are immersed in rivers and pools. Other must-see celebrations include Holi, the festival of colours (March), Diwali, the festival of light (October/November), and the Kumbh Mela, the largest human gathering on Earth.
India’s beaches: grab your towel
Mumbai (Bombay) has Juhu and Chowpatty, and Chennai (Madras) has Marina Beach, but the best beaches of all are down in the south. Goa offers some of the nation's top strips of sand, while Kerala offers an even steamier version of the tropical south. Then there are the beaches of the Andamans – pure tropical perfection.
India’s national parks: spot the tigers
India boasts more than 100 national parks, 500 wildlife sanctuaries and 18 biosphere reserves, that provide a much needed home for endangered and rare species such as tigers, Asiatic elephants and one-horned Indian rhinos. Among the best-known reserves are Keoladeo National Park (Rajasthan), Ranthambore National Park (Rajasthan), Kanha National Park (Madhya Pradesh), Corbett Tiger Reserve (Uttarakhand) and Sunderbans Tiger Reserve (West Bengal).
India’s northeast tea plantations: grab a cuppa
Discover the origins of the humble cuppa on a tour of one of India’s tea plantations. Spreading out like green carpets, the plantations around Darjeeling, Assam and the Nilgiri Hills of south India are vivid and lush. On a plantation tour, you’ll meet workers picking tea in a landscape of brilliant emerald and get a chance to sample India’s finest brews. For true tea lovers, the annual Tea Festival in the Jorhat region of Assam takes place between November and January and is truly an assault on the senses.
India’s temples: get in touch with your spiritual side
India overflows with temples, from modern marvels like Delhi’s Akshardham to the timeless glory of the erotic temples of Khajuraho. Amritsar’s Golden Temple is the most sacred site for the Sikh religion, with a daily throng of devotees that crowd its gilded interior. A tantalising blend of Hindu and Islamic architecture, its glowing gold dome tops an inner sanctum of intricately crafted ‘pietra dura’ work. In the east, Konark is also one of India’s treasures, built in the shape of a vast stone chariot; while the temples at Ranakpur in the west see hordes of Jain Pilgrims.
Jaisalmer: take a desert safari
Mughal India was the crowning glory of the Islamic world and the ancient cities of north India still swim with the romance of Arabian Nights. For the full experience, get out into the India's sprawling deserts on camel-back from Jaisalmer, and camp beneath an unbelievably clear panorama of stars.
Kashmir: adventure awaits
Kashmir manages to be both India’s most serene spot, and historically its most turbulent. The legendary Kashmir Valley is mesmerising, with its ancient mosques, Mughal gardens and houseboats drifting over its tranquil Dal Lake. Hikers will revel in Kasmir, with exceptional mountain views framing sleepy towns such as Sonamarg. Ladakh is also worth a visit, with the peaceful refrain of Buddhist temple bells tolling across its traditional whitewashed stupas.
Kerala: escape the city
For a complete break from India’s urban hubs, cruise along the tropical backwaters of Kerala and pause en route to peruse country villages, peaceful beaches and scattered temples. On board, you can sample one of India’s best-loved cuisines, with delicious seafood cooked in coconut curries. For something really unique, see Kerala’s kathakali dancers perform their elaborate routines.
Kolkata: the capital of arts and atmosphere
Where Mumbai is all razzle and dazzle, Kolkata exudes an air of calm sophistication. India’s unofficial capital of the arts is a fascinating collection of bustling bazaars, sprawling parks, and grand, decaying colonial monuments that once housed the government of British India. Life here may move to the same timeless rhythm as the turgid Hooglhy River, but a hipster culture also runs deep, with grand Bengali clubs nestled in its dynamic centre.
Mumbai (Bombay): the beating heart of India
Delhi may have the history and architecture, but Mumbai (formerly Bombay) is India’s capital of fashion, film, finance and fun. Mumbai is a city of phenomenal contrasts, where India’s tallest skyscrapers rise against a backdrop of ramshackle bazaars and slums. Attractions include ancient cave temples, colonial monuments, fine dining restaurants and the movie studios of Bollywood.
Rajasthan: home to forts and palaces
From the glorious capital, Jaipur, to the Blue City of Jodhpur and the White City of Udaipur, Rajasthan is awash with desert fortresses, terrific temples and the palaces of Maharaja. For the ultimate Rajasthani experience, head for the desert citadel of Jaisalmer, where camel safaris into the Thar Desert offer a little taste of what life was like in India’s glorious past.
The Highland Region: a blend of east and west
India’s hill stations are a bizarre facsimile of England, transported to the forested highlands of India. In towns such as Shimla (Himachal Pradesh), Darjeeling (West Bengal), Ooty (Tamil Nadu), Kodaikanal (Tamil Nadu), you’ll find grand colonial hotels, whitewashed churches and dainty teahouses set against a spectacular backdrop of Himalayan peaks.
The River Ganges: witness an ancient tradition
The mighty River Ganges is a direct channel to the divine for India’s Hindu population. The wondrous city of Varanasi, one of India's holiest Hindu pilgrimage towns, is blessed by the sacred waters, offering prayer and ablution to those who come to bathe at its riverside. Riverside ghats are mobbed daily at sunrise and sunset. A symbol of spirituality, philosophy and mysticism, Varanasi is a city not to be missed.
The Taj Mahal: the most romantic building in the world
India’s Golden Triangle offers a mesmerising circuit through Delhi, Jaipur and Agra; but it's the Taj Mahal that everyone comes to see. Described as the greatest monument ever built for love, it’s perhaps the most aesthetically perfect building on earth, constructed from gleaming white marble by the heart-broken Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan, for his favourite wife.
Yoga: find your inner zen
India is the birthplace of yoga, one of the world’s best-loved traditional therapies. Ashrams and yoga retreats across India offer first class instruction from the legacies of those who invented the fine art. Head to Haridwar or Rishikesh in the Uttarkhand hills to experience yoga at its spiritual source.
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Telephone: +1 212 586 4901/2/3.
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