Handpicked suggestions for an unforgettable holiday!
The locals come out in throngs and crowd around terraces. Whizzing kites and their colorful tails from all around the world fly high up in the air! Children and adults alike are in stiff competition to see who outlasts them all! With a dip and a tug, one kite catches another in its death grip… Snap. If you see a kite fall don’t forget to yell, “Kai Poche!”
When UNESCO brands a cultural tradition as a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity”, it usually makes you stop and look; the Baul will captivate you with their stirring renditions. The group brings meaning to secularism in a surprising combination of Vaishnava Hindus and Sufi Muslims singing compositions by Rabrindranath Tagore! This celebration of love through tunes that transcend religion, ring clear through the air in earthy tones – they’ll leave you stunned at the images they conjure up.
When you think ‘monk’, do you picture an unruffled individual whose sole aim is to contemplate the intricacies of the Universe? The lamas at Hemis conform to this ideal in principle, but every year on the day of Guru Rimpoche’s birthday, the mystical masks are taken out of storage, dusted off and adorned in a spellbinding spectacle of colours, larger than life puppets and an age-old story of good triumphing over evil.
The Change of Guard at Rashtrapati Bhavan takes place every Saturday in a great show of military tradition. The President’s Guard also joins in the regimen albeit on horseback. The powerful 30-minute performance of man and horse in regalia, set to the music of a military brass band will transport you to a time of Kings and Queens.
Royalty with all its perks has unique mannerisms that sets it apart from the everyday. The age of the Nawabs might be over on the streets of Lucknow, but they still live on behind closed doors. The innate etiquette, the art of speech and a cultured approach to life are very much the treasured inheritance of the few remaining families. High tea with a Nawab to learn their customs is as close as you will get to the forgotten traditions of eras past.
Powders in every hue imaginable adorn passers-by as the fun filled festival of Holi begins at Barsana. Unlike other celebrations of the same, this is a tribute to an episode from Lord Krishna’s childhood where he not only smeared colour on everyone’s face but was chased after by the gopis (cowherd-women) with sticks in hand! Seems like a scary prospect, doesn’t it? Trust us, it’s all on the up and up.
Shah Jahan’s love for Mumtaz is a timeless tale of epic proportions (as big as the Taj Mahal itself!). At Kalakriti, a cultural academy, the largest marble replica of the monument presents the backdrop for an engrossing play about the royal lovers. We’re sure you’ll feel that little pang of jealousy knowing that a love so deep could even exist, but also wonder at the fact that just 22 artisans put together the entire structure!
The oldest city in India, which looks twice as old in the words of Mark Twain, is in a constant state of prayer and exultation of good winning over evil. But on the full moon day that follows Diwali (or Deepavali) the celebrations are kicked up a notch. You will see every step in every Ghat adorned with earthen lamps, welcoming the Gods coming to take a dip in the Ganges. It is almost a sort of runway for the mythical, if you will!
On a normal day, you may find it hard to digest the sight of men in barely-there underwear rolling around in the sand, but at the Akharas in Varanasi this daily ritual is carried out with a dispassionate precision which will leave you spellbound. The rigorous training and strict regimen the wrestlers follow is reason enough for their popular wins, but more importantly, offer more than just a photo opp in return.
Exquisite sculptures and elaborate carvings adorning the famed Khajuraho Temples are brought to life in the flick of a wrist or tap of a foot. The annual Khajuraho Dance Festival invites veterans and esoteric performers from around the world, infusing vigour into the usually peaceful, nearby village. Through classical dance forms, the artists sweep you up in a whirlwind of emotions.
The eyes are a window to the soul. At Nrityagram, dancers seem to emote from every pore of their being. The fierce Gods and cunning demons come to life in each performance staged. Perfectionists at the core, they welcome you to the fray, inviting you to experience their interpretative narrations of mythos with their trademark gestures and facial expressions.
Out of the bosom of the Himalayan range, the practice of yoga was born. Today, the who’s who of the yoga world from all across the globe participate in the Annual International Yoga Festival set in the rolling mountains. Here you’ll find the line between the mystic and the spiritual blurred. Through countless forms of yoga, transcend the worldly at the Parmarth Niketan Ashram.
The Sunburn Festival is a loud, eclectic place to exhaust yourself. Feel the bass boosted, electronic music flow through the cables under your feet. Rhythmic sounds in sync with your heartbeat, open air dance floors and a raging stream of glow sticks invade. The stalls selling snacks, rock climbing walls and a fashion show at Butter all gear up to diversify your rave experience at Vagator Beach.
The days of cannibalism in the far corners of Nagaland may be a thing of the past. But feathered headdresses and quilted skirts are not. Every year at Kohima, 16 indigenous tribes gather to participate in a showcase of their grand traditions, making it the perfect place for you to catch a glimpse of the state in its essence. You can also dig into the deliciousness that comes in tow at the many stalls around the fair grounds.
Much like the hipster culture in the valleys of California, the Indie Music scene is nurtured in Ziro Valley. Through four days of tantalizing music from around the world and savoury delicacies from the region, patrons will get a good look at the evolving music scene of India. Go with open ears and an open heart, the valley is filled with like-minded souls who are just seeking a good time.
The sweet fragrance of hundreds of species of flowers envelope you in a hard-to-shake-off scent. While horticulturalists are raring to visit one of the most sought after Flower Festivals in the world, if you’re a regular Joe-nature lover, you can still gain insight on the many ways to foster the flowers right in your backyard. But if not for anything else, you shouldn’t miss this simply for the colours.
The cultural explosion on the river island of Majuli is unbelievable. Across the many monasteries set up in the 15th century, art forms of the dancing monks, mask making and pottery making have strived with substantial Hindu and Buddhist influences giving rise to a blend of hues and forms that are singularly marvellous. If the mask making takes your fancy, you need only ask and the monks would be pleased to share their craft with you.
In a ten-day explosion of prayer and festival, you can trace the deep culture that has persisted through Kolkata’s turbulent past. In vivid depictions made of clay and stone, you can see the Goddess Durga defeating evil. Over the ten days, you will visit ground zero for the idols, hop across the hundreds of pandals, partake in community pujas and even zone out for a couple days while discovering the rich textile heritage lurking in the outskirts.
Built out of stone to house the only wooden Hindu idols in India, the Jagannath temple in Puri is a magnificent structure. The temple also holds the mantle of ‘Biggest Hotel in the World’ for feeding thousands daily, and the food is quite good we hear. But pilgrims don’t just come here for the food. Every year, in July millions gather to witness the largest chariot festival in India, and to be in the middle of it is an intriguing experience to say the least!
In celebrating the various cultures of India, you can never miss the sweet gestures of the traditional dance of a state so saturated in the arts. A typical performance of Odissi, Kathak and Bharathanatyam in the foreground, coupled with a gallery of temple sculptures, sand art exhibitions and crafts fairs in the background will give you the experience of a lifetime.
Mysore’s Dussera Parade is akin to Carnavale, just shy of the sensual samba dancers. From the majestic elephant that leads at the fore to the daredevils of the Indian Army who display their prowess on rustic Royal Enfields, from the role playing paraders to the flame throwers marching in sync, the festivities will enthral! Grab your front row seats to the only parade of its kind in India!
Rhythmic chants and jingling anklets serve up a picture of divinity, a feature that has been around for almost a century. From mid-December to mid-January, the auditoriums in Chennai are packed with patrons eagerly awaiting their favourite renditions of Classical Music and intense performances by renowned Classical Dancers. The mysticism of it all is invigorating to say the least, and if you close yourself off to the fringe senses, you’ll be transported to a completely different realm.
The Sun, the Cow and the Farmer are a celebrated trifecta in this agrarian economy. Every year in January, the line between villagers and urban populace is blurred as everyone comes out in festival regalia to pay their respects in traditional fashion. The high point of the celebration is signified by an overflowing pot of milk, which just happens to be your cue to join in and yell “Pongal O’ Pongal!”.
We each march to our own drummer, and we’re proud of it. But what about the brave few who march to the piper? In theatrical display, men in uniform on either side of the Wagah border stomp and chant national slogans to see who will outdo the other. The Indian and Pakistani flags are lowered for the day and a grand gesture is made of closing the Wagah border gates. With front row seats to the celebration, there’s not much you will miss.
Curved blades meet polished shields with clangs that echo through the air. Oiled, muscular men prance around each other in a well-choreographed dance that tests the resilience and agility of its participants. On the other side of campus, flame throwers ascribe shapes to stories in the dark of the night. These spell binding rituals and more, will initiate you into the ancient form of martial arts, healing and meditation that bloomed in these parts.
The blood-pumping, oar-thumping excitement mounts as boats approach the finish line. In signature snake boats that add a splash of colour to the surrounding green canvas, over a hundred oarsmen stroke rigorously in perfect unison – winning is their honour to uphold. With front row seats to this ornate spectacle, you’ll soon find yourself rooting for your favourite carrier!
Broadway shows with their tap dancing and umbrella tossing, could probably take a note or two from the swaying gait of the gentle giants and the nimble toss of umbrellas taller than the creatures by the men atop! Traditional drummers lead the fore setting the soul alive with their fearless rhythms and enchanting choreography, in one of the longest celebrations in India. Keep your eyes peeled for the next Pooram parade!
While the noobs walk a cobbled path to the static fishing nets by town, you can embark on a clandestine boat ride to a nearby village where the ways of the Chinese Fisherman thrive. Quick to keep their secret, the villagers rarely if ever divulge the name, but that doesn’t mean you’ll have to watch in silence. The lungi clad fishermen will gladly pose for a picture or two as you watch in awe the efficiency with which the makeshift morning market operates.
Crushed tomatoes, carrots and blended beets all neatly laid out on a counter…no it’s not a culinary escapade. In typical fashion, Kathakali dancers suit up for their performance, a unique characterization of dance forms across India with only male participants. The iconic green faces, loud headdresses and large skirts are complementary to the expressive eyes and quaint movements that lead you into a world of demon kings and young boys.
You can experience fine spicy cuisine, colourful, folksy weddings and traditional gatherings of local clansmen in Chettinad – the organic collective of villages in Karaikudi. Just don’t miss a stop at a local home. The iconic Chettinad homes with their large inner courtyards are everything! We also highly recommend stopping at the markets and picking up an antique or two at good bargains.
Like a fish to water, amateur skiers find their rhythm on the baby slopes of Gulmarg. The slopes have runs of varying difficulty and offer up some of the best views in the world. Who wouldn’t want to zip down snowy gradients amidst the clouds. The lush greenery visible from this height adds a totally new dimension to the adventure.
It’s an amazing feeling to be on top of the world, literally. But if you’d rather not walk up snowy slopes tugging along your camping gear, Khardung La is where you want to go. The highest motorable road in the world beckons with a splash of colour on a typically white canvas. Take a selfie or simply write your name on the ephemeral snow at Khardung La; it’s a once-in-a-lifetime journey.
Best known for the oldest monastery in Ladakh, Lamayuru surprisingly has all the makings of an offbeat mountain adventure. The picture-perfect homes balanced precariously on ledges are just the tip of the iceberg. If you are seeking tranquillity, a short hike up to Meditation Hill is your best bet. The inscriptions on the colourful rocks strewn on the path are just a build up to a stunning vista of moonlike craters.
The remarkable Chadar Trek is a one stop shop for all your ice-needs. Dawdling like penguins and tracking pug marks of the elusive snow leopard are exciting prospects on a trek that already deals in the adventurous and precarious. While the frozen waterfalls are captivating, what will enrapture is when you plop down at night and lay your head down to rest, and the entire night sky is lit up with millions of stars.
It’s time to get wet and wild at the turbulent, but predictable Inuds and Zanskar Rivers. The melee of rapids ranging from Class I to V are an excellent opportunity to hone your skills or conquer the gargantuan rivers that have gushed forth for centuries. So, get out your GoPro’s and set off on a downstream adventure that ends in the luscious, idyllic valleys of Ladakh.
If it wasn’t for the life jacket, you’d believe you were on a ship drowning at sea! The beauty and rage with which the Ganges flows is enrapturing, but pay heed to your instructor. When he says, “left paddle”, you best paddle with vigour. The heart thumping excitement only grows when you jump into the Ganges midway for a dip in frigid waters and then finish off the excursion with scrumptious, hot snacks.
Suit up and set off on a spectacular adventure over the Delhi countryside. The warm drafts carry you high from where it seems Lilliputian farmhouses dot the lush, green grasslands.
Beginners have found paradise here with gentle gradient hikes ending in momentous views. One of the more popular treks, the Deorital-Chandrashila Trek, apexes in Tunganath (the highest Shiva temple) – the perfect blend of adventure and spirituality. Another trek that will have you wishing you could live amidst the mountains is the Valley of Flowers Trek – believed to be protected by fairies, this untouched piece of Heaven on Earth is a sight to behold.
The stage is set. Undulating sand as far as the eye can see. A rumble grows under your feet and as your heart races, so does your quad bike! Blast off across the Thar Desert. Six Flags and Disneyland have nothing on these dunes.
The bird’s eye view of Mehrangarh Fort is a breath-taking experience that beautifully complements the indoor tour. Whizz across 6 different lines that take you over lakes and ramparts – adrenaline rush galore! Just remember, the sixth line made intentionally low is your chance to prove what a pro zipper you are.
The pink of Jaipur fades in from grey as it chases after the wonderful hues of the morning sky. Take flight in the wee hours of the day for an astounding view of the city from a hot air balloon. And just before you land, as you descend over the villages, the locals stand on their rooftops waving leaving you feeling special.
A proud descendent of the valiant steeds of heroes on the battlefields will be your mounts as you ride the trails where Rajput armies moved, now dotted with cenotaphs and wild life sanctuaries. Following in the footsteps of legendary legions and weaving through impressive castles is a lifetime experience for keen horsemen.
The inexplicable stretches the imagination beyond its limits, but of these one is the fancy we take with the ruined, the destroyed, the abandoned, the deserted and the sunk. Our whys go unanswered, yet there is satisfaction in swimming through the rusted portholes, and sinister joy in scaring the unsuspecting fish. First timers are also welcome to grab diving garb and plunge into the waters of the Arabian Sea.
If you have an itch to go caving every time an Indiana Jones movie plays on the telly, Cherrapunjee will not disappoint! While there’s no crystal skull at the end of the tunnel, swishing through knee deep waters, crawling on all fours through a channel where you can barely see two feet in front of you, and a cavern with a natural skylight that takes your breath away, is reward enough. So, strap into an adventure of the limestone variety.
Back in the day when conservation efforts were of little consequence, two Englishmen decided to golf around thick groves of pine and rhododendron trees. What remains is a lush golf course set in an undulating landscape making it not only the oldest, but also one of the toughest spots to land par.
Mountains clad with lush green vegetation, cool breezy air, sparkling waterfalls and sloping tea gardens…sounds like paradise, doesn’t it? That’s exactly what Kalimpong feels like, and now you can spread your wings and soar over the peaks that lie in the shadows of the Himalayas! Paragliding from Dello Hills, you can catch a glimpse of Kanchenjunga – a sight that is more majestic in the quiet of the altitude.
From the tea estates of Darjeeling to the rolling hills of Sikkim, follow a journey of delectable tastes as you indulge in the aromatic tea of Darjeeling, the crispness of cool mountain spring, the warmth of a hot chocolate in one of Gangtok’s most happening cafés and top it off with a traditional, home cooked meal of Momos, Wai-Wai and locally brewed Hit Beer.
When you’re out in the Ocean, riding the big waves to the shore with nothing but the sun and the spray for company, you will experience a world away from reality. Once you have your fill of the ocean, you can meditate on the beach to the lulling sounds of the gentle waves. A completely spiritual experience is guaranteed!
The many trekking opportunities on the Andaman Islands is a testament to the varying landscape. Through the sticky marshes of Elephant Beach or up Mount Harriet, or through the comforting silence in paradise or the wild cry of exotic birds, hiking is a great pass-time and the best way to experience these gems tucked away in the Bay of Bengal.
Remnants of an opulent past beckon at Ross Island, once British administrative centre for all the islands. Ruins of bazaars and community centres are overgrown with moss and creepers, making them seem much older than they really are. As you walk around looking for the perfect angle to photograph this memory, straight across you’ll see Viper Island with its infamous gallows where Indian Freedom Fighters were tortured for their dissent. Only a deafening silence prevails.
Life began in the ocean, and down there is the best place to observe it. The marine ecosystem of North Island is especially rich and colourful; you don’t even need to know how to swim to experience it! With a simple helmet and a trusted team of lifeguards, you can walk the ocean floor while interacting with a plethora of corals and fish species. You can even grab a picture of your high points on the walk as a souvenir on your way out.
Nothing like a good cardio session as you weave your way through the intricately carved temples dotting the hills and valleys. The musical pillared pavilion at the Vittala Temple captures passers-by with distinct, resounding notes emanating from each pillar as they are struck. With over a thousand shrines in the area, you’ll be hard pressed to see them all in a day. But come sunset, the view from the Tungabhadra Dam enraptures.
Adventure culminates in Badami; chockfull of bouldering routes through almond-coloured hills. The paths are many but the goal is inevitable. The sky above and the rugged rock face beneath your feet, sweaty palms and tough belays that save you from slipping – the ride to the top is just as ‘breath-taking’ as the actual view. The skies turn golden and pink before the evening sun dips beneath the homes in the distance. What can we say? This is worth it.
Explore the many paths that lead deep into the heart of the Kudremukh National Park. Whether you choose to camp overnight or just make a pit stop for a spot of lunch in the wilderness, Nature welcomes you to a front row seat in the Nilgiris. You can catch animals in action and scour the rugged terrain; heed the call of the wild.
Like huge, shaggy, gold-coated dogs taking respite from the unyielding heat, little mounds of palm leaf covered salt dot the expansive stretches of pans on your Ride to World’s End. The ride from Rameswaram to Dhanushkodi is absolutely surreal and we’re sure you’ll have take some great shots along the way. Journey on the spit of land that stretches between two seas, as you move ever closer to the mythical bridge that was said to have once connected Sri Lanka to India.
A curious fish saunters forward as you let loose a stream of bubbles, only to find that you’ve arrived smack in the middle of Temple Reef. Diving adventures and surfing escapades are just a few of the offerings in erstwhile French India. Home to colorful, colonial buildings and boutiques, Pondicherry is your relaxing getaway. A little away from the main town, Auroville is a complementary portal through time, and is a utopia for the eco-conscious, spiritual soul.
The hill station at Araku has your typical cool weather and undulating hillscape, as well as limestone caves, waterfalls and streams. If you’re looking to unleash your inner child, nearby Padmapuram Garden offers tree houses for limber visitors; is there anything more exciting than climbing a tree? After a ride on a toy train (if that takes your fancy), you wouldn’t want to miss Coffee House. More than a café, this museum of sorts is a coffee connoisseur’s paradise.
The greenery that thwarts the advancing hand of urbanization is a welcome change in Munnar. Biking here is the best way to take it down a notch. Tea pickers pick tender leaves as bees buzz in the cool afternoon mist, diminishing the sense of space and time. Leave your mark on the soft clouds that hang close to the ground, as you whizz your way through the crests and valleys covered in apple orchards, sandalwood farms and the bygone era of firewood and lanterns.
As visitors, we rarely get a chance to immerse ourselves into the unfettered lives of villagers. The serenity of field work, chatting by streams and participating in weddings rife with culture, all seem just out of our reach in our daily, urban lives. At Kumaon however, you can explore villages of Ruskin Bond-esque quality; weaving through forests that fringe the communities or taking a dip in a stream that runs through it.
A glass of Prosecco is served under a starlit night as you lie in wait to experience the vastness of the Andamans. The protected secrets of the archipelago are finally yours for the taking, on a luxury adventure through the islands. You can enjoy unimaginably beautiful dive sites in the far corners of the Andamans, state-of-the-art equipment aboard the ship and even an active volcano on Barren Island thrown in the mix!
The young with the old, the lost with the found… a tea trail in Delhi is the crux of all things tea. From the banks of the Brahmaputra to the valleys in the Nilgiris, from Assam to Darjeeling, all types of tea find their way to Delhi. The quintessential roadside tea stall may be on the descent but there is no dearth of posh tea houses in the National Capital Region. So take a breather and take notes on the changing culture of the city.
Mughlai influence pervaded the deepest parts of Lucknow culture, down to the core of humanity – the food. Indulge your senses in kebab recipes and halwas that have been around for centuries, hidden away in the back alleys of the city. As you explore the new age dining experience, rest assured you will have your own shiny silverware to perfectly complement the minced meat drenched in delectable Awadhi spices.
If you’re looking for a taste-bud experience away from the norm, look no further than the Ganga and Ganja Tour! While the name, we admit, is made up, the experience is very real. Incredibly flavoured milk (sometimes mixed with cannabis) will flood your senses and give you a good buzz till you pop a Banarasi paan. The tangy sweetness of the betel nut and stuffing with the pungent essence that oozes out of the leaf combine for an unforgettable zing!
Gujaratis come out in droves for the good food that is available from roadside stalls to the high-end restaurants. Amidst these is the Vishalla experience. Landing somewhere mid-spectrum, the eco-friendly, outdoor dining experience offers incredibly healthy village food that comes with a bottomless glass of chhas. You’ll be left devouring every last bite on your plate.
Connoisseurs of the grape variety, heed the call of India’s first vineyard at Sula. Past the gates of the Sula Vineyard, rows upon rows of pristine grapes, organically grown, are lined up to greet you. And before the wonder wears off, embark on a whirlwind tour of the facilities for a glimpse of grape squashing, a lesson in oak barrels and finish off with a 6-wine tasting session. If you haven’t sniffed and sipped to your heart’s content, plop down on the patio for an evening with wine.
For most people who come to Goa looking for the party lifestyle, it comes as a shock that so much of it is still undeveloped or rather, untouched. As you head deeper into the backroads, the pristine air gives way to the inimitable scent of cashews. And as the scent grows stronger, the roads narrow and turn till you find yourself puttering into a cashew farm. The surprise at the end of the tunnel? Cashew liquor, Goa’s prize, right at the source.
Locals believe that a kitchen without coconut milk or Kashmiri chillies is in dire need of a pick-me-up. Get your hands dirty as you learn to fry the regional staple – fish. Seasoning the delicacy with authentic Goan spices you see the lines between borders blurring and the various Arabian, Portuguese and local influences come to the fore. Who would’ve thought cooking could be such a cultural eye-opener?
Street food takes on a whole new dimension when you’re amidst hundreds of people trying to get their hands on the last of the yummy morsels, and all this happens past midnight at Sarafa. Here, delectables include typical Indore cuisine served right from the kitchen and crunchy vegetarian snacks like samosas, chaats and dahiwadas. Besides a mouthful of deliciousness, these makeshift shops also have intriguing histories. A meal and a story? Sign us up!
The professional tea taster can distinguish infinitesimal changes in the notes of a good cup. The various notes sing as beautifully as those of a harp, distinct and sharp yet harmonious. At a tea estate up in Wild Mahseer, you can give in to the aromas that waft through the air and wrap you in a cool sense of relaxation. Or you can dive nose first into a one-of-its-kind tea tasting session that will warm you from the inside.
You will not soon forget the experience of exotic spices that grow in the shadow of the revered Mount Kanchendzonga. While the scape and weather are incredibly enticing, if there was a piece of Sikkim you wished you could take back with you, we bet it would be the cuisine. In just a few short hours you can master the traditional techniques of ethnic, mouth-watering, Sikkimese dishes – to never again miss what it means to be in the hills of Sikkim.
No other place in India offers such a variety of cuisines to visitors. If you close your eyes and sniff, you will encounter aromas ranging from Armenian dishes to local ones. The influence of outsiders was especially prevalent in Kolkata during the time of the British Raj; there was a surge in the quality of the cuisine and each distinct style. As you set off on a culinary tour, be sure to grab a traditional Bengali lunch at famed Kewpies or 6 Ballygunge Place.
A quiet Sunday evening with some wine and cheese is an addictive thought, but even more so when you’ve churned the cheese yourself! High up in the hills of Coonoor, in an unassuming farm, you can make your own feta or haloumi to take back with you. The natural, fresh concoction will leave you feeling like a Master Chef discovering the secrets of the little-known hill station. The best part is, you can take home a cheese colander and make your own cheese whenever a craving for the good stuff hits you.
To say biryani is an epicurean’s delight would be an understatement. When you embark on a trail to sample the many ways this concoction of fragrant rice, meat and vegetables is prepared, be sure to carry a packet of tissues because you are going to come across some eye-watering dishes! Also, if you’re a vegetarian, don’t fret. Because India has the largest variety of vegetarian options anywhere on the planet.
The Wazwan is not a meal, but a ceremony. Traditionally served on a Trammi Platter, this shared meal is an introduction into an age old ritual meant to bring families closer. Mouthwatering dishes of minced lamb and chicken are just two dishes of a 36 meal course! Is your tummy rumbling yet?
Tread the path of royalty that seemingly leads to the bowels of the earth. The Queen’s Well is an immense structure painstakingly carved out of the Earth. Running your fingers over the centuries old intricate carvings is an exquisite feeling. Adalaj and Modhera step-wells are also beguiling additions to the Gujarati landscape.
Lucknow has an impressive skyline that you simply must observe from the vantage point that Bada Imambara offers. But here’s the catch! It’s not easy to manoeuvre the thousand passages and 489 doorways, some of which lead you in circles, back downstairs when you’re trying to go up, and some even drop off sharply with no way forward! If you think you’re good at mazes, this one will take you on a wild spin.
Standing amidst the crumbling ruins of a civilization that is 5,000 years old, it almost seems like stepping through a time machine. The impeccable planning of the ancient town, the sanitary systems and the remarkable man made dock in this once port town will leave wanderers awestruck at the machinations and resourcefulness of the Harappans.
The ‘real’ India lies in the outskirts of major metropolises. Discover the pottery makers, puppet makers and miniature painters – artisans in their own right – on a leisurely walk through an Udaipur village. We’re sure you’ll leave with a profound sense of respect for the neo designers who recycle waste into contemporary works of art.
Conspiracy theorists would have you believe aliens gave rise to the largest rock-cut monastery-temple caves complexes in the world. But for unassuming visitors, the place is awe-inspiring. The serpentine corridors in the mountainside linking immense Buddhist prayer halls and the traditional Hindu mythological carvings make these some of the most intriguing caves you can find anywhere. They also provide significant insight into the region’s past. It’s basically catnip for historians.
If necessity is the mother of invention, it’s easy to see why Sualkuchi is such a fine craftsman’s village. Once an incubator for various small industries like the hand-loom and oil processing using traditional ghani methods, the village now solely produces the exquisite Muga silk. When you learn that this is the only place in the world that produces silk by turning only open silkworm cocoons, it warrants a pause to reflect on the Gandhian principles that seem remiss these days.
This little town has been around for centuries and is a little piece of Portuguese divinity on the Goan coast. Named after a fountain that gushed from the foothills of nearby Altinho Hill, the village is a treasure trove of delicate porcelain plaques with blue lettering, tiny roosters and dolls mounted on rainbow colored walls. An evening spent walking through the tiny lanes trying to get to the source of the fountain is an evening well spent indeed.
When life doesn’t give you lemons, build terracotta temples? This is exactly what happened in the thriving town of Bishnupur, just a few hours from Kolkata. In the days of the Malla Kings, shortage of stones resulted in glorious terracotta temples dedicated to Hindu Gods. This creativity and reverence for the arts is evident in the pottery and the famous Baluchi Saris that are handwoven here today, which you can pick up as souvenirs.
Boasting over 700 temples in the vicinity, the capital of Odisha is a remarkable place to discover temple architecture that is indigenous to the region. Even if religion or spirituality don’t particularly call to you, prepare to be astounded by the exquisite artwork that adorn the spires. Through painstaking work, each of the centuries old temples were finished with carvings from great Indian epics.
Knowing where you come from is as important as knowing where you are headed. Returning to the roots of Odisha is an enthralling experience. Follow in the footsteps of the ‘original people’ and rediscover an ancient way of living. Past the temples and lively local markets, you can interact with a culture that is millennia old, older than many countries in the world.
Over 15 centuries ago, the Chalukyas who then ruled over most of India, initiated a movement that lingers to this day. In the north of Karnataka, at Aihole, the journey of South Indian temple architecture was set afoot. Visiting one of the first temples ever built in the characteristic style is a gratifying experience. Far removed from the colours and overt carving that deluges contemporary shrines, Aihole emphasizes the essence of temple architecture mirroring the human pinnacle of minimalism.
Patchwork quilts and applique work are a specialty of Pipli. The village in its entirety depends on the sale of such crafts to power their economy. The streets of Raghurajpur are similarly lined with artisans toiling away in the heat. Every home is an artist’s studio with Pattachitra paintings (religious and tribal themes) on cloth – adorning the walls. If walking through the Heritage Villages seems like a dredge, you could hop on a bicycle and whizz past smiles and waves!
Let your inner child come bounding out as colourful lacquer is sprayed on wooden toys that fit in the palm of your hand! The artisans who have followed their traditional craft for over two centuries are developing contemporary designs that are increasingly relevant today. From pen stands to coasters, there’s bound to be a simple home solution that you will want to replace once you see these cute wares.
Like the harp of Orpheus, the veena is a significant facet of Hindu mythology and emits the sweetest sounds you’ve ever heard. In one of the last places on Earth where you can catch the making of this instrument, you can converse with the dying breed of veena makers. Later you can hop over to the artists who make exquisite paintings studded with stones and gilded with foil for a truly ostentatious souvenir.
What could be better than retreating to the place that deserves the name ‘Land of Temples’ and exploring the living and the ruins? Seek out the famous weaving houses that gave birth to the Kanchipuram saree (a traditional garb worn by many women all over India). The silk sarees that come from Kanchipuram are revered and many are even handed down as heirlooms. Here is where you can unravel the mysteries just like the silk threads unfurl from the cocoons.
A village, home to over 200 farmers, lies in an inconspicuous bend of the Varaha River just off Vizag. You’d be surprised however, at the creative intellect behind these rough hands. The place is best known for the namesake wooden toys that are created here. The handmade toys are painted in various shades of lacquer and made in a sustainable way.
The troughs of the undulating landscape are powerhouses of some of the best crafts in the country. Shrouded in their animal skins and under their thatched roofs, the last place you’d think to find artisans is a glorious revelation of generations of skills passed down from parent to offspring. A guided tour through the valleys will have you wishing you could build yourself a home here and peddle vibrant crafts.
The final call echoes through the alley and hands work faster. Limber hands and muscly tones work in sync to place the finishing touches on the idols of Lord Ganesha. From the smallest to the largest, clay and plaster sculptures are decked up in preparation for the largest Ganesh Festival parade in India. Starting from the workshops, follow the procession as devotees head to the beach to dissolve the idols and metaphorically, wash their sins away.
The Tanjore temple is a grandiose engineering marvel full of oddities characteristic to it. You can chase the ‘shadow you can’t find’ or you can also head out on a hunt to find quirky marvels. One such quirk is the carving of an Englishman in a bowler hat, which has left many history buffs bewildered, for the English did not arrive in India till many centuries later!
A place where souls transcend, Akshardham is considered by many as a gift to the world. Built of pink sandstone from neighboring Rajasthan, the many halls have immaculate depictions of the Hindu Gods. In contemporary fashion, the guided audio tours and mini screening halls within exude a ‘New York Art Gallery’ confidence. Stay till nightfall when the lights and water weave in elegant dance; speaking tomes of Gods & myths.
“This is the right place for our activities to carry on the search for truth and develop fearlessness, for on one side are the iron bolts of the foreigners, and on the other the thunderbolts of Mother Nature,” said Gandhi about Sabarmati Ashram (situated between a prison and a cemetery). The headquarters of his movements for Indian Independence and the origin of his exodus, Dandi March, provides a peek into India’s intrepid past.
No man’s struggle to find balance is as obvious as that of Jim Corbett’s. The hunter-turned-conservationist never gave up hunting, though he eventually only hunted man-eating wild cats. At Gurney House, you can see his collection of hunting memorabilia alongside prudent efforts to maintain balance in the ecosystem of the valley. You would also be remiss to disregard the expansive gardens filled with indigenous herbs, planted in intriguing manner. Don’t forget to ask your naturalist the significance of the Bichu Bhooti and Hara Patta plants!
At the ruins of the Church of St. Augustine, the towering belfry façade reaches towards the sky like the hand of a man grasping at the final vestiges of life, while all around it, the remains are overgrown with weed and moss. Walking through such Portuguese monuments, in Old Goa, it is clear to see the origins of Goa’s solemn temperament, a quiet resilience in the face of destruction.
Those who came thousands of years before us toiled, scavenged, gathered and hunted since the dawn of the Paleolithic period to outrun the big, bad dog-eat-dog world. Through cave paintings and smoothed out floors, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a surprising documentation of man’s own evolution. Paintings of men dancing and riding elephants slowly morph into ones of him riding a chariot, and the invention of the wheel lies somewhere along the way.
Like Casey Junior coming down the tracks, the Toy Train of Darjeeling huffs and puffs till it makes it into Ghum. The spunky little steam engine snakes past mountains and lakes, through tunnels and across bridges making for awesome views, while all along pristine air gently caresses your face. It’s quite the adventure with the danger of slipping constantly looming over the locomotive, but the seasoned drivers are well prepared!
With all its temples, you might be surprised by the rich Buddhist heritage of Odisha. It’s easy to see how many Buddhist preaching routes might have passed through this essential centre from the 6th Century onwards. Over the past decade, archaeologists have excavated many sites at Ratnagiri, Udayagiri and Lalitagiri – the diamond triangle where you can the past of Buddhism.
Through sheer will and determination, the historical towns of Pragpur and Garli in the Kangra Valley remain untouched by the tide of modernization. A unique portal through time, it is hailed by locals as the home they will always come back to. You can walk as the locals did a few centuries ago, through cobbled streets and past huts filled with the work of artisans. The craftsmen of Pragpur earn their daily bread by selling their wares at the marketplace where you can stop for a trinket or two.
The world-famous symbol of love, appears quite lonely in all its splendour. But on a full moon night, it almost seems as if the Taj Mahal serenades to the moon in a tale of the unending love of whites… After a night of starry-eyed romance, you can practice some yoga and allow the calmness to wash over you as the solitary Taj looks on.
Tranquebar is a land locked in time. The old-world charm of the town reminds you of a 17th century Danish East India establishment. You can visit the first printing press of India, housed in a fort that has withstood the test of time and a tsunami! As you weave through colourful fishing boats, while walking along the shore to ‘Bungalow by the Beach’, you might hear the famed singing waves of Tharangambadi.
The land of Sikhs, is a holy site for many followers of this faith. Here, in the heart of the motherland, you can experience the profundity of Sikh teachings as they are captured in a series of sensory stimulants at the heritage museum. The museum of sorts at Anandpur, is shaped like a flower with five petals – a number with great significance to the Sikhs – and filled with murals, artefacts and other exhibits that take you through the history of Sikhism and bring you up to speed, so to speak.
Padded feet fall softly on the rugged terrain deep in the Himalayas leaving behind pug marks like breadcrumbs. But no matter how close to a snow leopard you think you are, they always seem to be a few steps ahead of you. In an expedition like no other, prepare to spend a week in the frigid recesses of the mountain range as you plunge into the habitat of this predator. The mountains are a-calling.
One word that simply captures the essence of a vast expanse of lake set in a remote, unfrequented corner of India – Magic. A vehicle can only take you as far as Korzak, but the green barley fields and the purple mountains along your uphill walk to Tso Moriri make for a lasting impression. The pristine waters of the lake reflect the blue domed sky like glass; take a picture here to remember the exquisite vista.
The Great Rann of Kutch morphs into one of the largest salt flats in the world come winter. This white expanse beckons all ‘perspective shot’ lovers, and nearby Kala Dongmar is also an illustrious vantage point overlooking the Rann. If you look closely enough on a full moon night, you might catch the elusive night lights that may just be urban legend.
Looking at the carpet of pink that lays at your feet it is easy to see why the place is protected so fiercely. When the morning fog lifts, the sheer variety of flora can captivate you for days. Interestingly, trivia buffs will have a ball alongside the nature lovers – the Kaas stretched as far as the eye could see at one point. Find out what changed at the iconic pink valley of Maharashtra.
A jungle cat strolls casually to a stream, its confidence remarkable. And though she barely looks at you, your heart pounds in your chest. The National Parks are home to numerous species of deer, birds and boars; comprehensive ecology where you can catch a gypsy ride through the wilderness and hop on an elephant for a short safari to where the tigers lounge.
You wouldn’t think the brackish waters of Cumbarjua could ever be attractive, but the Mugger Crocodiles would disagree. These large reptiles haunt the cloudy waters, lying in wait with their open mouths, jagged teeth lining the strongest jaws in the animal kingdom. A true-blue Crocodile Dundee experience awaits the brave few who would board a traditional boat and set off in search of the little Muggers.
The Narmada River, the lifeline of Madhya Pradesh, cleaves through shimmering boulders that feel like a whole world removed from normalcy. As the oars swish through the water and bounce across the surface in perfect rhythm, the sun moves across the sky turning white marble to pink, green and blue. Don’t forget to pick up a marble souvenir on your way back.
If the national animal of India wasn’t a tiger, it would probably have been the Indian Rhino. This horn wielding animal is one of the gentlest and, as we’ve seen in the past few decades, one of the most resilient beings on Earth. At Kaziranga National Park, you can hop on an elephant and traipse into the depths of the jungle to catch these unique creatures in action.
After all the excitement of a North-Eastern escapade, it is important to just relax and unwind – where better to do this, than at Tarku? The therapeutic stay, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, is as close to paradise as you can get (if paradise was a tea plantation smothered by clouds of the fluffy kind). If not, at least stop by on your way to take some amazing pictures that you can look back on when you’re back in the grind.
Something seems to let loose every time you watch a dolphin do a backflip. You look on with childish abandon, pointing and ooh-ing at the cutest sea creatures on the planet. Step onto a boat, anticipation growing as you head out on Chilika Lake; you’d be lucky to catch a dolphin in action as they cut through the calm waters.
If a lion’s roar sends shivers down your spine, then the gait of a tiger stalking you will leave every hair standing on end. At Sunderbans, it’s best to let sleeping tigers lie. When you glide down the river that flows through the jungle, you might be tempted to ask the oarsman to take you closer to a lounging tiger, but rest assured that this is just the ploy of the tiger trying to get you close enough to grab a bite!
Secrets are an exciting prospect for anyone. The lure of the secluded and unknown is mindboggling to say the least; none more so than at Baratang Island. The indigenous, aggressive Jarawa Tribe ensured few ever ventured into the depths of what is now a Tribal Reserve. The tropical side of Andamans is brought to the fore when you explore the limestone caves or mud volcanos, after a short boat ride through a mangrove.
Kowtow to the elephants as Mowgli once did, in reverence to these mighty, yet gentle beings that roam the jungles. They’ll walk the pachyderm corridor come time to migrate, to get from the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve to the Nilgiris North and we bet you won’t want to miss this!
Who doesn’t like to start their mornings with a freshly brewed cuppa Joe? The idyllic plantations of coffee, neatly lain out in rows upon rows, and the morning croons of the cuckoo ringing clear through the air is as good a breakfast call as it gets. While hiking to the top of nearby Mullayanagiri and exploring the ancient temples of Belur and Halebid are great activities at Chikmagalur, Coorg entices with nearby Bylakuppe (second largest Tibetan settlement outside Tibet).
The epic transformation of gentle giants to bulldozers that razed the forests in the past, comes to life in the tales the naturalist whispers in your ears, as the mahouts rehash early commands that get the elephants to mimic logging activities. After the riveting re-enactment, you can climb onto an elephant’s back and head into the jungle for a quick safari.
Wicker weaves float silently on the still waters of Kabini – the best way to get close to the birds without scattering them. Hop onto a typical fisherman’s coracle, and sail the vast expanse of the reservoir with the sun setting in the background. The spellbinding vista is second to none, but is best experienced after a gruelling day of wildlife safaris in the nearby forest recesses.
Like a scene from a Dutch postcard, the Tulip Garden on the banks of Dal Lake unfurls a carpet of colorful flowers. Asia’s largest tulip field beckons the intrepid wanderer with lush fields set against a backdrop of lofty, snowcapped mountains. Trust us when we say, it will take your breath away.
Hills and knolls swathed in green welcome you to the cleanest village in Asia. The air seems cleaner and every cell tingles with glee as you enter Mawlynnong. And deep within the undulations, two banyan trees proclaim their fondness like no other. Their roots stretch and twine, reaching across a stream, to form a living root bridge that can support up to 50 men. Now there’s a love that can withstand anything!
Tufts of green and brown intertwine on the backwaters, at Pichavaram, in a delightful maze of arches and swaying roots. You will finally grasp the true essence of serenity as you tune out everything but the call of the birds and the rhythmic swoosh of oars. Some claim they can hear their heart racing with premonition as they head deeper and the twines reach down from the canopy. However, the depths remain ever inviting to the adventurers of the world.
Djinns (or genies, if you please) are as entwined in Indian lore as they are with Arabian Nights. The Jamali Kamali mosque in the heart of Delhi is one place that is believed to be haunted. Whether you subscribe to the allure of ghosts or are a cynic hoping to tear down the myth as nothing but urban legend, we bet you’ll have the night of your life twiddling paranormal equipment in the eerie silence.
As the name suggests, this is one of those pinch-me places. On the surface it appears as any other museum with exhibits arranged in orderly fashion but it is one of the weirdest places on Earth. There are toilets that mimic a bookcase and even a throne. However, the underlying reason for this museum is noble. Dr Sulabh started the sanitation movement in India, a truly historic undertaking built on Gandhian principles. This crusade is changing the lives of the poor one toilet at a time.
Quiet whispers whip through the desolate lands of Kuldhara. Experience the surreal solitude far from civilization, as you walk through this village, abandoned overnight. The history of this place will give you the chills. We bet you’ll find yourself asking, “Where are they now?”
In the fashion of hot cakes, Mirchi and Mime is a nondescript bar & grill in trendy Powai that has been setting the food scene on fire! What makes it stand out from the crowd is its ‘Do as I do, not as I say’ attitude; we are of course referring to its differently abled wait staff. The seamless dining experience takes away any inhibitions you might have about communicating in sign language, with a very helpful staff dressed in quirky shoes and a wide smile always on hand.
This immersive back-to-the-roots experience comes with a twist. By the time you leave, you will master any one of the key survival skills out in the countryside – coconut frond mat weaving, bamboo basket weaving or Warli painting. But wait, there’s more! Zip line across shallow fields and scale the height of a coconut tree on the rope course, to pack a punch into this eco-friendly day of planting trees and harvesting grains.
The smell of freshly painted wood accosts the senses in a jungle that’s too close to the beach to be truly considered wild. Sitting under the shade of coconut fronds and scraping fine wood, moulding a guitar with your bare hands all seems surreal until you strum the strings for the first time. Music is food for the soul, so go ahead and nourish the soul.
Having to croon and click your tongue at your vehicle is an odd thing to do for most of us. The clippety-clop of feet and rickety wheels are also things we are unaccustomed to. Bullock carts are a lifeline for many agrarians, but the closest we ever get is a ride on one of them. However, if you’re curious to know if you’d be any good at driving a bullock cart, here’s your shot at earning a shiny, bullock cart driving license!
We don’t condone drinking and driving but hey, whizzing down the undulating roads of Bangalore City when you’re a little tipsy is quite fun! Hop on a bicycle and weave your way through the night scene to popular pubs in the locale and gorge on the lip-smacking food, keeping pleasant company in the quirky settings. The mismatched elements and winding roads will keep the spirits flowing and high (if you catch our drift *wink*)!
Whether you want to walk through the lush greenery, enjoy organic, farm fresh food, or even check out an apiary, your ideal getaway is at a farm. That feeling of being one with nature and giving back to the land that provides is immensely satisfying. You can volunteer to plant saplings and move them when they are mature enough or simply find the nearest hill and hike up for an unbelievably green panorama.
A low humdrum fills the air when you start your engine… As you straddle one of many popular muscle bikes – perhaps a Harley Davidson or a Royal Enfield if you prefer – and feel the vibration of the powerhouse under your feet, you’ll know it’s time for the ride of your life. With the wind in your hair and a song in your heart, what more do you need to conquer the famed East Coast Road that stretches along the entire coast!?
In the recesses of rural Punjab, the scent of citrus lingers in the clean air. Kinnow farms three hours from Amritsar offer a lush experience in solitude. The brainchild of a couple passionate about being perfect hosts, this is where you could have a little contest to see who can pick the largest orange or who can buzz to the nearby village and back on a Royal Enfield. Feel at home and as close to nature as you possibly can.
The raw growl of a tractor as it coughs and sputters along a village road is an introduction to a flourishing way of life. The Punjabi countryside is boisterous and inviting, colourful and traditional. You’ll catch the men tending to the fields and the women churning butter. The best is yet to come however, for meal times are a phantasmagorical explosion of taste!
The Flash may be the quickest in the Superhero Universe, but you’d be just as hard pressed to catch the nimble tree climbers as they bound up a coconut tree in 6 graceful leaps. In the land of the coconuts you can learn to soar up the beams with just a couple of ropes. Just remember, all you need for tree climbing is daring, and confidence – the view at the top is worth it.
The slate is clean, but wrinkly. We’re talking mammoth canvas and vibrant vegetable dyes. The elephants sway gently as you paint a masterpiece. There’s something metaphorical in washing it away at the end of the day though, for just like the paint, your woes are ephemeral. Lose yourself in this relaxing activity.
There are more CC’s in the Museum’s name than in the vehicles on display. But what the engines lack in speed, they make up in years. The older are wiser, they say. This vintage car museum is a great find for car enthusiasts. What’s more, you can get behind a wheel and take some of the cars out for a spin.
Opulence is scarcely sufficient to describe the times of the Rajputs. The Maharajahs and Ranis were always decked in ornaments, ate only the best food in multi-course meals and slept on beds stuffed soft. Now, it’s time to step into the shoes of the Royals and travel in style as the train chugs along softly.
The boisterous side of Goa is generally shrouded in simplicity and hippie minimalism, but aboard the floating casinos just off the coast, ostentation is the order of the day. Twirl ivory white, polished chips that glint under the neon lights between your fingers and gamble to your heart’s content. But be wary – some of the other players may be more cunning than sharks in the sea.
What is it about Goa that lures us all into its bosom? It definitely has something to do with the seamless ease with which all cultures are accepted and even imbued. You can have a Portuguese experience, a hippie experience and now, a Kerala-style experience. The quaint houseboats designed completely out of natural fibres and wood is more than just a sustainable mode of transportation; it moves you to a completely relaxed state of mind, with the cool backwater breeze to keep you company.
The Brahmaputra is unique, not only in its atypically male name, but also in that it flows through frigid mountains, arid plains and fertile jungles. A cruise on this astounding river that flows both eastward in some parts and westward in other, offers up an expansive range of experiences such as a visit to a jute mill, a stop at a tea plantation, a homestay by the banks of the river and much more.
Many consider the Ganges to be a Goddess; the lifeline of the city should hold no lower pedestal. Capture breath-taking views of the sun setting beyond the horizon on a luxury cruise. The nocturnal sounds of Kolkata are also especially captivating, and you might just find yourself spellbound by the mechanical prowess heralded by the bridges that cross the mighty river. If you have been dying to take a cruise, drink in hand and surrounded by cultural heritage like no other, look no further!
To be waited on hand and foot in one of the oldest modes of mass transport in India, is a uniquely satisfying experience. An upgraded suspension has rendered the purple locomotive a brisk and smooth ride through the enchanting South. The luxurious voyage of discovery will take you through the cradle of Stone Architecture from Belur and Halebed to Badami and Aihole, only to end in Goa – the ultimate relaxing getaway. Roll up in style or not at all; the Golden Chariot awaits.
Incense sticks smoulder at the altar of the purusha (Divine Self) enveloping you in a sense of calm as you meditate in a silence so loud, you could literally hear a pin drop. The world class instructors of yoga at Shreyas and Swasara guide you in oases far removed from civilization, while gently insisting you surrender your thoughts and way of being. After a healthy dose of yoga, you can quench your curiosity with a bespoke tour into the origins of these ways.
The archetypal backwaters of Kerala offer a serene experience; sunbathing under palm fronds on the deck of an eco-friendly, luxury houseboat. You can sip on coconut water, sourced fresh as you meander through the narrow channels and vast lakes in what is best known as the ‘Venice of the East’.
Hawking and gawking is an essential pastime at the floating vegetable and flower market on the Dal Lake. Help your boat along by nudging aside shikaras as you make your way through the bustling market in the wee hours of the morning. With a friendly word for all, and scrumptious snacks, vivid flowers and local produce, you’ll leave with more than a cabbage and a pretty picture.
It’s hard to tear your eyes away from the thumping, beach-party-all-night lifestyle of Goa – even to go shopping! That’s why the kind folks at Arpora have a flea market set up every Saturday, where you can sip on daiquiris and listen to a live band while you peruse the flowing beach gowns or sun hats for sale, that only Goans make so well.
Every Thursday evening, the world stops for a moment inside Nizamuddin Dargah. A soul-stirring rendition of popular qawwalis set to lilting tunes and of simple yet poetic language, gushes forth from the proficient Qawwals who lead the troupe. You will be treated to some of the most popular songs as well as the classics. Once you drink to your soul’s content, take a trip to the nearest eatery that locals swear by, for a bite of yummy goodness.
Monumental domes that rise out of the ground, once thought lost to the overgrown jungles of central India, are remnants of what used to be a flourishing cult of Buddhism under the Mauryan Empire. A calmness pervades this UNESCO World Heritage Site as you weave through the morning fog and get a closer look at complex, carved panels and statues. As one of the oldest stupas in the country, the place offers insight into eras past.
The image of happy, rose-cheeked Buddhist monk babies, coloured Buddhist flags flying across misty mountains, locals clamouring around quaint shops, and hypnotic chants in the air, captures Tawang in a nutshell. It boasts some impressive virtues as the second largest monastery in the world. It makes you wonder if the Buddhists are proponents of ‘Go big or go home’!
Deities and mythos are entwined in the Indian psyche, and as much as it is an intriguing prospect to study their origins, daily rituals are just as enthralling. In the Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple, every night, song and dance follows the divine procession of Lord Shiva being taken to Meenakshi’s abode in a palanquin. While you wait for the procession to begin, we urge you to try the famous Jigarthanda – an anytime drink for the weary, sun-worn traveler.
The saying ‘the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach’ is taken to a whole new level at the Golden Temple where meals are served at any time of the day! Leave your labels at the door and dine with men and women as equals. Sikhs are also happy to invite people of all faiths to carry their Holy Book in a golden palanquin around the temple before returning it to its resting place. Partake in traditions as old as time and you just might find a little bit of yourself.
Shajahanabad, or Old Delhi as it is more commonly known, exudes an old world charm as you snake your way through lanes too small for cars. Experiencing Old Delhi aboard a cycle rickshaw, you can almost reach out to touch the wares sold in the by lanes. The conversant rick drivers have hidden gems that they share with passengers who grace their vehicle; it’s all highly secretive, a sort of rickshaw pact if you will.
A clandestine project. A quiet rebellion by one man. The Rock Garden by Nek Chand, a roads inspector in the early 50’s, was unplanned – yet it is a major attraction in Chandigarh today. After scaping 12 acres by himself for every night over 20 years, he had a veritable trove of statues and constructions made entirely from waste and debris. Today, the Garden stands at 30 acres and is one of the quirkiest things in India.
If you’ve been trying to get your hands on a copy of the New York Times Bestseller list but it always seems to be sold out, look no further than Daryaganj. It is a paradise for the bibliophile with shops lining the street for as far as the eye can see! Take your pick from fiction, non-fiction, self-help – the plethora. Wear comfy shoes and have your bargaining voice ready, the books you stock up on come at a steal.
This city that has incredible English and Mughal influences, yet completely Indian in every way imaginable is best experienced on a bicycle. As you weave through the narrow lanes and whiz past stalled traffic on the larger roads, you might feel like quite the daredevil. For a true understanding of the streets that have aged 400 years, you need to step down and feel the pulse of the land, the local markets and the heritage sites, and not just drive past them all with wanton indifference.
Mumbai gets lit up at night! All the famous views and attractions are that much more enticing come nightfall. And what better way to experience the sights than with the wind in your hair? Hop on a chauffeur driven motorbike and witness the Ever-Kulfi-Eaters and the Non-Sleep-Chai-Drinkers as a clandestine tour unfurls.
Come rain or shine, Mumbai never loses track of its lunch, and I’m not talking about the time. Over a hundred years, the Dabbawallas (lunch deliverers) have organically grown into a 200,000-strong network. But it’s not the systemic growth that has top management schools around the world studying them – it’s that they NEVER lose a lunch box. Follow the label trail through local trains, to truly understand what it means to be a lunchbox in Mumbai.
Whether it’s four men flying from a punch or the romantic overtures of a pining village boy, the megastars of Bollywood always deliver with panache. Take a walk down the sparkling lane where Indian heroes live and finish it off with a visit to centre stage. Re-enact your favourite action scenes and shake things up with a racy number!
Set off on foot through the narrow lanes of Kolkata to understand the adrenaline that would have coursed through men on their journey to obtain freedom. The walking tour continues on to Old College Road, an incredibly large book market and culminates in Indian Coffee House – a place where some of the greatest minds of the past century have met. Also nearby Kumartoli is famed for its near infinite supply of clay idols!
We speak in many languages, but the ones we understand best are of gold and gems. On a quest to discover the little-known artisans that thrive in back alleys and churn out designs of exquisite proportion, you will also hear tales of fabled jewels of the Maharajas and their plunder, the gems and their mysticism, and of their symbolisms in the Indian culture.
Locals may not be fascinated with Auroville anymore, but for those not from these parts, it is a truly unique realization of the pinnacle of humanitarian ideals – a place without religion or race. With a rich history that has always seemed forward thinking at the least, Auroville has thrown open its gates for you to catch a glimpse of everyday life in the ‘International City’, and experience the significance of a spiritual and eco-friendly lifestyle.
Say Bollywood and think millions of fairy lights, lush weddings, large estates and laws-of-physics-bending action sequences! Akin to Bollywood, the Telugu Film Industry has its chops. Ramoji Film City can best be described as a conjunction of a carnival and Tollywood; where you can experience the grandeur first-hand. The vibrant birds and butterflies in the surrounding thematic gardens also give you a taste of the magic.
Epic proportions of 18-foot-high walls topped with metal spikes speak of a time when the imminent threat of war loomed large. In a feat of engineering, the builders designed a simple system of alerting the royals to danger. You can clap at the front gate and it will be heard in the depths of the fort! The late evening sound & light show offers a glimpse at its grand history.
The Kurusura Submarine Museum, true to the Indian spirit of valour and courage, speaks tomes of the vessel’s battles and its company’s difficult decisions made during the Pakistan War. The first ever submarine museum in Asia is staffed with officers of that period, who will give the tour an authentic feeling. If you enjoy scoping out gargantuan mechanical wonders, this one is a must-see.
It’s easy to feel like you’ve missed a lot when touring India, but Footprint made this holiday seem wholesome! We loved everything from the hotels at Kolkata, Jaipur and Delhi, to the walking tour of Agra and the cooking classes you arranged for. Can’t wait to come back…
It was absolutely exciting to decipher the countryside of Amritsar and watch first hand, traditional activities of the locals. An absolutely immersive experience that only Footprint could put together.
Road tripping takes a lot out of you so it was a welcome change to have Footprint plan an extensive ride across the south of India to the North East. Have to say the caving experience in Cherrapunjee absolutely takes the cake!
We enjoy traveling at our own pace and tracing back Indian culture to its roots. We loved Footprint’s suggestion of Khajuraho and their execution of the holiday was amazing! Thank you.
Kudos to Footprint for incorporating all our interests into one holiday. And for finding Almond Villa, the best accommodation we’ve ever come across. Wished we could’ve stayed a while longer! Kashmir has changed for us, forever.
Planning a 40 day trip is no mean feat, but Footprint did an excellent job – ensuring I got to see everything I wanted and even throwing in some unexpected surprises. I was ecstatic at all the arrangements made especially because I was visiting Gujarat after such a long time. Hotels, drivers and guides were all excellent!