The most extraordinary things to include on any trip to India
There is no doubt that India is vast and impossible to truly get to know in just one trip. There is enough on offer to entertain people of all interests. To help maximize your time in this fascinating country we have identified the most extraordinary things to see and do during your trip. We will roughly break this down into four categories:
- Which festivals to try and coincide your trip with.
- The best wildlife of India beyond the big cats.
- The most stunning of India’s historical sights besides the Taj Mahal
- Our recommended heritage hotels of India.
Which festivals should I time my trip to coincide with?
India has many festivals both large and small which happen at a national or local level. These are often a riot of noise and colour. The two most well-known festivals are Holi and Diwali, which have spread around the world with the Indian diaspora. There are also many other local festivals such as the quirky Pushkar Camel Fair.
Traditionally celebrated in the spring, usually falling between late February and mid-March, Holi is perhaps the most famous of India’s many festivals. A celebration of colour and mischief Holi is celebrated throughout the country but the celebrations in the north tend to be more jubilant. Should you time your trip to coincide with Holi we recommend eschewing the celebrations in the large cities, which can become overwhelming, and joining smaller celebrations, such as those of rural homestays.
The Hindu Festival of lights, Diwali, usually lasts five days and falls between mid-October to mid-November. Diwali symbolizes the victory of light over darkness and during this time Indians illuminate their homes and temples with diyas, candles and lanterns making for a magical atmosphere. Like Holi celebrations take place throughout India but are often on a grander scale in the north of the country.
One of the quirkiest festivals in India is undoubtedly the Pushkar Camel Fair which usually falls in October or November. The festival takes place in the town of Pushkar, Rajasthan, and attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors who come to see camel races, camel beauty competitions, musical performances, acrobats, magicians, and snake charmers.
What are the top wildlife spots beyond the big cats?
India has some fantastic National Parks and sanctuaries which are teeming with wildlife. The jewel in the crown of India’s wildlife is undoubtably its heathy population of big cats. But there is a wealth of wildlife on offer besides the tiger.
The Kaziranga National Park offers a unique safari experience. Part forest, part grassland, cut through by the mighty Brahmaputra River and home to two-thirds of the world’s population of greater one-horned rhinos, tigers, swamp deer and river dolphins.
The Keoladeo Ghana National Park was established in 1956 and is one of the finest bird sanctuaries in the world boasting over 360 species of birds. Comprising 29sq. km of marshland it was once the private shooting reserve of the Maharaja of Bharatpur but is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. The park is home to a wide range of birds including: Painted Stork, Openbill Stork, White Ibis, Large Cormorant, Indian Shag, Little Cormorant, Darter, Large Egret, Median Egret, Little Egret, Cattle Egret, Grey Heron, Purple Heron and Night Heron.
Which historical sights should I visit besides the Taj Mahal?
While the dazzling Taj Mahal is one of the worlds’ genuine ‘must-sees’, India has an astonishing collection of historic forts, palaces, and monuments. With a total of 38 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and countless others not recognized by UNESCO, it is impossible to pick favorites, but here are some of the best historical sites we strongly recommend trying to see.
The mighty fort of Mehrangarh dominates the city of Jodhpur. This staggering hilltop fortress has been home to the ruling family for four centuries and has been outstandingly preserved. Built around 1459 the fort is situated 125 metres above the city and is enclosed by imposing thick walls. Inside the fort complex are several palaces known for their intricate carvings and expansive courtyards. While not yet UNESCO listed, Mehrangarh is one of the finest forts on the subcontinent.
Hampi's stunning ruins rise out of a stark and semi-arid landscape. The UNESCO-protected group of monuments are the remains of the capital of the great Vijayanagara empire which once ruled the entirety of south India. Now in various states of semi-ruin, the temples, palaces, pavilions, and marketplaces of the ancient capital are captivating and further enhanced by the surrounding undulating terrain of boulders and lush palm, banana, and mango groves.
Khajuraho’s magnificent 1000-year old Hindu & Jain temples fell into ruin before being re-discovered in 1838 and are now found tastefully restored and beautifully presented. Famed for their erotic depictions, the detail and complexity of the art here is breath-taking.
What is the best way of getting a flavour of India’s past?
India has a fantastic collection of historic properties repurposed into boutique hotels. From rural forts in Rajasthan, city townhouses and royal palaces, a stay in a heritage home offers a window into India’s past. Here are some of our favorite heritage properties.
Chanoud is a village located off the Pali road, just over an hour south of Jodhpur and home to the 300-year old fort, Chanoudgarh. The property retains every inch of its character and history and is run by the welcoming Singh family – the 13th generation occupants of the Garh. Guests can simply relax in the beautiful property and enjoy the excellent homecooked food, or head out with your hosts to explore the surrounding countryside and villages.
In the heart of bustling Kolkata lies the little oasis of the Calcutta Bungalow. A lovingly restored 1920s townhouse, the Calcutta Bungalow is in the heart of the traditional Bengali quarter and transports guests to another era.
For those wanting a glimpse of the life of Indian royalty, there are several current and former royal palaces which have been converted into working hotels. Possibly the most extraordinarily opulent is the Falaknuma Palace, Hyderabad. The palace was commissioned in the late 19th century by the Nizam of Hyderabad, thought to be the richest man on the planet at the time, with no expense spared in its design and construction. The palace was painstakingly restored by the Taj group and opened its doors to guests in 2010.
India is vast and it is impossible to list everything which makes it such an extraordinary destination. We hope the above has given you some inspiration for what to include on a future trip. If you are planning a trip to India just remember one of the most important rules: Take your time and do not try to cram too much into one trip!