India has proved a huge hit both on the small and wide screen lately. First came the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel films, and most recently The Real Marigold Hotel, the surprise TV hit of last year, which is about to start a second series on BBC1.
Such has been the appeal that India is enjoying an upsurge in bookings by travellers looking for an exotic, colourful and enchanting destination for a trip of a lifetime.
As a rule of thumb, the cities of northern India are vibrant and full of hustle and bustle, while the lush green hills and ruined medieval cities of southern India are altogether slower and less likely to overwhelm.
Factor in what time of year you plan to travel – October to March is the best time to visit.
With its dazzling breadth of experiences and deep spirituality, India never fails to delight the senses and uplift the soul. Find out more here.
The Golden Triangle
A popular tourist circuit in north-west India that connects the three cities of Deli, Agra and Jaipur.
You’ll find a mix of busy streets and architectural splendours and a tour of the Golden Triangle is a classic introduction of the diversity of this vast and varied country.
Often seen as a transit hub to other destinations, you could spend a week in the capital city of India and not see it all. If you can embrace the chaos of life, it’s an exhilarating experience.
Soak in the cacophony of noise with roads covered in pedestrians, rickshaws, cows, monkeys and street vendors.
In Old Delhi, see the majestic Jama Masjid, the largest Islamic mosque in India, whose courtyard holds 25,000.
Popularly known as the Pink City because of the extraordinary Rajasthan architecture, Jaipur has always been a popular destination and even more so since being the setting for The Real Marigold Hotel.
Impressive sites include the Palace of the Winds and the magnificent Amer Fort, which is mainly made up of a royal palace and located 7 miles from Jaipur.
Get there early to avoid queues for elephant rides! Jaipur has plenty to offer but is not for the faint hearted – street sellers are among the most persistent in India!
Known for its monumental splendour, Agra completes the Golden Triangle. Its pull, of course, is the stunningly beautiful Taj Mahal, a marble mausoleum that really does live up to expectations.
Another extraordinary site is the stupendous Mughal fort and there are many other jewelled tombs and a medieval-like maze of ancient bazaars.
Motorised traffic is banned from the area surrounding the Taj Mahal and, if you are not on a tour, one of the best ways to reach the Taj Mahal is by the Shatabdi Express train.
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Set in the foothills of the Himalayas, Shimla is the capital of Himachal Pradesh, a state in northern India.
It is probably the most famous of the British hill stations and became known as the summer capital of British India. Today, the famous main street,
The Mall, is still lined with stately English-style buildings and is full of echoes of its past. Traffic is banned from the central part of town.
One of the best ways to travel to Shimla is the ‘toy train’ service that operates from Kalka, on a leisurely journey that takes several hours through heavenly scenery.
If you want to get away from it all, Kerala is a coastal state in India’s deep south that enjoys some 370 miles of coastline and glorious beaches and is a lush patchwork of paddy fields and tea plantations.
Kerala is known for its famous meandering backwaters set against a backdrop of the spice and tea-covered hills of the Western Ghats.
It’s a great way to enjoy a gentle introduction to India, where travellers can enjoy Ayurvedic treatments and delicately spiced cuisine.
Look out for wild elephants and exotics birds, and sail through the labyrinth of rivers and canals on an elegant houseboat.
Formerly known as Bombay, the city was built largely by the British around one of the best-protected natural harbours in the world.
Home now to the Bollywood film industry and regarded as India’s economic centre, it is a city of contradictions where some of Asia’s biggest slums sit within spitting distance of some of the most expensive homes in the world.
Glimpses of the past can be seen in the grandest colonial-era architecture, but there are also bazaars, hidden temples and the best of India’s restaurants and nightlife, for those who can take the pace.
The famous stretch of stunning, palm tree-lined beaches, has made Goa a hot spot for travellers looking for a more laid back Indian experience.
But the state was once Portuguese and is rich in colonial history. Visit some beautiful plazas, churches and cathedrals in the state capital of Panaji.
Other points of interest include the old, luxurious estates including Braganza House, a magnificent old mansion.
Another hill-station, Darjeeling sits at an altitude of around 2,100 metres, with a spectacular backdrop of the snow-clad Himalayan peaks and is awash it verdant tea plantations.
It’s a good place to head to get away from the oppressive heat if you visit India in the summer.
Look out for some stunning Buddhist monasteries, colourful markets, a number of faded relics from the Raj and, if you enjoy trekking, the surrounding areas all offer respite from city life.
This charming lakeside city, set beside the backdrop of Lake Pichola, is popular with tourists keen to see where the huge hits, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and its sequel were filmed.
The glorious ochre and purple ridges of the Aravilli Hills can be seen stretching out away from the city centre, and there are stunning palaces and monuments to enjoy too.
When you’ve taken your fill of the ancient bazaars and lively arts scene, take a tranquil boat ride on the lake and soak up the matchless setting that is Udaipur.
Famous for its Hindu temples, thousands flock here in pilgrimage to bathe in the Ganges.
The city is full of colour and while most visitors say it is without doubt a magical place, it is also extremely busy and you may feel overwhelmed as people flock to steps down to the river (known as ghats) to wash away their sins in the holy waters or to cremate their loved ones.
You’ll see yogis practice and priests perform rituals using flaming lamps. It’s easy to get lost in the labyrinth of alleys, known as galis, which are too narrow for traffic.
Read more about holidays to India in the January 2017 issue of Saga Magazine. Subscribe today.