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.
India is famed for its wildlife. Its national parks are home to some of the world’s most fragile eco-systems, a mosaic of mangrove swamps, alpine meadows, dense rainforest and arid desertscapes. Whilst India’s call of the wild is the famed Bengal tiger, keeping your eyes peeled for an array of endemic flora and fauna as you scale the country’s national parks is bound to delight. So whether it’s coming face to face with big cats, or simply soaking up the natural splendour of India that whets your appetite, we’ve handpicked a selection of India's best national parks to visit throughout the country.
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.
Ric Duncombe, Imagine India specialist: “Cat vs Dog is something that always seems to be churning away in my mind. I will purr to feline fanciers and bark the right bark to canine lovers… Sitting on the fence seems to be my overwhelming attribute. However, when it comes to Central India there really is only one top dog. And it’s a cat. I recently visited India’s national parks to try and show that with a little bit of luck, this most elusive of animals could not only be seen, but also photographed by a rank amateur such as myself. Choosing Bandhavgarh National Park, renowned for its high concentration of tigers, I headed out on just three drives with two of Imagine’s favourite lodges to try my luck. Here are my favourite snaps, and also some small stories behind each one, to get you in the mood to explore the real-life Jungle Book. All photos are taken with a Canon 5D SLR and Canon 300mm F/4L lens."
Enjoy a sneak peek into daily life in India by staying at a haveli or in a homestay. If only for a few nights, you will be shoehorned into a family, enjoying traditional Indian hospitality, sampling home cooked food and exploring the path less travelled. Staying at one of these unique lodgings will give you an incredible insight into real India, and you will be welcomed with open arms by hosts whose wealth of local knowledge knows no bounds. Coming in all shapes and sizes, from plantation bungalows to historic houses, majestic forts and charming cottages, a short stay in one of these unique properties allows you to immerse yourself in India rather than simply visit it.
Central India, Mumbai and Goa
With vibrant cities, serene areas of natural beauty, and a rugged wilderness home to tigers and a myriad of other wildlife, Central India, Mumbai and Goa offers the perfect blend of what makes India so magical. Embrace the infectious energy of Mumbai, unwind on Goa’s sandy coast, explore National Parks and discover the historic riches of Khajuraho to fully experience this region in all its glory.
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Mumbai is a cultural melting pot, an amalgamation of cultures and classes squeezed into a metropolis broken up by colonial architecture, museums and historical monuments. It can be a little overwhelming upon first arrival, however the vibrant energy soon sweeps you away, and Mumbai becomes a joy to explore.
Particular highlights of the city include the Prince of Wales Museum, one of the best museums in the whole of India; the Elephanta Caves, famous rock temples containing a number of beautifully carved sculptures of Hindu Gods and Goddesses; the Gateway of India, a grand 20th Century archway; and the Dobi Ghats, traditional open air laundry areas creating a spectacular sea of fabric. The markets of Mumbai are also well worth a visit, and it is easy to get lost within the maze of bazaars with their incredibly varied displays of goods.
After a couple of days in Mumbai, Goa provides the perfect retreat away from the city. The beaches are what Goa is famous for, and although this fame does bring crowds, it is still relatively easy to find superb empty stretches of beaches and small beautiful bays that have a local feel. As well as beaches, there is a wealth of flora and fauna across Goa’s four protected wildlife areas, each home to a variety of animal and bird species including deer, monkeys, gaurs, pythons, cobras, Malayan giant squirrels, elephants and tigers. Other places of cultural interest are found in Old Goa and Panaji, including opulent churches, beautiful temples and colonial mansions.
The jungles of Central India inspired Rudyard Kipling to share his charming stories of ‘The Jungle Book’, and are best enjoyed on safari in one of the regions many National Parks. Bandhavgarh will encourage you to track tigers on elephant-back. At Kanha head to Sunset Point at dusk for breath-taking views and grazing silhouettes. Tadoba, perhaps the finest tiger habitat, has a stand-out volume of mammals and birdlife. Prepare to meet elephants, leopards, jackals, wolfs, sloth bears, crocodiles, wild dogs, sambars, antelope and deer. Escape the tourist crowds in Satpura, exploring its rugged landscape of sandstone peaks and spotting its diverse wildlife population.
The city of Hyderabad offers a change of pace from the National Parks. Once the global centre of the pearl and diamond trades and today a thriving IT hub, Hyderabad is a shining example of authentic India in a modern world. Get acquainted with Salar Jung Museum’s inspiring collection of paintings and intricate marble sculptures.
The towns of Khajuraho and Maheshwar are fantastic cultural and historical additions to any trip through central India. The former is home to the internationally acclaimed UNESCO World Heritage listed temples that showcase some of the finest temple art in the world, and the latter is a deeply spiritual town on the banks of the holy Narmada river, home to a grand heritage hotel with the walls of a magnificent 16th Century Fort complex.
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Did you know?
From October to March, on Mumbai’s eastern waterfront, thousands of flamingos flock to the Sewri- Mahul mudflats. The migratory birds come from far and wide to feed on the shrimp and algae in the creek.
Did you know?
Mumbai is the world’s only city with a national park within the city’s perimeter. The Sanjay Ghandi National Park is home to an array of wildlife including leopards, crocodiles and monkeys.