Where to go in India

India is one big collection of cultural curveballs. So, although these are our highlights of where to go in India, it is worth stressing that for every special place or experience, there are another ten just around the corner. Although the Taj Mahal is a highlight for many, there are Mughal marvels such as Biwi ka Maqbara in Aurangabad or Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi that shouldn’t be missed. And while Rathambore National Park is a wildlife favourite, Bandipur National Park, Bandhavgarh National Park, Pench and Panna are beauties. Trekking in the Indian Himalayas around Ladakh is something very special to aspire to, but don’t let these peaks upstage the rambling delights of the Western Ghats in Kerala, where you can chill in the hills followed by a few days of blissing out at the beach. Just keep your eyes and ears open when you are travelling in India and the highlights will happen when you least expect.
1. Bandhavgarh
2. Chhattisgarh
3. Delhi
4. Goa
5. Gujarat
6. Jaipur
7. Kashmir
8. Kerala
9. Rajasthan
10. Ranthambore National Park
11. Taj Mahal
Bandhavgarh

1. Bandhavgarh

Bandhavgarh was once a popular hunting ground for the Maharajas, and it is now one of the last few tiger habitats in the world. Seeing tigers in the wild is tricky, but this national park is one of India's smallest, with the highest concentrations of these big cats. Be heartened that if you don't spot them, you may well see leopards, deer, wild boar, sloth bears and a bevvy of birds to boot.
Chhattisgarh

2. Chhattisgarh

Few tourists are aware of this central-east state with tribal communities such as the Baiga, Gond, Maria, Dhurwa and Bhatra who are starting to share their traditions and lifestyles, many of which haven’t changed for thousands of years, with visitors. Combine with a visit to the nearby state of Odisha to meet the Kondh and Paraja people too. Trekking in the Maikal Hills just adds to the magic.
Delhi

3. Delhi

New and Old, it is the latter that still pulls the punters. And it is seriously old, going back 5,000 years. There are three UNESCO World Heritage Sites - Humayun's Tomb, the extraordinary Qutub complex with its elegant 12th century 72.5 m minaret, and The Red (sandstone) Fort. Walk from here to the Jama Masjid Mosque, take in the views from its minaret, and you’ll have earned lunch at Chandni Chowk market.
Goa

4. Goa

India’s smallest state has so much more than its reputation for backpackers and boozy beach gangs would suggest. Stay clear of raucous resorts of Calangute, Candolim, and Baga and head to spots like Kerim, Ashwem and Anjun for beach bliss. For real action on Goa, not of the party kind, kayak through flowering mangroves of the Sal backwaters, down the Nerul River or cycle along this Konkan coast.
Gujarat

5. Gujarat

Gujarat is a state of dichotomies. As well as having coast and desert in close proximity, it also has one of the most industrialised landscapes cheek by jowl with medieval cultures. Explore the Kutch Desert, home to the nomadic Mir tribe or head to Poshina with its nearby tribal villages of Garacia, Adivacyi and Bharad. And although there are 1,600km of coastline, there are hardly any developed beaches. Yet.
Jaipur

6. Jaipur

Made famous again after the success of 'Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’, set among the flower markets, bazaars, Palace of the Winds and Amber Fort of this more than pretty in pink city. Its old town is a place to let the reality of India seep in. With camels and carts in the streets, monkeys climbing the city walls, fortune tellers, snake charmers and a Maharaja’s palace. Pity there isn’t an Oscar for ‘locations’.
Kashmir

7. Kashmir

Kashmir has long been a disputed area and is now administered by India, Pakistan and China. India’s section is the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Following years of violence, the FCO lifted its ban here in 2012, although still only advises travel to Ladakh and the cities of Jammu and Srinagar. So it is early days for having tourists back into the state as a whole, but a great time to get in there.
Kerala

8. Kerala

Best known for beaches and backwaters, houseboats and homestays, Kerala is also fab on foot, hiking through the splendid Western Ghats mountain range. Or by bike, cycling through spice and coconut plantations or along the backwaters. Avoiding the rash of resorts around Kovalam, head north to Malabar for beach bliss. Hop over the border to states of Karnataka or Tamil Nadu for full on southern Indian trail mix.
Rajasthan

9. Rajasthan

Rajasthan is like walking into both an artist’s palette and imagination. With the ‘Pink City’ of Jaipur and all its palaces and prettiness, the devastatingly beautiful dunes of the Thar Desert, the multi-coloured Brahma Temple at Pushkar , the all blue desert city of Jodphur and Udaipur’s Lake Pichola with its purple Aravalli Hills, it’s the whole gamut of gorgeousness.
Ranthambore National Park

10. Ranthambore National Park

Ranthambore feels so much like waking up in Rudyard Kipling’s head, you almost expect Baloo to appear. It is one of the ‘bear necessities’ of a trip to India. And there are indeed sloth bears here, on which Baloo was based, as well as being the habitat of the Bengal tiger, nilgai, sambar and jungle cat, plus crocodile in the lake. All living among a magical mixture of tropical forest and ruined temples.
Taj Mahal

11. Taj Mahal

Three words. Don’t miss it. You can’t fail to fall in love with the white marble mausoleum, built by grieving Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his late wife. It is the icing on the cake of this period of Mughal architectural period. Although Agra is pretty ghastly, stay overnight to see it at sunrise. Don’t miss the Agra Fort and ‘ghost town’ of Fatehpur Sikri.

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India itineraries

14 day itinerary of Golden Triangle and more
Delhi > Agra > Jaipur > Pushkar > Khimsar > Jodhpur > Deogarh > Udaipur > Delhi

14 day cycling trip
Mysore to Goa > Bangalore > Mysore > Bylakuppe > Belur and Halebid > Mudigere > Chikkamagalur > Koppa > Baindur > Gokarna > Karwar > Goa

21 day India by train (mostly)
Amritsar > Delhi > Agra > Jaipur (by car) > Mumbai > Goa > Bangalore > Mysore and Bandipur National Park (by car) > Ooty (by car) > Coonoor > Ernakulum > Kochi

Travel times in India

The following times give you a rough idea of the travelling times between the main attractions in India.
New Delhi to Agra: 2 hours by train New Delhi to Mumbai: 16 hours by sleeper train Kochi to Kozhikode: 5 hours by car Jaipur to Jodhpur: 6 hours by car Delhi to Leh: 1 hour 20 mins by air
Written by Catherine Mack
Photo credits: [Page banner: Uzi Yachin] [Top box - cycling locals: Ravisankar Pandian] [Bandhavgarh National Park : elkhiki] [Chhattisgarh : PREM KUMAR MARNI] [Delhi - Humayun's Tomb: Habeeb] [Goa: Tanya Dedyukhina] [Gujarat: nevil zaveri] [Jaipur: Arian Zwegers] [Kashmir : koshy koshy] [Kerala: Jean-Pierre Dalbéra] [Rajasthan: Premaram67 ] [Ranthambore National Park: bjoern] [Taj Mahal: plaits] [Travel times: Jayakumar Ananthan]
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