Culture, cuisine, colour
Vivid colours, unfamiliar sounds, the exotic aromas of a faraway land - your senses will go into overdrive on an India holiday.
India is a country that simultaneously meets and exceeds your expectations. The chaos of the biggest cities will be just what you expect, but the sheer variety India has to offer will take even the most hardened of travellers by surprise.
Discover the real India by plunging yourself in at the deep end: haggle for spices in its bustling bazaars, watch a ritual procession at a temple by night, taste the extraordinary flavours of Indian cuisine, and stroll by the sea as the sun goes down. You’ll soon realise that there’s a lot more to this colourful country than the Taj Mahal - though that more than lives up to the hype.
Travelling by rickshaw through the chaos of Old Delhi, you'll have all your expectations of India fulfilled and exceeded - it's a feast for the senses. Experience clamorous sounds, heady aromas and vibrant colours as you haggle in a traditional bazaar, and taste the flavours of India from one of the city's many hole-in-the-wall eateries. Explore historic places such as the Red Fort and Humayun's Tomb and compare Old Delhi with the British imperial architecture and green spaces of New Delhi.
With an impressive red sandstone fort at its heart, and the deserted city of Fatehpur Sikri nearby, Agra has a lot going for it in the way of historic attractions. But there's one monument that overshadows all the rest, and that's the unforgettable Taj Mahal. Built by the heartbroken Mughal emperor Shah Jahan for his favourite wife, its translucent white marble and beautiful symmetry makes it one of the most instantly recognisable buildings in the world. It's best viewed in the golden light of dawn or dusk, when you can almost feel the presence of the two lovers who now lie buried at its heart.
Ranthambore National Park
This magnificent national park is around 130km from Jaipur, and it's a must if you enjoy spotting exotic wildlife. Tigers, leopards, macaques and Indian porcupines are just a handful of the creatures you could spot on safari in this 392 km² wilderness in Northern India. Its avian inhabitants are equally diverse; woodpeckers, bee eaters and orioles are some of the species you might see flying by on your unforgettable Ranthambore adventure.
The name Jaipur conjures up exotic images of India, and it's easy to see why: it's the gateway to the legendary state of Rajasthan and full of allure. Known as the Pink City after it was painted this colour to celebrate the 1876 visit of the Prince of Wales, its trademark dusky rose buildings are a fabulously photogenic mixture of British and Rajput. The city is bursting with history, in evidence as much in the silk and leather stalls of its bazaars as in regal architecture such as the Hawa Mahal (Palace of the Winds), the mighty Amber Fort and City Palace.
An imposing fortress towering above a sea of vivid blue rooftops makes the desert city of Jodhpur a unique sight. Looking out over the so-called Blue City from the mighty walls of the Mehrangarh Fort, you're looking down on centuries of history. When you venture into the maze of lively medieval streets, the city's past seems alive and well in the colourful bazaars, where you'll rub shoulders with sacred cows and breathe in the aroma of incense.
This stunning lakeside city in the Aravalli Hills has been known as the most romantic spot in India since 1829, and as soon as you set foot in Udaipur, you'll see why. Translucent white buildings rise up majestically by the shimmering water of Lake Pichola, making the city unusually picturesque. In the labyrinthine network of streets, you'll discover colourful markets and regal palaces competing for space, while the most impressive of them all - Lake Palace - floats serenely in the lake itself, waiting to give you a taste of its opulence.
Ornate erotic carvings adorn the 20 or so thousand-year-old temples that make up the three groups of monuments at UNESCO-listed Khajuraho. Follow in the footsteps of the British army engineer - Captain T.S. Burt - who discovered them deep in the undergrowth in 1838, and see if you can spot the differences between the temples belonging to each of the two religions represented here.
Exploring India's ancient spiritual capital is a challenging yet uniquely memorable experience. It's one of India's seven holy cities, and pilgrims come to wash away their sins in the sacred waters of the River Ganges - or to die, as they believe dying in Varanasi brings nirvana. On the ghats - the long steps leading down to the water's edge - the saris of the women span all the colours of the rainbow as Hindu people gather together to cremate deceased loved ones. It's not for the faint-hearted, but there are around 2,000 temples waiting to be discovered when you lose yourself in Varanasi's maze of winding streets.
Discover the secrets of India's most cosmopolitan city, where skyscrapers and ramshackle street stalls are next door neighbours. Explore streets lined with Art Deco buildings left behind by the British, and breathe in the smell of authentic cuisine as the dhaba wallahs whizz by delivering piping hot home-cooked food to the city's workers. Keep hunger at bay with a visit to the food stalls of Chowpatty Beach, and spend your days unearthing hidden temples and bustling bazaars.
Now known as Mysuru, this Southern Indian city is most famous for its stunning monuments, not least the UNESCO-protected Mysore Palace, once the seat of the Wodeyar maharajas. Exploring this extravagant space, you'll walk across mosaic floors past beautiful sculptures and stained glass. Mysore has also made a name for itself as a destination for ashtanga yoga, so it's the perfect place to find a moment of peace after a day of interesting discoveries.
If you hear French around you as you traverse the streets of Pondicherry, it's because this east coast town was under French control until 1954. Some of that French influence endures, nowhere more obviously than in the leafy streets and flower-covered colonial villas of the French Quarter. Many travellers come to Pondicherry in search of spiritual enlightenment at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, but you may prefer simply to enjoy French cuisine, explore fine cathedrals and have a wander along the seafront, where cars are banned between 6pm and 7.30am.
Sometimes known by the evocative epithet 'City of Jasmine', Madurai is one of India's oldest cities and dates back as far as the 4th century BC. It won't take you long to find its most famous landmark, the colourful Meenakshi Amman Temple - its enormous gateway towers jut out over the surrounding buildings, making it visible from far and wide. On your visit, see some of its 33,000 sculptures and breathe in the smell of incense as you observe a nightly ritual procession.
An ancient spice-trading city with a fascinating mix of Indian, Syrian, Jewish, Dutch and Portuguese cultures, Cochin (or Kochi) is regarded as one of the most pleasant cities in India. Its location on six islands means that you're never far from water, which you can traverse by ferry or bridge. Take a sunset stroll around the harbour and you'll spot the city's most iconic sight: the elegant Chinese fishing nets suspended over the waters of the Lakshadweep Sea.
Kumarakom & the backwaters
The peaceful backwaters of Kumarakom are a soothing retreat after the clamour of the city. Made up of small islands, Kumarakom has a relaxing atmosphere where you'll find it easy to let the gentle sway of coconut palms lull you to sleep. You'll discover India's largest freshwater lake here, and you'll spot diverse species of exotic fish, plants and birds when you explore this beautiful area by houseboat. While you're there, be sure to savour the taste of mouthwatering Southern Indian cuisine, which is particularly strong on spicy vegetarian 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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