The seventh biggest country in the world and the second most populous, India can sometimes feel more like a continent than a country. From the snow-capped Himalayas in the far north to the lush waters of the south, this is a place where landscapes and cultures change in the blink of an eye. India is at once chaotic and noisy, peaceful and calm and it is this diversity that makes it such a fascinating and compelling destination.
India is one of the world’s oldest civilisations, its culture shaped by thousands of years of history. It gave birth to some of the world’s most prominent religions and is a country where life is lived out in hundreds of local dialects. Its soil was home to several ruling dynasties, each of whom left their mark. Every corner of the country reveals a different reflection on the past, from great Mughal masterpieces such as the Taj Mahal to quaint colonial churches and grand palaces built during the reign of the British Raj.
With one of the world’s fastest growing economies, you’re now just as likely to come across skyscrapers and glitzy shopping malls as you are hilltop villages and tea plantations. Cities are huge and sprawling and while they may feel hectic at times, Delhi and Mumbai are wonderful places to see how the old and new intertwine.
The northern state of Rajasthan is home to some of India’s most well-known and frequently visited cities. Meaning ‘Land of Kings’, the landscape is littered with magnificent forts and palaces. From the state capital of Jaipur and the Blue City of Jodhpur to the serene lakes of Udaipur and the dusty dunes of the Thar desert, Rajasthan is one of the most culturally rich pockets of India. The north is also home to the holy cities of Varanasi, Rishikesh and Amritsar, and few who come here fail to be touched by their spirituality. Further north still also offers some of the world’s best hiking, with the mighty peaks of the Himalayas in Kumaon and Ladakh.
Worlds away from the busy northern states, the south is somewhere to catch your breath. Kerala, affectionately known as God’s Own Country, is a lush and verdant state, one of emerald green waterways and coconut groves, and home to the wonderfully colonial town of Fort Cochin. While away your days on a houseboat, gliding along the network of canals and rivers, then discover laid-back beaches while listening to the rustle of palm trees and the sound of the ocean as it laps against the shore.
And then there’s the wildlife. India is a real-life Jungle Book, home to tigers, leopards and elephants. Ranthambore, Bandhavgarh and Kanha are home to some of the country’s highest tiger populations while the luxurious and remote JAWAI camp is the best place to catch a glimpse of the beautiful and elusive leopard.
There are few places on earth like India. A whirlwind of colours, sounds and smells, its energy is undeniably contagious and the best way to appreciate this rich and unique country is to throw yourself head first into its way of life.