a vast South Asian country with diverse terrain – from Himalayan peaks to
Indian Ocean coastline – and history reaching back 5 millennia. In the north,
Mughal Empire landmarks include Delhi’s Red Fort complex, massive Jama Masjid
mosque and Agra’s iconic Taj Mahal mausoleum. Pilgrims bathe in the Ganges in
Varanasi, and Rishikesh is a yoga center and base for Himalayan trekking.
India pulsates with a spectacular mix of people, traditions and landscapes.
Your journey through this mind-stirring country will blaze in your memory long
after you’ve left its shores.
soaring snow-dusted peaks of the northern mountains to the sultry sun-washed
beaches of the southern coast, India’s dramatic terrain is breathtaking. Along
with abundant natural beauties, exquisitely carved temples rise majestically out
of pancake-flat deserts and crumbling old fortresses peer over plunging
ravines. Aficionados of the great outdoors can scout for big jungle cats on
wildlife safaris, paddle in the shimmering waters of one of many beautiful
beaches, take blood-pumping treks high in the Himalaya, or simply inhale
pine-scented air on meditative forest walks.
is the common characteristic painted across the vast and varied canvas that is
contemporary India. The multitude of sacred sites and rituals are testament to
the country’s long, colorful, and sometimes tumultuous, religious history. And
then there are the festivals! India hosts some of the world’s most dazzling
devotional celebrations – from formidable city parades celebrating auspicious
events on the religious calendar to simple harvest fairs that pay homage to a
locally worshiped deity.
yourself – you’re about to take one of the wildest culinary trips of your
travelling life. Here you’ll fry, simmer, sizzle, knead, roast and flip across
a deliciously diverse repertoire of dishes. The hungry traveler can look
forward to a tasty smorgasbord of regionally distinct creations, each with
their own traditional preparation techniques and presentation styles – from the
competing flavors of masterfully marinated meats and thalis to the simple splendor
of vegetarian curries and deep-sea delights.
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tosses up the unexpected. This can be challenging, particularly for the
first-time visitor: the poverty is confronting, Indian bureaucracy can be
exasperating and the crush of humanity may turn the simplest task into a
frazzling epic. Even veteran travelers find their nerves frayed at some point;
yet this is all part of the India ride. With an ability to inspire, frustrate,
thrill and confound all at once, adopting a ‘go with the flow’ attitude is wise
if you wish to retain your sanity. Love it or loathe it – and most traveler’s
see-saw between the two – to embrace India’s unpredictability is to embrace her
intoxicating, crazy, exasperating, wonderful, squalid, beautiful, daunting,
overwhelming, and fantastic. India is all these things, and more.
packs a lot into a massive space, and you’ll never have time to see it all on
one trip. Think about what interests you, what you like doing and how much time
you have, and tailor your trip accordingly. Be realistic about how much you can
fit in. Rather than trying to see the whole country, you may get more out of
your trip if you concentrate on the south of the country, or on the north.
However, internal flights are plentiful and inexpensive so you can hop from
north to south if you want a taste of both worlds. The itineraries section at
the front of Lonely Planet’s guidebooks to India can be a great help, but here
are some possible itineraries to get the ball rolling.
the all-time classic Golden Triangle. If time is short this is a fantastic
introduction to three of India’s top destinations, Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, and
you can squeeze it into a week if you don’t mind moving every couple of days.
Start in Delhi, with sights such as Humayun’s Tomb and the Red Fort, before
hitting Agra and touring the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri. Then it’s
on to Jaipur to explore the Pink City and the fort at Amber, before returning
to Delhi’s wonderful bazaars for a final shopping spree before you fly home.
sites: If it’s temples you’re after, you’ll find them everywhere, but in north
and central India, you’ll be truly spoiled for choice. There’s the Golden
Temple in Amritsar, the erotically carved edifices of Khajuraho, Konark’s
rock-carved Sun Temple, and cohorts of exquisitely hewn milk-white-marble Jain
temples in Rajasthan and Gujarat. Temples in the south are something else
again, with towering, statue-covered gopuram towers; there are stunning examples
at Hampi, Madurai, Tiruchirappalli and Tiruvannamalai, and exquisitely
decorated temple caves at Ajanta and Ellora, and Elephanta Island near Mumbai.
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magic: Fans of Islamic architecture will find some spectacular monuments in
Delhi, home to the Red Fort, the mosques and minarets of the Qutab Minar
complex and Humuyan’s Tomb. Nearby you can revel in more graceful Mughal
splendor at Fatehpur Sikri and Agra, home of the Taj Mahal, before exploring
Rajasthan’s captivating collection of Mughal forts, including Jaisalmer, the
very vision of an Arabian Nights desert fortress.
& waterways: Head south to enjoy India’s finest beaches. Munch bhelpuri
(puffed rice, noodles, green mango and a tangy sauce) on Mumbai’s Girgaum
Chowpatty beach before drifting south to the sand and sun in Goa. Take your
pick of the Goan beaches – Arambol, Vagator, and Palolem are top spots – or try
the black sand beaches of Kovalam and Varkala in Kerala, as well as
lesser-known, golden sand in the north of the state. Kerala is also famous for
its meandering backwaters, where you can hire a houseboat or a canoe and let
the world glide gently by. Similarly serene is beautiful Dal Lake in Srinagar
in Kashmir, where – depending on the security situation –you can watch the mountains
rise out of the mist from the walnut window frame of a traditional wooden
encounters: Your best chances of spotting a tiger are in the national parks of
Madhya Pradesh or Rajasthan, but there are national reserves all over India
where you can track down wildlife as exotic as lions (Sasan Gir, Gujarat), wild
asses (Little Rann, Gujarat), one-horned rhinos (Assam) and wild elephants
(Wayanad, Kerala), as well as abundant birdlife (Bharatpur, Rajasthan). Not
quite wildlife, but certainly wild, are camel treks through the desert from
Jaisalmer or Bikaner in Rajasthan.
& mountains: The north is a playground for adrenaline seekers, with pretty
much every outdoor activity imaginable on offer in the Kullu Valley and the
high reaches of Uttarkhand and Himachal Pradesh, from treks to skiing and
white-water rafting. Shimla, the classic hill station, is a great place to
start, as is Manali, still further north. Ideal trekking season is in
September/October, after the monsoon. To take adventure up a notch, set off
from Manali for the epic two-day journey (possible from mid-June to
mid-September) to Leh inLadakh, whose towering mountain peaks are criss-crossed
by epic hiking trails. Rishikesh is another top spot for rafting and trekking,
with a famous pilgrimage trail to four sacred mountain temples, and more treks
await in mountainous Sikkim.
India: For religious fervor, Varanasi reigns supreme, with its ancient funeral
ghats where Hindus pay their last respects to the dead beside the sacred River
Ganges. But you’ll encounter India’s spiritual side all over the country,
particularly at pilgrimage towns such as Ajmer and Pushkar in Rajasthan, or the
Sikh holy city of Amritsar in the Punjab. If you want to get more involved,
you’ll find classes in meditation and yoga almost everywhere, from the Delhi
suburbs to the ashrams of Rishikesh. For Buddhist encounters, aim for
Tibetan-Buddhist centres such as Leh in Ladakh and McLeod Ganj(Dharamsala),
home to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in
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