Stretching from the frozen summits of the Himalayas to the tropical greenery of Kerala, India's expansive borders encompass an incomparable range of landscapes, cultures and people. Walk the streets of any city when you travel India and you’ll rub shoulders with representatives of several of the world’s great faiths, encounter temple rituals performed since the time of the Egyptian Pharaohs, onion-domed mosques erected centuries before the Taj Mahal, and quirky echoes of the British Raj on virtually every corner.
For all it's jarring juxtapositions, intractable paradoxes and frustrations, India remains an utterly compelling destination. Intricate and worn, its distinctive patina - the stream of life in its crowded bazaars, the ubiquitous filmi music, the pungent melange of diesel fumes, cooking spices, dust and dung smoke - casts a spell that few forget from the moment they step off a plane. Love it or hate it - and most who travel India oscillate between the two - the country will shift the way you see the world.
Places to visit in India
Quite often those who travel India do so more than once. Due the countries immense size and variety of cultures, it is impossible to experience all of India, or even half, in one trip. The north of the country is made up of Mughal and Rajput architecture, ancient cities and temples, deserts and Buddhism while the south is a haven of scenic beaches, Hinduism, colonial coastal towns and a much more easy-going approach. New Delhi, the heart of India, sits in the North, with Mumbai in the West, Goa in the east and popular tourist regions Kerala and Tamil Nadu in the south.
Although the country holds a charm that stays with those who travel to India, there is a daunting truth to the country that not even the beautiful landscapes can fix. No other nation on earth has slum settlements on the scale of those in Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata, nor so many malnourished children, uneducated women and homes without access to clean water and waste disposal. Many first-time travellers come expecting a timeless ascetic wonderland and are surprised to encounter one of the most materialistic societies on the planet.
Best times to travel to India
Thanks to the Himalayas blocking cold winds, India is always relatively warm (with exception to the far north). There are three main seasons, summer being boiling hot, winter being pleasant and monsoon, well, being wet. The best time to travel India is often October to March when temperatures are tropical but not sweltering.
Festival-wise, the best time to travel India is during March when the most famous Hindu festival takes place over the full moon. The colourful Holi festival celebrates good over evil and the arrival of spring.
Planning your itinerary when you travel to India
India, being a place of diverse culture and landscapes, is a complex country to fit in your travels with one trip. When planning a trip to India, it is important to create a checklist of exactly what you want to see to ensure you do not miss your main spots of interest. For those visiting India for the first time, we've created a simple itinerary for inspiration. Keep in mind, tour packages are available along with our tailor-made trips for independent travel.
Days 1 -2: New Delhi
New Delhi, India's busy, crowded, and polluted capital. Although it might not be as appealing as other destinations in India, for an authentic experience New Delhi is not to be missed. Indulge in Indian Cuisine, explore the museums and dive into the heart of India.
Days 2 - 4: Agra and the Taj Mahal
Make your way to Agra and take a boat trip along the Yamuna River in the early hours of the morning to see the grand Taj Mahal in all its glory at sunrise. A trip to Inida would not be complete without a visit to the iconic monument. Finish off in Agra by visiting the Mughal hotspots that litter the area.
Days 4 - 6: Keoladeo National Park
After spending time in the hustle and bustle of the cities, head to Keoladeo National Park for a bicycle safari in the best bird-reserve of India. Keep your eyes peeled for rare sightings and enjoy the peace and quiet.
Days 6 - 8: Jaipur
Once you've refreshed and become one with nature again, it is back to city life with Jaipur, also known as the pink city due to its coloured architecture. The Rajasthani capital is home to the Amber Fort and famous textile gemstone bazaars.
Days 8 - 10: Mahe Beach
Catch a flight to Calicut International Airport, or take the local route with the night train and make your way to Mahe Beach. Picture white sands, turquoise waters, and swaying palm trees - relax and enjoy the Indian sun in this idealistic fishing village before heading home or to your next stop.
Culture in India
India, a culturally rich country made up of varied ethnic, cultural, linguistic, historical and religious backgrounds, is a land of diversity and historical masterpieces. Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism were born here although several other major religions happily live in harmony with one another. Often labelled as an amalgamation of several cultures, India has an abundance of culture, each region with its own distinct traditions.
Cuisine in India
The cuisine in India is popular worldwide and is as varied as the country's culture, dubbed the land of spices, strong flavours, aromatic curries and a range of meats and vegetables, the dishes change region to region. For obvious reasons, coastal towns boast delicious fish curries while mainland areas are well known for their veggie curries. Beef is almost non-existent in Indian cuisine, as cows are considered sacred under Hindu law. Must try curries include mutton Rogan Josh, macher jhol, vada curry and paneer tikka masala.