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Have more time, second trip to India, or looking for something specific? Here are some additional highlights when creating your custom India travel plan. If this is your first taste of India, visit our Essential India travel page to discover must-see sites, attractions and travel destinations.

THE WEST

The colorful state of Rajasthan houses Jaipur, Udaipur, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer and Pushkar, and is considered by many to represent the best of India's fabulous art, architecture and history.

Kumbhalgarh

(day trip from Udaipur)

Located in the Aravalli Hills, 52 miles from Udaipur is the fabulous, imposing fort of Kumbhalgarh, commissioned by the scholar-king, Maharana Kumbha.

Ranakpur

(day trip from Udaipur)

The largest and most important Jain temple complex in India, Ranakpur is 60 miles north of Udaipur. The building is supported by 1,444 intricately carved marble pillars, no two alike. Sunlight pours through the temple, creating complex patterns of light and shadow.

Chittorgarh

(day trip from Udaipur)

Devastated and plundered by several invaders over the centuries, Chittorgarh lies 90 miles outside of Udaipur. It is home to the finest medieval fort in the Hindu world.

Jodhpur

At the entrance to the Thar Desert stands the blue city of Jodhpur. The magnificent Meherangarh Fort is set high on a hill overlooking the city. Its palaces all have evocative names: Pearl Palace, Flower Palace and Pleasure Palace. The ramparts of the Fort offer stunning views of the blue-painted Brahmin houses for which the city is famous. A stroll around the streets of Jodhpur reveals the most vibrant and colorful of Rajasthani cities and feels like a step back in time.

Rohet

The village of Rohet features a delightful heritage hotel. Take a 4WD into nearby villages where you will see weavers, potters and the tribal shepherds, the Bishnois. The Bishnois were India's first conservationists, defending trees to the death. See their protected herds of blackbuck, gazelles and nilgai antelopes. From Rohet a one-hour or multi-day camel safari through the Thar Desert can be arranged.

Sam Sand Dunes

For a wonderful day excursion, take a 26-mile 4WD tour from Jaisalmer to the Sam Sand Dunes. Ride through the dunes on camelback for a truly memorable India travel experience. An overnight stay in the desert at a tented camp can be arranged.

Khuri

As an alternative, visit Khuri Village, 24 miles from Jaisalmer, and experience the village life of a Rajasthani desert community. Visit with village elders in their colorfully decorated straw-and-mud houses.

Pushkar

If you are traveling in India in the winter, the Pushkar Camel Fair is a must. Part livestock show, part holy pilgrimage site, it is perhaps Asia's most colorful festival. Dates are determined by the lunar cycles and change with each year. Ask your Travel Specialist for details.

CENTRAL INDIA

Fatehpur Sikri

The magnificent deserted red-sandstone city of Fatehpur Sikri with its forts, palaces and mosques is located 23 miles from Agra. The city, designed as a tribute to a Sufi saint who had predicted the birth of Akbar's son and heir, was begun in 1571 and abandoned just 15 years later due to a shortage of water.

Khajuraho

A thousand years ago, in the heart of India, artisans of the Chandela dynasty built the spectacular temples at Khajuraho, which were to become renowned for their exquisite carvings and erotic sculptures. The sculptures, which were "rediscovered" by an English soldier in 1839, are said to portray the rite of creation in which both body and soul are involved. The profusion of positions and possibilities found in the famed carved erotica are decidedly un-Victorian.

Panna National Park

A half-day's safari from Khajuraho to nearby Panna National Park provides a good opportunity to spot deer, antelope, Indian bison and perhaps one of the resident Bengal tigers.

Orchha

This off-the-beaten-path destination, now a village of farmers and artisans, was formerly the capital of the Bundela Empire; at its height this empire paralleled and challenged the Mughals. The Jehangir Mahal and Raj Mahal tower over several square miles of temples, palaces and memorial chhatris that have been taken over by jungle. Stroll along the Betwa River among monkeys and myriad birdlife. In the evening, join the friendly villagers at the Ram Rama Temple for a festive aarti ceremony.

Bandhavgarh Tiger Park

This tranquil area was the private property of the Maharaja of Rewa until 1968, which helped preserve the forest and the wildlife. It boasts the highest tiger density of any park in India, so you'll stand a good chance of seeing this magnificent animal. Safari by jeep or elephant to look for tigers, wild boar, jackal, fox, Indian bison, porcupine, rhesus macaque, the black-faced langur, the elusive leopard and a profusion of birds.

Sarnath

Six miles from Varanasi lies the site of Sarnath where it is said Buddha preached his first sermon, setting in motion the Wheel of Law. Pilgrims travel from around the world to Sarnath and there are monasteries constructed by Buddhists from several countries including China, India, Tibet and Japan. See the Ashoka Pillar and Lions Capital-its famous image adorns all of India's currency.

THE NORTH

Himalayan Foothills & Hill Stations

This area of Northeast and North Central India incorporates destinations within the states of Sikkim, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh.

Sikkim State

Bordered by Nepal on the west, Tibet on the north and Bhutan to the east, it is surrounded by icons of Himalayan grandeur. This area remains a stronghold of Buddhist thought. A visit to this stunning region makes for a truly unique India vacation experience as access to Sikkim is tightly controlled by the government, and permits are issued only to expeditionary trekking groups.

Gangtok

Though it lacks the remnants of the Raj, it makes up for it with its heritage as the home of Sikkimese royalty.

Phuntsholing

This gritty town is the gateway to Bhutan. A major trading center for the Bhutanese, it is the entry point for most Indian goods that supply the Kingdom of Bhutan. From here it is a six-hour drive to Paro, Bhutan over one of the most beautiful, if twisty, roads in the world.

Pemyangtse

Founded in 1705, this is Sikkim's oldest monastery. It is beautifully set on a hillside overlooking a lush valley. Experience the hum and buzz of praying monks, and soak in the meditative aura that permeates this spectacular setting.

Sangachoeling

Requiring a fairly arduous hike of about an hour, the rewards are many for the few who venture off the beaten path and explore this out-of-the-way monastery during their trip to India. Set on a knife-edge ridge, often swaddled in clouds, this is also home to a group of monks in the Gelukpa order. The Dalai Lama is their spiritual leader.

Ghoom/Toy Train Railway to Darjeeling

Ghoom is a small town on the fabled Toy Train Railway. The narrow gauge railway was established by the British Raj to ferry their members to their hill-station homes in Darjeeling more than a century ago. This steam railway, which moves at a snail's pace through the convoluted foothills, is notably unreliable. However, it's a classic remnant of the Raj and a great way to see the countryside.

Darjeeling

This hill station lives in legend and comes by its reputation honestly. There are magnificent vistas all around and the crumbling Raj architecture and winding footpaths add to Darjeeling's charm. Kanchenjunga (26,213 feet), the world's third highest peak, looms large in the backdrop. Long one of the tea capitals of the world, Darjeeling is a great place to tour a tea plantation.

Kalimpong

Also a beautifully situated hill station, this small but bustling bazaar town is a center for education and the study of Buddhism.

Teesta River Gorge

The Teesta River Gorge is where a raging Himalayan river has carved a deep gouge in the landscape. The road between Darjeeling and Sikkim follows the river on one of the most dramatic drives in the world.

Bagdogra

Bagdogra is an Indian Army military base sporting little to charm the newly arrived traveler. However, a drive up into the Himalayan foothills will bring you to the Bokar Monastery, home of Bokar Rinpoche.

Rumtek Gompa

Home to a thriving body of monks and no shortage of controversy, this monastery is well worth a visit.

Rishikesh

The Beatles put it on the map with their ode to Maharishi, and today some still consider it the yoga capital of the world. A thriving pilgrimage site for Hindus, it offers a fascinating mix of Eastern and Western perspectives for those seeking spiritual renewal. Stay at the Ananda Ayurvedic Spa and Resort, a luxury resort that has garnered the coveted World's Best Spa award by Travel & Leisure.

Shimla

Long the British summer capital of India during the Raj, this hill station retains much of the charm long ago immortalized by Rudyard Kipling.

Dharamsala

The capital of the Tibetan government in exile, Dharamsala is the residence of the Dalai Lama and an ideal place to study Tibetan Buddhism. Nestled amidst the Himalayan hills, it exudes a spiritual quality and offers the traveler insights into Tibetan culture currently unavailable in China.

THE SOUTH

Mumbai (Bombay)

Rudyard Kipling extolled her as the "Mother of Cities." Built expressly for trade by the British, over the years it changed hands, from the Portuguese conquest to Catharine of Braganza who took the seven islands of Bombay as her dowry to Charles II of England.

It is now a center of finance, industry, Indian film and houses many poor. The film Slumdog Millionaire was filmed in Mumbai and it is possible to visit this area as well, which is surprisingly clean and welcoming. No India travel experience would be complete without a visit to Mahatma Gandhi's house, the bustling bazaar area around Crawford Market, the beautiful Jain temple on Malabar Hill and the dhobi ghats-a huge open-air laundry where hundreds of dhobi-wallahs vigorously thump and scrub the city's washing.

Elephanta Island

The excursion is a scenic, hour-long boat ride from Mumbai. The fabulous forested island of Elephanta, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, is famous for its 7th century cave temple. The huge excavated caves feature massive carved rock columns and many Hindu shrines.

Ajanta and Ellora Caves

Explore the enormous complex of caves at Ajanta and Ellora, one of India's greatest destinations and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Not actually caves in the true sense, this is actually a stunning series of carvings hewn from rock on a massive scale. They are particularly noteworthy in that three major Indian religions-Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism-have laid joint claim to the caves peacefully since they were created.

Hyderabad

Conceived by Mohammed Quli Qutb Shah in the 16th century as "a replica of Paradise itself," Hyderabad was at the center of a flowering culture, which became known as the "Dakhni"-a blending of the Hindu and Muslim traditions. The city still embodies this culture of gracious living, gourmet cooking and stylish dressing, visible in the lifestyles of the Nawabs of the Deccan, descendants of the Nizam whose fabled wealth once made him the richest man in the world.

Bangalore

Bangalore has a decidedly upscale and modern feel-for India that is. In the past two decades many a historic building has been pulled down to make way for the high-rise, high-wired office buildings, which comprise the backbone (along with Pune, near Mumbai) of India's technology industries. The 16th century Bull Temple makes for an interesting contrast to the glass and steel.

Mysore

The palaces and royal gardens of Mysore are a testament to its past grandeur. The rulers of Mysore were connoisseurs of art and architecture and enjoyed a lavish lifestyle. Thus the Maharaja's Palace is one of the largest in the country, with stained glass, domes and turrets giving it an ethereal air. Boasting fabulous shopping, the elegant city of Mysore is also the ideal location to find the perfect India travel memento, with its famous Mysore silks, printed or woven in brilliant colors and beautiful textures.

Golconda Fort

(day trip from Hyderabad)
The capital of seven Qutb Shahi kings from 1518, this fort is protected by huge walls and gates studded with iron spikes to keep the elephants from charging in. Beyond the fort are the 82 beautiful Qutb Shahi Tombs set amid peaceful gardens.

Chennai (Madras)

Chennai, the gateway to the south, was founded in 1639 by lads from the British East India Company. Colonial history buffs traveling in India will find Fort St. George and St. Mary's Church worth exploring. However, Chennai is crowded and polluted: we suggest going further afield.

Madurai

Like the ghats of Varanasi in the north, the classic, Dravidian-style Sri Meenakshi Temple in Madurai is at the spiritual heart of South India, and a visit to this riotously colorful temple will put your finger on its pulse. One of India's oldest religious centers, its temples, surrounding courtyards and shrines were described by Greek ambassadors 400 years before Christ; astonishingly, the scene appears not to have altered in two and a half millennia. It's as though a visitor could walk into the Acropolis today and find crowds of robe-clad worshippers making offering at a perfectly preserved Temple of Athena.

Mamallapuram (Mahabalipuram)

The small seaside village of Mamallapuram, 40 miles from Chennai, was once the main port of the Pallava dynasty from the 5th to the 9th centuries. Its exquisite rock-cut temples and carvings are some of the finest in India and have been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Kanchipuram

(half day from Chennai)

Lying 45 miles southwest of Chennai, Kanchipuram once had a thousand temples and was a great center of artistic and architectural learning. The temples still tower above the narrow streets and it remains the holiest Hindu city in South India, attracting Saivaite and Vaishnavite pilgrims alike.

Thekkady/Periyar

Columbus was after spice. A mere dusting of a dish with the precious substances could transform sustenance into cuisine, and some spices in his day were literally worth their weight in gold (today, saffron still is). He would have given his right arm for the sea route to Thekkady. Spend a day on a serenely calm guided walk through a plantation and revel in the richness of India's spices. Don't expect tidy rows of monocrop, ala a Nebraska corn field: the plantation is really a lush, undulating jungle growing an astonishing 36 varieties of spices, including black pepper, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, ginger, cardamom, vanilla and fiery green chilies.

The Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary is next to Thekkady, and is home to monkeys, antelopes, sambar, plenty of bird life and elephants. There are also a few tigers but it's very rare to glimpse one.

Munnar

At almost 5,000 feet in the Western Ghats, Kerala's major tea-growing center has an Old World Anglo-Indian atmosphere. Stay among tea and cardamom plantations in colonial bungalows and guest houses. Visit the nearby Nilgiri Tahr Sanctuary to see South India's endemic goat-antelopes in their natural habitat.

Kochi (Cochin)

This port town on the ancient spice route boasts a wealth of cultural and historical influences. A succession of Portuguese, Dutch and British colonialists competed for control of its port and lucrative spice trade, each leaving their own architectural legacy in the city. Visit the oldest Jewish synagogue in India, housing four scrolls from the Torah. Follow that up with a look at the church of St. Francis, the first European church to be built in India, where the great seafarer Vasco da Gama was originally buried.

Cruise around Kochi's harbor, passing by the famous Chinese fishing nets. A most graceful sight suspended from their arced poles, the nets are said to have been introduced to the region by the court of Kublai Khan.

Kochi is a great place to catch an evening performance of the entrancing kathakali dance, an important and ancient ritual of Southern India, based on the three major Hindu epics. Performances tend to last all night, but an act or two may be enough for the uninitiated, and it's not rude to leave during intermission.

Goa

A beautiful and historically rich stretch of coastline extending between the Arabian Sea and the Western Ghats, Goa offers miles of beaches set against a backdrop of swaying palm trees. A former Portuguese colony, the area has a distinctly Mediterranean flavor and it is an ideal place to take time out and relax on your unforgettable tour of India.

Kerala Backwaters (Alappuzha)

The Backwaters are 135 square miles of inland canals and lakes. Enjoy boat excursions in native kettuvallam floating craft to water bird sanctuaries, villages built on floating islands and rice fields. Note how clean and prosperous the area appears. See children in their smart school uniforms wave and shout greetings in unison as you drift by. Discover local methods of fish farming, tapping of coconuts for toddy and the making of coir from coconut fibers.

THE TIBETAN PLATEAU

Fly from Delhi to Leh to explore this region where Tibetan Buddhist culture weaves through some of the world's most starkly beautiful terrain.

 

Ladakh ("Little Tibet")

Surrounded by no less than four mighty mountain ranges-the Himalaya, Karakoram, Zanskar and Ladakh peaks-this region in Northwest India is a world unto itself. Use Leh as a base for day trips to the many impressive monasteries in the region. With a combination of 4WD tours and hiking you will find yourself in fabulously remote areas, surrounded by 7,000-meter Himalayan peaks or in the midst of valleys that feel like the ends of the Earth.

Multi-day 4WD-based or pony-supported treks through the area can also be arranged, providing access to seldom-seen villages and monasteries.

The Ladakh area is a rough-and-tumble region lacking the tourism infrastructure found in other parts of India. You won't find the superb accommodations that characterize most of our other offerings! But the region's great physical and cultural beauty is handsome compensation for the lack of creature comforts.

Zanskar

For the truly adventurous looking for an exhilarating (and challenging) India travel experience there is the Zanskar trek, considered one of the world's finest. This tour de force involves 20 days of physically demanding hiking at altitude, yak and pony supported.

THE EAST

Kolkata (Calcutta)

Considered by many to house the "soul" of India, Kolkata is certainly its intellectual and artistic center. It is, however, shocking in its destitution, and poverty and pollution plague the city.

See the Maiden, the Indian Museum, and take a morning walk across the Howrah Bridge (the world's busiest). Then delve deep by going to the Kali Temple (next door to Mother Theresa's Home for the Dying Destitute), the Indian Coffee House (haunt of India's many Nobel laureates) and the bookstores on College Street.

Puri and Konark

Located in Eastern India's Orissa State, these sites are far off the beaten path and a fabulous destination for the intrepid traveler. The imposing Jagannath Temple (from which we get the English word "juggernaut") dominates the city skyline.

There is a renowned chariot festival occurring along the main bazaar road every July. Konark's Sun Temple (also called the Black Pagoda) is the grandest sculpture in eastern India with its carvings dedicated to the sun-god Surya, and ornate with elephants, horses, and huge wheels. Puri is also the gateway to the interior of Orissa, where visits to traditional tribal communities can be arranged.