17 Incredible Things You Never Thought You Could Do in India
From tropical aquamarine oceans to alpine slopes to jungles to vast rivers to desert sands, India ticks off all the bucket-list boxes with just one passport stamp. Where else can you have all of these experiences in a country one-third the size of the United States?
1. Relax on an exotic beach as elephants roam nearby.
The remote Indian Andaman and Nicobar Islands lie to the east of the mainland and offer some of the most secluded and untouched beaches in the world. TripAdvisor rates Radhanagar Beach as the No. 2 beach in all of Asia. (Seven other Indian beaches also make the top 25.) While you’re there, visit Elephant Beach to see these colossal animals bathing in the warm sea.
2. While you’re there, go scuba diving.
3. Forget the Rockies -- have you skied the Himalayas?
Located some 2500 meters above sea level, the ski resort of Auli is nestled in the Himalayas, one of the greatest mountain ranges in the world. Don’t like to ski? Trek to Kwani Bugyal, 3380 meters above sea level and get a bird’s-eye view of Devbhumi state (the name means land of the Gods).
4. Run the rapids in Rishikesh.
The river rafting capital of India is home to more than 100 adventure tour companies that offer treks on the mighty Ganges.
5. Sip and swirl Shiraz in Sula.
Didn’t know they made wine in India? Nashik, the country’s unofficial wine capital, produces numerous impressive harvests including Sauvignon, Riesling and Zinfandel. Take a scenic four-hour drive to the Sula Vineyards, where you can spend the day sampling their vintages in the tasting room or spend the night at Beyond, their on-site boutique resort.
6. Come face to face with a wild tiger.
There are 70 national parks, 400 wildlife sanctuaries and 17 biosphere reserves in India. The Bandhavgarh National Park in Madhya Pradesh is known for having one of the biggest tiger populations, almost guaranteeing you a close encounter of the wild kind. It’s also a breeding ground for leopards and deer.
7. Get picked up by a pachyderm.
While there are plenty of independent elephant ride attractions, choose to make the trek to the Muthanga Wildlife Sanctuary in Kerala. The Forest Department organizes regular elephant rides through the rich teak forests so you know you’ll be in safe hands and might even catch a glimpse of the monkeys, tigers, panthers, peacocks and other wildlife that roam the area.
8. Namaste in the Himalayas.
The ultra-exclusive resort Ananda in the Himalayas is built around a viceregal palace. Twist your body into a half-butterfly as on the cliffs’ edge as monkeys play in the trees overhead, unwind during one of their signature spa treatments or rub elbows with celebrities. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie and Oprah Winfrey are clients.
9. Visit a temple of gold.
The gold-plated Harmandir Sahib or Darbar Sahib in Amritsar was designed in the late 1500s and is considered holy by Sikhs. The name translates into “the Temple of God” and over 100,000 worshippers visit the shrine daily to pray and enjoy the free community meal known as Langar.
10. Take a tea break.
India is one of the largest tea growers in the world. Become a tea or chai connoisseur with a visit to one of the country’s beautiful tea gardens. Assam, in the north-east of the country is known as the Tea Capital of the World. Take a tasting tour or visit a factory to learn about tea production and end your day with a stay at a century old Tea bungalow.
11. Find wonder in a waterfall.
With more than 50 notable waterfalls in India, you can likely find one close to wherever you decide to visit. Jog Falls in Sagar, Karnataka, is the second-highest waterfall in the country, standing at more than 250 meters tall and 290 meters wide. Hike through the lush forest to the base of the falls and take a plunge in the refreshing waters.
12. Ride a camel through the desert.
Jaisalmer, known as the golden city, consists largely of sandstone buildings and is surrounded by a vast desert that gives the area a golden hue. Take a guided camel ride through the nearby dunes. Safaris can range anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of days. Before you leave, visit the impressive Jaisalmer Fort built in 1156 and still considered one of the largest fortifications in the world.
13. Pay homage to a Queen and a Saint.
Kolkata is home to the incredible Victoria Memorial, build to commemorate Queen Victoria’s 1901 diamond jubilee (although it wasn’t finished until 20 years after her death). The wait was worth it. The building is stunning, rivaling the beauty of the Taj Mahal. While in this northeast city, stop by Mother Teresa’s Motherhouse. You can see the saint’s bedroom, preserved with all her belongings, and pay your respects at her tomb, located on the property.
14. Experience spirituality in a cave.
In the 2nd century B.C., locals in Maharashtra began carving elaborate Buddhist temples into the side of the cliffs, near present-day Aurangabad. The Ajanta caves are a series of shrines and majestic prayer halls with intricate carvings. They also include the oldest surviving examples of Indian art.
15. Gawk at a city gate.
In the early 1700s, the founding king of Jaipur, Jai Singh II, consulted a variety of architects before creating the layout of his new city. Construction began in 1727 and took only four years to build what is one of India’s first and most impressive planned city. There are numerous ornamented gates to the city but the most famous building is the Hawa Mahal or Palace of Winds that is often compared with a honeycomb.
16. View a city of blue.
The houses surrounding the Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur are painted in vivid blue giving the city an illusion that it glows in contrast to the surrounding desert. While you’re there, stay in the luxurious Mihir Garh, voted the most extraordinary hotel in the world by Lonely Planet.
17. And, of course, behold one of the world's seven wonders.
No trip to India is complete without a visit to the Taj Mahal. The so-called “crown of palaces” is actually a mausoleum. The Mughal emperor Shah Jahan commissioned the marble structure as a final resting place and symbol of everlasting love for his wife, Mumtaz. The expansive complex took 20,000 artisans to complete and is considered the best example of Mughal architecture. If you are there for sunrise or sunset, you can watch as the white marble exterior transforms into shades of pinks, purples and golds.