India henna tattoo © Meena Kadri
India Travel Guide
Kaleidoscopic India continues to amaze and infuriate, inspire and dismay her visitors. 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.
The world's most populous democracy, India is also an enormous landmass full of whimsical towns, bustling cities and incredible remote areas. Tourists would need a lifetime to explore it all. A thorough, though not rigid, pre-trip itinerary is recommended if India is to be explored, and enjoyed, fully.
India boasts a startling array of world-famous attractions: from the historic Red Fort of Old Delhi, to the glimmering Golden Temple of Amritsar, the ghats of Varanasi, the desert palaces of Rajasthan, the tranquil backwaters of Kerala, the cool alpine air of Darjeeling and, of course, the immortal Taj Mahal. Visitors can anticipate more than a few awe-inspiring sights and, true to its billing as a land of contradictions, India is equally prepared to cater for party animals as spiritual seekers (the trance parties of Goa stand in stark contrast to the thousands of ashrams dotted around the country).
India is not only one of the best value-for-money tourist destinations in the world, but one that offers a unique travelling experience. A friendly land, well trodden by years of heavy tourist traffic, there are few more intriguing places to travel than mad, majestic India.
Best time to visit India
The best time to visit India is during winter (November to March), when the monsoon season is over, and temperatures haven't yet reached the hellish heights of summer. Low tourist season is between April and September.
-The Taj Mahl, the world's greatest monument to love, remains India's most unforgettable sight.
-Amritsar is the spiritual homeland of Sikhism, and its Golden Temple attracts millions of visitors each year.
-Rising high above the smoky clamour of Delhi's streets, the Red Fort remains an austere and powerful reminder of the might of the Mogul Empire.
-The Ajanta Caves, 29 cave-shrines delicately carved out of the surrounding rock, represent the faiths of Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism.
What to do in India
-Spend the day relaxing on the famous beaches of Goa, before getting down to some serious partying.
-Ride the Toy Train from Darjeeling to Ghum, and take in some truly breathtaking mountain scenery.
-Take a cruise on the backwaters Kerala, where the lush tropical scenery is interrupted only by close-up glimpses of traditional village life.
-Find a guide, saddle up a camel, and head out into Rajasthan's Thar Desert for a sun-soaked safari.
Getting to India
There are cheap direct flights to India available from many airports in the United Kingdom. Direct flights to India from the United States are less common, but are available (mainly operating between New York and Delhi or Mumbai).
A Passage to India by EM Forster, The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie, and Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts.
Ravi Shankar, Asha Bhosle, Indus Creed, 'Filmi' (music from Bollywood films).
Slumdog Millionaire (2008), Monsoon Wedding (2001), Gandhi (1982), The Darjeeling Limited (2007), and Jodhaa Akbar (2008).
Masala chai, a delicious blend of tea and spices (cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, ginger), boiled in a mixture of milk and water.
Curries of all kinds, and traditional mezze-like lunch-platters known as a thali.
What to buy
India is a shopper's paradise, with everything from textiles, clothing, furniture, toys, musical instruments, antiques, and perfumes available, usually at extremely reasonable prices, and of very high quality.
What to pack
Visitors should be sure to pack lightweight (but modest) clothes, plenty of sunscreen, and a basic first-aid kit stocked with anti-diarrhoea pills and electrolyte salts to treat dehydration. Carrying a bottle of anti-sceptic hand sanitiser around is a simple yet effective way to avoid getting sick.
What's on in India
Holi, a religious festival occurring right across India every March, is famous for the pots of coloured dye that get thrown around everywhere. Diwali, the Festival of Lights held each November, sees the Indian night-sky illuminated by millions of fireworks. New Year's Eve in Goa is a wild party with thousands of keen party-goers.
Did you know?
-The Indian film industry (known as Bollywood) is by far the largest in the world, and is also the most well supported, with three billion movie tickets being sold every year.
-India has more post offices than any other country in the world.
-The Constitution of India officially recognises 22 languages spoken in the country.
A final word
A dizzying, disorientating, but ultimately fascinating place to visit, India is in many ways the unparalleled tourist destination offering the adventure of a lifetime.
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