Resplendence of the North
Delhi is the ideal place to start your exploration of northern India. The capital of India and a city of fascinating contrasts, Delhi's monuments and structures take you through the centuries past seven oldercities that existed here.
So go sight seeing - Qutb Minar, the tall victory tower built in 1199, the splendid Red Fort and the majestic Jama Masjid with its striped domes and tall minarets. Other architectural delights include the Humayun's Tomb, the Jantar Mantar, the Purana Oila and the magnificent government complex on Raisina Hill - the Rashtrapati Bhavan framed by the Secretariats and the circular Parliament House.
Delhi is a marvellous place for shopping. So visit its bustling bazaars and don't forget to have a taste of the best of Indian cuisine at its fine restaurants.
Take off then on the golden triangle trail on to Agra and Jaipur for a glimpse of historic India. At Agra, view the pristine poetry of the Taj Mahal - a memorial to immortal love and the imposing Red Fort. Meander through the amazing ghost town of Fatehpur Sikri, perfectly preserved, built by the Emperor Akbar in red sandstone.
Jaipur imprints itself on your memory in the most vivid of colours. You could stay in one of its many palaces or mansions for a royal experience and wander off on elephantback to view the Amer Fort majestically located up on a hill. Do not miss the Hawa Mahal, the tall facade with delicately filigreed red sandstone.
Beyond Jaipur, in Rajasthan are fabulous towns with magnificent forts and palaces that still reflect a feudal spirit - Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Bikaner and Udaipur. Off the beaten track, discover the beauty of the desert on a camel safari. Wander past colourful villages in the desert and sleep under a brilliant starlit sky.
Feel like heading for the hills? There is an entire panorama of magical retreats for you along the Himalayan ranges. Beautiful resorts in Himachal Pradesh include Shimla, Kullu, Manali, Dharamsala, Dalhousie, Sarahan and a whole range of scenic spots - Kufri, Naldehra, Chail and Narkanda around Shimla and Manikaran, Naggar, and Brighu Lake near Kullu and Manali.
The heart of India, Madhya Pradesh, has an entire range of new experiences for you - medieval cities like Gwalior, Orchha, Mandu, marvellously carved temples at Khajuraho, little hill stations and the forests that Kipling so faithfully described in his 'Jungle Book'.
Lucknow, the fine capital ofUttar Pradesh and an entire pilgrimage trail along the holy river Ganga - Gangotri, Yamunotri, Rishikesh, Haridwar, Allahabad, Varanasi, complete your circuit of northern India.
Rich tapestry of the South
Chennai (Madras), the capital of the state of Tamil Nadu is a marvellous place to start your voyage of discovery. It is a town steeped in tradition though it was created by the British 350 years ago ! So visit the Fort St. George, the St. Mary's Church, the splendid Marina Beach, the beautiful Kapaleeswarar Temple, the St. Thomas Mount, where St. Thomas the Apostle was martyred, the National Art Gallery, the San Thome Cathedral, the Parthasarathy Temple, Valluvar Kottam, Cholamandalam, the artist's village and Kalakshetra.
Tamil Nadu has fascinating towns with magnificent temples - Kanchipuram, Thanjavur, Tiruchirapalli, Madurai, and Rameswaram. Mamallapuram close to Chennai, is a marvellous open air museum set along a fabulous beach with an array of sculptured edifices, cave temples andbas reliefs. Further down the coast, Pondicherry displays its French heritage in its seaside villas and the French names of its streets.
Want a break from the heat? Not too far away are Ooty (Udhagamandalam) and Kodaikanal - picturesque hill towns.
The splendid cities of Bangalore and Mysore reflect the royal heritage of Karnataka. Bangalore, the state capital is a lively cosmopolitan city noted for its fine climate and extensive gardens. Visit the exquisite Hoysala temples at Halebid and Belur not far from Bangalore.
Mysore is another charming city with its beautiful palaces and royal traditions. Up on a hill overlooking the city is the temple to Chamundeswari, its patron goddess. Inteting trips around Mysore include the Brindavan Gardens, Srirangapatna, the Ranganathittoo Bird Sanctuary, the ornate Hoysala temple at Somnathpur and the Nagarhole National Park - all within easy reach of the city.
Hyderabad, the capital city of Andhra Pradesh is exciting with its domes and minarets, palaces and colourful bazaars spilling over with silks, pearls, perfumes, antiques and glittering glass bangles. The imposing Char Minar and the Golconda Fort looming in the distance are two well known landmarks. Take time off to visit the unusual museum at Nagarjunakonda where an ancient Buddhist site has been relocated on an island in the reservoir of the Nagarjunakonda Dam.
The state of Kerala along the west coast of the peninsula is a lush green escape with beautiful beaches, historic port towns and pretty retreats in the hills. Visit Thiruvananthapuram, the state capital. The Padmanabhaswamy Temple, the unusual Napier Museum and the Chitra Art Gallery are some of its attractions. The delightful beach resort at Kovalam and the famous Padmanabhapuram Palace arecloseby. Explore the port townofKochi. See the old Jewish Synagogue, the Mattancherry Palace, St. Francis Church - the oldest European church in the subcontinent and the Chinese fishing nets. Visit Kumarakom set in the scenic backwater country and drift along the serene waterways vaulted by coconut palms for a delightful break from routine. The coral islands ofLakshadweep are easily accessible from Kochi. Laze on its pristine beaches and go snorkelling in its crystal lagoons.
Enchantment of the East
Calcutta is a good starting point for your travels in eastern India.
The capital of the state of West Bengal, Calcutta has a charm all its own. Imperial edifices, teeming bazaars, clubs and golf courses, museums and elegant hotels and the River Hooghly winding through the city are all part of its fascination. A good time to visit Calcutta is during the Durga Puja in October/ November when Calcutta is decked and decorated and is alive with good cheer and celebration.
Many of Calcutta's imperial buildings are located around the maidan, a large expanse of lawns that forms the heart of the city. They include the Victoria Memorial, an imposing structure in white marble that has a collection of paintings, manuscripts and memorabilia, the Fort William, the Raj Bhawan, the St. Paul's Cathedral and the Town Hall built in the Doric style. Calcutta has a lively cultural life and fine clubs. So see an art exhibition or two or go to the theatre.
Take a toy train to the magnificent hill station of Darjeeling for an unusual travel experience. Admire a panorama of some of the highest peaks in the Himalayan ranges. Go onwards to Gangtok, the attractive capital of Sikkim.
Travel further north to the lush Brahmaputra Valley to Assam. Explore the verdant unspoilt beauty of the hill states of the north east-Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Manipur. There are exciting trekking trails and colourful cultures to encounter and enjoy. Guwahati, the capital of Assam, set along the banks of the Brahmaputra, Shillong, a pretty hill station in Meghalaya with its grassy downs and lakes are special destinations.
From Calcutta you can wander off in the south eastern direction for a fantastic break to the spectacular Andaman Islands- 300 odd islands in the Bay of Bengal with their lush rain forests and sparkling beaches. You could go by air or take a slow boat to the islands !
Along the coastline, south of Calcutta is the magical state of Orissa. Splendid temples in the Nagara style with tall shikaras or temple towers embellished with exquisite carving are the main attractions of this state. The temple towns of Bhubaneswar and Puri with Konark noted for its unusual Sun Temple, make a marvellous circuit close to Calcutta.
Go west to the state of Biharfor a gentle trail in the path of the Buddha. Ancient settlements- Bodhgaya, the remains of the university town of Nalanda, Rajgir, Vaishali and Sarnath in Uttar Pradesh evoke the life of the Enlightened One.
In Western India, you will find uncommon destinations & experiences that delight. Mumbai, a major metropolis and the financial capital of India, is a logical start to your perambulations.
Mumbai is dynamic and exciting. There are marvellous shopping arcades, fine restaurants and art galleries. The Gateway of India, built in 1911 to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to the Delhi Durbar, is a major landmark as also the imposing Taj Mahal Hotel close by. The Prince of Wales Museum, the Jehangir Art Gallery, the various churches, temples and shrines including the one of Haji Ali out on an island linked by a causeway, are worth a glimpse. Take a boat ride out to the Elephanta Island to see the marvellous rock cut caves noted for their huge sculpted panels. Other interesting destinations close by include - the Kanheri Caves, the beach resorts at Madh Island and Manori and the charming little hill station of Matheran, all within easy reach.
Not far from Mumbai is the lovely hill resort of Mahabaleshwar, picturesque during the monsoons with its lakes,waterfalls and wild flower strewn landscapes. Pune is another exciting town located on the Deccan Plateau, once the capital of Shivaji, the great Maratha ruler. Within easy reach are splendid forts up on the fastness of hill tops - well worth seeing. Another treat is the charming Raja Dinkar Kelkar Museum. It has exhibits that include traditional brassware, utensils, carved doorways and pillars.
Aurangabad, a historic city with various monuments from the time of the Mughals, is a good base for visits to the magnificent Ajanta and Ellora Caves, dating from about 200 BC to 800 AD. Many of these rock cut caves are embellished with exquisite paintings and carvings.
Goa is a fabulous getaway with its beautiful beaches. Picturesque villages along the coast with white washed churches and red tiled houses set amidst groves of coconut add charm to the landscape. Near Panaji, is the old Portuguese capital ofVelha Goa noted for its fine churches in the baroque style. These include the Basilica of Born Jesus, the magnificent Se Cathedral and Church of St. Francis of Assisi.
The state of Gujarat offers interesting destinations - the ancient port of Lothal built about 4000 years ago, Ahmedabad, with its fine old residences and museums; Vadodara, a centre for the arts and once the royal capital ofGujarat; Palitana - an entire hill top encrusted in finely carved temples; Somnath with its old temple and the picturesque little island retreat of Diu close to the beach resort ofAhmedpur Mandvi.
India has preserved vast tracts of forests and habitats in its 80 National Parks and 441 Wildlife Sanctuaries. So wherever you are travelling in India, take a break and visit a wildlife park and see some of India's abundance of animals and birds.
In northern India, Corbett National Park and Dudhwa National Park in Uttar Pradesh, Kanha National Park and Bandhavgarh National Park in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan's Ranthambore National Park and Sariska Tiger Reserve, are all the home of the magnificent predator - the tiger. These also have varieties of deer including the antlered barasingha and a range of lesser cats, mammals and birds.
In the North East in Assam, the Kaziranga National Park and the more remote Manas Tiger Reserve with theirextensive swamps and grasslands are the home of the 'Rhinoceros Unicornis' - India's one - horned rhino.
In the South, interesting wildlife sanctuaries include the Bandipur and Nagarhole National Parks in Karnataka, the Mudumalai Sanctuary in Tamil Nadu and Periyar National Park in Kerala. The lush forests of these sanctuaries are noted for the predators - tiger and leopard, a variety of animals like the wild boar, pangolin, slender loris and macaques, as also a range of colourful birds typical to this area.
Gujarat in Western India has a number of unusual sanctuaries - the Gir National Park, the last habitat of the Asiatic lion; the bare saline flats in the Rann ofKutch, home of the Indian wild ass and the spectacular Flamingo Island. Another interest- ing sanctuary is the magnificent Keoladeo Ghana National Park with its incredible varieties of birds, easily accessible from Delhi, Jaipur and Agra.
So take your pick and happy hunting - with a camera of course!
Go shopping in the traditional Indian bazaars or modem shopping arcades that spill over with splendid buys to suit your taste and pocket. No matter wherever you are in the country, you'll encounter a bewildering array of shopping options.
In India, you can shop for fine brocades, shimmering silks, woollens, cool cottons and a range of other fabrics. There is rich embroidery and mirror work as also an amazing variety of gold and silver jewellery, miniature paintings, precious and semi precious stones, pottery, metal and stone ware and jute and bamboo crafts, to choose from.
Trekking: Along the Himalayan ranges in Himachal Pradesh and districts of Kumaon and Garhwal in Uttar Pradesh. Skiing: Auli (Uttar Pradesh) and Manali and Narkanda (Himachal Pradesh).
White Water Rafting: Rishikesh (Uttar Pradesh) and Kullu district (Himachal Pradesh).
Snorkelling: The lagoons of Lakshadweep Islands.
Water Sports: Goa
Ballooning: The Balloon Club of India, New Delhi
Hang Gliding: Himachal Pradesh
Camel Safari: Rajasthan
Rock Climbing: Garhwal (Uttar Pradesh), Manali (Himachal Pradesh), Dhauj (Haryana).
Trout Fishing: Districts of Kullu, Shimla, Kinnaur and Mandi (Himachal Pradesh).
Golf: Fine golf courses in most major cities.
Mountain Biking: Uttar Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh.
Flavours of India
The scent of spices and the taste of India's many flavours will offer you a unique gastronomic experience.
In the north, the staple diet includes a range of flat breads such as pooris, chappatis, nans and paranthas. In the South, a repertoire based on rice is an essential part of any meal- fluffy white idlis, steamed cakes of ground rice and lentils and crisp dosas. Dais or split lentils are common fare throughout India.
Many of the culinary delights of India have originated from the great royal courts ofearliertimes. North Indian cuisine is mo influenced by the great Mughals and savoured in the luscious curries, kormas and in the delicious tandoori recipes - varieties ofkababs and spicy roasted chicken.
Other royal cuisines include the 'Wazwan' from Kashmir, the 'Dum-Pukht' cuisine of Oudh and Hyderabad's rich pulaos and biryanis.
If you love sea-food, make sure you visit the coastal states of Goa, Kerala and West Bengal, all offering a rich fare of fish, shell fish, crab, prawn, mussel and other sea food.
India offers an unusual variety and range of accommodation to suit your budget and lifestyle. All the major towns and destinations have hotels to match international standards - ranging from the five star luxury to budget accommodation.
You can live like a maharaja in the erstwhile royal residences in Rajasthan, Gujarat and Kamataka, now converted into heritage hotels.
The main international airports are Mumbai, Calcutta, Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore, Tiruchirapalli, Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode (Calicut). Air India, the national carrier and most major international airlines operate services to India.
Travelling by air around the country is convenient and comfortable and the airline network links over 70 cities. Domestic air services are operated by the government corporation - Indian Airlines and a number of other private airline companies. Indian Airlines also operates regular flights to the other countries in the area including Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Thailand and Singapore.
India has the largest rail network in Asia and the second largest in the world. The Indian Railways offer visitors an opportunity to view the exciting diversity of India.
Indrail Pass: A facility offered to foreign tourists permits unlimited travel within the period of the validity of the ticket. The passes can be bought for a duration of one, seven, fifteen, twenty one, thirty, sixty or ninety day periods.
Royal journeys: Two magnificent luxury trains give visitors a taste of princely India. The Palace- on-Wheels and the Royal Orient offer a unique travel experience with fine accommodation, speciality restaurants, bars and all the modern conveniences. They take you through the historic cities of Rajasthan and Gujarat.
Another luxury train, The Deccan Odyssey is a joint venture between the Indian Railways and the Government of Maharashtra. The train showcases the tourism assets of Maharashtra, the grandeur of Konkan coast, the art, and culture, the heritage of Maharashtra as well as local arts, crafts and cuisine of the state during the journey. Another two-saloon train makes a short journey from Delhi to Alwar. The Fairy Queen, which finds mention in the "Guinness Book of World Records", is the oldest running steam locomotive in the world. For an idyllic weekend trip between Delhi and Alwar, the Fairy Queen comes to the rescue of those bored with the same old blaze ways of travelling around the place. The Fairy Queen with the privileged ones aboard reaches the picturesque town of Alwar in Rajasthan the same day, from where the guests will be taken to Sariska Tiger Reserve for an overnight stay.
Special train service: The superfast Shatabdi trains that link major cities offering quick and comfortable travel, the Rajdhani - superfast deluxe trains that link the major metropolises to Delhi and Weekenders offering fun-filled weekend packages, are some of the services that are excellent for visitors.
A large network of National Highways, State Highways and subsidiary roads makes road transport the main means of travel after the railways.
Buses: Deluxe and air conditioned buses ply along the main routes and conducted tours are available in and around the main cities and tourist destinations.
Taxis: Taxis are available in the major cities as also luxury cars on hire.
Rent-a-car: India now offers rent-a-car services in the major cities.
For more details on Tourism in India visit the website http://www.tourismofindia.com