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From the snow-capped Himalayas in the north to the sun-drenched coastal villages of the south, India unfolds like an ancient tapestry. The perennial rivers running down from the mountains are the lifeblood on which India has flourished. Since the first civilisations developed on the banks of the Indus river almost 5,000 years ago, India has given birth to Buddhism and Hinduism, seen the rise and fall of the Sultans and Moguls, and seen the sun finally set on the British Empire as it reclaimed independence in 1947.
The world's largest democracy presents an incredible variety of religions, languages, cultural influences and monuments. This is the country famed for the iconic Taj Mahal, the colourful festivals of Holi and Diwali, and for traditional Carnatic and Hindustani music. Art and theatre mix traditional culture with western influences, and Bollywood far outstrips its better-known US rival in terms of output and popularity on home turf.
India's landscapes are as vast as they are varied. The peaks of the Himalayas give way to the great plains of the Ganges River and the capital, Delhi. To the west lies the Thar Desert and the Great Rann of Kutch, while the west and south coast plays host to beaches and forests and vibrant cities.
India is a feast for the senses. The air is heavy with the scent of jasmine, dancers trail frenetic melodies in colourful silk saris, and cooks compose dishes from a palette of exotic spices. India's cities are a cacophony of seemingly endless traffic and a myriad of other textures, colours and movements all jostling for attention. India can be overwhelming, but its variety is part of its charm for those who brave the sub-continent.
India offers an astounding diversity of people, landscapes, sights and sounds. Visitors will find a rich tapestry of attractions to enjoy, the scope of which is unmatched anywhere else on earth.
Spiritually inclined tourists make for the temples and ashrams of the north, nestled in beautiful Himalayan cities such as Rishikesh, the birthplace of Yoga. Away from the mountains, Delhi dominates the desert plains. The heaving, ancient capital is a mind-blowing mix of history and humanity.
Delhi is just one of India's incredible collection of cities, which includes Kolkata, the cultural capital, Kochi, the Queen of the Arabian Sea, and Mumbai, a major port city, and home to Bollywood. Varanasi, on the banks of the Ganges, may well be the most fascinating of the lot. This sacred Hindu destination is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities on earth.
Jungles and forests such as the Sundarbans, the largest mangrove forest in the world, and the stunningly beautiful Sangla valley, are home to endemic flora and fauna. Lucky visitors to some of the national parks may be greeted by a glimpse of the rare, legendary Bengal Tiger.
India's architectural treasures need no introduction. The immortal Taj Mahal is one of the most recognisable monuments in the world. Tourists will also be fascinated by the opulence of Tirupati Balaji, the richest temple in the world, and Golden Temple, one of Sikhism's holiest shrines.
India is synonymous with vibrant, colourful festivals such as Holi, the festival of colours, and Diwali, the festival of lights. The spicy cuisine is superb, enjoyed by millions of people worldwide. Indian music, theatre and film are unique.
The endless list of attractions simply goes on and on in this vast and varied land.
The Red Fort, known locally as Lal Quila, is Delhi's signature attraction, rising high above the clamour of Old Delhi as a reminder of the power and prosperity of the Mogul Empire. The massive sandstone walls were built in the 17th century to keep out marauding invaders, and still dominate the city's skyline today. Inside is an array of exquisite buildings, which once provided the living quarters for Shah Jehan, his courtiers, family and staff of three thousand. Visitors can marvel at the intricate decoration and only imagine the scenes here at the empire's height, when the walls were studded with precious stones and a 'stream of paradise' drove an ingenious air conditioning system.
Shah Jehan, the architect of the Red Fort and much of Old Delhi, built Jama Masjid between 1644 and 1656. This grand structure is situated on a hill a few hundred yards west of the Red Fort, and towers over the mayhem of Old Delhi's sprawling streets. Jama Masjid is India's largest mosque and can hold 25,000 worshippers at one time. Wide red sandstone steps lead to entrances on the north, south and east sides of the mosque. Inside is a massive courtyard, dominated by two red-and-white striped sandstone minarets that cap the main prayer hall on the west side (facing Mecca).
The Qutub Minar is a mammoth tower that was built between 1193 and 1369 to symbolise Islamic rule over Delhi, and to commemorate the victory by Qutab-ud-din over the city's last Hindu king. Standing 238 feet (72m) tall, the tower is decorated with calligraphy representing verses from the Quran, and tapers from 50 feet (15m) at the base to just eight feet (2.5m) at the top. There are five distinct storeys, each encircled with a balcony: the first three are built of red sandstone, and the upper two are faced with white marble.
Humayun's Tomb is one of the best-preserved and most beautiful examples of Mogul architecture in Delhi, and is often seen as a forerunner of the Taj Mahal in Agra. Building on the tomb started in 1564 after the death of Humayun, the second Moghul emperor, and its construction was overseen by Haji Begum: his senior widow and the mother of Akbar. The tomb is an octagonal structure capped by a double dome that soars 125ft (38m) into the sky, and is set in a formal Persian garden. Some careful restoration work has been done on some of the buildings and art but nothing important has been altered.
After his visit in 1911, the Emperor of India, King George V, decreed that the capital should be moved from Calcutta to Delhi. Edwin Lutyens was commissioned to plan the new government centre, which he focused around Rajpath: the grand, tree-lined boulevard that runs between the Secretariat Buildings and India Arch, the war memorial built in 1921. Rashtrapati Bhavan was built by Lutyens and Sir Herbert Baker between 1921 and 1929 on the gentle slope of Raisina Hill, and is flanked by the Secretariat Buildings. This immense palace, larger than Versailles, was created for the Viceroy and is now the residence of the President of India.
No trip to Delhi would be complete without a visit to one of the bazaars that surround Chandni Chowk (Moonlight Square) in Old Delhi, where shops and stalls display a wonderful array of goods, and offer a pungent and colourful insight into everyday Delhi life. Chandni Chowk has a large number of galis (lanes) and each one is different, with its own atmosphere and selection of goods to buy. A wonderful range of seasonings, spices and condiments, and second-hand goods are among the items on offer.
The Taj Mahal is one of the world's most recognisable and evocative sights. Set overlooking the River Yamuna, visible from Agra Fort in the West, the Taj was built by Shah Jahan to enshrine the body of his favourite wife, who died giving birth to her 14th child in 1631. When his devout and austere son Aurangzeb seized power, Shah Jahan was interned in Agra Fort, where he lived out his final years gazing wistfully at the Taj Mahal in the distance. When he died there in January 1666 with his daughter Jahanara Begum at his side, his body was carried across the river to lie alongside his beloved wife in the peerless mausoleum.
Not far from the gardens of the Taj Mahal stands the important 16th-century Mughal monument known as the Red Fort of Agra. This powerful fortress of red sandstone encompasses, within its 1.5 mile-long (2.5km) enclosure walls, the imperial city of the Mughal rulers. It comprises many fairytale palaces, such as the Jahangir Palace and the Khas Mahal, built by Shah Jahan; audience halls such as the Diwan-i-Khas; and the Sheesh Mahal (The Glass Palace), which is inlaid with thousands of mirrors and was once the harem dressing room. There are also two beautiful mosques, including Shah Jahan's Pearl Mosque.
Situated on the crest of a hill seven miles (11km) north of Jaipur is Amber: capital of the Kuchwaha Rajputs from 1037 to 1728. The city-palace is protected by towering outer walls, and a further wall runs for miles along the hills surrounding the palace. For many, the most memorable part of a trip to Jaipur is the journey up the palace ramparts, through a succession of vast gates, on the back of a painted elephant, Maharaja-style. Inside are the ruins of a once-great palace: a wonderful example of Rajput architecture, with Mogul influences.
The magnificent City Palace is in the centre of the Pink City of Jaipur, enclosed by high walls and set amid fine gardens and courtyards. Since Jai Singh built it in 1728, it has been the principal residence for the Maharajas of Jaipur and successive rulers have each added to it. The palace was built during the glory days and the exhibits and interior have lost none of their splendour: the doors and gateways preserve their flamboyant decoration; and royal retainers, clothed in turbans and full livery, still guard the principal halls and entrances. Travellers can visit a number of museums displaying old uniforms and mementos, and an armoury of fascinating weapons dating back to the Mogul era.
The Palace of the Winds is Jaipur's most acclaimed attraction. Built in 1799, it is situated on the edge of the City Palace complex overlooking one of the city's bustling main streets, and was constructed to offer the women of the court a vantage point, behind stone-carved screens, from which to watch the activity in the bazaars below. The five-storey building is shaped like a crown adorning Lord Krishna's head, and contains over five hundred finely screened windows and balconies. Although the palace's primary appeal is its ornate and finely carved pink façade, visitors can also go inside and see the intricate, honeycombed stonework of the original screens close up.
The white walls of Udaipur's Lake Palace soar above the peaceful waters of Lake Pichola, topped by ornamental battlements and turrets. The sprawling palace has been developed by successive maharanas since the foundation of Udaipur in 1559. These days, part of the palace is home to the current maharana, a section of it is a first-class hotel (with the best restaurant in the city), and the remainder is a museum. Udaipur's Lake Palace really does have a storybook quality to it, both in terms of its looks and its history, and it is rightly considered by all and sundry to be one of India's stellar tourist attractions.
Forty miles (60km) north of Udaipur are the Jain Temples of Ranakpur. It is the largest temple complex of its kind in India, and boasts some truly staggering marble work. The main temple was built in 1439, and is dedicated to the first tirthankara Adinath, whose image is enshrined in its central sanctuary. The temple is two or three storeys high in parts, and its roof, topped with five large shikharas, undulates with tiny spires that crown the small shrines to Jain saints lining the temple walls. Within are 1444 pillars, each sculpted with unique and intricate designs, and dissecting the 29 halls.
The magnificent Gothic Victorian buildings in Mumbai's Fort Area highlight the power and wealth of the British Empire at its might. They are reminiscent of many of the great public buildings in London or Glasgow. The Victoria Terminus (known as CST) was opened in 1888, and is one of the world's grandest railway stations, on a par with New York's Grand Central Station or London's St Pancras. Built in the Italian Gothic style, it looks more like a lavishly decorated cathedral than a railway station: massive arches soar splendidly above the scurrying crowd, and carved into the pillars and buttresses are images of monkeys, peacocks, elephants and lions.
The southernmost peninsula of Mumbai, known as Colaba, is where most travellers gravitate. It has a good range of hotels and restaurants and houses two of the city's most famous landmarks: the Gateway to India and the Taj Mahal Hotel. The Gateway to India was built in 1911 to commemorate the visit to India of King George V and Queen Mary. The archway is built from honey-coloured basalt in a style derived from Gujarati architecture of the 16th century. In the days of the steam liner, the Gateway was for many visitors their first and last sight of India, but today it acts purely as a colourful tourist stop, and attracts hawkers, snake charmers, and beggars.
Built in the 1920s, Marine Drive runs along the shoreline of the Arabian Sea, from Nariman Point to the foot of Malabar Hill. It is Mumbai's most famous thoroughfare, and a favourite spot for watching the sunset. Lined on the landward side by a crescent of crumbling Art Deco buildings, it is lit up memorably at night, prompting travel agents to dub it 'the Queen's Necklace'. At the top end of Marine Drive is Chowpatty Beach, the only beach in the central part of Mumbai. Though not ideal for sunbathing or swimming, it is a popular (though hectic) place to spend an afternoon, surrounded by beach traders, entertainers and beggars.
The colourful indoor Crawford Market (Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Market) is where locals of central Mumbai go shopping for their fruit, vegetables and (for the brave) meat. Rudyard Kipling was born just south of the market, in 1865. An ornate fountain designed by his father, Lockwood Kipling, sits between old fruit boxes at the market's centre. He also designed the frieze depicting Indian peasants in wheat fields that hangs above the main entrance. Visitors can find almost anything at the market, which is large and full of surprises, and will enjoy a stroll around the narrow lanes of Kalbadevi, north of the market.
Once just a backpacker and hippie hangout selling kaftans and chillums, the Anjuna Flea Market is now more commercial, with a broad range of high-quality goods on sale. Traders from all over India come to sell their wares: Lamani women from Karnataka, dressed in their traditional garb, sell colourful, elaborately woven clothes; Kashmiri stalls display silver and papier-mâché boxes; and Tibetans preside over orderly rows of sundry Himalayan curios. Visitors are expected to bargain but the stall owners tend to be friendly and less pushy than in some other markets.
This most sedate of state capitals has plenty to offer tourists, and should rightly have a day or two devoted to it on any Indian travel itinerary. Situated on the southern banks of the Mandovi River, Panaji only became the capital of Goa in 1843, after the harbour at Old Goa silted up and disease had driven its inhabitants out. The best way to explore the town is on foot, wandering around the old cobbled alleyways, colonial villas, red-roofed houses, taverns and cafes, all of which has the look and feel of a small Portuguese town.
Situated on a hilltop at the southern end of India is Kerala's capital, Thiruvananthapuram (still commonly known as Trivandrum). For most visitors the capital is simply a transit-point on their way to Kovalam, the popular beach resort a few miles to the south. However, it is worth lingering for a day or so in this easy-going city to explore the narrow backstreets, old gabled houses and expansive parks. The most fascinating part of Trivandrum is the Fort area, around the Shri Padmanabhaswamy Temple (closed to non-Hindus); and Puttan Malika Palace, seat of the Travancore Rajas. Some of the palace has been turned into a museum, and displays a collection of heirlooms and artefacts.
Old Goa was the state's capital city until 1843, when it was moved down river to Panaji. Once a byword for splendour, with a population of several hundred thousand, Old Goa was virtually abandoned from the 17th century, as the river silted up and a series of malaria and cholera epidemics drove out the inhabitants. It takes some imagination to picture the once-great capital as it used to be. The maze of twisting streets, piazzas and grand Portuguese villas have long gone. All that remains are a score of extraordinarily grandiose churches and convents. Old Goa has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and today is the state's main cultural attraction.
Situated in the Cardamom Hills region of the Western Ghats, the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary is one of the most popular wildlife reserves in India. It is home to a great variety of game, including elephant, sambar, wild pig, mongoose, the Malabar flying squirrel and almost 300 species of bird. Leopards and dwindling numbers of tigers are also here, but are, unfortunately, rarely glimpsed by visitors. The park lies 75 miles southeast of Cochin at cool altitudes, between about 3,000 and 6,000 feet (900 and 1800 metres). Most people view Periyar from a boat on the lake; however, many visitors prefer to explore the area on foot. Local guides take small groups on treks of various lengths.
One of the most memorable experiences for many travellers in Kerala is a boat journey on the state's famous backwaters. The best known of these areas is Kuttanad, situated between the hills in the west and the Arabian Sea, and stretching for 50 miles south of Kochi (formerly Cochin). This extraordinary maze of rivers, lakes, canals and estuaries is lined with dense tropical greenery and reveals a Keralan lifestyle that is totally hidden from the road. Boats are the only way to explore this area, billed as Kaleidoscope Kerala, where views change around every bend.
Mumbai (formerly Bombay) is India's economic powerhouse, and home to more millionaires than any other city on the Indian subcontinent. The city contains a breathtaking array of High Victorian buildings, reflecting the British passion for the Gothic and demonstrating the wealth, panache and confidence of British Bombay. Mumbai's countless attractions are reached via the iconic colonial-era arch that is the Gateway of India. Nearby stands the Taj Mahal Palace, India's second most-photographed monument, and the equally imposing Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus, an extravagant Gothic building. For those seeking a break from the madness of modern Mumbai, the 180-year-old village of Khotachiwadi offers a quiet glimpse into life as it was before the high-rise buildings of today's mega-city.
The deserted city of Fatehpur Sikri was the capital of the Mughal Empire between 1570 and 1585. It was built under the personal supervision of the Emperor Akbar. The story goes that the emperor was childless and, having tried all sorts of solutions to his plight, visited a Sufi saint, Sheikh Salim Chishti, for help. Soon a son was born, and Akbar started building on the site where he had met the saint. However, due to a severe shortage of water the city was abandoned after only fifteen years, and the capital was relocated back to Agra. Today Fatehpur Sikri is an untouched and perfectly preserved medieval fortress.
Kolkata is India's third-largest city, and home to some of the country's holiest temples and finest colonial structures. The 'Cultural Capital of India' is a diverse city with a diverse mixture of languages spoken among its 14 million inhabitants. It was also home to Mother Teresa, whose humble home can still be visited, and the famous writer Rabindranath Tagore. Kolkata is a city of many cultural attractions and some impressive colonial architecture. A deeply religious city representing several faiths, some striking temples often top the list of things to see in Kolkata.
The Haji Ali Dargah is both a mosque and a tomb, located in southwestern Mumbai, on an islet off the coast of Worli. The dargah (tomb) was built in memory of Muslim preacher Syed Peer Haji Ali Shah Bukhari in 1431, who was inspired to change the course of his life after embarking on the Hajj to Mecca. Haji Ali is only accessible by a 1500-foot (457m) walkway during low tide. The walkway is generally lined with beggars and vendors, and Thursdays and Fridays see thousands of pilgrims flocking to Haji Ali to receive blessings from the dead saint.
The exciting Nehru Centre features a world-class planetarium, an art gallery filled with emerging talent, and an interesting culture wing. However, the highlight of the centre is the (permanent) Discovery of India exhibition, with consists of 14 galleries showcasing every aspect of artistic, intellectual and philosophical attainment in India through the ages; visitors walk through the history of India from ancient times to independence. This is a wonderful place to start for those looking to get to grips with the history and identity of India, one of the most mercurial and fascinating countries in the world.
The Prince of Wales Museum, now officially known as the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, was founded in the early 20th century to commemorate the visit of (eventual King of the United Kingdom) George V. The museum houses more than 50,000 exhibits of ancient Indian history, as well as artefacts from other lands. The museum's greatest areas of focus are art, archaeology and natural history. The Indus Valley Civilisation section is particularly impressive. The museum is surrounded by a lovely garden, which provides a nice area to stroll in after exploring the exhibitions.
The former home of Mahatma Gandhi, the Mani Bhavan Gandhi Museum is a Gujarati-style house featuring three floors for visitors to explore. The house did not belong to Gandhi but served as his home and headquarters in Bombay for 17 eventful years between 1917 and 1934; it belonged to a friend of his, who was his host whenever he visited the city. Several important events and activities in Gandhi's political life took place or were initiated at this place. The museum houses an incredible library, full of Gandhi-related books, periodicals, photographs, posters and even the great man's old charkha (spinning wheel).
Known as the 'world's largest laundromat', the Dhobi Ghat provides a scene many travellers might have already seen in movies. Every day, thousands of dhobis (laundry washers) collect dirty laundry and descend upon the concrete washing areas, all fitted with their own flogging stones, to wash the garments. To the dhobis themselves, the washing and drying of clothes is a menial task but, to inquisitive tourists, this practise can be a fascinating insight into India's daily life, as well as a surviving relic of old India. The job is traditionally hereditary, and many of the men at work have families that have been doing the same job, and using the same age-old techniques, for generations.
Located on Elephanta Island in the Arabian Sea off the coast of Mumbai, the Elephanta Caves are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an absolute must for visitors to Mumbai. The island can be reached by an hour-hong boat ride from the Gateway of India pier. The caves feature Shaivistic (the oldest of the four sects of Hinduism) stone sculptures of Hindu deities important to worshippers of Shiva. Unfortunately, the Portuguese defaced many of the sculptures in the caves when they used them for target practice in the 17th century. However, there is still a lot of intricate and impressive art to see.
The Indian Botanical Garden in Kolkata has many floral treasures, but none as impressive as the 250-year-old Great Banyan Tree, which covers nearly 5,300 square feet (500sq/m). What at first seems like a forest of narrow trunks is, in fact, 1,573 drop-roots from a single banyan tree. The gardens, located on the west bank of the Hooghly River, contain about 12,000 living plant species from every corner of the globe and offer some good bird watching opportunities and a quiet green space in which to walk, relax and picnic. There are many paths and trails to explore.
This astounding marble building is probably the most impressive colonial structure in India. In a city known for several great monuments and buildings, this palace is often considered the primary architectural gem and most iconic landmark. It was built to commemorate Queen Victoria (although she never actually visited the city) and only completed in 1921, after 20 years of solid work. Inside is a fascinating museum of Indian history, including some wonderful sculptures and paintings. The monument is situated on 64 acres of land, which includes lakes, gardens and walking paths.
With 60 galleries of art, archaeology and anthropology, this is India's largest museum, India's oldest museum, and quite possibly India's most attractive museum, housed as it is in a stunning, colonnaded palace. The Indian Museum was established in 1814 and the collection is vast and varied, including fossils, skeletons, coins, manuscripts, all kinds of Indian art and sculpture, traditional games, icons, puppets, toys, musical instruments and much more. The natural history collection is thought to be one of the world's finest and the museum library is famous for its impressive collection.
This humble and touching temple to Mother Teresa's life and work in downtown Kolkata is well worth a visit. Upstairs is a small museum, full of affecting and interesting displays. Visitors even have a chance to see Blessed Teresa's bedroom, preserved exactly as it was when she lived in the building. Tourists can also visit Mother Teresa's tomb and spend a quiet moment praying or reflecting in this inspirational place. Not so much an 'attraction' as a deeply emotional and inspiring insight into a life of self-sacrifice and devotion, a visit to Mother House makes a fine counterpoint to more traditional tourist pursuits.
This 350-year-old temple dedicated to Kali is Kolkata's holiest site, attracting a throng of excited pilgrims every day. Inside the temple there are several shrines: a Krishna shrine where goats and buffalo are sacrificed to the goddess (the meat is distributed to the poor); a shrine to the goddess Manasa that consists of a tree, to which devotees (typically women) tie rocks with red thread in order to receive blessings, usually regarding fertility; a Shiva shrine with a Vedic fire pit in which a fire ceremony is performed daily; and, of course, a shrine to Kali, which is a statue of the god with a three-eyed black skull and a long, golden tongue.
One of Kolkata's most unusual sites, this palace was built by a local member of the 19th century gentry in a marvellous patchwork of classical architectural styles. Lavish use is made of Italian marble, and the lawns contain an eclectic pantheon of statues including Christopher Columbus and the Buddha. The Marble Palace is a place of drama and dilapidation that, unsurprisingly, has frequently been used as a movie set. It remains a private residence, however, so visitors will have to arrange a permit to view the interior (a worthwhile activity, if only to gawk at the impressive art lining the walls). Permits can be obtained from the West Bengal Tourism Information Bureau.
Goa has some amazing beaches, and draws a steady stream of local and international tourists. In the north, Anjuna Beach once played host to hordes of hippies, but is now home to a number of trendy beach bars as well as the famous Wednesday Market. The new hippie haven, Arambol beach, is also good for dolphin viewing and paragliding. With its white-sand beaches, In the south, Agonda is a quiet stretch of beach with a few souvenir stalls and restaurants, while Benaulim Beach, south of Colva, is known for its fishing and laid-back atmosphere. The shady palm trees and soft sands of Palolem Beach, also known as Paradise Beach, are backpacker territory.
A great outing in Goa is a trip to the Dudhsagar Waterfall, which is one of the most popular natural attractions in the area. The falls are located in a tropical jungle near the Goa-Karnataka border, and are surrounded by a network of gently flowing streams and pools. Swimming, hiking and picnicking are popular pastimes at the falls and the deep pool beneath the falls is a favourite nature spot. The waterfalls are among the 100 highest in the world, and visitors who take the difficult climb to the top will be rewarded with breathtaking views of the Western Ghats' wooded mountains.
The Dr Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary is home to around 400 species of birds, both local and migratory. Here visitors can expect to see kingfishers, pintails, coots and egrets, as well as a few crocodiles, jackals and foxes inhabiting the mangroves. Although this is one of the smallest bird sanctuaries in Goa, it is among the most famous in India. It is important to go at the right time of year, with the best time to see the migratory birds being after the monsoon season, from October to March. Bird and animal sightings are likely to be better early in the morning.
Delhi is a city of contrasts, where an elephant can overtake a snazzy Italian sports car on the streets, where commanding colonial mansions stand next to overcrowded slums, and where cows are revered but musicians are labelled 'untouchable'. The city's pace is chaotic, yet strangely relaxed, making it ideal for exploring. Visitors are almost certain to have some strange and exotic experiences. The city is full of fascinating temples, museums, mosques and forts, each with a distinctive architectural style. In Old Delhi, visitors will find a charming selection of colourful bazaars and narrow winding alleys. In comparison, New Delhi, the city created to reflect the might of the British Empire, consists of tree-lined avenues, spacious parks and sombre-looking government buildings.
Cubbon Park is Bengaluru's equivalent of Central Park: a place of relaxation, open space and some worthwhile attractions. In and around the park are the State Central Library, two municipal museums, an art gallery and the Government Aquarium. First and foremost, however, the park is a green lung, a peaceful and pretty place to take a break from the traffic and noise of this bustling city. It is a great area for walkers and joggers, particularly early in the morning and in the evenings. Tourists travelling with kids in Bengaluru will find Cubbon Park has many lovely picnic spots and open space to let off some steam.
This splendid botanical garden, laid out by Hyder Ali and his son Tipu Sultan as a private royal garden in 1760, contains more than 1,000 species of rare flora in its enormous grounds. Lal Bagh is an internationally renowned centre for the scientific study and conservation of plants, and also a centre of botanical artwork. The centrepiece of Lal Bagh is the Glass House, which hosts an annual flower show and is modelled after London's Crystal Palace. Apart from the many old and imposing trees that delight visitors, the gardens also house a deer park, an aquarium, a lake and one of the city's four Kempe Gowda Towers.
Famed as a hippie hangout since the 70s, the main source of Anjuna's enduring popularity as a holiday destination is its superb beach. Fringed by palm trees, the curve of soft white sand conforms more closely to the archetypal vision of paradise than any other beach on the north coast. The quieter southern end is protected by rocky outcrops, while to the north the beach widens and stretches for almost a mile past groups of bars, cafés and handicraft stalls. Revellers from the UK and all over India come to Anjuna on holiday, lured by the club scene and the promise of big beach parties (particularly over Christmas and New Year).
Situated between two granite cliffs, this temple is part of a much larger temple complex. The complex has three sacred pools that locals, and the monkeys, enjoy swimming in. This Hindi temple is slightly dilapidated but definitely still worth the trip out of the city to enjoy the views of Jaipur. The best time to see the temple is at sunset, when the monkeys appear for their evening swim and when the light is stunning for photographs. The complex is covered in monkeys and some other animals and it is not a polished, elegant place, but it is interesting and in its own way very beautiful.
For three months, between November and January each year, street musicians and performers of all kinds add to the colourful atmosphere of Mumbai's Sunday street bazaars, held near the Jehangir Art Gallery in the city's pedestrian plaza. The area becomes a hive of activity and excitement, with cultural performances and stalls selling a variety of crafts, folk art and food. The stretch has become such a hub of cultural and artistic activity that it is now known as an art precinct all year round. The Kala Ghoda Art Precinct stretches from Regal Circle at the southern end of Mahatma Gandhi Road to Mumbai University, which is further north on the same street.
Considered one of the most beautiful temples in the world and the veritable heart of the Sikh religion, it's no wonder that tourists come from all over the globe to see the Golden Temple of Amritsar. Situated in the middle of a sacred lake fed by an underground spring, the golden structure is a unique blend of Hindu and Muslim architectural styles. Within the temple is the Adi Grantha, the sacred scripture of the Sikhs, displayed on a jewel-studded platform. Visitors to the Golden Temple can enjoy the serene and spiritual atmosphere, with the sound of Sikh hymns accompanied by flutes, drums and stringed instruments.
The Baga Beach holiday resort is a few miles south of Anjuna, and is basically an extension of Calangute. Lying in the lee of a rocky, wooded headland, the only difference between this far northern end of the beach and its more congested centre is that the scenery here is marginally more varied and picturesque, and the beach less crowded. It is a good swimming beach but there are no promising breaks for surfers. However, there are lots of other watersports on offer. Hawkers can be an irritation but no more than on most other popular stretches of sand in Goa; a firm 'no' usually does the trick.
The small, relaxed town of Hampi not only boasts one of the weirdest, most awe-inspiring landscapes in the whole of India, but is also a fascinating historical site. The capital of the once-great Vijayanagar Empire, the ruins of the 14th-century village and temple complex found in present-day Hampi have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. However, as impressive as these ruins are (especially the multi-tiered, ornately sculpted Virupaksha Temple), the grandstand attraction of Hampi remains its natural landscape: a severe, desolate and boulder-strewn wilderness, tempered by a slate-grey river surrounded by lush groves of banana, mango and palm trees.
Located on Kerala's southwestern coast, just 32 miles (50km) from the state capital of Trivandrum, Varkala is one of those tourist destinations that get more and more popular each year, as word of its stunning coastline and lively atmosphere gets out. Varkala is considered a less-crowded, less-commercial alternative to the beautiful Goa; although Varkala's main beach (Papanasam Beach) cannot boast the white sand and towering palm trees of some of its Goan counterparts, it is flanked by a steep and staggeringly beautiful cliff-face. In between relaxing on the beach and shopping at the markets in town, tourists can also take an enjoyable walk to the nearby Janardanaswamy Temple, a 2,000-year-old structure.
Once a peaceful fishing village and then a haven for hedonistic hippies, Calangute is now Goa's busiest and most commercialised holiday resort, a 45-minute bus ride north of the capital, Panaji. The road from the town to the beach is lined with Kashmiri-run handicraft boutiques and Tibetan stalls selling Himalayan curios and jewellery. The quality of the goods (mainly Rajasthani, Gujarati and Karnatakan textiles) is generally high, but visitors should haggle hard and without being afraid to walk away (the same stuff will crop up again and again). The Calangute beach is nothing special, but is more than large enough to accommodate the huge numbers of holiday visitors.
Colva is the oldest and most heavily developed South Goan holiday resort. The town itself is dotted with colonial-style villas and ramshackle fishing huts, but the beachfront is crowded and blighted with unimaginative concrete hotels, snack bars and souvenir stalls. However, it is easy to steer clear of this central area as a spotless and relatively quiet beach is a few minutes' stroll away. Benaulim is only a 30-minute walk to the south, still on Colva beach, and attracts a more upmarket clientele, including British and Indian visitors on holiday. There are many luxury resorts along the coastal stretch, and brightly painted wooden fishing boats litter the beach.
The state of Himachal Pradesh's largest hill station, Dharamsala, is a gorgeous and deeply spiritual place. With a large Tibetan population, the community centres around the teachings and activities of Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th and current Dalai Lama, who resides in Dharamsala for a large portion of the year. Cool, alpine Dharamsala has been attracting hordes of tourists for years. Some are drawn by its staunch and inspiring Buddhist culture; others by the meditation, yoga, reiki and cooking classes on offer in the area known as McLeod Ganj; and yet others simply come to enjoy its considerable natural beauty.
For years Palolem remained a secret holiday getaway to all but the most independent traveller. Situated towards the southern tip of Goa, twenty miles south of Margao, it has now been discovered, though thankfully, due to strict urban planning restraints, tourism is kept in check. Palolem's crescent-shaped bay is lined with a beautiful white-sand beach and backed with groves of coconut palms. Either side of the bay is a rocky headland covered in thick black forest, and offshore there is a tiny island whose only permanent inhabitants are a colony of black-faced langur monkeys.
Kumbhalgarh is a massive Mewar fortress built in the 15th century, with seven heavily fortified gateways and a perimeter wall that extends a staggering 22 miles (36km); possibly the second longest continuous wall in the world. Inside this intimidating complex there are more than 360 temples (300 ancient Jain and the rest Hindu) in addition to the main palace. The fortress has immense sentimental significance for local inhabitants because it is the birthplace of Mewar's legendary king, Maharana Pratap. Needless to say, one can spend hours exploring this architectural and historical playground, and those who enjoy climbing will find many opportunities. The views from the many vantage points of this fortress are astounding.
Jallianwala Bagh is a sombre historical attraction; it is the site of the April 13, 1919 Amritsar massacre, when hundreds of innocents were gunned down by British troops. Thousands of men, women and children had gathered peacefully in the Jallianwala Bagh garden to celebrate the festival of Vaisakhi but, as public gatherings were illegal at the time, the British decided to make an example of them: between 379 and 1,000 people were killed, and more than 1,000 wounded in this tragedy. The massacre was a turning point for British colonial rule in India and, ultimately, a step towards the country's independence.
Varanasi has seen human settlement as far back as the 11th century BC. The 'city of light' is an intense mix of colour, sights, sounds and smells. Among many astonighing sights are the more than 100 ghats (literally 'steps') leading down into the Ganges. These are the sites of bathing and burning, where intimate rituals of life and death can be witnessed in public. Manikarnika Ghat is the most auspicious place for a Hindu to be cremated. Dasaswamedh Ghat (the 'ghat of ten sacrificed horses') is the liveliest and most colourful ghat, where every evening visitors can witness the ganga aarti (river worship) ceremony. Assi Ghat, where the river Assi meets the Ganges, is an important site of worship for pilgrims who come to pay homage to the god Shiva.
Dotted around the ghats are numerous temples, the highlight being the Golden Temple, with its resplendent towers. Varanasi is world-famous for its silks, and silk brocades, and does a roaring trade with pilgrims and tourists alike. The city is home to many poets, musicians, novelists and philosophers. Visitors are strongly encouraged to spend some time in the city's tea-houses and local restaurants, where they are guaranteed to be embroiled in some fascinating conversations.
Hindi Phrase Book
|shukhriya/ dhanyavaad||thank you||shook-riya /dhun-ya-vaad|
|mera naam ... hai||my name is...||may-ra naam ... hey|
|kitna hua...?||how much is...?||kith-na...?|
|... kaha hai?||where is...?||kaha hey?|
|kyaa aap angrezee?||do you speak English?||apko angrezi ati hai?|
|mai samjha nahi||I don't understand||mai sum-jhi n-|
|ek, do, teen, chaar, paanch||one, two three, four, five||ek, dow, tin, char, panch|
|mujhko doctor chahie||I need a doctor||muj-ko doctor cha-hie|
It is hard to generalise in a country that runs from the Himalayas to the beaches of the Indian Ocean and encompasses half a dozen climatic regions, but broadly speaking, India has a tropical climate that is dominated by monsoons, heat and humidity. Tropical hurricanes and cyclones are also part of the general weather outlook in the middle and at the end of the year, especially in coastal areas. On average, October through to March tend to be the most pleasant months in India, when it is relatively dry and cool, but the best time to visit really does depend on the destination. In the far south the best months to visit are between January and September; northeastern areas of India tend to be more comfortable between March and August; the deserts of Rajasthan (west of Jodhpur) and the northwestern Indian Himalayan region are at their best during the monsoon season (July to September); and the mountainous regions of Himachal Pradesh and Kashmir should be visited over the summer months (May to September). Whenever one visits, it is bound to be hot, which is why generally the summer months are best avoided in favour of the cooler winter and more mild shoulder seasons.
The currency is the Indian Rupee (INR), which is divided into 100 paise (singular paisa). Major currencies can be changed at banks, and authorised bureaux de change. It is illegal to exchange money through the black market and it is advisable to refuse torn notes, as no one will accept them apart from the National Bank. It is best to change money into small denominations. Major credit cards are widely accepted, particularly in tourist orientated establishments. ATMs are available in large cities and airports but are not generally available in rural areas.
English and Hindi are the official languages, with Hindi spoken by about 40 percent of the population. Urdu is the language common with the Muslim demographic. India has a total of 22 official languages.
230 volts, 50Hz. A variety of power outlets are used in India, but most plugs have two or three round pins.
US nationals: US citizens must have a passport that is valid for their intended period of stay. A visa is required, except for passengers with a Person of Indian Origin (PIO) or Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card or booklet. E-visas can be obtained online before departure. Passengers using the e-visa for the first time must have a passport with at least 2 unused visa pages, and printed confirmation of the Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA).
UK nationals: UK citizens must have a passport that is valid for their intended period of stay to enter India. A visa is required, except for passengers with a Person of Indian Origin (PIO) or Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card or booklet. E-visas can be obtained online before departure. Passengers using the e-visa for the first time must have a passport with at least 2 unused visa pages, and printed confirmation of the Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA).
CA nationals: Canadian citizens must have a passport that is valid for their period of intended stay. A visa is required, except for passengers with a Person of Indian Origin (PIO) or Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card or booklet. E-visas can be obtained online before departure. Passengers using the e-visa for the first time must have a passport with at least 2 unused visa pages, and printed confirmation of the Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA).
AU nationals: Australian citizens must have a passport that is valid for their intended period of stay to enter India as tourists. A visa is required, except for passengers with a Person of Indian Origin (PIO) or Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card or booklet. E-visas can be obtained online before departure. Passengers using the e-visa for the first time must have a passport with at least 2 unused visa pages, and printed confirmation of the Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA). Australian citizens can apply for visas online before travel provided they have a printed copy of the e-Toursit visa confimation that was applied for online, a passport containing at least two unused visa pages, and return or onward tickets.
ZA nationals: South African citizens must have a passport that is valid for their period of intended stay to enter India. A visa is required, except for passengers with a Person of Indian Origin (PIO) or Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card or booklet. E-visas can be obtained online before departure. Passengers using the e-visa for the first time must have a passport with at least 2 unused visa pages, and printed confirmation of the Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA). South African citizens can apply for visas online before travel, provided they have a printed copy of the e-Toursit visa confimation that was applied for online, as well as a passport containing at least two unused visa pages.
IR nationals: Irish citizens must have a passport that is valid for their intended period of stay to enter India. A visa is required, exept for passengers with a Person of Indian Origin (PIO) or Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card or booklet. E-visas can be obtained online before departure. Passengers using the e-visa for the first time must have a passport with at least 2 unused visa pages, and printed confirmation of the Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA).
NZ nationals: Citizens of New Zealand must have a passport that is valid for the period of intended stay to enter India. A visa is required, exept for passengers with a Person of Indian Origin (PIO) or Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card or booklet. New Zealanders can apply for visas online before travel provided they have a printed copy of the e-Tourist visa confirmation that was applied for online, a passport containing at least two unused visa pages, and return or onward tickets. e-Tourist visas can only be issued a maximum of two times per calendar year.
Indian law does not permit dual citizenship for nationals of India. An Indian national holding dual nationality should contact their embassy or consulate for further information. Passengers in possession of an "Overseas Citizen of India" card or a "Person of Indian Origin" card, however, are liable to enter the country without a visa.
Travellers should note that a yellow fever vaccination certificate is required, if arriving in India within six days of leaving or transiting through heavily infected areas.
They should also note that the following areas of India are restricted, and require that visitors obtain a permit BEFORE entering them: (Protected Areas) parts of the state of Manipur, parts of the state of Mizoram, parts of the state of Arunachal Pradesh, the whole State of Sikkim, parts of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, parts of the state of Himachal Pradesh; (Restricted Areas) the whole of the union territory of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, part of the state of Sikkim.
NOTE: It is highly recommended that travellers' passports have at least six months' validity remaining after the intended date of departure from their travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
There are many health risks associated with travel to India. Although no vaccinations are required for entry into the country, travellers should take medical advice on vaccinations at least three weeks before departure. Outbreaks of dengue fever and chikungunya virus occur, both transmitted by mosquitoes. Malaria is common, particularly in the northeast of the country. Outbreaks of cholera occur frequently. Travellers coming to India from an infected area should hold a yellow fever certificate. Rabies is also a hazard; travellers should get immediate medical advice if bitten.
Food poisoning is the most common problem among travellers to India. Visitors should only drink bottled water and ensure that the seal on the bottle is intact. Travellers should avoid ice, as it's often made from tap water. Meat and fish should be eaten with care in all but the best restaurants, and should always be well cooked and served hot. Salads and unpeeled fruit should be avoided.
Health facilities are adequate in the larger cities, but limited in rural areas. Travellers should have comprehensive medical insurance, and carry a small first-aid kit complete with a traveller's diarrhoea kit and a course of general antibiotics.
In India, taxi drivers do not expect to be tipped. However, tipping is expected for other services (porters, guides, hotel staff and waiters in small establishments). In tourist restaurants or hotels a 10 percent service charge is often added to bills. 'Baksheesh' is common in India: more a bribe than a tip, it is given before rather than after service.
Although the vast majority of trips to India are trouble free, there are some risks that travellers should be aware of. As in many countries, there is a threat of terrorism; in the past there have been attacks in popular tourist haunts such as hotels, markets and temples. Travellers should take caution at large religious events, where huge crowds can result in life-threatening stampedes.
On a more everyday level, there is a risk of minor theft, such as pick-pocketing, but incidents of violent crime in India are low. Travellers using India's vast railway network are advised to lock their baggage, and keep it close. Visitors should be on guard; if someone offers a 'business opportunity' that seems too be good to be true, it probably is.
Female travellers should note that there are rare incidents of rape and assault. Women should respect local dress codes and customs, and avoid travel to secluded rural areas, including beaches, at any time of day. Foreign offices advise against travel to Jammu and Kashmir, as there are risks of civil disorder and acts of terrorism in many districts.
India is a tolerant society, but visitors should educate themselves about the country's religious and social customs so as not to cause offence. In this regard, smoking in public is banned, and there is a ban on e-cigarettes and related products. Consumption of alcohol is prohibited in Bihar, Gujarat, Mizoram, Nagaland and the union territory of Lakshadweep; there is a partial ban in parts of Manipur.
When visiting temples, visitors will probably be required to remove their footwear and cover their heads. Generally, women should dress more conservatively than they may be used to doing at home, both to respect local sensibilities and to avoid unwanted attention. Topless bathing is illegal. Indians do not like to disappoint and, often instead of saying 'no', will come up with something that sounds positive, even if incorrect. Social order and status are very important in Indian culture, so it's important to remain respectful and obliging with elders. Visitors should avoid using their left hand, particularly when eating. Although homosexuality is no longer prohibited by law, Indian society remains conservative and public attitudes towards LGBT people can less tolerant than in the west.
Business in India is conducted formally, with punctuality an important aspect. Suits and ties are appropriate, and women in particular should dress modestly. If it is very hot, jackets are usually not required and short-sleeve shirts are deemed appropriate. It is customary to engage in small talk before getting down to business, and conversation can cover a wide range of topics that may include anything from cricket to politics. Business cards are usually exchanged on initial introduction, using the right hand only. Handshakes are fairly common, though one should wait to see if greeted with a hand, or a 'namaste': a traditional Indian greeting of a small bow accompanied by hands clasped as if in prayer. Visitors should return the greeting as it is given. It is common for women to participate in business meetings, and hold high positions in companies, and foreign businesswomen are readily accepted. Business hours are usually from 9.30 to 5.30pm (weekdays) with a lunch break from 1pm to 2pm, and Saturdays from 9.30am to 1pm.
The international access code for India is +91. International calls are expensive and there are often high surcharges on calls made from hotels. Buying a local SIM card is a good option, as international roaming fees can be high. Free wifi is offered at cafes and hotels in major cities.
Travellers to India over 18 years do not have to pay duty on 100 cigarettes or 25 cigars or 125g tobacco; two litre bottle of alcohol; medicine in reasonable amounts; and goods for personal use. Prohibited items include livestock, bird and pig meat products, and e-cigarettes.
Indian Tourist Office, New Delhi: www.incredibleindia.org
Indian Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 939 7000.
Indian High Commission, London, United Kingdom: +44 (0)20 7836 8484.
Indian High Commission, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 744 3751/52/53
Indian High Commission, Canberra, Australia: +61 (0)2 6225 4900.
Indian High Commission, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 342 5392.
Indian Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 (0)1 496 6787.
Indian High Commission, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 (0)4 473 6390/1.
United States Embassy, New Delhi: +91 (0)11 2419 8000.
British High Commission, New Delhi: +91 (0)11 2419 2100.
Canadian High Commission, New Delhi: +91 (0)11 4178 2000.
Australian High Commission, New Delhi: +91 (0)11 4139 9900.
South African High Commission, New Delhi: +91 (0)11 2614 9411.
Irish Embassy, New Delhi: +91 (0)11 4940 3200.
New Zealand High Commission, New Delhi: +91 (0)11 2688 3170.
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