India

Dazzling, intriguing, amazing – surely no country on earth inspires as many enthusiastic outbursts as India. Where to begin? India is as varied as it is colourful.

From the snow-capped mountains and tea plantations of the North, to the magical forts of Rajasthan and spectacular beaches of the South, a trip to India is quite simply an assault on the senses. Be enchanted by its rich history, diverse mix of cultures and stunning natural beauty. Delhi presents an array of wonders and sights which reflect both the country’s past and future. The Red Fort and Jama Masijd mosque are highlights but it is worth perusing New Delhi with its stylish bars and hip cafes, not to mention the famous Edwin Lutyens designed buildings. To the west of Delhi is India’s star attraction and the area that welcomes by far the most tourists each year, Rajasthan. The ‘land of kings’ is an enchanted area of palaces, forts and bazaars. Visit the desert citadel at Jaisalmer, stunning Mehrangarh towering over azure-blue Jodhpur and the Lake Palace at Udaipur.

Competing with Rajasthan’s fairytale splendour is of course the Taj Mahal at Agra and the Golden Temple at Amritsar, Sikhism’s holiest shrine. Visiting these sights allows one to understand the central role spiritualism plays in local life. Varanasi, one of India’s holiest places, is regarded by Hindus as a crossing place into the celestial world. View ancient rituals that take place on the banks of the Ganges. A trip to India is never complete without a sighting of the majestic Bengal tiger in the wild and nowhere will you have a better chance than in the tiger reserves of Ranthambore, Kanha, Pench and Bandhavgarh. They are some of India’s finest reserves, as well as the setting of Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Jungle Book’.

Wind down on the beaches of laidback Goa. Head inland again to Hampi, to see the ruins of Vijayanagar, a World Heritage Site and the capital of a once mighty Hindu empire. Set in a boulder strewn landscape, the ruins are some of the best in India. In the region of Tamil Nadu lie some of the most intriguing ancient Hindu temples, where pilgrims far outnumber tourists. Temple complexes sprawl over vast tracts of land and are characterised by steeply stepped, vibrantly coloured gopurams (gateway towers) and intricately detailed stone carvings. Continuing south of Chennai, the delightful city of Pondicherry retains a distinctly French ambience with its colonial buildings, churches and avenues. Before crossing over the Western Ghat Mountains into Kerala, stopping off at the ‘temple city’ of Madurai is a must.

To discover Kerala’s still unspoilt charm, head down the back waters on a Kettuvallom (an old rice boat converted into a luxury house boat). The lakes, connected by canals, span over 900km and this lateral diversion offers unrivalled seclusion and relaxation. The Himalayan region of India is relatively untouched by mass tourism, and there are some real hidden charms to be discovered. Sikkim serves as a base for some fantastic trekking in the Himalayas past cedar forests and gompas (Buddhist monasteries). The region of Ladakh is often described as Little Tibet and a visit to Leh’s beautiful mountain vistas will leave you breathless.

In the foothills of the Himalayas lies the hidden the tea plantations of Assam, spanning across hundreds of acres. There is no better way to round off the day strolling through this pleasant scenery than to sit on the verandah of one of these plantations, perched on a hill top, and have a ‘cuppa’ direct from the source. Take the narrow gauge railway from Chandigarh to Shimla; one of the famous British Raj hill stations. Those who are enticed by India’s charm after their first visit, will find the country lures them back time and time again. A glimpse of the country’s historical treasures, diverse scenery and cultures will leave you craving for more.

A country so full of paradoxes and contrasts that it guarantees to madden anyone who tries to understand it, the best way to enjoy India is to simply soak up what is surely the greatest show on earth.

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