| | | Why Travelers World?
India has a rich history and the palaces, temples and great cities of its ancient cultures cannot fail to grip the imagination. In the spring particularly, the big cities come alive with concerts, plays, parties and exhibitions. Among the most spectacular hill stations (mountain resorts which make ideal destinations in summer) are Shimla (once the Imperial summer capital), Mussoorie, Ranikhet and Nainital (within reach of Delhi), and West Bengal’s magnificent resort, Darjeeling, which offers a breathtaking view of the whole Kanchenjunga range. Along the fabled coasts of Malabar and Coromandel, unspoiled sandy beaches stretch for miles. Skiing is possible in the silent snowbound heights of Gulmarg and Kufri in the Himalayas.
Delhi has two parts: New Delhi, India’s capital and the seat of government, is a modern city, offering wide tree-lined boulevards, spacious parks and the distinctive style of Lutyens’ architectural design; ‘Old’ Delhi, on the other hand, is a city several centuries old, teeming with narrow winding streets, temples, mosques and bazaars. Must sees include the Red Fort and the nearby Jama Masjid (India’s largest mosque) both built in the mid-17th century at the height of the Moghul Empire. Also of note is the Qutab Minar’s soaring tower built in 1193 by Qutab-ud-din immediately after the defeat of Delhi’s last Hindu kingdom. At the base of the tower is the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque built in the same period using stone from demolished Hindu temples. Delhi attracts the finest musicians and dancers offering an ideal opportunity to hear the sitar, sarod and the subtle rhythm of thetabla, and to see an enthralling variety of dance forms, each with its own costumes and elaborate language of gestures. Theaters and cinemas show films from all over India, and the city has some of the country’s finest restaurants offering many styles of regional cuisine.
Agra, city of the fabled Taj Mahal. This magnificent mausoleum was built by Shah Jahan as a monument to his love for his wife, Mumtaz, who died in childbirth in 1631. Shah Jehan was later imprisoned by his own son in the nearby Red Fort, another major attraction whose massive red sandstone walls rise over 65 feet and measure 1.5 miles in circumference. Other important landmarks are Akbar’s Palace, the Jahangir Mahal, the octagonal tower Mussumman Burj and the Pearl Mosque. An hour outside Agra is Fatehpur Sikri, the town Akbar built as his new capital but abandoned after only a few years. This town is now no more than a ghost town but is definitely worth seeing if you have time.
The southwestern pivot of the triangle is Jaipur, gateway to the desert state of Rajasthan. Known as the ‘Pink City’ because of the distinctive color of its buildings painted in preparation for the visit of Britain’s Prince of Wales in 1853, Jaipur is a town of broad, open avenues and many palaces. The Amber Palace, just outside the city is spectacular and the facade of the Palace of the Winds within the city walls is an essential photo stop. Also worth seeing is Jai Singh’s City Palace and the Jantar Mantar Observatory. To the southwest is the most romantic city in Rajasthan, Udaipur, built around the lovely Lake Pichola and famed for its Lake Palace Hotel, it has been dubbed the ‘Venice of the East’. To the north, in the center of the Rajasthan desert, is Jodhpur, with its colorful, winding lanes and towering fortress. Near Ajmer is the small lakeside town of Pushkar. It is a site of religious importance for Hindus and it is here that every November the fascinatingCamel Fair is held. Jaisalmer is a charming oasis town, once a resting place on the old caravan route to Persia. Among its attractions are the camel treks out into the surrounding desert.
In the far north, reaching into Central Asia, is the extensive mountain region of Kashmir, formerly a popular summer resort (visitors are now advised to consult government advice before visiting this area), and the valley of the River Jhelum. The gateway to the region is Jammu, a town surrounded by lakes and hills. The temples of Rambireshwar and Raghunath number among its most impressive sights. Jammu is the railhead for Srinagar, the ancient capital of Kashmir, and favorite resort of the Mughal emperors. It was they who built the many waterways and gardens around Lake Dal, complementing the natural beauty of the area. Among the attractions are the houseboats where visitors can live on the lakes surrounded by scenery so beautiful it is known as ‘paradise on earth’. Srinagar is also a convenient base for trips to Gulmarg and Pahalgam. Gulmarg offers fine trout fishing, and enjoys the distinction of having the highest golf course in the world. From here there are good views of Nanga Parbat, one of the highest mountains in the world. It is well placed as a starting point for treks into the hills and mountains. Pahalgam is another popular hill resort and base for pilgrimages to the sacred cave of Amarnath. More exotic, though less accessible, is the region of Ladakh, beyond the Kashmir Valley. It is a mountainous land on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau which is still largely Tibetan in character. The capital, Leh, is situated high in the Karakouram mountain range, through which passed the old Silk Road from China to India and Europe.
The principal metropolis of Western India is Mumbai, the capital of the state of Maharashtra, a bustling port and commercial center, with plate-glass skyscrapers and modern industry jostling alongside bazaars and a hectic streetlife. Many of the country’s films are made in the famous Mumbai studios. The city also boasts one of the finest race tracks in India, the Mahalaxmi course. There is a pleasant seafront with a palm-lined promenade and attractive beaches such as Juhu, Versova, Marve, Madh and Manori. On the waterfront is Mumbai’s best-known landmark, the Gateway to India, whence boats leave on the 10km (6 mile) journey across the busy harbor to the Elephanta Island. The island is famous for the eighth-century cave temples, on whose walls are large rock carvings, the finest of which is the three-faced Maheshmurti, the great Lord.
To the south of Maharashtra lies Goa. The 100km- (60 mile-) long coastline offers some of the finest beaches in the subcontinent. Goa was Portuguese until 1961, and there is also a charming blend of Latin and Indian cultures. Panaji, the state capital, is one of the most relaxed and elegant of India’s cities. The town is dominated by the huge Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, but the shops, bars and pleasant streets are its main attraction. ‘Old Goa’, only a bus ride away from Panaji, displays a bewildering variety of architectural styles. Buildings of note include the Basilica and the Convent and Church of St Francis of Assisi. In nearby Ponda is the 400-year-old Temple of Shri Mangesh, which is said to be the oldest Hindu shrine.

Goa’s infamous hippies are being replaced by backpackers, Indian visitors and package tourists. Full moon parties still take place in Anjuna but are smaller and less authentic than in the heady days of the 1960s. Anjuna is also famous throughout Goa for its Wednesday flea market. If you are looking for beautiful, quiet beaches head for the South between Benaulim and Palolem. Accommodation in the region includes the luxury resort of Aguada, the Taj holiday village and the Aguada hermitage. There are also good, simple hotels and cottages for rent in villages along the coastline, notably Calangute, Baga and Colva. Goa also has several wildlife sanctuaries, including Bondla in the hills of western Ghats, where wild boar and sambar can be seen in their natural habitat. The region is famous for its food – an array of dishes, both Indian and Portuguese – as well as for its colorful festivals, including the spectacular Carnival held on the three days leading up to Ash Wednesday.
The regional capital is Chennai (formerly Madras), India’s fourth-largest city and capital of the state of Tamil Nadu. Chennai is the cradle of the ancient Dravidian civilization, one of the oldest articulate cultures in the world. It is also home of the classical style of Indian dancing and a notable center of temple sculpture art. Sprawling over 130 sq km (50 sq miles), the metropolis has few tall buildings and enjoys the relaxed ambience of a market town rather than the bustle of a huge city. From Chennai Lighthouse there is a fine view of the city that includes many churches which tell of the city’s strong Christian influence, first introduced in AD 78 when the apostle St Thomas was martyred here.

Chennai, however, is largely a commercial city and the center of the area’s rail, air and road networks, and serves as a good starting point from which to explore the south.
Within the state are several important religious centers, notably Kanchipuram, which has an abundance of temples, and whose striking gopurams, or gateways, are decorated with sculptures of gods and goddesses. Inland is Madurai, with a large and bustling temple, and Thanjavur. Also worth visiting is Tiruchirappalli, which has a fortress built atop a strange boulder-shaped hill that dominates the town.

Further south, along the coast, is Pondicherry, an attractive town with a distinctive French style, and beyond, Rameswaram, once the ferry link to Sri Lanka.

To the west lies the state of Kerala, where many of India’s major coastal resorts are to be found. Among the finest is Kovalam, offering unspoilt beaches with increasingly modern amenities, including luxury bungalows and a number of hotels (some including a swimming pool). Only a few miles away is Trivandrum, the state capital with its famous Padmanabhaswamy Temple. Further inland is the Periyar Game Sanctuary which has a rich and varied wildlife. Other resorts include Cranganorre, Alleppey and Kochi.


Far away to the east across the Bay of Bengal are the Andaman Islands, a lushly forested archipelago which has exotic plant life and a wide variety of corals and tropical fish, making it a major attraction for snorkeling enthusiasts. The islands’ capital, Port Blair, can be reached from Chennai and Kolkata (Calcutta) by boat or air. Visitors should note that the islands are subject to special entry restrictions and a Restricted Area Permit may be required; see the Passport/Visa section for details.

The largest city in India and hub of the east is Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal. Established as a British trading post in the 17th century, it grew rapidly into a vibrant center. Its colonial heritage is reflected in the buildings of Chowringhee Street and Clive Street, now Jawaharlal Nehru Road and Netaji Subhash Road. The city is filled with life and energy. It is a major business center and offers fine markets and bazaars. It is also the center of much of the country’s creative and intellectual activity, including the subcontinent’s best film-makers. Central Kolkata (Calcutta) is best viewed from the Maidan, the central area of parkland where early morning yoga sessions take place. The city’s Indian Museum is one of the finest in Asia. Other attractions include the white marble Victoria Memorial, the Ochterlony Monument (Sahid Minar) and the headquarters of the Rama Krishna movement. Across the river are the Kali Temple of Dakshineshwasar (Belur Math headquarters of Ramakrishna Movement) and the Botanical Gardens.
To the north of Kolkata (Calcutta) is one of the great railway journeys of the world, the ‘Toy Train’ to Darjeeling. The last part of the line runs through jungle, tea gardens and pine forests. Darjeeling straddles a mountain slope which drops steeply to the valley below, and commands fine views of Kanchenjunga (8586m/28,169ft), the third-highest mountain in the world. It is the headquarters of the Indian Mountaineering Institute, as well as the birthplace of Sherpa Tenzing. It is also a world-renowned tea-growing center. A bus journey of two-and-a-half hours takes one to Kalimpong, a bazaar town at the foot of the Himalayas. From here a number of treks can be made to places offering fine panoramas of the mountains.
Further north is the mountain state of Sikkim. The capital, Gangtok, lies in the southwest. The main activity for visitors is trekking, although it is still in its infancy and facilities are minimal. At the moment, travel for non-Indian residents is limited. Trekking is allowed only in groups, while individuals may only visit Gangtok, Rumtek and Phodom. The nearest railheads are Darjeeling and Siliguri, on the slow but spectacular line of India’s northeast frontier railway.
Even further to the east are the states of Assam and Meghalaya. Assam is famous for tea and wildlife reserves, and can be reached from the state capital of Guwahati. The tiger reserve of Manas is also rich in other varieties of wildlife, while in Kaziranga it is possible to see the one-horned rhinoceros of India.
Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya, is the home of the Khasi people. The region is filled with pine groves, waterfalls and brooks and is described as the ‘Scotland of the East’.