India—the land of a thousand suns and the world's largest democracy, home to 32 world heritage sites and 22 official languages with 13 scripts, bustling with colour, contrast and charisma tenders a unique, unparalleled experience that time cannot wither away. Robyn Davidson, author of `Desert Places' sums it rather artfully, "….with each return I discover a new India, which contains memories of the previous ones, fixed, like props, from the theatre of the past." Conviviality, warmth and openness is what current day India is all about, while an eternal tradition—hospitality, lives on. Mountain Magic
The map of India resembles a mammoth diamond with the spectacular Himalayan mountain range in the Northern part, acting as a natural barrier, thereby, detaching it from its neighbours. Lying hidden within are mesmerizing breaks of dawn, verdant valleys, an assortment of flora and fauna, serpentine rivers, myriad confluences, paths that meander, quaint customs, lucid religious influences, tranquil lifestyles and brilliant sunsets. Uncover the enigma of this expanse, where a host of activities, like mountain trekking, hiking and biking, rock-climbing, skiing, river rafting, jeep safaris and monastery-hopping await the intrepid traveller. Some of the prominent regions include the land of high passes, Ladakh; the Zanskar Range, Lahaul, Spiti and Kinnaur valley and the Garhwal and Kumaon range in Northern India. North East India’s magical mountain ranges, its pristine beauty and beguiling local culture ensures this untouched part of India more than meets the needs of the intrepid wanderer.
Moving South, the mountains slope out into the broad Indo-Gangetic plains, dominated by battle-scarred forts, opulent palaces, intricately carved temples, densely populated cities and wildlife parks. Tourist attractions abound drawing visitors from all across the globe. One of the wonders of the contemporary world—the Taj Mahal, a monument raised in marble to commemorate love lies in the city of Agra, just 200 kms away from historic Delhi, the capital of India. The honey-coloured mansions of Jurassic sandstone in Jaisalmer, bathing `ghats' at Varanasi, exquisite stone temples of Khajuraho and Ossian, sun temples at Modhera and Konarak, rolling sand dunes in the Thar desert, the medieval town of Bundi, an inimitable Bird Sanctuary at Bharatpur, abode of over 300 varieties of resident and migratory birds, one of Asia's refined tiger reserves, the Kanha National Park and Udaipur's amorous palaces and utopian lakes are but a few of the beguiling, easily accessible destinations, the stimulating plains of India have to proffer, between the months of October to March when temperatures are at their asking best. Beach-combers Delight
The East coast is surrounded by the Bay of Bengal, while the Arabian Sea encompasses the West, with the Southern-most tip projecting into the Indian Ocean. The largely uninterrupted palm-fringed coastline of India stretches for over 7.000 kms, bringing in its wake sun-drenched beaches, palm-thatched roofs, infatuating lagoons and estuaries, alluring sea breeze, rickety fishing boats and the unmistakable scent of the ocean. Cycling along the shore, sunbathing, catching up on a bestseller under the shade of a palm tree or diving off the coast are `de rigueur' in Goa, known for it's ebbing lifestyle. Kerala is recalled for its backwater rides, dense forests and ancient dance forms, as well as the `tried and tested' ancient Ayurvedic form of treatment, comprising herbal massages and medicines, concocted from natural herbs and the new balm for fevered souls. An archipelago of 36 islands, Lakshadweep is famed for corals and blue lagoons, making diving, snorkelling and parasailing, an engaging daytime activity. Much of ancient India lives in the temple rich state of Tamil Nadu, where strong influences of a Dravidian past still govern the daily lives of its people.
Living it Up
The 7th largest country in the world with a total area of 3.3 million sq kms has varied topography and climate ranging from arctic to tropical, making it possible to visit at different periods for altered experiences. Duration of stay can vary from 2weeks to 6months! Accommodation ranges from boutique style properties and luxury hotels for tourists willing to splurge, to first and tourist-class hotels for average spenders. The avid backpacker can choose between dormitories, hostels and budget hotels. Unconventional forms of lodging exist in the form of tree-top houses and rice boats in Kerala to heritage hotels and palaces in Rajasthan and adjoining states. Offer to get pampered in regal surroundings, replicate the lives of former `Maharajas' (Emperors), hear the call of the wild in forest lodges, choose to stay in a clean room with clean sheets, or rough it out among peregrinators in a dormitory; the selection is yours. Indian cuisine is as varied as its languages; each designed to suit that exalted organ—the tongue. Besides universally acclaimed Chicken Tikkas & Tandoori, there are umpteen local choices, both vegetarian as well as non-vegetarian. And yes, most metros have international cuisines including the ubiquitous Chinese take-out. Though alcoholic beverages are available in most parts of the country, anytime is tea-time in India!
Being a long-haul destination, 2 weeks is an ideal period. When you decide to go, plan ahead and choose a particular region or activity that interests you most. Major international airports link India to the rest of the world, at competitive airfares. Important hubs in India for international flights are located at Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Nagpur, Kolkata and Amritsar. The domestic air service network is well managed by Jet Airways, Vistara and low-cost carriers – IndiGo, SpiceJet and GoAir with connections to all cities and many major towns. Book in advance to avail of low airfares, which have defied inflation and become cheaper as compared to a few years ago! Serving over 10 million commuters the Indian Railways is the lifeline of the country and offers a relaxing method of travel and `discovering' India on wheels, if time is not a major hindrance. Travelling by private chauffeur driven cars is the best option, should flexibility and convenience be a prime motive.
India is a `must-see' destination in the minds of many. For some it's a lifelong wish to gaze at the Taj Mahal at moonlight, for others it's trying to sight a tiger in a forest reserve, a few may have a spiritual quest for enlightenment, while many may want to experience it's riveting culture and exotic beauty. When seen from a distance, the map of India bears strong resemblance to a person standing with arms outstretched. It's a universal sign, symbolizing, `welcome,' and a perfect invitation to the land of delightful surprises.