India is a land of intensity. Whether it be flavors, colors or even climate, very little in the world’s second largest country feels mild. Yet once you’ve settled into your sensory overload you’ll find that India’s intensity is matched only by the magical serenity that can be felt in its rich history and diverse culture. For many, the notion of a journey India first brings to mind the Taj Mahal, the 16th century architectural masterpiece commissioned by the fifth Mughal emperor for his favorite wife as a statement of eternal love and devotion. While Agra’s signature site should by no means serve as the defining landmark of the Indian experience, its juxtaposition of vibrant opulence and peaceful reflection is what in many ways India is all about.
PLANNING YOUR TRIP TO INDIA
What’s the Best Time to Visit INDIA?
Given its geographic diversity, India serves as a year-long destination. Several regions however do boast prime months and when it comes to animal sightings, particularly the tigers, the season is limited. Those sensitive to extreme heat may want to avoid certain times of year as well.
Many travelers’ first experience with India is via the Golden Triangle, a combination of Delhi, Agra and Rajasthan. The central northern part of the country is ideal from October to March, as temperatures are lower and rainfall is generally less pervasive. Winter months can reach down to the low to mid 40s. July, August and early September are perhaps the least desirable months in which one would journey through the Golden Triangle as monsoons can bring in torrential rain with surprisingly little relief from the heat, often nearing or passing 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Mid to late September however offers a nice opportunity for shoulder season for those looking to avoid the crowds.
DELHI & THE GOLDEN TRIANGLE
Many travelers’ first experience with India is via the Golden Triangle, a combination of Delhi, Agra and Rajasthan. The central northern part of the country is ideal from October to March, as temperatures are lower and rainfall is generally less pervasive. Winter months can reach down to the low to mid 40s. July, August and early September are perhaps the least desirable months in which one would journey through the Golden Triangle as monsoons can bring in torrential rain with surprisingly little relief from the heat, often nearing or passing 100 degrees fahrenheit. Mid to late September however offers a nice opportunity for shoulder season for those looking to avoid the crowds.
CULTURAL GEMS OF VARANASI & KHAJURAHO
Not far from the Golden Triangle route are two of India’s most culturally significant cities: Varanasi and Khajuraho. Varanasi is one of the oldest living cities in the world. It is the holiest of cities for Hindus and the birthplace of yoga. The highlight of the visit to Varanasi is witnessing the soul stirring prayer ceremony on the banks of the Ganges. Completing the cultural circuit is the city of Khajuraho. This city is replete with temples from 800AD. These temples have been made famous because of their erotic nature as well as their beautiful depiction of the life at the time.
Like Delhi and the Golden Triangle, both Varanasi and Khajuraho boast ideal weather conditions from late November to March but can be visited year-round and do not generally face the same tourist crowds found in Agra and Rajasthan.
MUMBAI: BOLLYWOOD AND BEYOND
Mumbai is India’s financial capital, but it’s so much more than just a business city. With its intriguing history, and unique culture, the city once known as Bombay is one of India’s most celebrated cities. As India’s largest city, Mumbai offers its visitors great sightseeing, wonderful heritage walks, art and fashion as well as some of the best dining in the country. It’s also home to Bollywood, the entertainment industry epicenter of India and one of its most culturally significant worldwide exports. Mumbai is also a gateway city to almost all large and small cities across India such as, Aurangabad, the Ajanta and Ellora caves and of course the beach destinations of Goa. Mumbai is most pleasant in the winter months from November through early March. Early spring and summer can be quite humid but still tolerable. The monsoon season arrives for July and August.
KERALA: INDIA’S SOUTHERN JEWEL
It is common for travelers (particularly North Americans) to focus on northern and central India during their first visit to the country. The approach is understandable: even when sticking to Delhi, Rajasthan and maybe additional spots like Mumbai or Varanasi, you’d be hard pressed to see it all in less than a two-week itinerary. Yet for those who are looking for a different, and in many ways more preserved, taste of India, southern India provides a truly magical experience. Kerala is the best-known state in Southern India and while almost all of the country’s regions offer a verdant landscape, elaborately decorated temples and mouth-watering cuisine driven heavily by the use of coconut, there is something about Kerala is uniquely distinctive. Kerala is widely known for its 40 rivers running intersecting to form a network of “backwaters”. These backwaters are best navigated by houseboats, providing travelers with an intimate insight into rural life in the state. But perhaps Kerala is most famous for being the home to Ayurveda – an ancient holistic medical science still used today for relaxing and rejuvenating massages. A South India itinerary is replete with visits to ancient temples and palaces, wildlife reserves, tea and coffee plantations, relaxing backwater cruises, Ayurveda and of course some amazing food. The length of holidays here could be from a taster of five nights up to a 16-night multi-experiential and wellness experience.
While Kerala and southern India are just as prone to monsoon season in July and August as the rest of the country, this actually is considered a wonderful time of year to slow it down and enjoy an Ayurvedic-focused itinerary. Right before (April and May) and after (September) are less wet and boast fewer crowds than the high season period from October through March. December and January is the most in-demand season catering to international travelers during the holidays.
HIMALAYAS: TREKKING AND BEYOND
Moving back north to the opposite side of the country, the Himalayas offer startling beauty in both its landscape and ancient villages. From colorful festivals to unique wildlife boasting the elusive snow leopard and double humped camels, Nepal’s neighbor to the west is incredibly rich and diverse in experiences ideal for the curious and adventurous traveler. Ladakh, the Himalayas’ most visited region, covers green valleys and high altitude lakes with treks across snowbound peaks and of course through tiny villages and imposing monasteries. It gained importance as it was part of the trade route. Picturesque Shimla, located at the foothills of the Himalayas, was once the summer capital of the British empire. A visit to Indian Himalayas is not about just trekking but offers a wide range of options for holidaymakers including, trekking, mountaineering, paragliding, wildlife, history, culture and wellness.
The prime season for places like Ladakh is April through July, when temperatures have warmed up from winter but monsoon season has not yet arrived. Shimla shares a similar season for travelers looking to get a taste for what the imperial summers may have been like. However, for those interested in the winter treasures of the Himalayas, such as snow leopard trekking, a visit to the region should occur December through March.
BEST PLACES FOR TIGER SAFARI in india
For tiger enthusiasts, India provides a particular advantage in that it is home to nearly 50 per cent of the world’s wild tiger population. Those traveling for tiger safari will have several regions from which to choose, spanning nearly every corner of the country.
Bandhagarvh: Located in the central region of Madhya Pradesh, Bandhagarvh has become one of India’s best known national parks and perhaps the park in which you have the highest likelihood of spotting a tiger. While the park is open from October to June, spotting conditions are considered best toward the last 3-4 months of the season.
Tadoba: Tadoba is one of the newest reserves to welcome visitors. Located close to Mumbai (a short flight away), this reserve is one of the best eco-tourism reserves in the country. Due to its high tiger density, visitors report a high instance of tiger spotting. The park is open between October and June, but the best time to visit are the hotter months of April and May as you animals can be seen easily at the lake and other waterholes.
Ranthambore: Ranthambore National Park is equally recognized and is widely popular as it resides within Rajasthan, making it a relatively easy destination as it falls between Agra and Jaipur. Ranthambore is also open from October to June, with April and May considered prime tiger sighting months. Given the heavy traffic within the park however, we recommend that our true nature enthusiasts spend more time in spots like Bandhavgarh, Kanha or Kaziranga.
Kanha: Much larger than its neighbor Bandhavgarh, Kanha is inspiration for Rudyard Kiplings’ Jungle Book. At once dense and vast, this park is home to a variety of mammals and over 300 species of birds. For an avid wild-lifer, an ideal holiday will be a combination of Kanha and Bandhavgarh along with the cultural circuit. As a park Kanha is a lovely experience with opportunities to view a large variety of wildlife, bird life, flora and fauna. The reason Kanha is a must visit is their relentless work in conserving the endangered Hard Ground Swam Deer (Barasingha). They are the only of their kind surviving in the world today.
Kaziranga: One of the most magical parks in India is sure to be Kaziranga. Spread across the floodplains of the mighty Brahmaputra River, this park consists of forests, grasslands and wetlands. While it is a tiger reserve and has wild Asian Elephants, the reason Kaziranga is famous is that it is home to the world’s largest population of one-horned rhinoceros. Located at the extreme east of India, a visit to this park can be combined with a stay at a lovely Tea estate, or a gentle river cruise making for a unique holiday.
Gir: Gir, or Sasagir, is home to the last surviving Asiatic Lions in the world. They have managed to conserve and sustain entire species which was on the brink of extinction. Today, the number of Lions is growing and the park is open from mid-October through mid-June. While Gir has played a significant role in the history of Indian wildlife, we feel the safari experience it now offers is no the greatest. The park is small and is managed somewhat like a zoo. So while lions are used to humans and sightings are plentiful, hardcore wildlifers will most likely be disappointed. The park however is located in Gujarat, a rich is culture and heritage state with some of the most beautiful monuments along with a varying landscape. A journey to Gujarat will include an opportunity to see the world’s only Asiatic Lions, amazing monuments and stepwells, tribal communities and salt pans that stretch to the end of the country.
HOW LONG SHOULD I SPEND IN INDIA?
We’ve heard from a trusted expert that 40 days is the bare minimum in which a traveler can truly taste all of India’s highlights. Yet as few have the time, resources or interest to journey anywhere in the world for such an extended period of time, we find that two weeks is often the ideal duration for your first few trips to India. We’ve devised several itinerary options based on duration and interest that work well for first timers and India lovers alike:
Golden Triangle and Extensions
Golden Triangle (Delhi, Agra, Jaipur): 6 - 9 nights
Golden Triangle with Extended Rajasthan (Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Udaipur): 10 - 15 nights
Golden Triangle with Classical India (Gwalior, Khajuraho, Varanasi): 10 - 12 nights
Rajasthan, Kerala & Southeast India
Rajasthan (Jaipur, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Udaipur) & Kerala (Kochi, Kumarakom,
& Mararikulam) : 12 - 18 nights
Extended Kerala: (Kochi, Munnar, Madurai, Periyar, Kumarakom & Mararikulam)
Kerala & Southeast India (Chennai, Mammalapuram, Pondicherry, Thanjavur, Chettinad, Madurai): 12 - 17 nights
Tiger Safari & Snow Leopard Trekking
Tiger Safari (Mumbai, Kanha, Bandhagarvh, Ranthambore) with Golden Triangle: 12 - 16 nights
Extended Tiger Safari (Mumbai, Kanha, Kaziranga, Bandhagarvh, Tadoba) with Golden Triangle: 17 - 21 nights
Snow Leopard Trek (Delhi, Leh & Ulley): 11 - 14 nights
WHAT OTHER COUNTRIES CAN I COMBINE with a trip to INDIA?
UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
India is easily paired with a variety of countries in Asia and the Middle East. With the ever-increasing presence of both Emirates and Ethiad Airlines in North America, Dubai and Abu Dhabi respectively have become incredibly popular extensions before or after an India trip. Direct flights, most of which are just around three hours in duration, are offered between Dubai and various Indian cities including Delhi, Mumbai, Kochi and Chandigarh. While many believe a night or two is more than enough in the Emirates, we strongly disagree! Most travelers could easily spend five to six nights in Dubai and/or Abu Dhabi and still find themselves wishing for a longer stay. Nevertheless, if time is of the essence we can offer you a highly optimized 2 - 3 night itinerary that will pack in the absolute must-see and do of this incredibly modern nation that is full of surprises.
Sri Lanka is located just south of India and is the ideal complement for those most interested in wildlife. When it comes to safari, Sri Lanka boasts its own Big Four: leopards, elephants, blue whales and sloth bears. While Yala National Park is known for one of the world’s largest leopard populations, smaller parks such as Horton Plains, Gal Oya and Kumana are less frequented and equally thrilling. Sri Lanka also boasts fascinating cities, from the stunning colonial architecture in Galle to the lush, mountainous scenery of Kandy. While Sri Lanka can easily be done as a trip of 10 - 14 nights on its own, a 4 - 7 night combination with India will allow you to see the best of the island.
The land of Happiness and perhaps the best example of ecological conservation in the world. With its rugged mountainous landscape, ancient traditions, stunning monasteries and welcoming people, Bhutan makes for a unique and great holiday destination. You can fly into Bhutan through Delhi or Kolkata in India or through Kathmandu in Nepal. A usual Bhutan holiday is from 5 - 7 nights and includes Thimpu, Punakha and Paro. Bhutan visas are prearranged and can be obtained by us on your behalf.
The Himalayan country of Nepal is a country that seems have stood still in time. Initially a place for adventure enthusiasts and mountaineers, today Nepal caters to every form of tourist. A Hindu nation, this country has an interesting history which can be seen in its unique architecture and culture. A holiday to Nepal could be as short as four days just visiting Kathmandu or up to nine days including the beautiful city of Pohkara and the national Park at Chitwan to see one horned rhinos, elephants and tigers. Kathmandu is also the perfect place to begin your Everest Base Camp trek. The flight from Delhi to Kathmandu is just under 90 minutes. Nepal has visa on arrival and e-visa services which make it easy to enter the country.
For those interested in visiting Tibet, India is a natural pairing. While India boasts its own Himalayas, many travelers will often visit India before advancing to Kathmandu, Nepal where they are required to stay for several days while their permit is processed at the Chinese Embassy. A Chinese visa is also required in conjunction with the permit. The Tibetan plateau is one of the highest and largest in the world. The most distinctive feature of traveling to this country is its amazing landscapes. From jagged snow covered mountain peaks, to vast glaciers, looming passes to jeweled colored lakes, Tibet is one of the most naturally beautiful places you ever will visit. Lahsa is the main city and from there you’ll travel to smaller places visiting historic lands visiting amazing monasteries, seeing ancient monuments and breathtaking scenery. Popular itineraries for Tibet range from four to eight days.
For those looking for a romantic and relaxing extension to their Indian adventure, Maldives serves as an ideal final stop. When one thinks of Maldives, azure blue seas, white sandy beaches, luxurious resorts is what comes to mind. Each year the small island national continues to up the ante in its offerings, with the world’s first over water observatory having just opened in April 2018. Over the water bungalows, days filled with snorkeling, diving, jet skiing, or relaxing at the bar or spa is what defines a vacation to the Maldives. Maldives is an ideal honeymoon destination but also great for families or groups of friends with an appreciation for idyllic beaches, incredible properties and time to relax. Four to five nights is the usual length of a trip post but those with more leisure time will often stay up to 14 nights trying different islands and resorts.