From snow-topped mountains to sun-drenched beaches, from serene temples to colourful festivals and from dusty, lantern-lit villages to modern high-rise cities, India is a dazzling and diverse country. Its cities throng with an exciting and eclectic mix of ethnicities and its countryside is stunning. Accommodation in India is equally diverse, ranging from cheap backpacker hostels to expensive luxurious hotels.
Top Things about India
India has a varied geography with mountains, rivers, plains and deserts. In summer, India’s rulers often escaped the heat of the plains by travelling to the hill stations. Located high up in the hills these stations feature scenic railways, lush tea plantations, forests, waterfalls and mountains. India has many national parks including Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan, which has a rich diversity of flora and fauna and is famous for its tigers, and Kaziranga National Park, which is known as ‘The Land of the Rhino’. Coastal areas such as Goa, which was once part of the hippy trail, have some fantastic beaches with picture-postcard vistas and thrilling water sports.
India is also a land of culture, home to some of the world’s most beautiful landmarks. The Taj Mahal is one of the wonders of the world, its perfect white beauty a testament to the love of an emperor for his wife. Other famous landmarks include the Red Fort at Delhi, once the residence of Mughal Emperors; Rashtrapati Bahwan in New Delhi, the magnificent sandstone residence of the President of India, and the Ajanta caves in Maharashtra. Dating from 200 BC to 650 AD they tell the story of a glorious and rich past.
Best Cities to Visit in India
Mumbai is a melting pot of cultures and religions, home to Bollywood and developing rapidly. The city is noisy, bustling and exciting. Its eclectic mix of stylish bars, fine restaurants, grand art deco and colonial buildings, colourful bazaars and shiny new malls will enthral visitors. Visit the imposing Gateway to India, tour a Bollywood set, stroll around the art galleries of the Kala Ghoda Art Precinct or dance the night away in a club frequented by Bollywood starlets.
Jaipur is known as the Pink City due to the flamboyant pink stucco buildings that line the city’s wide streets, and is part of India’s ‘Golden Triangle’. The city’s stunning hill forts such as Amber and Jaigarh, and impressive palaces, including the Hawa Mahal and the City Palace, tell of the city’s illustrious past, whilst its imposing walls and gateways still impress the visitor. The city’s vibrant bazaars are renowned for their jewellery, carpets and hand-dyed and embroidered textiles.
New Delhi is India’s capital and is a fascinating city. Dynamic and vibrant, its street life is one of the city’s main attractions. Visit the teeming bazaars in ‘Old’ Delhi; still a largely Muslim quarter it is dominated by the Jaam Masjid (Great Mosque). A tranquil retreat is the splendid Red Fort with its pristine lawns and lofty halls. The British-built quarter of New Delhi is a complete contrast with impressive monuments and broad straight boulevards. Rajpath, the imperial mall leads to the mighty Gate of India.
In Indian mythology the elephant is revered and in Rajasthan, as the carriers of royalty, they had a particular significance. Every year in Jaipur the elephant is celebrated with processions of heavily-bejewelled elephants and games. Tourists and locals alike can participate in the fun.
Diwali, the Festival of Lights, is celebrated across India and is marked by fireworks, colourful garlands of marigolds and the buying of sweets. This joyous and colourful celebration is when Indians traditionally light oil lamps to lead Rama home after his victory over the ten-headed demon-king Ravana. In Mumbai a fantastic firework display is staged on Chowpatty Beach. Holi, the Festival of Colours, is a boisterous, mad kaleidoscope of colours as adults and children throw brightly coloured powder over each other.
India’s cuisine is rightly considered one of the finest in the world. Indian cuisine uses many spices, but each region has its own particular style. Northern India features moderately spicy thick and creamy gravies, with fruit and nuts often being used and bread more common than rice. Rajasthan’s cuisine is rich whilst the Punjab has rich tomato and onion-based curries and tandoori dishes.
Some of Northern India’s famous dishes are Mutter Paneer, Chicken Tikka and Butter Chicken. Southern India is famous for its spices and also the use of coconut. Rice commonly accompanies a dish. Dosas and Sambhars are typical dishes. Seafood dishes are common in Goa and Kerala. Goan cuisine has intense flavours and spices and features tamarind, coconut milk and delicious chutneys and pickles. West Bengal’s cuisine is unusual in that it is famous for its confectionery and desserts.
Steeped in history, India was the birthplace of one of the world’s great civilisations. India’s culture has influenced much of South Asia, and whilst India retains many of its traditions in festivals, music and art, its skyscrapers and modern shopping malls reflect a country that is embracing the modern world. You can still see women in the traditional colourful saris, and traditional dances and music are still performed. Kerala in particular attracts visitors with its enchanting folk and classical dances.
In Delhi, Hindustani music is performed in concert halls and at outdoor venues, and the city also has innovative theatres which stage dances and plays. Cinema is hugely popular and some cinemas show English-language films. Traditional Indian art can be seen across the country, whilst 20th century Indian art is showcased in galleries such as the National Gallery of Modern Art in Delhi. Cricket is very popular in India and international matches are often played in the big cities.
India has a range of accommodation to suit all budgets. Cheap, clean, mid-range motels and hotels offer good accommodation and food. Tourist bungalows have excellent facilities and can be good value for money. Budget hotels are also good value and are favoured by backpackers. Three-, four- or five-star hotels are mainly found in the major tourist destinations. If you have the budget, consider one of India’s beautiful heritage hotels, once the forts and palaces of kings.