Where to go

The heart of India

The heart of India beats in the densely populated plains of the River Ganga, settled and cultivated for millennia, and the home of great civilizations which shape the lives of nearly one billion people today. To the south lies the peninsula, politically always more fragmented than the plains and agriculturally less fertile, but with mineral resources that have supplied empires from the Indus Valley Civilization over 4000 years ago to the present. Beyond lies one of India's great natural frontiers, the palm-fringed Indian Ocean, stretching from the Arabian Sea in the west to the Bay of Bengal in the east, and offering nothing but scattered island chains between Kanniyakumari and Antarctica.

From snowfields to deserts

To the north of the plains stand the Himalaya, what a 19th-century Surveyor General of India described as “the finest natural combination of boundary and barrier that exists in the world. It stands alone. For the greater part of its length only the Himalayan eagle can trace it. It lies amidst the eternal silence of vast snowfield and icebound peaks“. In the eastern foothills of the Himalaya, for example, are some of the wettest regions in the world, still covered in dense rainforest, while in their western ranges are the high- altitude deserts of Ladakh. Similarly the Gangetic plains stretch from the fertile and wet delta of Bengal to the deserts of North Rajasthan. Even the peninsula ranges from the tropical humid climate of the western coast across the beautiful hills of the Western Ghats to the dry plateau inland.

Land of sacred rivers

India's most holy river, the Ganga, runs across the vital heartland of the country and through the mythology of Hinduism. Joined by other holy rivers along its route, its waters are a vital source of irrigation. Its path is dotted with towns and settlements of great sanctity, and it is a vital economic asset as well as the focus of devotion for hundreds of millions of people. To the south the great rivers of the peninsula - the Narmada, Krishna, Tungabhadra and Kaveri to name only the largest - also have a spiritual significance to match their current role as providers of water and power.

Golden sands

Goa's palm-fringed golden beaches on the sun-drenched tropical west coast have long provided a magical getaway for travellers from around the world. But there are still many less well-known hideaways up and down the often sandy coastline. Lushly vegetated and densely populated, Kerala in the far southwest adds idyllic backwaters to its coastal fringe, while offshore the almost unvisited Lakshadweep Islands offer a coral paradise for divers equalling that of the better-known Maldives to the south. Far to the east in the Bay of Bengal the Andamans add another dimension to the exotic character of India's coast, its scattered islands being home to some of the world's most primitive aboriginal tribes.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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