Tag Archives: best places to visit in India

Best places to visit in India
Best places to visit in India

One of the first questions you ask yourself when planning a trip to India, is simply: where to go and what are the best places to visit in India? It’s hard to give a brief answer to that question due to the sheer vastness of the county. In the following article we want to give you a good understanding of your options. It will hopefully help you understand which regions are popular, which are not as touristy and all the many delights and challenges of the said regions. With this all in mind you can make a decision on your preferred travel destination. If you rather want to discuss this with our travel magicians, plan your trip with us and we can help you find out where you can go.

What can you expect from India?

India is the seventh largest country in the world. We are blessed with some stunningly diverse geographical terrain. A desert holiday, a beach holiday, an island holiday, a mountain holiday, a wildlife holiday, a lush green plains and backwaters holiday or a combination of them all are possible when you visit India.

Add centuries of history under different reigns, their architectural influences, India’s deep religious and spiritual culture and your holiday can be have layers of depth and understanding the Indian story.

Most of the trips we plan include one, two or even sometimes three geographical elements. You can rarely escape history/culture and places of worship in India. Indeed, almost all our trips include regular forays into the same.

Even if your trip is short and you do not visit multiple regions you will still have hugely different experiences within the same holiday. 

Which regions are the most popular?

The popular (but, rightly so) regions are the following:

Rajasthan with stunning forts and palaces, national parks offering tiger safaris, the endless beautiful desert and charming (but often very affordable) heritage hotels.

India Someday recommends a minimum of 7 nights for this region and up to 14 nights at most. Visiting Agra and/or Varanasi would be an add on to a Rajasthan tour

Kerala, rolling hills blanketed in spice and tea plantations, lazy backwaters, thriving rainforests, balmy beaches and fabulous food all in one small state. Lovely traditional hotels, houseboats and innumerable homestays make these holidays incredibly intimate.

India Someday recommends a minimum of 5 nights for this region and up to 10 nights at most. You can combine Kerala with Karnataka (Hampi, Mysore), Tamil Nadu (Madurai, Tanjore, Pondicherry) or Goa. 

Goa is lined with bustling beaches that stay warm all winter long. The Portuguese influence means great food and architecture and the lush green countryside provides a ton of alternate routes. There’s delicious Indian and International food (lots of seafood) and a vibrant nightlife for those who seek it.

Goa is one of the most tourist-saturated regions in India, but India Someday can dig out places to stay that are miles away from the maddening crowd. Lovely beach front properties, beach huts, boutique hotels and luxurious resorts are all on offer in Goa.

India Someday recommends a minimum of 3 nights and up to 7 nights stay. Visiting Hampi for 2-3 nights can be an add on to Goa

Where can you go if the mountains are more your thing?

India boundaries hold in thousands of kilometers of the Himalayan mountain range. We love the mountains; and have successfully arranged several week long trekking trips in different parts of the Himalayas. You can look either plan a serious trekking holiday or just enjoy few days in the Himalayas

Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand are easily reachable from Delhi. Both states have innumerable multiple day trekking routes. You can also look at relaxed mountain stays, soaking the surroundings and going on daily hikes.

India Someday recommends a minimum of 4 nights, and up to 10 nights for the Himalayas. Look at between 6 to 10 days if you wish to do a multiple day trek, criss-crossing idyllic Himalayan villages. (India Someday helps you organise the logistics for multiple-day treks)

Leh and Ladakh, accessible only between June to mid-October, are a part of the high Tibetean Plateau. One can do a trekking trip or just a sight-seeing holiday.

We recommend a week to 10 days to include a visit to this region. One can take up to three days to reach Leh and Ladakh from Delhi.

Sikkim is another tiny, but beautiful Himalayan state in the North-Eastern part of India. It boasts strong Buddhist influences with remarkable monasteries. We recommend allocating a week to nine days to include a visit to Sikkim.

What are some less touristy and interesting regions to visit?

Tamil Nadu, a state in south India sharing a border with Kerala receives a lot less tourists than its neighbour. Home to stunning temple complexes (tens of centuries old), it also shares the hills with Kerala and has lovely hill stations and national parks. Pondicherry (a  coastal former French colony) is a convenient stopover while traversing Tamil Nadu. India Someday recommends a minimum of 6 days and upto 12 days for Tamil Nadu

Karnataka is a state above Kerala. It is home to the Unesco World Heritage town Hampi, endless coffee plantations and forest stays. Mysore, city of palaces, is a convenient drive from Bangalore. India Someday recommends a minimum of 6 days and upto 10 days for Karnataka. See a trip across South India through Hampi here

Gujarat is just south of Rajasthan and receives a fraction of the number of tourists that Rajasthan receives. Once can easily tack on a few days in Gujarat while visiting Rajasthan. It is dotted with temples, has a vibrant handicraft industry, pretty coastal stops and is home to the only National park in India that features the Asiatic Lion. India Someday recommends 3 days to upto a week for Gujarat.

Madhya Pradesh in the very centre of India is a large state with a lot of interesting architecture and home to some of the finest National Parks in India. If you are willing to endure longer travel times, Madhya Pradesh is the ideal destination to plan a wildlife holiday. Khajuraho (home to the famous erotic temples) and Orchha (a quaint temple town) can be conveniently included when planning a North India i.e. Delhi – Agra – Varanasi – Rajasthan trip. India Someday recommends allocating a minimum of 4 days and upto 10 days for Madhya Pradesh.

Where to go to be even more off-the-beaten-path?

Yes, there are states like Orrisa and Chattisgarh, unfortunately we do not know these states well and do not plan trips there. The Himalayan state of Kashmir is often avoided by tourists due to security concerns, but it is a breathtakingly beautiful region and we are happy to plan trips for our guests there (though we cannot take responsibility for their safety).

The North East (seven states called the seven sisters like Meghalaya, Assam or Nagaland) is a gorgeous remote region of India. We plan trips to this region with the help of a like-minded travel agency.

Where should you go if you only have two weeks in India?

We usually recommend either just a North India trip, or just a South India trip. For a North India trip, a short visit to the Himalayas is a possible addition. 

If you love beaches, you can add a few days in Goa to a South India or  a North India trip.

If you love hiking or just want to be completely away from other tourists then look an exclusively trekking holiday or an entire two weeks in one of the less touristy states.

A trip across the highlights of both North India and South India is possible. We usually ask our guest to aim for at least a two and half week holiday to include both regions but that would be pretty fast-paced. 

Click here to look at some of the two week long trips our guests took.

Where should you go for three weeks or more in India?

Your options would now be an extensive North India or South India trip, or a combination of both. You can also consider seeing the spiritual cities or trek in the Himalayas plus a visit around Rajasthan.

You can almost always allocate some beach time, or look at two weeks in the popular regions and a week in the not so popular regions. Or check out our blog for some four weeks trip ideas. 

In a nutshell, you will need to decide how long you want to travel for and if you are more of a history and culture geek or rather a nature person. If you want to see as much as possible in less time or rather have a relaxed time. If long distance travel is okay for you or you rather prefer short travel times.

We hope this information serves as a starting point to explore your options for an Indian holiday deeper. We usually exchange multiple e-mails with our guests as we plan their route, so a lot of the route discovery will happen over the course of e-mail exchanges. If only one, all or none of these regions appeal to you, plan your trip with us and let us know where you want to go and we’ll make it happen. Also check out all our tour ideas


Feeling Like Royalty in Udaipur
Feeling Like Royalty in Udaipur

Sunset in Udaipur. Sunset in Udaipur.

Thank you India Someday for putting me up like royalty for these first couple of cities. The air-conditioned bus (with plush reclining chairs) from Ahmbedabad to Udaipur dropped me on the outskirts of town and I proudly negotiated a 50 Rupee rickshaw ride to the Old City.

My room (or shall I say rooms) at the Madri Haveli, in the master suite, made me feel like a queen. With multiple seating areas to choose from, nooks and crannies with beautifully shaped windows looking out onto the charming old city, a separate regal bedroom, and an eye-catching stone bathroom, larger than my NYC bedroom, replete with a giant tub, two sinks and a great supply of adorable Colgate toothpastes and other toiletries.

ramblinarium, madri haveli, udaipur ramblinarium, madri haveli, udaipur

ramblinarium, madri haveli, udaipur ramblinarium, madri haveli, udaipur

ramblinarium, madri haveli, udaipur Madri haveli, udaipur

I made my way to the rooftop and was awe-struck by the stunning views of the lush mountains, beautiful lakes and enchanting city. I knew I’d be more than content if I never left the grounds and treated myself to some laptop time in what became one of the world’s prettiest offices.

ramblinarium, madri haveli, udaipur ramblinarium, madri haveli, udaipur

I meandered the busy colorful crooked streets and worked my way towards the quintessential boat ride around Pichola Lake. I entered at Lal Ghat (where all tourists were Indian) and took the 250 Rupee ride around the beautiful waters, staring out onto City Palace and Jagmandir and Jagniwas Islands, quickly gaining a sense of the regal life of India.

Drawn to the green park space nearby, I wandered the windy paths, checked out some sculptures and spotted my first monkey hanging out.

IMG_6376

Working my way back to the haveli, I stopped to visit the Jagdish Temple, all dressed up with lights, streamers and statues, and packed with folks celebrating Janmashtami; Lord Krishna’s birthday.

I slipped off my shoes and joined the packed line of exquisitely dressed women in colorful saris to enter the temple, built in 1651. A clay pot dangling high above the open public square, I grew excited for the community celebration that would happen the following eve. For now, it was teeming of people, lots of music, and in the evening, a midnight procession marking the birth of Krishna.

ramblinarium, in udaipur Visiting temple in Udaipur

I was thrilled to meet Udaipur artist, Rajesh Soni. In addition to photography, he does beautiful work hand-coloring, in fine detail, others’ digital pictures, many of which were on display in the Madri Haveli Gallery. We drove in his car to the new part of Udaipur, passing the famous Fateh Sagar Lake (or FS as they call it here), where droves of locals go to hang out in the evening, sitting on the waters’ edge and eating at the plentiful food stands across the road. He brought me to a typical Indian thali place where unlimited vegetarian dishes are served by eager waiters. I’m so loving the yogurts and delicious aromatic flavors of each meal more than the next in this country!

Our drive back was insane, his small car in competition with the motorbikes, bicycles, rickshaws, people, cows, goats and who knows what else. The streets are windy, super narrow and barely have room for one car to go by. He had an impeccable sense of the car-size and magically finessed his way through the tightest of squeezes, at impressively high speeds.

I retreated to my royal room and woke to a rooftop breakfast fit for a king. Fresh fruit, black tea, cheese omelette, banana crepes and four pieces of toast with an assortment of jams and that delicious Indian butter. I enjoyed learning that the Amul brand of butter I’ve been loving, started out as a women’s cooperative. Some women started a milk society, collecting milk from everyone’s house, which eventually developed into a large established company.

ramblinarium, rooftop breakfast, madri haveli, udaipur ramblinarium, rooftop breakfast, madri haveli, udaipur

ramblinarium, amal butter, india Amul butter, India

Ayurvedic Massage

I spent the day having my first Ayurvedic massage, meandering the Udaipur streets and lap-topping atop my glorious shaded rooftop. Struggling to find the place listed in Lonely Planet and overwhelmed by the plenitude of choices, I decided to go with a place in the Lal Ghat area where I was sold on having a woman provide my massage.

Loving a good massage and having experienced some of the best throughout my travels but never an Indian Ayurvedic treatment, I was curious. Throughout my hour of being gently massaged, I was curious if this woman’s work was indeed a good sampling of Ayurvedic massage because if so, I was going to exchange my rupees for bahts and head to Thailand!

Thankfully, the guy who ran this questionable operation, wanted a genuine debrief and had offered earlier to return my money if I wasn’t satisfied. Dissatisfied though I was, I didn’t intend to ask for a refund. We spoke at length about Ayurvedic massage and I much more enjoyed the next half hour of treatment he gave me. Moral of the story is make sure you go to a reputable place, especially if having a woman is important for you. It became clear to me that this woman had no idea what she was doing.

Overall, a restful day in charming, well-touristed Udaipur, the City of Lakes. I loved hearing the sounds of the Krishna celebrations and staring out at those beautiful hills.

Thank you India Someday.

Thank you You Wander We Pay.

Namaste.


Twenty best places to visit in North India
Twenty best places to visit in North India

Twenty best places to visit in North India

It’s only fair to start talking about North India, with the historic Golden Triangle of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur and then take it trough the deserts of Rajasthan into the magnificent Himalayan paradise destinations. So let’s start where most trips to India start and talk about our twenty top places to visit in North India.


Humayun Tomb, New Delhi Humayun Tomb, New Delhi

Delhi –A city with character

You’re most likely to land here if you’re visiting India. And when you do, you’ll probably be told about Delhi’s skyrocketing crime rate which is true but there’s more to Delhi than that. It’s a modern city in with a very strong historical essence, in the way it is constructed, in its architecture and especially in the monuments, tombs, temples, and ruins of Old Delhi. Street shopping at Sarojinini Nagar and Janpath, street food all over town, the alternative, designer culture of HauzKhas Village, the hipster feel of Pahadganj… these are things everyone loves about Delhi and yet the luxury shopper or the fine diner will not be pressed for choices with all the high flying malls and luxury stores in town. The city is sprawling and every area is like a world of its own (you can lose yourself just going around the lanes of ChandniChowk). The highways feel like they connect different worlds. Delhi has it all, and all of it makes one mesmerizing metropolis where you can spend months and still keep discovering it with all its fascinating nooks and crannies.

Taj mahal in Agra Taj mahal in Agra

Agra – More than the Taj Mahal

Yes, we all know that the Taj Mahal which is undoubtedly magnificent (especially in changing light at dawn and dusk) is Agra’s claim to fame but there’s a lot more to see here. Agra Fort, Baby Taj (a small unfinished version of the Taj Mahal in black), Akbar’s tomb and the fortress city of Fatehpur (Fatehpur Sikri) are all great monuments, each with its own unique historic significance and architectural genius attached. That’s the least you expect from a city that was India’s capital under the Mughals. Agra city itself can be quite an experience. It’s like a bunch of bazaars put together with most monuments lining the river Yamuna along the eastern side of the city. Taj Ganj is the settlement around the Taj Mahal where you’ll find cheap lodging and lots of small time Marble Inlay makers making replicas of the Taj Mahal and other beautiful pieces of art. Sadar Bazaar has the more swanky accommodation in town, craft emporiums and many restaurants, Further north from Agra Fort there is the commercial Kinari Bazaar which surrounds Jama Masjid. Agra is a great peek into the extravagance and the artistic impulses of the Mughals and their social effects.

Amer Fort, Jaipur Amer Fort, Jaipur

Jaipur – A piece of culture

Jaipur is one of the biggest and most bustling cities in the state of Rajasthan. Roam the old city bazaars (which are arranged in a courtyard like fashion around the city palace) for great handicrafts and souvenirs, ethnic wear that’s a class apart both as textiles and accessories, super interesting food (the ‘kachori’ from ‘Kanji’ is a must try as is the traditional ‘dal bati’ at old Jaipuri food joints). Amer Fort with an exquisite light and sound show by night and the brilliance of the Sheesh Mahal (palace of mirrors) by day, the Galtaji temple (or the monkey temple), Nahargarh fort and the lesser known Royal Cenotaphs  are major attractions on the outskirts while Hawa Mahal is an in city visual delight. Photography enthusiasts will have a gala time in Jaipur with its amazing Rajasthani architecture. If you feel like there’s been an overdose of structures, head to the greener Ram Niwas Gardens and visit the Central Museum in the southern part of town. Fort,

Ranthambore tigers image courtesy Björn Ognibeni (https://flic.kr/p/9tyXex) Ranthambore tigers image courtesy Björn Ognibeni (https://flic.kr/p/9tyXex)

Ranthambore – Spot a tiger

This is one of the best Indian destinations for tiger sighting. Of all Indian national parks, you have the best odds of seeing a tiger up close in Ranthambore. The tigers here smugly assume ownership of the place, least perturbed by the visitors and their clicking cameras. You might even have the illusion that some of them are striking a pose for your convenience every now and then. It’s not as easy as it sounds though, any wildlife photographer will tell you that if you’re not one yourself. But the proximity of this reserve to Delhi, Agra and Jaipur (the closest, you actually alight at Savaimadhavpur from the train to get to the park), makes it a much more convenient destination for nature lovers. You will get to see not only tigers but neelgai, chital, jackals, jungle cats, leopards and many birds if you’re aware enough. And the cool new development are the ‘buffer zones’ where you can actually get out of your jeep and walk around, but don’t expect to see a tiger unless you’re really lucky in these areas. Buffer zones are open all year round but the core area of the park is shut from 1st July to 30th September. October to March is the ideal time to visit. Animals frequent the lake in this season since rainwater is scanty. Summers are less crowded due to the extreme heat and winters are extremely busy here, so plan ahead!

The golden city image courtesy Koshy Koshy (https://flic.kr/p/bDTGXv) The golden city image courtesy Koshy Koshy (https://flic.kr/p/bDTGXv)

Jaisalmer – The desert’s golden edge

Jaiselmer is relatively more difficult to get to (an overnight railway journey from Jaipur or a drive through Jodhpur) but totally worth it. Enjoy the sights and sounds of a typical Rajasthani desert town, go on a camel ride at sunset, camp in the desert amidst the ‘Golden City’s’ sand dunes. People watch here, its great fun. The village folk in their vibrant turbans are all over the bazaar and there is absolutely no match for Jaiselmer’s sandstone structures. Walk through yourself in the meandering streets, with no fear of getting lost in this medieval small town. Go looking for traditional dance performances, and maybe go dune bashing.

The blue City jodhpur Rajasthan The blue City jodhpur Rajasthan

Jodhpur – The best fort city in Rajasthan

Jodhpur, in Rajasthan lines the Thar Desert to the east. Almost all houses in the old town are painted in a lovely blue wash and the stunning Meherangarh Fort (easily Rajasthan’s most beautiful) looms over them. Zipling off Meherangarh Fort is a brilliant experience no one should miss (more info. on that here: http://www.flyingfox.asia/cmspage.aspx?pgid=52). Don’t just visit the fort, go around town if you get the time, you’ll find puppet makers, tie and dye artists, spice markets and more. Lose yourself in the bazaars that radiate around the clock tower right in the centre of the city, the age old Sardar Market especially. The wall less Jalori and Sojati Gates will give you a feel of how old a city Jodhpur really is. For the sake of ritual, get a birds-eye view of the ‘blue city’ and keep a photograph of it for fond memory!

View of the Taj lake Palace,from City Palace, Udaipur View of the Taj lake Palace,from City Palace, Udaipur

Udaipur  – Charming city of Lakes

Udaipur is that rich and romantic setting you’ve seen in old Indian paintings and period films. Lake Pichola is lined by an array of palaces with beautiful balconies, havelis (small homes of the royal era) in pristine white, bathing ghats and lovely root top restaurants from where you can get great views of the lake and lush green hills around it. The Lake Palace hotel floats proudly in the middle of the lake, as does Jag Mandir. You have City Palace to the east of the Lake Pichola and, winding streets of the old city to explore and of course, the Fateh Sagar lake to the north. A drive through the outskirts is very visually rewarding as well, it gives you a real feel of the great Indian dynasty that was.

Pushkar, Rajasthan Pushkar, Rajasthan

Pushkar – Small, spiritual and hippie

Legend says that Lord Brahma (the Hindu deity who is the creator) dropped a lotus on this little town to the north of Ajmer and that’s how the holy Pushkar lake came to exist. The only Bhrama temple in India, it is an important pilgrimage spot, but more interestingly, it is a hub for hippie travelers. The lake is flanked by hundreds of temples and ghats, along with rooftop cafes, bakeries, etc. and a very colorful market, full of handicrafts, hipster clothing and a variety of food. Sunset by the lake is a great experience. If you come to Pushkar during the camel fair around October/November, you’ll see throngs of pilgrims, folk artists, musicians, camel sellers and buyers, tourists and many more people coming into Pushkar and the entire expanse of dunes around it acquire a lovely festive aura. Climb the hill where the Savitri Temple is to get an unsurpassed view over Pushkar (try to get there by sunrise, or at sun set). The Gayitri Temple offers great sunrise views as well. Make all your bookings in advance if you’re visiting at the time of the fair.

Varanasi image courtesy jai Kapoor (https://flic.kr/p/bvsFhN) Varanasi image courtesy jai Kapoor (https://flic.kr/p/bvsFhN)

Varanasi – The cradle of Hindu’asm

Also called Benares and Kashi, this is an old city that lies around the banks of the river Ganga. The banks of the river have an array of ghats leading to the holy waters, where you’ll see, priests, pilgrims and other folk in colorful attire, taking a dip, and performing rituals. The ghats of Varanasi are also where many Hindu’s in northern India religiously cremate their dead and where the grand Ganga aarti takes place. Watching the Ganga aarti in this ‘city of light’ said to have been created by the Lord Shiva one of the most intense and moving experiences you can have in India. Varanasi has a unique vibe, probably because it is considered one of the most important pilgrimage spots in the country. It is a city of sages and priests, a strange place where the deities abound and the aged believers wish to breathe their last.

Khujarao, Madhya Pradesh image courtesy claire spencer (https://flic.kr/p/chRw) Khujarao, Madhya Pradesh image courtesy claire spencer (https://flic.kr/p/chRw)

Khajuraho – The erotic temples

The sensual sculptures of the Khajuraho temples are yet unmatched. There is more than one theory for why the Chandella dynasty rulers had such explicitly erotic temples built back in 10-12 centuries AD (which one would imagine were conservative times in a country like India). One particularly funny one is that they were intended to be a ‘how to’ guide for Brahmin boys! A more serious one is that they symbolize Lord Shiva and his wife Parvati’s wedding party. The British rediscovered this forgotten architectural marvel, 400 km from Agra (southeast) and Varanasi (west), in 1838. The Western Group temples are particularly stunning with their pinkish sandstone and almost 3D relief giving of the illusion that the figures are alive with real flesh. Add to this the subtle changes in hues with the changing light of the day, in the moonlight and sometimes floodlights by night and you’ll find yourself just standing there and staring for hours! Khajuraho village, although belittled by the grandeur of the temples, has its own discreet charm, with a laid back pace, a nice market and pretty open-restaurants. The Khajuraho Dance festival is a great time of the year to visit Khajuraho.

Orchha – A smaller gem

Chhattisgarh’s more or less overshadowed gem, Orccha is a must visit if you’re taking a trip to the more famed site of Khajuraho, and even otherwise. In fact, the name itself translates to ‘hidden place’ and this tumble-down medieval town lives up to the title, nestled among dhak forest cover. Orchha is a convenient 18km journey from Jhansi. Its architectural value has been recognized over the years and its lovely shikharas, palatial remains, havelis and cenotaphs in sandstone with flora growing over them have been fortified. They all appear to be making a serene journey in time by the River Betwa. The village is a great place to relax on your way down from more demanding northern towns. Now that Orchha has taken up a bit of the limelight, you might find a lot of guided tours and tourists here, but the best way to enjoy it is to let this bustle clear out a bit, lay back and take in the entire aura of the place at peace.

Kanha National Park – in the lap of nature

Sprawled over 940 sq. km of deciduous forest cover, grasslands, hills and rivers, Kanha National Park to the north of Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh is easily one of the finest wildlife sanctuaries in India.  You’ll spot myriad species of birds and animals (tigers as well) here and be mesmerized by the parks early morning beauty. Sighting a tiger here is considered more difficult than other tiger reserves, but it’s totally worth a visit for the rest of the wildlife brilliant, refreshing country side views it offers.

Bandhavgarh National Park – Where the Bengal tigers thrive

195 km from Jabalpur and 237 km from Khajuraho, Bandhavgarh to the north east of Madhya Pradesh is a 448 sq. km. National Park which houses the most number of tigers in India. This is by far the best reserve to track tigers at. You have the best chances of sighting tigers and getting insight into their life and habits if you go here during season time. Accommodation is available near the park entry which makes it all the more convenient and you get to see all sorts of birds while sitting around in your lodge at leisure. Bandhavgarh also has some enthralling ruins for those with an eye for architecture or an interest in history.

Rishikesh – a charming Himalyan foothill

Rishikesh is one absurd mix of yogis, sanyasis, travelers, hippies, adventure sports enthusiasts and more. It lies on the foothills of the Himalayas, 24 km from Haridwar to the north with the Garhwal Mountains looming above at and the river Ganga flowing by. You’ll find many ashrams and yoga centers here. Go white water rafting, get adventurous with mountaineering or just take one of the easier and more recreational treks. The unparalleled adrenaline rush of bungee jumping and the tranquility which was its original charm, you’ll find it all here in Rishikesh. Walk up-river and a spot amidst the rocks to just sit and be meditative. All in all it is a lovely experience and you can spend quite a while here.

Amritsar – An Awakening of humility

Punjab’s largest city, Amritsar is famous for the Golden Temple with its stately domes which command the view from its busy old town streets. Just walking around the bazaars and narrow by lanes of the old town is also quite an experience in itself. Another thing that all travelers to Amritsar find interesting is the flag retreat at the Wagha border 29 Km to the west (Indo–Pakistan frontier) where Indian and Pakistani soldiers bring down flags in an elaborate manner every evening. If you’re into history, you can probably visit the site of Jalianwala Bagh (where silent protestors were massacred during India’s struggle for freedom).

Chandigarh – An urban design benchmark

The capital of Punjab as well as Haryana and yet of neither because it is a Union Territory, Chandigarh is modeled on Jawaharlal Nehru’s vision for a city that is “symbolic of the future of India, unfettered by the traditions of the past, [and] an expression of the nation’s faith in the future”. Le Corbusier (or Charles-Edouard Jeanneret) designed Chandigarh back in 1952 as a progressive town planning experiment amidst some controversy and the Le Corbesiurs buildings are till date a thing to see amongst designers and architects. It is much cleaner and greener city compared to other major Indian towns. The rock garden here is the most frequented tourist destination in India after the Taj Mahal.

Dharmshala – Center of Buddhism in India

The Dalai Lamas home in exile atop the picturesque Kangra Valley in the Dauladhar Range of Himachal Pradesh, Dharamshala has a unique spiritual vibe to it. The Dalai Lama resides a few kilometers uphill at McLeod Ganj, and there are a number of monasteries and nunneries spread all over the Kangra Valley. Take home pretty souvenirs made by the Tibetan refugees from the market and eat some of the best momos you get in India. Enjoy soothing Tibetan meals, intellectual and spiritual discourses, and bask in the general feeling of peace and camaraderie here. In the winter you will encounter heavy snowfall and the monsoons are very wet as well, but post monsoon is the most refreshing time to be here. The Museum of Kangra Art in Dharamshala is worth a visit. You might not want to stay in Dharamshala, because it has become a developed city over the years, so walk uphill (or take a bus) to McLeod Ganj and find (via the Tibetan Library and Secretariat) and find one of the many lovely lodging options there. Visit the Dalai Lama temple at the time of chanting for a great experience and spin some prayer wheels there for good fortune. The temple has an exceptional view of the valley too. Dharamshala is the base for a number of superb Himalayan treks. If you’re here during the Dharamshala film festival, do not miss it. Check out the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, head northeast to Dharamkot village; visit the Tushita Retreat Meditation Centre and the Tibetan Children’s Village near Bhagsu. You can spend weeks in these parts and not tire of it at all.

Shimla – Colonial Mountain town

The climb from the Kalka plains to Shimla in the Himalayas is an experience in itself with steep valleys, apple orchards and maize terrace farming all over the slopes. At 2159m, Shimla always has cool weather and great views. No wonder the British made it their summer capital and it still has the colonial aura with churches and mansions, cricket pitches and holiday resorts, immaculately turned out city folk and gentlemen smoking pipes, homes and shops bearing typically British names. Christ Church is a major landmark and Scandal Point is where people gather to chat in the afternoons. The Mall is the prime shopping street of the bazaar with other interesting ones branching away from it. The Gaiety Theatre has regular shows. May–June is season times here and Indian tourists from Delhi and Punjab flock to Shimla at this time, so if you don’t like it crowded you might want to choose a slightly off season period. October and November are the best months, but make your bookings in advance. Keep an eye out for the many activities of the ridge like brass bands, sports screenings and pony rides.

Kashmir Valley

Kashmir Valley can easily be called India’s most beautiful destination. This exquisite, cool, lush area is like heaven on earth. Whether you come in from the Jawahar Tunnel or Zoji La pass, you’ll find yourself in a fantastic, verdant land, with mountain peaks all around you. The mostly snow capped PirPinjal mountains, bright green fields with corn, wheat, almond, walnut and fruits in abundance, willows and poplars which yield some of the highest quality wood, it’s all here in Kashmir. Not much industrialization and the most amazing food with benign spices blended just right and preparations that’ll make you feel absolutely pampered, what more can you ask for. Kashmiri handicrafts are a class apart. The downside is that there have been years of political and social conflict over Kashmir and so you have to be on your guard around here although it is definitely not reason enough to miss out on its beauty. Drink Kahwah!

Leh and Ladakh

This is a whole separate part of the country, in terms of administration, culture as well as terrain. Literally meaning ‘land of high mountain passes’ and often called ‘little Tibet’ it is very rich in Buddhist culture, despite extreme suppression of it by the Chinese in Tibet nearby. The monsoons hardly make it here and snowfall is very little too. Ladakh is like a Himalayan desert and the ultimate on road experience for bikers and driving enthusiasts. The ‘Raid De Himalaya’ is a very difficult car rally that goes through Ladakh, a major achievement for those who complete it. You’ll see Buddhist prayer flags, monasteries, chotrens outside tiny settlements, gompas and ruins, dotting the otherwise sparse landscape and transitions in terrain which feel like they’re not of this world once you enter Ladakh. Observe the life of the nomads here, it’s as inspiring as intriguing. Leh is Ladakh’s capital, and a thriving city of the Indus Valley with stunning views around it and a lot of tourist activity. Part of the historic Silk Route, Leh is where you’re most likely to arrive on your Journey into Ladakh or for other adventurous side trips. To its north lies KhardungLa, the highest motorable pass in the world which leads you to Nubra valley replete with sand dunes. Yes, be prepared for amazing visual transitions. TsoMoriri is a lovely lake to the south east of Leh in Rupshu and PangongTso (extreme east of Ladakh) is an epic destination, a lake they show in the movies. You can peek into Tibet from here. You need permits to go into most of these parts, so it’s advisable to reach Leh a day early and get these. Kargil (in the stunning Suru Valley) is the largest city here after Leh and it is the midpoint on your way to Srinagar in Kashmir and also the point where the road to Zanskar starts. A jeep or bike is ideal vehicles to traverse these regions. There are reliable busses as well on the Indus Valley highway but they get fewer as the distance from Leh increases, making remote parts (which are the charm of Ladakh) less accessible. If you’re fit enough, there’s no match for trekking of course!