If you are looking to travel around this part of the world, you might wonder what is it that makes India special. The things that come to mind are likely to include the Taj Mahal, the beaches of Goa and the hustle and bustle of Indian cities.
Alternatively, here’s our list of must-visit places in India, guaranteed to help you discover this beautiful country, its people and its culture while maintaining the thrill of an adventure.
Often people ask me, where should I go and what should I see in India? The thing is there are so many options that the list is quite endless.
The more time you have, the better. Same applies for the budget as well as this gives you the freedom to move quickly in this large country. Keeping these factors in mind, the next step would be to pick a region and then plan around it. So we have categorised our picks that way – North, South, East and then the West.
Cross some of the world’s highest mountain passes and make your way from Manali in Himachal Pradesh to Leh in Kashmir. Nestled along these Himalayan peaks is the dramatic high altitude desert of the Tibetan plateau. The dunes here are in stark contrast to the lush green mountains, fields and orchards that are spread on the rain-fed slopes.
Join pilgrims along the banks of India’s holy river, the Ganges, up to its source in the glacier ridden valleys of Uttarakhand. This is the backdrop to some of Hinduism’s most revered mythologies and is considered to be the ‘Abode of God.’
Take a step back in time to an era where bazaars, hill-top fortresses, hunting lodges, herds of gazelles, camels and sheep surround you as you camp in the Thar Desert in front of a campfire with locals who are happy to share their way of life with you.
Time travel to an alien land where boulders stretch out in every direction interrupted only by vivid green paddy fields and statuesque palm trees. Here in the enchanting palaces, temples and pavilions, noblemen once rubbed shoulders with poets, sculptors, danseuses, writers and artists who surely found all the inspiration they needed.
Picture perfect Kerala is the perfect remedy for sunshine-starved souls. Awaken every day to clear blue skies below which the spice plantations, the tea clad slopes, the sun kissed beaches and the peaceful backwaters encapsulate a culture, a cuisine and a way of living, that’s all of its own. Seen here below is a capture from a religious ritual known as ‘Theyyem’ during which performers wearing elaborate costumes, body paint, make-up, and jewellery, embody spirits of the guardian deity being invoked.
Sikkim – The Happy Homeland, The magical kingdom, The Land of the Thunder God and the Nature Goddess. Tucked away in between Nepal, Tibet and Bhutan, Sikkim is a melting pot where cultures and cuisines merge to capture your imagination and tingle your taste buds as colourful prayer flags flutter in the breeze around hilltop monasteries that exude serenity.
Best time to visit: October to mid-November or during April and May
This time it is for the Goecha La Trek. This high altitude trek is for trekkers who wish to pay homage to Mount Kanchendzonga, the Guardian deity of Sikkim.
The Kanchendzonga is revered by Sikkimese people and it plays such a significant part in their lives that climbing Kanchendzonga is not permitted. You can however climb up to Goecha La pass at a height of 4,940 metres from where you could have royal views of the Kanchendzonga range along with that of the Singhalila range as well.
We just cannot wait to go explore more in a region that encompasses some of India’s least explored terrain. While all of the ‘Seven Sister’ states of North-eastern India appear to be very alluring, Arunachal Pradesh, the land of the dawn-lit mountains, holds a special place in our hearts.
Perhaps it is because of its astonishing bio-diversity(over 500 species of orchids!) or maybe it is because Rhinoceros, Tigers, Leopards and Gibbons still roam here in the wild. Or maybe it is because of the confluence of Burmese, Tibetan, Indian and Bhutanese people and their religions, languages, traditions, arts, crafts and cuisines that have evolved over a millennium.
Things to do: See Rhinos in the wild, travel to remote settlements where the indigenous hill tribes dwell or bike through Arunachal Pradesh to experience it at your own pace
Best time to visit: Between October and April
“Wild Flowers” by Vinod Panicker Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.
From the mountains of the North, we head to the South-west – where the sunshine beckons us over the lush rainforests down to the coastline. Here along strips of golden sands, you can discover fishing villages in the cool backwaters or look out to the sea where indomitable sea forts have withstood the test of time along the Konkan coasts. Don’t forget to have at least one post-ride drink with the locals at a ‘Cool Bar’ and not to forget, a local meal too.
Things to do: Watch fishermen bring in the fresh catch, climb over forts at sunrise and sunset and swim in the warm waters afterwards; ride along the coast for days as you get a good tan on
And in case you want to earn your relaxed beach holiday, then the Bangalore to Goa cycle tour is made for you. This sportive ride will take through the heart of Western Ghats on curvy forest roads past fields and temples through riverside lodges in the mountains on to coastal settlements along endless ribbons of sandy beaches.
We can’t think of a better way to make your way through the Western Ghats, which is on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Come wander through lands where Tigers, Leopards, Elephants, Sloth Bears and Wild Boars roam and Parakeets, Hornbills, Flycatchers, Babblers and Barbets fly.
Things to do: Stay an extra day at a Jungle Lodge for a chance to hike and spot wildlife
Best time to visit: October to February
Those are some of our top picks for an adventurous holiday in India. Which are your favorites?
Rajasthan is defined by two major geographical features – the Thar desert and the Aravalli mountains. Our Colorful Rajasthan bike ride is a journey that is woven around these two – beginning at one and ending at the other.
Rajasthan literally means ‘The Abode of Kings’. Historically this has been the land of a warrior clan called the Rajputs who ruled over it and divided it among themselves into a complex feudal system of kingdoms and fiefdoms based on clan loyalty. Under the patronage of these kings, art and architecture flourished, flavored and defined by conditions imposed by the harsh and unforgiving climate. The exigencies of survival in severe conditions have led people here to evolve their own distinctive culture and traditions which resonate in the colors so vividly on display all over Rajasthan. Perhaps to counter the stark monotony of the landscape – an unforgiving desert yellow – the people of Rajasthan have sought to lend to their world an explosion of color. Thus Jodhpur is known as the Blue City, Jaipur as the Pink City, Jaisalmer as the Golden City, Udaipur as the White City.
Vivid colors permeate every aspect of life in Rajasthan. Seen here is a folk musician getting ready to ply his trade.
Think Rajasthan, think Jodhpur. Jodhpur is the beating heart of Rajasthan. Geographically located in the centre of the state, Jodhpur embodies everything that Rajasthan is known for. However the cityscape of Jodhpur is dominated by the spectacular Mehrangarh Fort. Described by Rudyard Kipling as the work of giants, it is one of the grandest monuments you’ll ever see. Under the shadow of the colossal fort, the city of Jodhpur spreads out in a vein-like network of streets and lanes.
Udaipur, situated in the Aravalli ranges to the south, presents a stark contrast to the visitor riding in from the desert to the north. Where Jodhpur is rugged and spartan, Udaipur feels gentle and exquisite. Called the City of Lakes because of the numerous man-made lakes that dot the city – all built by damming rivers and mountain streams over a period of hundreds of years – Udaipur is in many ways the Venice of the East.
Udaipur – The Venice of the East – Renowned for its exquisite architecture and tranquil lakes Photo credit: Taj Lake Palace Udaipur
Like all things royal, Colorful Rajasthan is a tour that exemplifies the finer things in life. And in the manner of things fine and beautiful, it grows on you slowly, with day each day bringing newer appreciation. Nothing exemplifies this refined character of the journey than the hotels. Each hotel along the way is a heritage property – which means that these are medieval buildings that served as former palaces and residences to kings and noblemen that have now either fully or in part been converted to hotels. Each hotel thus is a unique experience.
It is however unfair to look at as Rajasthan only as the land of kings and palaces. You don’t have to dig too far below the surface to discern the crushing poverty that many of its inhabitants live in. India, most travelers agree is a land of extremes. Rajasthan, as a perfect microcosm of India exemplifies these extremes. As you drive out of the big cities that are bustling centers of trade and commerce and traverse through the countryside, you understand how people live, in many parts barely surviving through subsistence level activity. With time you begin to understand how barriers erected by the ancient caste system still keep millions chained to unprofitable and physically demeaning occupations.
Villagers often walk long distances to fetch water – Everyday life in the desert state is no easy task
Yet despite the harshness imposed by both man and nature, people continue to live through it all with smiles on their faces. Travelers are greeted by enthusiastic ‘hi’s’ and ‘bye’s’ by locals. People love posing for pictures. At the sight of a camera wielding tourist intent on clicking photographs, locals have been known to run inside their houses to put on their finest turbans and best clothes to pose for pictures. Kids especially, can at times get a bit too excited when they see foreigners on fancy bikes.
Friendly locals often come out to greet travelers with smiles – Kids are especially curious
Motorists often express their excitement by incessantly honking the horns of their vehicles. For many tourists this can be a huge turn off. However you soon get used to the honking and learn not to mind it. What one must mind in India though are the cows. On Indian roads the cow is the king. Everybody makes way for the holy cow. Everybody. It doesn’t matter whether you’re riding a bicycle or a 3-tonne truck.
Don’t forget to pay your respects to the holy cows of India – Indian cows love posing for pictures
ABT Trip Leaders Poonacha and Kamalpreet cycled 700 kilometers in 6 days across Rajasthan in 2014-15. From the beautiful valleys of Aravallis in Udaipur to the sand dunes of the Thar Desert in Osian, it was a journey in which new landscapes unfolded each day like layers of a rich, complex story. Avoiding major highways and travelling only along little known back roads, they encountered facets of Rajasthan that only a bicycle journey can reveal. The high point of the trip however was the little desert town of Osian.
As you start riding from Jodhpur, the terrain is flat. The roads are excellent though, the kind of surface you want to let rip on, burn some rubber, push down hard on those pedals. You can see the countryside getting drier as you move on. The Bluebull or the Neelgai is a common sighting in these parts. Considered the largest member of the antelope family, the male has a slightly bluish tint to its body and hence the name. The female is brown in color and resembles a cow more than an antelope. Blackbucks are not uncommon either. And if you’re lucky, you just might spot a Chinkara, also called the Indian gazelle. Extremely shy and hard to spot, the Chinkara is easily the most graceful of the antelopes. Seen here below is a female Asian Antelope a.k.a. Nilgai i.e., Blue Bull.
Osian is 70kms North West of Jodhpur. While Jodhpur city sits on the edge of the Thar desert, Osian is where the Thar proper begins. Approaching from the east, Osian is where a traveler would get a first view of the sand dunes characteristic of the Thar desert.
Osian is a sleepy little hamlet lost in the Thar desert.The sort of town you’d see in a Clint Eastwood movie or a Spaghetti Western, a town where nothing ever happens, until a mysterious man with a haunted past walks in one day with a gun slung over his shoulder. But this nondescript place hides the rich history of this ancient town. Like the anecdotal mystery man, Osian has it’s own past, at once both beautiful and terrible. It is a place with more history packed into its few square miles than many nations in the modern world!
Osian derives its name from the Oswal clan, believed to be Hindu Rajputs who converted to Jainism. Like the Oswals, Osian is a syncretic blend of Hinduism and Jainism with both communities worshiping freely at each others’ temples.
‘Osiya temple and Architecture’ by Schwiki via Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-SA-3.0
Two beautiful temples –the Sachiya Mata temple and the Jain temple have collectively earned it the moniker of Khajuraho temple. While the Jain temple dates back to 783 A.D, the Sachiya Mata temple is said to have been built in 10th century AD. The town itself – like so many other places located in the Thar desert – was an important centre of trade and commerce in the ancient and early medieval periods. However repeated invasions left it impoverished and its once flourishing population eventually abandoned it.
Osian is believed to be the result of a flowering of art and architecture under the Gurjara-Pratihara dynasty. With their capital at Mandore near Jodhpur, the Gurjara Pratihara kings – the predecessors of the Rajputs – built up a large empire between 700-1000 AD that not just successfully resisted repeated Arab invasions from the West but even took the fight to the enemy’s doorstep, eventually routing the Arabs completely from the Western flank of the Indian sub continent.
With their dominions extending from Sindh in the west to Bengal in the east, the Gurjara-Pratihara kings became great patrons of art and under them Indic culture flourished and found expression in beautiful works of art, like the temples at Osian. Turkic and Mongol invasions eventually broke the Gurjara Pratihara empire up and with them the sun went down upon the glory days of Osian as well. No longer did Camel caravans, miles long, laden with the most exotic silks and spices traverse the desert. Today Osian is a blink-and-you-miss-it town on the way to Jaisalmer/Bikaner from Jodhpur. Cyclists are some of the few who have the time stop and listen to its whispers. And if you listen hard enough, sometimes you can hear, carried on the desert sands, stories of travelers and caravans and places far away.
Contact us today to start planning your next adventure in Rajasthan or browse our Colorful Rajasthan Bike Tour itinerary to get some inspiration.