India is a magical menagerie, an escape into the spiritual and a place to break down all our western conventions and presumptions. Go one step off the tourist trail, and you will find that the layers just go on forever. It’s a massive, remarkable place, not to be underestimated, and each part of the country delivers an overwhelming explosion of colour. There are the treasures of the Golden Triangle, the pink and blue cities in Rajasthan, Kerala’s luscious green Ghat Mountains and the white snow-capped tips of Ladakh’s ‘High Passes’. Find out more in our India travel guide.
Our top India vacations
Best time to go to India
India is so large and diverse that its weather varies wildly between regions. Monsoon season runs from July until September, and most tourists avoid the country in the middle of this period. The exception is the north, which can be lovely and sunny in summer. Visit southern India between October and February, when it’s sunny and not too humid, and you can hike in Kerala’s Western Ghats in winter. Diwali, of course, is celebrated magnificently across the country – go in October or November to join in. Find out more about the best time to go.
Map & highlightsDelhi, one of the world’s most populous cities, shows that there’s plenty to see in India without criss-crossing the country; it’s best to focus on a single state. Rajasthan, in north central India, is a popular choice for first-timers, as you can see one of the country’s best natural parks – Ranthambore – plus the magnificent Taj Mahal on one trip. Head to central India if you’re tempted by tigers; there’s a large concentration of the big cats in Bandhavgarh National Park. Further south, Kerala offers colonial towns and serene backwaters. Ladakh, in the disputed area of Kashmir, is undisputedly great for hikers.
Bandhavgarh was once a popular hunting ground for the Maharajas, and it is now one of the last few tiger habitats in the world. Seeing tigers in the wild is tricky, but this national park is one of India's smallest, with the highest concentrations of these big cats. Be heartened that if you don't spot them, you may well see leopards, deer, wild boar, sloth bears and a bevvy of birds to boot.
New and Old, it is the latter that still pulls the punters. And it is seriously old, going back 5,000 years. There are three UNESCO World Heritage Sites - Humayun's Tomb, the extraordinary Qutub complex with its elegant 12th century 72.5 m minaret, and The Red (sandstone) Fort. Walk from here to the Jama Masjid Mosque, take in the views from its minaret, and you’ll have earned lunch at Chandni Chowk market.
Kashmir has long been a disputed area and is now administered by India, Pakistan and China. India’s section is the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Following years of violence, the FCO lifted its ban here in 2012, although still only advises travel to Ladakh and the cities of Jammu and Srinagar. So it is early days for having tourists back into the state as a whole, but a great time to get in there.
Best known for beaches and backwaters, houseboats and homestays, Kerala is also fab on foot, hiking through the splendid Western Ghats mountain range. Or by bike, cycling through spice and coconut plantations or along the backwaters. Avoiding the rash of resorts around Kovalam, head north to Malabar for beach bliss. Hop over the border to states of Karnataka or Tamil Nadu for full on southern Indian trail mix.
Ranthambore National Park
5. Ranthambore National Park
Ranthambore feels so much like waking up in Rudyard Kipling’s head, you almost expect Baloo to appear. It is one of the ‘bear necessities’ of a trip to India. And there are indeed sloth bears here, on which Baloo was based, as well as being the habitat of the Bengal tiger, nilgai, sambar and jungle cat, plus crocodile in the lake. All living among a magical mixture of tropical forest and ruined temples.
6. Taj Mahal
Three words. Don’t miss it. You can’t fail to fall in love with the white marble mausoleum, built by grieving Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his late wife. It is the icing on the cake of this period of Mughal architectural period. Although Agra is pretty ghastly, stay overnight to see it at sunrise. Don’t miss the Agra Fort and ‘ghost town’ of Fatehpur Sikri.
The Golden Triangle
The extremely popular Golden Triangle tourist route through Rajasthan links the cities of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. Drive times between the sights are very manageable, leaving you plenty of time to take them all in – most particularly, the Taj Mahal, which sits just outside Agra. Whilst this gorgeous white mausoleum is a highlight, red sandstone has made the cities beautiful: see particularly, Jaipur’s Palace of the Winds, or its impressive Amber Fort. The area has a complicated, breathless history, and waves of invading forces built its many forts and palaces.
Tigers & wildlife
There are few places in the world where you can see tigers, but India has 50 tiger reserves for its remaining 2,500 big cats. Ranthambore, Bandhavgarh and Pench are the places to go to see tigers. Whilst you’re in national park territory, you’ll also want to keep your eyes out for sambar, swamp deer, monkeys and mongoose. Tigers rule, but other big cats have crept into the area, too. Snow leopards can be tracked in Ladakh, high in the Himalayas, whilst rare Asiatic lions roam Gujarat.
The quintessential south India vacation destination has to be Kerala. Hot, humid and coastal, its colonial towns have a relaxed, cosmopolitan makeup of cultures and religions – fish stews, sambars and dosas make a rich cuisine, and there’s a long tradition of Ayurvedic massage and Kathakali dance. The historic city of Cochin is the center for tourism, and its famous backwaters are a popular place to explore by boat or kayak. Post-monsoon, the forests become bright green and cycling is a great way to go off the beaten track.
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From US $2235 to US $253515 days ex flights
2 week discovery of the sights, sounds & flavours of India.
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From US $885 to US $10008 days ex flights
India's 3 most popular destinations, Delhi, Agra & Jaipur
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More about India
Up in India’s northwest, Rajasthan, India’s largest state, has a lot going on. The state is justly famous for Ranthambore National Park, where you can see tigers. For culture lovers, there’s the Golden Triangle, then great cities like Udaipur, Jodhpur and Jaisalmer, too. Alongside the wealth of wildlife, Mughal Palaces and pink sandstone forts, there’s another side to Rajasthan. It’s known as the Desert State for a reason. Dip your toe in the Thar Desert, a place where camels roam between sandstone towns and dunes stretch all the way to the Pakistan border, and you’ll wonder how Rajasthan has space for anything else.
Born 50 million years ago, when India crashed into Asia, the Himalayas are the world’s largest crumple zone. Their intimidating peaks should not put you off visiting, especially if you focus on the Indian Himalayas, where the mountain hikes are more accessible and quieter than other areas. In the disputed region of Kashmir, you’ll find regions such as Ladakh, where the remote Markha Valley Trek, plus the slim chance of snow leopards, draws out the adventurous. Or head east to Assam, where you can spot one-horned rhinos by the Brahmaputra River in Kaziranga National Park.
Types of vacations
You’ll get the chance to track tigers and snow leopards on a wildlife vacation in India. Walking vacations are becoming an increasingly popular way to see India, and you can find some fantastic routes in Kerala or the Himalayas. Similarly, cycling vacations are a great way to reach lesser-trodden tracks. Or let a train do the work on a vacation by rail; India has some iconic railway routes. Going on a small group trip allows you to do it all with a ready-made entourage of like-minded travelers.