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India & Nepal: The Taj Mahal, Mt. Everest and a Ganges River Cruise16 days from $9,295 (USD)
Explore the timeless Taj Mahal, before embarking on a seven-night Ganges River cruise into the heartland of rural India. Experience fabled Kathmand...
Visiting India is less a holiday than a spiritual experience; a milestone life event with the power to beguile, humble, and captivate. This is an awesome place, in the truest sense. The size, scope, and history of India takes one’s breath away, usually from the very moment they touch down. The country seems to, all at once, occupy the past of ages and the immediate present. There’s a timeless feeling to the weathered sandstone monuments, the thousand-year-old palaces and mosques, and the omnipresent traces of centuries’ worth of British colonialism, true, but step in the right space and you can practically feel the future humming ahead of you.
Delhi matches any global city in culture, fashion, and whip-smart tech, all while maintaining the warm authenticism with which visitors fall in love. Indeed, city centers scattered throughout the country are major international hubs of commerce and industry. Just in case you didn’t catch it the first time: India is many things, but it is, first and foremost, huge. It’s the world’s seventh-largest country by area, and boasts the second-largest population. Over a billion souls call this place home, and it’s easy enough for novice travelers to become dazed by the sea of humanity. Taking the time to get to know India, however, affords one a keener eye. You’ll notice the smiling faces all around you, the exquisite detail on the buildings you pass, the song of the bazaar (of which haggling voices, motorcars, and the breeze sing verses), the piquant air around you. Let India into your heart, and a piece will stay with you forever.
India Top Attractions
Enormous, diverse Delhi is unlike any place else on Earth. This international city center is one of Earth’s oldest cities, and a threshold of arts, technology, fashion, and culture. Don’t miss the sandstone splendor of the Red Fort, one of Delhi’s most iconic sights. Through the Lahore Gate, marvel at the blooming gardens and opulent living quarters of Shah Jahan, the same emperor who commissioned the Taj Mahal. The Persian gardens of Humayun’s Tomb are equally marvelous. The whole campus is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, built of red sandstone by a grieving widow in memory of her husband. Another UNESCO designee is the Qutub complex, which contains a mosque and tombs along with a Slave Dynasty “skyscraper” of intricately-carved stone. Check out India Gate, erected in honor of soldiers who perished in the first World War, several high-quality national museums, walk Connaught Place, and explore New Delhi, the British planned capital.
The “Pink City” takes its name from the distinctive hue of its sandstone buildings. Constructed as India’s first planned city in the mid-19th century, Jaipur is the capital of the Rajasthan region. Named for the goddess Amba (and serendipitously colored), the Amber Fort is a major attraction. Riding an elephant up the hill to the fort is the most exciting way to arrive! Check out the Sheesh Mahal, which is adorned with thousands of small mirrors. The Jal Mahal palace sits in the middle of the lake that, when in season, fills with fragrant and lovely hyacinth flowers. It’s a sight straight out of a storybook. The observatory of Jantar Mantar was one of the most scientifically-advanced of its time, and today is still a fantastic place to gaze at the stars and learn about the world around us. Jaipur is also rife with exquisite gardens, great museums, excellent eating, and an immersive experience in authentic Indian culture.
Agra / Taj Mahal
Along with Delhi and Jaipur, Agra rounds out the Golden Triangle of notable Indian cities. The fort of Agra is fascinating and beautiful, similar in floorplan to the Red Fort. From town, visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Fatehpur Sikri, which was once the capital of the Mughal Empire. It is now called the Ghost City, having been mysteriously abandoned to the ravages of time. Without question, the most important attraction in Agra—and, perhaps, in India itself—is the Taj Mahal. Built by Shah Jahan in the 17th century in honor of his favorite wife, the Taj Mahal is a breathtakingly gorgeous monument to the timelessness of love and memory. Reflecting pools and decorative gardens can be found within the complex, along with rooms inlaid with gems and the tombs of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal. No matter how many pictures you’ve seen, prepare to be extraordinarily moved by a visit to this world wonder.
Udaipur is interchangeably referred to as “the Venice of the East” and the most romantic city in India. It is riding a wave of international popularity, a trend easily attributed to its fantastic scenery and legacy of poetry and arts. Ride horseback over mountain passes and tribal villages, tour on camelback, or take a 4x4 safari—just get out and see the sights. Situated on the edge of Lake Pichola is the City Palace, a complex encompassing smaller palaces, museums, and gardens. The architecture is lovely, as are the waterfront vistas. The city is small enough to cycle, which is a fun and invigorating activity when the weather is pleasant. There are countless museums and gardens, as well as excursions to isolated temples! Udaipur is also very modernized, and home to plenty of shopping malls, theaters, restaurants, and other entertainment.
Old Bombay has fascinated the world for centuries; today Mumbai is the largest city in India and a center of sophistication and culture. It is the epicenter of Bollywood, the Indian film industry, as well as home to several theme parks! There are heritage walks of the city’s oldest quarters, as well as guided tours of the notorious Mumbai slums, which received the Hollywood treatment with the immensely-popular Slumdog MIllionaire. Whole tours are dedicated solely to the city’s numerous temples as well! This is the place to be for Diwali and Holi celebrations, in addition to countless other festivals, holidays, and celebrations throughout the year.
Varanasi and the Ganges River
The sacred city and the sacred river—you will tread holy ground when in Varanasi. It is situated on the banks of the rushing Ganges, and is considered consecrated by the Hindu faith. Pilgrims from all over the country come to bathe themselves on the enormous steps going down to the water. Varanasi is one of the oldest continually-inhabited cities in the world, and is absolutely filled with history. Temples abound with golden icons. Buy lucky charms, leave seashell offerings, or let your voice join the continual songs of prayer. Boat rides of the Ganges are popular, especially at sunrise when the pilgrims descend the ghat, or at sunset when the views are especially gorgeous. Great food, cozy hotels, and a bustling market complete the picture on the city’s popularity.
|Primary Airports: Indira Gandhi International Airport (DEL), Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (BOM), Chennai International Airport (MAA), Bengaluru International Airport (BLR), Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport (CCU)|
|Government: Federal Republic|
|Currency: Rupee (INR)|
|Population: 1,237,000,000 (2012 est.)|
|Language: Hindi, English|
|Electricity: 230V/50Hz (Old British or Euro plugs)|
|Time Zone: UTC +5.5|
India Travel Reviews
Exotic Adventure of History and Architecture
A trip to India presented itself through my husband’s job. We flew into New Delhi for a two night stay at the Hyatt Regency. The first morning a car and driver picked us up at the hotel and drove us to Agra, a three hour drive via the Taj Express Highway. Agra is a city of the banks of the river Yamuna, which runs along the back side of the white marble Persian and Arabic mausoleum known as the “crown of palaces”. It was a cloudy day with scatter showers; however I am told the true beauty of the famed white domed ceiling sparkles when lit up from the light of the sun. Nevertheless it and other buildings onsite were well worth the long trip to appreciate. In Agra, we visited the craftsman who still dedicated their lives to the art of working with marble stone inlay. We also visited the Agra Fort where there was market place where incredible deals on elaborate handcrafted items could be found.
We flew to Vadodara the third largest city in Gujarat and located in the Southern part of India. The streets as in all major cities we packed with cars, scooters and rickshaws. During the workweek, the company planned a visit to see the Laxmi Vilas Palace. Four times the size of Buckingham Palace, this once private dwelling is another must on the list of places to visit. Most of the week, I was on my own to walk the streets in front of the hotel to visit local shops. I felt comfortable doing this even despite the rush of traffic and indifference to pedestrians. The hotels had multiple security levels such as gates and metal detectors. The food was different considering the main religion is Hinduism and vegan-ism is a way of life. It would be suggested to have a doctor prescribe an antibiotic to take for gastrointestinal infections, should symptoms occur.
India is by far one of the most exotic places with historic significance to see. Set aside all fear and enjoy the adventure.
Holy Temples of Vrindavana
My friends and I went on a yoga retreat/pilgrimage trip to Vrindavana, in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. We stayed in a big, beautiful red sandstone temple, a women's ashram. They fed us sumptuously every day with delicious food made with milk from local goshallas, or cow shelters. We feasted on rice, vegetable sabjis, sweetened rice with yogurt, cucumber salads, parathas, and the best chilis, which only India can offer. Local friends recommend not eating street-fare food; many Westerns get dysentery by not being careful.
Every day we visited another holy place. These little ponds, giant, ancient temples up on hilltops, and simple cow dung huts help one to gain perspective and grow as a person. The villagers live, some on less than one dollar a day, and they are so happy. The children play with old tires, the mothers hang up their colorful saris to dry, creating rainbows, and the fathers work as rickshaw or auto-rickshaw drivers, many, as well as in the downtown market, or 'bazaar'.
The downtown bazaar in Vrindavana is called Loi Bazaar. Here, the material world creeps in, because you have to watch out for people wanting to rip you off big time. Otherwise, the bazaar is fun - colorful Indian clothes that you can easily have tailored to fit for little price, local food, decorative artwork and religious items, and the most delicious yogurt drinks or 'lassis', made in salty or sweet flavors.
The best part of this simple village was learning that a more simplistic, regulated and spiritual way of living can bring happiness.
Journey to the Land of Krishna
I was back at my parent’s home at age 30, not knowing what to do with my life. Restless, I bought a plane ticket to India.
I flew into Delhi from New York. My first destination would be Vraj, a region near Mathura and Vrindavan, about 3 hours away. I had been invited there by an American Hindu monk to participate in a parikrama, a pilgrimage by foot to various holy places.
I spent 3 weeks going to various temples and places where Lord Krishna was along with his beloved Radhe, said to be the pinnacle of all goddesses.
The first place I visited was Govardhan Hill, a mountain that Krishna had once lifted to shield his friends my a flood sent by the rain god, Indra.
I saw many beautiful holy ponds including Radha and Shyama Kund. The monks leading the walks explained the significance of these sacred places.
After that, I went to Vrindavan, a place covered in ancient temples, full of roaming monks, cows, monkeys, and peacocks. I visited Radha Raman temple, Modan Mohan, and sat next to the beautiful river Yamuna. I watched devotees perform arati one evening with a huge oil lamp with many wicks and heard many beautiful devotional songs being sung.
Before I left India, I had to see the Taj Mahal which was near to Vraj. It was a place that seemed such a cliche of Indian tourism that I simultaneously wanted to avoid it and go at the same time. I’m glad that I went, though. It was amazing to be standing in a place I had previously only seen in photos.
A summer pilgrimage in the Himalayas
After I graduated from college, my family and I used the few months I had before starting my job to take a trip to India. It is our home country, but the main purpose was to take a pilgrimage through some of the holiest sites in Hinduism. This pilgrimage is known as "Chota Char Dham." We trekked to the peaks of four Himalayan mountains to reach four ancient temples. The trek began on a train from Mumbai to Delhi and then a jeep ride to the state of Uttarkand. If you are traveling to India for the first time, I suggest spending some time in Mumbai and Delhi. They will help you understand modern India before your dive into an ancient past. The sites we visited were Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath, and Badrinath. Each trek has its own beauty and appeal. I was able to complete all of them on foot, but there are options for those who cannot walk long distance including horseback, lift, and even being carried up by another person. Yamunotri and Gangotri are respectively the heads of the Yamuna and Ganges rivers which are considered holy in Hindu scriptures. Kedarnath and Badrinath are are holy sites as places that have been seats to Shiva and Vishnu respectively. Each has an ornate temple with religious ceremonies occurring throughout the day. The increased tourism has led to quite a large business which allows for hotels and restaurants to operate at these remote locations so food and shelter are not a problem. However, it is very cold at the peaks and there is only firewood to keep you warm so bring some heavy clothing. The natural beauty is breathtaking and even if you are not Hindu, seeing these age-old temple and traditions will stir something deep within you.
A spiritual Journey through India
My guide was wonderful, insightful, and knew all the best local hot spots. We took a tour of all the temples, met with some Swamis and spent lots of time learning about the rich culture that surrounds this beautiful city. I have never been so immersed into a culture than I was with Insight Vacations. I would highly recommend them to any travel destination. The food, the people, and the experience was top notch. I don't think I can beat this trip, although I will try!
Discovering the Colors of India
To me, India represents a spinning kaleidoscope, no matter how many times I visit. The last time I took my children to India, we planned a somewhat ambitious trip in 7 days over spring break. We decided to spend 3 days in Delhi, rent a car (a driver is included) and travel by road to Agra and Jaipur for 2 days, return to Delhi for the last couple of days before flying back home, allowing us the flexibility of making stops along the highways.
A burst of vibrant colors of Holi, the Spring Festival of India, greeted us upon our arrival. A marvelous time of splashing in water colors was just what we needed to overcome the jet lag! We stayed at a very hospitable hotel in the heart of Delhi, with easy access to the major landmarks. Delhi's Metro Rail was certainly a quick way to travel to major hubs in the city. The incredibly varied gastronomy scene in Delhi ensured we could find anything from traditional dishes to amazing Italian pizza; a cup of authentic chai served in local sweet shops and dhabas (street cafes) or the finest Colombian brew to enjoy in contemporary, modern coffee shops. Connaught Place and Khan Market in Delhi are great places to shop and revel in the glorious handicrafts Indian artisans create.
Local travel agencies offer guided and safe day and overnight trips with all-inclusive packages for tours on luxury coaches.
It was a fabulous glimpse of India's many shades.
We stayed in Pali Hill, Bandra, which is about an hour away from the city itself. It's an easy cab ride over into Bombay proper, and it takes around an hour. But Bombay's suburbs also have a lot to offer visitors.
In Bandra, Carter Road provides a beautiful beach-side walk. Elco Arcade has some of the best pani puri in the city. Everything on the menu is made with bottled water, so tourists can try local street food without worrying about getting sick. Linking Road has tons of stores with clothes and jewelry for those looking to do some shopping.
The Gateway of India and Taj Hotel are two iconic sites that are worth a trip into Bombay. And, just a short ferry ride away are the Elephanta Caves, a UNESCO Heritage site with breathtaking rock carvings from the 7th century.
One thing to note is that traffic is absolutely terrible everywhere. But traveling by rickshaw is a fun novelty, and taking in the view as you're getting around makes the time go by much faster.
I enjoyed my time in Bombay, and I would definitely go back. There are so many things to do in this city. I'm pretty sure I could spend months there without ever feeling bored.