The options for a vacation in India that reflects the beauty of this diverse country are almost endless. There are national parks, religious sites and experiences, cooking classes, and a variety of places to stay that will give you authentic experiences immersing you in Indian culture.
These fascinating places to visit in India are representative of the culture and color of the country so when you are planning your vacation consider taking a risk, getting off the beaten path, and exploring all that India has to offer. You may find yourself staying in a palace or floating in the backwaters in a houseboat. These varied destinations will give you some out-of-the-ordinary ideas for your trip to India.
Tourists can take cooking classes in India and learn about Indian cuisine. No matter what your level of interest, you'll find classes to meet your needs. Single day classes are a hit with beginners who have a general interest, while extended residential programs cater to those who want to go on a more in-depth culinary voyage. You'll find that many homestays in India offer casual Indian cooking classes to guests. The Bangala, in Chettinad in Tamil Nadu, is one of them.
Check out 12 cooking classes and cooking schools in India for some recommendations on places to hone your Indian cooking skills. At Saffron Palate, in Delhi, for example, they offer cooking experiences in an Indian home, featuring cuisines from all over India, including popular street food. Market walks and customized classes are also available.
There are almost 100 national parks and 450 wildlife sanctuaries in India which are huge attractions. Each national park is unique in regards to its wildlife and scenery and you'll see everything from tigers to rhinoceros. Many parks are known for having a particular type of wildlife, so where to go will depend on what you want to see.
- Ranthambore, where you're likely to see Bengal tigers, offers a mix of history and nature. There's a 10th-century fort to see and scenic steep cliffs.
- Kanha National Park, where you'll see swamp deer and many other animals in a lush setting, was the setting for Rudyard Kipling's classic novel, The Jungle Book.
- Kaziranga National Park lets you explore via elephant safari and you can see the one-horned rhinoceros.
From the Taj Mahal to Khajuraho, India is filled with historical monuments and heritage. Its past has seen a melting pot of different religions, rulers and empires—all of which have left their mark so there's plenty to see and learn.
If you want to get off the beaten track, visit little-known UNESCO World Heritage Sites such as Champaner and Pavagadh where you'll find architectural and archeological treasures from both Muslim and Hindu traditions including imposing fortresses, palaces, and temples dating back to between the 8th and 14th centuries. The Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park is the only unaltered and complete Islamic pre-Mughal city in India.
There are beautiful palaces, the majority of which are located in Rajasthan, built by clans of warrior Rajput rulers. The Pink City of Jaipur has a particularly large number of ornate palaces. Out of financial necessity, many of them have been converted into beautiful hotels. You can stay at the amazing Umaid Bhawan Palace, which incorporates a museum, royal family residence, and luxury hotel on the property, perched atop Chittar Hill, overlooking the historic Blue City and the Mehrangarh Fort.
There are impressive historical monuments to visit and temples to take in, especially in southern India. While the Taj Mahal is the best-known, places such as the Agra Fort one of the finest Mughal forts in India is worth a visit. You can see the many buildings within the fort and enjoy an evening sound and light show.
Adventure travel is hugely popular in India. The Himalaya region is the setting for many adventure travel activities. However, there are plenty of options for adventure travel in India's south as well. Trekking, white water rafting, paragliding, hot air ballooning, and even heli-skiing are just some of what's possible.
Some of the most popular adventure travel destinations in India include northeast India for tribes to visit, wildlife to spot, peaks to climb, caving, trekking, and jungles. Uttarakhand, bordered by Nepal and Tibet, is full of unspoiled natural beauty where you can hike to see ancient holy places, forests, and valleys. The Valley of Flowers National Park is a popular place for a seasonal trek in that area.
India has some opulent and authentic palace hotels that were once home to the country's royalty but have since been converted into luxury accommodations. You can stay in them and experience how royalty once lived. Most are located in Rajasthan, which used to be divided into and ruled by separate grandiose Rajput kingdoms.
The romantic Taj Lake Palace is a white marble palace floating in the middle of beautiful Lake Pichola. Guests arrive by boat to this 83-room luxury hotel with rooms and suites appointed with elegant, yet traditional Indian décor. The elegance continues with the upscale restaurants and bar—all with lake views.
A trip on a houseboat along Kerala's backwaters is a quintessential thing to do in India. The lush green palm-fringed landscape, diverse wildlife, and villages that line the backwaters make a journey along these waterways seem like a journey through another world.
The majority of houseboats are hired from Alleppey, the gateway to the backwaters in between Kochi and Kollam. Many resorts and luxury hotels have their own houseboats as well. They offer sunset cruises and overnight trips so you can do a quick day trip or leisurely travel the scenic backwaters for a week.
Srinagar in Kashmir also has houseboats, although they're moored to the side of the lake.
Ayurveda is the medical side of yoga. It’s India’s traditional natural healing system, which has been practiced for over 5,000 years. Ayurvedic resorts have become popular destinations for relaxation and rejuvenation in India, while Ayurvedic hospitals cater to people seeking Ayurvedic treatment for more serious health problems. The best time to go is during the monsoon season.
Kerala has been an important center for the development of Ayurveda as the green forests and hills are abundant with herbs and medicinal plants.
One of the most unforgettable and enchanting experiences you can have in India is to ride through the rippling, windswept desert on camelback and camp out under the stars. Taking a camel safari will also give you the opportunity to witness the rustic, rural desert life of India. You can also ride double-humped Bactrian camels in Ladakh's Nubra Valley, and go on yak safaris in Spiti.
Agriculture is the backbone of the Indian economy and agritourism is one of the latest concepts to revolutionize the Indian travel industry. Buoyed by the growing popularity of homestays in India, farm stays (essentially a homestay on a farm) are blossoming across the country. They provide an authentic and interactive experience of rural life, in the delightfully fresh country air where everything from cheese to coffee is produced.
A Syrian Christian family runs Vanilla County on a 150-acre organic rubber and spice plantation. Guests stay in bungalows and "glamping tents" and have lots of activities to choose from—swimming in natural rock pools, exploring the plantation grounds, visiting villages and a local meditation ashram, and cruising the Kerala backwaters. Another homestay option is to stay on a tea estate and tour the tea plantations.
The largest mangrove jungles in the world can be found in India. The Sundarbans near Kolkata in West Bengal is most famous. However, Tamil Nadu has a lesser-known but substantially-sized mangrove jungle—Pichavaram. And, unlike the Sundarbans National Park, where access is limited, It's possible to go deep inside it by rowboat.
India, along with Africa, has the largest tribal population in the world. The lives of the tribes in India are closely tied to nature, and they inhabit some of the most pristine and picturesque environments in the country. Largely unaffected by the modern world, the tribal people are very simple and often curious folks who have retained their rituals and customs. And many love receiving visitors.
To visit the tribes in Odisha you'll need to go with a tribal tour group as some tribal areas require permits and are fairly remote. Visitors will need translators and advice on tribal customs and cultural norms. One option is Heritage Tours which operates a 7-day Tribal Wonders tour.
Bordering Odisha, the small state of Chhattisgarh is about one-third tribal, with most living in the forested areas of the Bastar region. Erco Travels is one tour company that offers a 10-day Bastar Tribal Tour including sightseeing in Delhi.
Watch the Sun Set Over the White Salt Desert
Sublime and surreal, much of the Great Rann of Kutch in Gujarat consists of the world's largest salt desert, measuring around 10,000 square kilometers. What makes it even more amazing is that the salt desert is underwater during the main monsoon season in India. For the remaining eight months of the year, it's an enormous stretch of packed white salt. Any sunset is special there but more so when it's complemented by a full moon.
India has spiritual appeal for both Indians and foreigners alike. You can attend a Buddhist Vipassana meditation retreat, join an ashram, or learn yoga. Another moving experience is to take part in an evening aarti (fire worship) along the Ganges river at either Rishikesh, Haridwar, or Varanasi.
Being a highly religious country, festivals are at the heart of people’s lives in India. The numerous and varied festivals that are held throughout the year offer a unique way of experiencing Indian culture at its best.
Diwali, one of the best-known festivals, honors the victory of good over evil and brightness over darkness. It's known as the "Festival of Lights" for all the fireworks, small clay lamps, and candles that are lit.
The Holi festival is popular with visitors because it's fun and colorful. The festival symbolism is centered around the burning and destruction of the demoness Holika but the fun and most photo-worthy part is seeing people throwing brightly colored powder at each other.
This one's for the kids and the young at heart! There are dozens of theme and amusement parks in India. You'll be able to enjoy everything from wet 'n' wild rides at Wonderla Bangalore where 12 rides are water-based, to a tour of Ramoji Film City near Hyderabad where thousands of Indian movies are filmed every year.
You can even get in touch with Indian culture at an amusement park. Kingdom of Dreams is a huge live entertainment, Bollywood theater, and leisure park that brings together both Indian culture and performing arts.
India has a growing wine industry. Wine tourism is the new buzzword in Nashik, about four hours from Mumbai in Maharashtra. There are now almost 50 wineries in and around Nashik, and many Nashik vineyards now have tasting rooms that are open to the public.
India has some renowned beaches for chilling out and catching a wave is actually really popular in India. You'll find most of the surfing spots in southern India. If you're an intermediate or advanced surfer, head to the Andaman Islands for remote spots only accessible by boat.
If you are not into surfing, Varkala beach, about 45 minutes north of the capital Trivandrum in Kerala, is very scenic with a paved stretch along the cliff where you can look out over the Arabian Sea. Yoga and Ayurveda are popular there.
It's impossible to visit India without buying something. Each region tends to specialize in a particular industry that's been handed down over generations. There are also some fabulous handicraft stores in India with unique local crafts to offer. And definitely not to be overlooked are the top markets in Delhi and places such as Chor Bazaar in Mumbai. It's also possible to go on a dedicated handicraft tour in India.
In Rajasthan, you'll find colorful hand-made goods ranging from textiles embroidered with colorful mirror work to block-printed designs. Odisha is known for its intricate silver jewelry. Cuttack, its second largest city, is where you'll be sure to find some delicate filigree work, said to be the best in the world.
Experiential tourism is quickly growing in popularity in India, and there are some fabulous off-beat tours that you can take in India that will expand your knowledge of the country beyond the usual tourist attractions. All kinds of activities are possible, from handicraft and art workshops to village visits—and even attending an Indian wedding!
Going to a dance festival is a great way to learn about Indian dance and the cultural significance of styles of dance. Kathakali is one of the major forms of classical Indian dance and tells a story. You can see the brightly made-up and costumed dancers in several centers in Kerala.
Going on a walking tour in India is also a great way to get in touch with daily life.
Be selective when visiting a place in India where elephants are the attraction. Some do not treat the elephants well. However, there are a few ethical tourist-oriented places that focus on interaction with elephants, where the elephants are not mistreated. An alternative is to visit one of the rehabilitation centers that have been set up for the conservation and well-being of elephants.
Wildlife S.O.S. is a non-profit organization that works to protect and save wildlife in India. The center in Mathura provides medical treatment to injured and sick elephants and rescues them from abusive environments.