6 Reasons India Is On Our Travel Bucket List
A riot of vivid colour, fragrant spice, fascinating architecture, exotic wildlife and extraordinary scenery, India is a feast for the senses. Here's why it's firmly on our travel bucket list.
History & heritage: breathtaking buildings are everywhere
India's architecture is exceptionally rich and diverse, with forts, palaces, mosques, temples, monuments and ancient ruins. There are a whopping 28 cultural UNESCO World Heritage Sites across the country, giving visitors ample opportunity to delve into its beautiful historical legacy, however brief the trip.
Those planning a short trip should opt for the famous Golden Triangle to experience some of India's most iconic historical treasures. This 7-day package from Nexus Holidays packs in visits to the Taj Mahal, the breathtaking Amber Fort and the Pink City of Jaipur, as well as excursions to some lesser-known gems, our pick of which is the Jantar Mantar Observatory. Built in the early 18th century, this observatory contains a collection of astronomical instruments that were once used to measure time, chart constellations and observe the planets and stars.
If you have a little more time to explore, you could tour the spectacular Maratha Palace, with its priceless collections of Chola bronzes and stone carvings, and admire the impressive UNESCO-listed Lord Brihadeeswarar Temple, a magnificent architectural achievement that is one of the many excursions on this 15-day holiday from Gate 1.
All aboard: train travel is like nowhere else on Earth "There is nothing that quite compares with travelling by train in India, an experience that engenders wonder, nervous anticipation and heady exhilaration in equal measure," trumpets The Daily Telegraph. Travelling by train is a very cheap and easy way to explore, as there is a vast rail network reaching into all corners of the country (albeit not always entirely reliable, and you'll certainly get up close and personal with the locals).
For those looking for a more refined way to travel, the Deccan Odyssey is one of several luxury trains offering itineraries across India with design inspired by the imperial carriages used by the maharajas of the past. If you book before December 31, your companion will get 25% off the standard fare, and you'll also get a 30-minute spa treatment and complimentary glass of wine or beer. Find out more here.
Meanwhile, those brave enough to board the numerous "toy trains" -- small trains that operate on narrow tracks, allowing access to remote hilltop stations -- will be richly rewarded. Perhaps the most famous of these is the Darjeeling Himalyan Railway. Drawn by a 100- year-old engine, this little train sits on a track just two feet wide and links New Jalpaiguri with Darjeeling -- a 7-hour route providing uninterrupted views of the Himalayas.
Scents & spices: the food is insanely delicious & diverse
Indian food has a "richly deserved reputation as one of the world’s great cuisines", raves the Rough Guide to India, noting that, for vegetarians in particular, Indian food is "a complete delight". There's a marked divide between the cuisine in the north and south of the country: the food in the north is what many Westerners are more familiar with, involving roti, naan breads, samosas with lots of garam masala-spiced curries, whereas dishes in the south tend to be based around rice, lentils and stews, especially featuring seafood, tamarind and coconut milk.
India also has a thriving street-food scene -- Mumbai is listed as one of the 23 best cities in the world for street food by CNN.com. You get can get 25% off this street food tour of Delhi from Urban Adventures by using the promo code TZOOINDIA, in which a local expert will take you into the vibrant heart of the capital's exciting food markets to sample the regional delicacies. For those who want to get even more hands-on, this 15-day tour from Gate 1 Travel includes a cooking class where you can learn some of the secrets of creating Indian cuisine for yourself.
Wellbeing: you can nourish body & soul India is a "dream destination" for yoga practitioners, according to The Guardian, which goes on to explain that while yoga in the West focuses almost exclusively on the physical postures and sequences, in India (particularly in traditional ashrams) there is a much greater emphasis on meditation and devotional practices such as mantra chanting, tuition in philosophy, and karma yoga. In other words, yoga in India is about nourishing the soul as well as the body.
If you've got cash to splash, Time Out suggests you join the likes of Oprah and Brad Pitt at top yoga retreat Ananda in the Himalayas. It boasts a "dizzyingly beautiful" setting inside the historic palace of the Maharaja of Tehri Garhwal, where peacocks and monkeys will wander past you as you admire the view of the Ganges from your downward dog.
For a less physically demanding road to enlightenment, with this holiday package you can visit the Meditation Center at Auroville, inspired by the teachings of the Indian yogi Sri Aurobindo. You'll also be able to join locals at a spectacular candlelit Aarti Prayer Ceremony at the Meenakshi Amman Temple.
Adventure: it doesn't have to be gruelling
Luxury is not usually synonymous with adventure, but Insider Journeys have put together a package that we think combines the best of both worlds: a 3-day trip into the Thar Desert near Jodhpur, where you'll stay in luxury tented accommodation on the sand dunes -- complete with private en suite. The peace and silence of this exclusive environment will allow you to admire the stunning dawns and sunsets across the desert and awe-inspiring night sky as never before. During the day, take a guided jeep safari out to local villages to see traditional artisans at work and see a side of India rarely experienced by Western tourists. Find out more: manvardesertcampdiscovery_d2
For an equally exhilirating (but slightly less physically active) adventure, how about exploring the spectacular lakes and mountains of the Kashmir region from the comfort of a houseboat? With Insider Journeys, you can spend four days in this unique environment and you'll also get transfers to your houseboat via a cushioned, covered riverboat, excursions to the mosques, bakeries and tea houses of nearby Srinagar and a cruise down to a floating vegetable market at sunrise. Find out more: kashmirhouseboatsandhimalayas_d3_v1
Goa has long held the reputation of hosting India's best beaches, but Kerala has recently gained momentum among travellers keen to escape the noise and excitement of the cities for some seaside relaxation. As an added incentive, legend has it that one dip in the water at Varkala Beach, one of the most spiritual destinations in India, will wash away your sins. Click here to discover more reasons to visit India.