India is an intriguing yet overwhelming place. It is a melting pot of several religions, several hundred languages, and several million people. Due to its staggering size, it can be difficult to know where to start when planning a trip there. Luckily a helping hand isn’t far away. We’ve stripped India back to basics, compiling a list of India’s highlights and more importantly, how, where and when to see them. Exploring the nooks and crannies of its cities, discovering its ancient charm, experiencing its age old rituals, and falling under the spell of India’s irrepressible charm makes for an adventure you will never forget.
With millions of passengers on the move every day, travelling on some 71,000 miles of track, India's intricate network of railways are the arteries of the country, connecting its bustling cities with its sleepy villages and everywhere in between. The sprawling rail network reaches the nooks and crannies of India which are otherwise impossible to find. Amongst the country's miles of train tracks are some of the most picturesque rail journeys in the world, most notable of which are its famed toy trains. Whilst perhaps not the most efficient way of getting from A to B, the experience is an absolute must to add to your India itinerary.
Only after stepping foot in India will you realise that Indian cuisine, as you know it, just doesn’t exist. To paint both the delicate and punchy flavours of India with the same broad brushstroke overlooks the smorgasbord of dishes on offer from north to south. Tried and tested recipes balance coriander, cumin and cardamom with almost scientific precision, guaranteeing a culinary experience you will never forget.
Calcutta and the East
With hill stations oozing old-world charm, mountainous regions speckled with bright monasteries, intricate temples and colonial churches, and the buzzing cultural and political hub of Calcutta, India’s north-east offers an alluring combination of cultures and landscapes. It holds an irresistible charm sure to captivate all those who explore its wonder.
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Many journeys through Calcutta and the East begin in India’s vibrant cultural capital of Calcutta. Officially renamed as Kolkata in 2001, Calcutta is a city of contrasts, with grand colonial mansions lining leafy boulevards coupled with pockets of colourful bazaars and bustling shanti tows.
Although not an ancient city, remnants of Calcutta’s rich colonial history can be found throughout the city. Once the capital of the British Raj, Calcutta’s monuments, statues and artefacts tell the story of British Empire in India at its peak, infused with classical European and Mughal influences. The Victoria Memorial is the greatest landmark of the city, and one of the most solid reminders of the Raj to be found in India. To get a feel of the city in its modern day, enjoy an early morning visit to Calcutta’s colourful flower market on the Banks of the River Hugli and watch the city come to life.
Known as a gateway to the Himalayas, Calcutta offers easy access to the other highlights of this region, including the former hill station of Darjeeling. With colourful monasteries, Christian churches, ornate temples and lush tea plantations scattered across a mountainous Himalayan landscape, Darjeeling offers a refreshing change of pace from Calcutta. As well as trying some of the locally cultivated tea for which the area is best known, the Darjeeling Mountain Train – or the ‘toy train’ – is a particular highlight. A world heritage, century-old steam engine, the toy trains chugs along at a sedate pace, offering uninterrupted, breath-taking views of the Himalayas.
In the mountainous state of Sikkim at an elevation of 1,600m lies Gangtok, a charming hill town brimming with monasteries, temples and churches against a backdrop of snowy mountain peaks. Gangtok provides convenient access to the Rumtek monastery, one of the most colourful and intricately designed monasteries in the region.
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Did you know?
The botanical gardens of Kolkata houses the world’s largest tree, a banyan tree with the circumference of 330 metres called the Great Banyan Tree.
Did you know?
Whilst it has been hailed the cultural capital of India, Kolkata is also referred to as the City of Joy, City of Palaces and City of Processions highlighting the many festivals which take place there.