India’s culture and heritage are a rich amalgam of the past and the present. This vast country offers the visitor a view of fascinating religions and ethnography, a vast variety of languages with more than 438 living languages, and monuments that have been present for thousands of years. As it opens up to a globalised world, India still has a depth of history and intensity of culture that awes and fascinates the many who visit there.
We invite you to consider the destinations listed below, then consult our Tours Section, to choose the tour that includes your particular favored destinations. Or, email to discuss your own customized itinerary with one of our highly experienced travel consultants.
India is the favored destination of many travelers to Asia. This vast nation has enough to captivate travelers of any taste and travel style. From the hypnotic desert palaces of Rajasthan, to the wildlife parks throughout the country; from the pilgrimage sites of Varanasi, Sarnath and Madurai, to the ethereal alpine majesty of the Himalayan Foothills, India is bound to captivate any traveler. Explore India has developed a series of extensive programs, which incorporate the following destinations.
The Capital – Delhi:
The capital city of Delhi bears witness to generations of rule and cultural cross-fertilization. Delhi’s history stretches back over 3,000 years, with monuments of this extended history throughout the city. The Red Fort is one of the primary Moghul masterpieces, a self-contained city of palaces, dance halls, and meeting places. Nearby, the Jama Masjid is India’s largest mosque, with 25,000 worshippers filling the courtyard each Friday. Visit Raj Ghat, the site of Mahatma Gandhi’s cremation: a highly informative and captivating museum documents the Mahatma’s life through photographs and personal mementos, which provide a unique insight into India’s history. A walk down Rajpath towards India Gate or Parliament House displays the unique imagination of Sir Edward Lutyens, the architect who combined British Imperial style with archetypal Moghul style to create this unforgettable testimony to India’s modern democratic history. Connaught Circus and Janpath are the heart of New Delhi’s commercial sector, perfect for souvenir shopping. Nearby, the Jantar Mantar is a huge 250-year-old observatory, whose timekeeping is as impressive as its elegant abstract lines. Spend an afternoon at the National Museum, with its extensive collection covering over 5,000 years of India’s history. Also worth visiting is the Crafts Museum, covering building traditions and folk art from all of Indiaís rural communities. Tibet House organizes seminars, lectures, and has a small display of Tibetan art. Humayan’s Tomb is a beautiful building in its own right, and is also fascinating as it is the greatest Moghul monument built before the Taj Mahal; you can see the stylistic similarities in the two buildings. Safdarjung’s Tomb was built after the Taj; its style is associated with the twilight of Moghul style. Visit the Baha’i Temple, a graceful structure with a distinctive air of tranquility and reflection. Nearby is Tuqlaqabad, the ghostly remains of the third city of Delhi, built during the short reign of Tughluq, in the 14th century. Also worth visiting is the Qutb Minar complex, a marvelous example of Delhi’s complex history: the first mosque in the city was built with broken remnants of the Hindu temple which ha previously been on this site.
The Taj Mahal – Memories of love:
No visit to India is complete without a journey to Agra. The Taj Mahal is one of those extremely rare creations: an image so often seen in photographs and media, yet still imbued with a fresh, awesome power when one sees it in reality. Shah Jahan’s sublime testament to his departed wife, Mumtaz Mahal, is a marvel of marble and precious inlay. Visit it at sunrise and sunset to see the effects of differing lights. While in Agra, also visit some of the other sights of the city: Itm-Ud-Daulah, designed by Nur Jahan, the most powerful woman in Moghul history, and Agra Fort, where Shah Jahan was imprisoned by his son, Aurangzeb. A few miles outside of Agra is the abandoned city of Fatehpur Sikri, built by the Emperor Akbar, but abandoned due to water shortages. This enchanting, atmospheric site is often used as a stage set for Hindi films.
The Rajasthan – The land of Forts, Palaces and Cultural Traditions:
For many visitors, the western desert state of Rajasthan is the archetypal India: broad sweeping desert landscapes, punctuated by imposing forts and castles. Men in turbans lead camels through markets, while women in heavy silver bangles and bold printed skirts balance towering loads on their heads. Jaipur is known as “The Pink City” for its use of soft pink sandstone. The City Palace is a treasure trove of wildly painted reception halls, and doors decorated with vividly painted peacocks and abstract designs of pure bold color. Nearby, the Palace of Winds reminds visitors of a wedding cake, its finely tooled stonework a marvel of masonry. Just outside Jaipur is the town of Amber, known for its massive fortress. Its walls are covered in Moghul style mosaics. Wander through the town, with its wealth of temples and ruins.
Travel onwards to Udaipur: for many, this is the prime jewel of Rajasthan. Situated on the banks of Lake Pichola, the city has many sights itself, and is a luxurious base for exploring the surrounding area. Visit the City Palace, with mirror-encrusted walls, gaily-painted murals, and a labyrinth of courtyards and balconies. The Jagdish Temple is one of the busiest in the city. Visit the Bharatiya Lok Kala, Udaipurís excellent Folk Museum, covering the many aspects of Rajasthanís folk traditions: block printing, puppetry, painting, and music. Travel to nearby Nagda, a pro-Mughal city dating back to the 7th century, and Eklingji, an important Siva temple complex: the Maharana of Udaipur worships here on Mondays. Also visit Ranakpur, a massive Jain temple complex in a delightfully peaceful setting. The abandoned fortress of Chittorgarh is a classic Rajput fort: its bloody history saw dramatic cases of ritual JOHAR, where the women threw themselves onto a funeral pyre to avoid being taken captive by the Moghul conquerors.
Many visitors are drawn to Pushkar for its annual Camel Fair in February, where the desert comes alive with camel races, and music and dance festivals. Also visit Jodhpur, and tour the Mehrangarh Fort: the museum houses a prize 250 year old pure silk tent, seized from the Mughal Court in Delhi.
In the Far West of Rajasthan, the Desert City of Jaisalmer has superb Haveli architecture, and is the base for camel treks in the Thar Desert. Many desert oases in the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan have excellent frescoes, and their palaces have been converted to some of the most romantic hotels in the world. Visit such atmospheric towns as Bikaner and Mandawa.
Temples and Sculpturs and Spirituality:
The spiritual heart of India is undoubtedly Varanasi, also known as Benaras, Kashi, and the City of Light. Situated on the banks of the Ganges, the most sacred Hindu City is a center for studying classical Indian music and dance, yoga, and Hinduism. The old city is a maze of small temples, shrines, and houses. An early morning boat ride on the Ganges is unforgettable: float past the GHATS, where men do early morning yoga, and women fetch holy water from the river to anoint the many small shrines throughout the old city. Varanasi is also world famous for its dazzling silks and saris. There are often music festivals and performances. Travel to Sarnath, whose tranquil atmosphere is highly appropriate for this site of the Buddha’s first teachings. Several monasteries and universities are active here; it is also a popular site for families to escape the busy pace of Varanasi.
Khajuraho is the site of some of the finest sculptures in India. Although the temples are renowned for their erotic sculpture, all of the sculptures represent the apex of Indian art. The nearby city of Lucknow is traditionally the center of traditional Mughal arts and music, with a festival of Kathak dance each February. The sacred city of Allahabad is the site of the Maha Kumbh Mela every 12 years: the greatest Sivaite festival in India. The city was Jawaharlal Nehru spent his childhood in Allahabad: his home is now a museum documenting the Indian Independence movement.
The Tiger Land:
Many people are drawn to India to visit the fabulous wildlife parks. Travel to the lush Ranthambore National Park where Project Tiger originated. Although few tigers survive, the park has many chital, nilgai, panthers, storks, serpent eagles, and glorious paradise flycatchers. Madhya Pradesh is home to two of the best parks in India. Bandavgarh is said to have the highest density of tigers in any park in India. There are also lovely rock-cut caves and a magnificent fort on the grounds. The park is particularly fine for bird-watchers. Rare hornbills and many kinds of rollers live here. Nearby, Kanha is a vast range of savannah, forest, hills and rivers, covering over two thousand square kilometers. Many aficionados consider Kanha to be the finest park in India, with hundreds of species of animals and birds. Indeed, it is sometimes known as the NíGorongoro of India. Southern India is home to Nagarhole National Park, which borders Bandipur park: the two consist of nearly 1500 square km. Nagarhole has dense jungle, and a great abundance of wildlife. It is one of the best places to see Asian elephants, as well as gaur, the shy sambar deer, spotted chital, and small, barking muntjac. A coracle ride along the Kabini River offers sightings of crocodiles, and the plethora of birds that live in the park. Your guide will point out to you the many species that inhabit the park. Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary is at its prime in winter, when it is home to migrating birds from Siberia, including cormorants, night herons, pheasants, tree pies, and others. Nearby, Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary is in the Cardamom Hills, centered on a lake. With four types of forest, including open grasslands and tropical evergreen, many species of bird and animal live in this diverse landscape. It is possible to get up to 20 yards away from huge elephant herds, and listen to their broad range of sounds. Eastern India has only recently been opened up to tourism. One of the highlights of the region is the Kaziranga National Park. This lush valley, on the banks of the Brahmaputra River, is home to rhinos, buffalo, and wild boar. The grasslands are prime territories for raptors; Kaziranga is home to crested serpent eagles and fishing eagles, as well as partridges, teal, and pelicans.
Southern India offers the visitor with a distinctly different experience than the north. The inhabitants of Tamil Nadu pride themselves on being “true Hindus”, their culture and religion relatively unaffected by the Mughals of the North. Madras is Indiaís fourth largest city, with many examples of British influence, including St Mary’s Church, and Fort St George. The Government Museum houses an excellent collection of South Indian arts, such as an unsurpassable series of Chola bronzes. Also visit Kapaleeshwara Temple, with its archetypal Dravidian gopuram. A highly recommended day trip takes in Kanchipuram, one of the seven sacred cities of India, and Mahabalipuram, with its collection of temples along the seafront including the Five Rathas, and the Shore Temples. Drive to Pondicherry, an unusual bastion of French flavor. Once the capital of French India, Pondicherry is now known for Auroville, an ashram inspired by a French woman, known as “The Mother”, who was a disciple of Sri Aurobindo. Travel inland towards Madurai, one of the most dynamic pilgrimage sites in India: each day, over 10,000 pilgrims visit the main temple. Also visit Tanjore, with one of the loveliest Siva temples in the country. The Ganesh temple in Trichy is perched on the Rock Fort: an 80 metre high vast stone outcrop, offering panoramic views of the city. Outside the city, the Srirangam temple is a frenzied, bustling Vishnu temple, surrounded by small shops selling coconuts and other offerings for the temple. Rest and relax in the cool climate of Kodaikanal, one of India’s finest hill stations. Travel onwards to Kerala, and visit Cochin. The city has an extraordinary history, with a synagogue decorated with Belgian chandeliers and Chinese tile-work. The harbor is still fished with Chinese fishing nets – the elegant, timeless design brought to Cochin by traders from the court of Kubla Khan. Travel along the sleepy backwaters to Alleppey, floating past palm trees and coffee plantations.
Bombay is the starting point for many great journeys in Central India. Visit Elephanta Island with its remarkable Trimurti sculpture. Visit Malabar Hill with its commanding views over the bay. Travel to Aurangabad, your base for exploring some of the greatest wonders of India: Ajanta and Ellora. These cave temples house some of the finest art treasures of the world. Ajanta is a series of rock cut temples along a river; the cave walls are decorated with some of India’s earliest Buddhist paintings. Ellora has Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain temples, including the Kailasa, the largest rock cut temple in the world. These two sites are breathtaking on both an aesthetic, and engineering level, with meditation halls hewn out of cliff walls, and thousands of tons of rock shifted away to create free standing temples. Also visit Daulatabad, with its vast fort rising out of the barren surrounding plains.
The residents of the Bengal City of Calcutta consider themselves the intellegensia of India, and have good reason for this self-image. Some of India’s greatest thinkers, writers, and artists have come from the vicinity of Calcutta: Rabindranath Tagore, Satyajit Ray, Ramakrishna, and Sri Aurobindo. This paradoxical city has a superb museum, the Victoria Memorial, one of the world’s largest planetariums, and fantastic markets. Travel to Darjeeling, the famed hill station with an unusually diverse history. Stroll through tea plantations, Tibetan markets, and the lovely Botanical Gardens. Set out early to Tiger Hill for a sublime sunrise: Kanchenjunga, Everest and a full 360-degree panorama are illuminated by the early morning light. Visit Ghoom Monastery and other active Tibetan Buddhist monasteries.
The northeast state of Orissa offers visitors unique temples, ethnic diversity, dramatic dances, and unique local arts. Begin your visit in Bhubaneswar, with its two thousand years of history. Orissa is home to a wide array of indigenous peoples; their diverse arts are displayed in the city’s museum. The city is an excellent place to see the distinctive Orissan temple style, with one of the most distinctive styles in Asia. After Bhubaneswar, visit Konarak, with its massive temple of the sun. The temple was abandoned for centuries, and only unearthed earlier this century. The temple depicts a massive chariot, pulled by a team of horses. Visit Puri, with the Jaganath temple. Chilka Lake is Asia’s largest Lagoon, and a bird-watcher’s Mecca.
The Western Himalayan region of India is one of the wildest, most beautiful parts of the country, accessible to people of all levels of fitness. From Delhi, travel north to Chandigarh, the unusual city designed by Le Corbusier. Continue north to one of the most beautiful areas of India, the Kangra valley, famous for its school of paintings. Visit McLeod Ganj, the site of the Tibetan government in exile. The Dalai Lama’s presence in this mountain town continues to draw a steady stream of refugees escaping Chinese oppression and torture. The Library of Tibetan Works and Archives offers daily classes in Tibetan Buddhist Philosophy. The library also has a museum of thangkas, statues, and other sacred objects.