Sense-stirring holidays in India
Think of India, and it’s likely you’re picturing coconut groves, spice-laden markets, and the sun setting over the mysterious Taj Mahal. And you wouldn’t be mistaken. This huge country – the world’s second most-populated after China – packs in as many sights as it does people.
This is a giant of a country, and from the cool climes of the Himalayas to the sultry beaches of the south, India’s landscapes are diverse and exhilarating. There’s a myriad of ways to explore, too. Catch the changing landscape on a traditional railway journey, explore chaotic cities like Delhi and Mumbai on foot, or venture into one of India’s many national parks to search for Bengal tigers from a trundling 4x4.
The exotic spice and colour of Indian cuisine is a real joy to discover too, whether it's the diverse regional fare, vegetarian delights or seriously sweet treats. Travelling in India is always an adventure – just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, up pops another anomaly. But it’s this very unpredictability that makes the many holiday destinations in India so inspiring – no one ever forgets their time here.
Rajasthan is characterised by flowing desert landscapes, camel trains, wild tigers and some of the finest historical architecture in the country, from the pink palaces of Jaipur to the mighty fort at Jaisalmer. Rajasthan is also celebrated for the quality of its fabrics and crafts, not to mention its splendid cuisine – all of which are fit for a Maharajah.
One of the country’s largest states, Uttar Pradesh doesn’t do things by halves – it’s home to Agra and the glorious Taj Mahal, after all. This is also where you’ll feel India’s religious fervour to the fullest – along the banks of the Ganges in spiritually charged Varanasi, during early morning devotional prayers in Allahabad and amid the ancient Buddhist monuments of Kushinagar and Mathura.
Long, slim and fringed with palm-clad beaches, Kerala stretches nearly 400 miles along the Arabian Sea in India’s southwest. Behind the beaches lies a network of inland waterways where handsome houseboats glide on tranquil waters. The foothills of the Western Gnats rise up beyond, creating perfect conditions for the cultivation of tea and spices.
Draped around the Bay of Bengal, Tamil Nadu takes up the southeast portion of India. The capital Chennai (formerly Madras) is a dynamic coastal city, and this ancient land is dotted with age-old temple towns. The written history of the Tamil people stretches back an incredible 2,000 years and their traditions live on through dance, poetry and language.
Between the mountains and deep blue sea, West Bengal is a diverse state with its head in the cool foothills of the Himalayas and its feet in the balmy Bay of Bengal. In between, you’ll find Kolkata, once the seat of the East India Trading Company. The city is grandly decorated with colonial landmarks of the British Raj and is home to the final resting place of Mother Theresa.
Beach lovers should consider Goa, in the south. Split into North Goa and South Goa, the two halves have a very different feel. The former is home to eclectic towns like Baga and Candolim, while the latter offers sleepy, sandy beaches and ramshackle bars.
The climate varies across the country. Between March and June, it can be very hot across the country – the foothills of the Himalayas are lovely for escaping the heat. Monsoon rains occur in most regions between June and early October. It’s cooler from December to February, particularly in desert areas. As a general rule, loose-fitting cotton or linen clothes are the order of the day.
Flight time from the UK to Delhi is just over 8 hours; to Bangalore, it’s 10.5 hours; and to Cochin it’s 11 hours.
India is 5.5 hours ahead of GMT.
There are 18 different languages in India, including Hindi, which is the national language and spoken by about 30% of the population. English is widely spoken in tourist areas.
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