1. Dreamy Hampi: The surreal boulderscape of Hampi was once the glorious and cosmopolitan Vijayanagar, capital of a powerful Hindu empire. Still glorious in ruins, its temples and royal structures combine sublimely with the terrain: giant rocks balance on skinny pedestals near an ancient elephant garage; temples tuck into crevices between boulders; and wicker coracles float by rice paddies and bathing buffaloes near a gargantuan bathtub for a queen. Watching the sunset cast a rosy glow over the dreamy landscape, you might just forget what planet you’re on.
2. Taj Mahal: Don’t let fears of tour buses or touts or hordes of visitors get you thinking you can skip Agra’s Taj Mahal – you can’t. Even on a crowded, hot day, this world wonder is still the ‘Crown of Palaces’, a monument to love whose very walls seem to resound with the Emperor Shah Jahan’s adoration of his beloved Mumtaz Mahal, the ‘Gem of the Palace’. The marble mausoleum – inlaid with calligraphy, precious and semiprecious stones and intricate flower designs representing eternal paradise – is the world’s most poetic parting.
3. Hill Station: The valleys, deserts and palm-lined beaches are all well and good, but it can get hot down there. India’s princes and British colonials long used cool mountain towns like Darjeeling as refuges from the heat, and today the hill stations still have lush forests and crisp mountain air. So curl up under a blanket with a steaming cup of local tea and watch mountain birds swooping over misty hillsides, moody clouds passing over undulating hills of bulbous tea trees and village kids running through mountain fog and wildflowers.
4. Safaris: You have to be lucky to spot a tiger or a leopard in India, but it can be done. Even if you don’t see any, you’ll enjoy wandering one of India’s many forest wildlife reserves on the back of an elephant, observing deer, peacocks and langur monkeys while birds and butterflies flit overhead. Or just forget the tigers and elephants and go for camels: desert safaris around Jaisalmer and Bikaner involve riding atop the tall, goofy animals and camping out among dunes under star-packed skies.
5. Backwaters of Kerala: It’s unusual to find a place as gorgeous as Kerala’s backwaters: 900km of interconnected rivers, lakes and lagoons lined with tropical flora. And if you do, there likely won’t be a way to experience it that’s as peaceful and intimate as a few days on a teak-and-palm-thatch houseboat. Float along the water – maybe as the sun sets behind the palms, maybe while eating to-die-for Keralan seafood, maybe as you fall asleep under a twinkling sky – and forget about life on land for a while.
This article is an excerpt from our India travel guide. Go on, grab a copy NOW!