Travelling to India can be one of the most fascinating, enjoyable and rewarding experiences of a lifetime. With such a large, diverse country it is almost impossible to narrow down a short list of highlights and tips, so let’s focus on the northern sections of Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.
Camel Safari – Jaisalmer
The view of an Indian desert dune from the hump of a camel would have to be one of life’s supreme travel moments. The textures and colours of the dunes in the late afternoon light are quite wondrous, as is the tranquillity of rolling along on the backs of these gentle beasts. Matched only by watching the wide desert sunset, sleeping under the stars and waking to a soft silent sunrise.
The City of Lakes – Udaipur
Everything about Udaipur aka the City of Lakes is a highlight. The view of the surrounding mountains from the hilltop lookout, the gorgeous palace on the hill, the serene palace on the lake, the twinkling night views from the lakeside restaurants. Sunset boat trips, monkeys in trees, cookery lessons, traditional dancing performances and miniature paintings on thumb nails. Definitely a must-visit place in India!
The Blue City – Jodhpur
The best part of the ‘Blue City’ is its incredible, towering fort. There really is no where else like it which matches the incredible views of the blue washed houses from the city below. It is also a great place for zip-lining! It wasn’t nearly as scary as we expected and the views of the city’s blue painted houses were spectacular. If this tickles your fancy, allow at least half a day for zip lining around the walls of the city and another half a day to get lost in the maze of blue below.
The stunning architecture
Another colourful city not to be missed in Jaipur. It has some stunning buildings, attractions and general charm that can keep you occupied for days. The Amber Fort however, is definitely a highlight of the city. It seems that every town, city and sometimes even village can claim some form of stunning architecture. Agra has the city of Fatehpur Sikri just outside (as well as the Taj Mahal of course). Delhi has the Qutab Minar, and Khajuraho has the exotic Kama Sutra temples complex. The crumbling still-lived-in fort in Jaisalmer is also one the most fascinating in the country. India has some of the most beautiful buildings in the world.
The City of Ghats – Varanasi
Varanasi is truly an assault on the senses but in an ‘I can’t believe this is happening in this day and age’ kind of way. Let’s forget about the overwhelmingly frenetic throng of people and vehicles in the city itself and smash our senses in the great Ganges. Go out on a boat at sunset and see the large piles of wood ready to be used, the continuously rotating funeral ceremonies, the burning pyres, shrouded bodies and the eventual deposit into the holy river itself. Apparently now cleared of all sins and the ashes of a life once lived. This is a sight not soon forgotten as you gain a fuller understanding of the deeply religious culture still firmly entrenched in Indian society.
India’s smaller towns
To get a true sense of India, you also need to move out of the main cities. The smaller towns of Orchha and Basari are a great place to start. They exhibit the loveliest rural beauty with views seeming appearing as paintings, sprung to life. Orchha has a wide, rock-strewn river next to its imposing fort – the perfect place to perch with a picnic and watch the sunset. Basari is full of fields, farms and incredibly friendly people. It also houses a beautiful heritage hotel and a mini, lake palace.
And everything else…
But for me, the most memorable highlights of India were the animals and the food. Everywhere you go there are cows, goats, cows, dogs, cows, pigs, cows, elephants, cows, camels and did I mention cows? And the variety of food is amazing! We never ate the same thing twice. And the yoghurt lassis were to die for! Every town we visited had its own speciality. From the buttery, rich, lemon lassis in Jodhpur, to the refreshing, cool, coconut ones at the Open Sky rooftop restaurant in Orchha. We couldn’t get enough!
There’s no denying that India is absolutely full on, and at times you feel utterly overwhelmed by the dirt and dust. But it is truly unique. So grit your teeth, outlast the Delhi belly and build memories of a lifetime.