BY DAVID STOTT
India’s capital city is dynamic, chaotic and a perfect introduction to the country. From the labyrinthine streets of Chandni Chowk to the serene Lotus Temple and the colonnades of Connaught Place – it is a city of magical variety.
2 Taj Mahal
The romance of the world’s most famous building still astonishes in its power and beauty. Come early in the morning while the marble is cool. There are some good vantage points around Agra, especially the arches of Agra’s Red Fort.
The holiest of cities defies easy description. This is India in the raw: utterly fascinating, deeply spiritual and often uncomfortable. Take a sunset boat trip along the Ganga to see the evening aarti ceremonies on the riverside.
Gateway to the Himalaya and setting for the International Yoga Festival, Rishikesh has always been a home to gurus, sadhus and teachers; now it also draws people for the powerful whitewater rafting on the Ganga.
With a range of climbs from easy valley walks to high-altitude plateaux and epic Himalayan treks, India gets you closer to nature. You can trek to the source of the Ganges, walk in the beautiful Valley of the Flowers or visit Buddhist gompas in Spiti.
6 Corbett National Park
India’s first national park and one of its finest, Corbett’s forests and riverine plains are home to wild tiger and hundreds of elephants. You can explore the park from the top of an elephant or in a jeep. There are also opportunities to stay inside the park.
This magical medieval city shimmers like a mirage in the desert and has an incredible atmosphere, with narrow streets inside the fort walls, beautiful mansion houses and Jain temples.
8 Camel Safari from Bikaner
Desert camp fires with live music and endless starry nights are your treats at the end of a day’s camel riding. Get insight into village life and try typical Rajasthani dishes, such as desert beans – kej sangri.
The country’s intellectual hub also retains many of its most striking colonial buildings. The spiritual highlight of the year is Durga Puja, celebrating the Goddess Durga.
Bordering Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet, Sikkim offers an insight into Buddhist culture and provides dramatic Himalayan views and alpine meadows. Almost a quarter of the state is covered by the Khangchendzonga National Park.
This noisy, dusty and overcrowded Tamil centre is a heady cocktail of temple elephants, crumbling buildings, flower sellers, cycle-rickshaws and musicians.
12 Backwater Kerala
This is the ultimate way to find serenity in India. Converted rice barges ply the waterways of Kerala granting access to a huge variety of birdlife, small riverside villages and some exceptional Keralan dishes from your on-board chef. It’s truly magical.
Experience wild India at Karnataka’s Nagarhole National Park. It is the richest tiger habitat in India, with herds of wild elephants and a wide variety of birds. It is part of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve and you can do safaris by boat and jeep.
The former capital of the Vijayanagar Empire is a place of hugely impressive ruins and a hypnotic, chilled-out vibe. Many people come here to try rock climbing as there are stunning boulders and you can climb up to the Hanuman Temple for a bird’s-eye view.
Maximum City is the home of Bollywood; you can even be an extra in a movie. Take tea at the Taj Mahal Hotel, eat delicious fish dishes at numerous restaurants or try the local bhel puri.
16 Ellora Caves
Hewn from the vertical face of the Charanandri hills, these magnificent cave temples represent Buddhist, Jain and Hindu mythology. Cave 10 is the most significant of the Buddhist rock cut caves with a massive Buddha at its heart, while the awe-inspiring Hindu Mount Kailash (Kailasa) temple is the abode of Lord Shiva; absolutely stunning.