India is such a vast and historic country that a week’s stay couldn’t possibly do it justice. There’s more than one reason that travelers return again and again, so let’s look at four suggestions for those who wish to immerse themselves in the regional cultures India is so rich in.
A spiritual tour
Those wanting to witness the country’s vast wealth of sacred places should start their journey in India’s central heartland – beginning in Kolkata (Calcutta). It’s long been considered the artistic and spiritual capital, where poverty and wealth co-exist alongside both native and colonial architecture.
From there, head to Bodh Gaya – more frequented by pilgrims than tourists, since it’s where Buddha gained enlightenment. The ancient, continually-inhabited city of Varanasi is the next stop – and one of Hinduism’s holiest spots, since it sits on the Ganges, where you can witness both ritual bathing and cremations. Those seeking more secluded glories may consider the monastic caves of Ajanta, where ornate chambers were carved from within the rock itself more than a thousand years ago.
To the coast
Formerly known as Bombay, Mumbai is one of India’s greatest cities – and home to its world-famous Bollywood film industry. It’s a great place to see the bustling future of the country before you hit the trail – but before you do, check out the exquisite stone carvings of Elephanta Island, a complex of cave temples just off the coast.
From there, it’s a simple journey to Goa, the country’s famed land of beaches. While the endless white sands make it a popular destination for tourists, there’s much more to explore here. Seek out a guided tour of one of the region’s spice farms, or head further down the coast to Gokarna, which is just as picturesque, but less of a party hotspot.
Also nearby is the World Heritage site of Hampi, a boulder-strewn terrain haunted by medieval ruins including temples and palaces – though you can also attend bazaars or soak up the timeless landscape.
The Golden Triangle
Agra is one of India’s most popular attractions for a good reason – it’s where the Taj Mahal is located. But attend in February, and you can also catch the Taj Mahotsav, which brings hundreds of artisans to exhibit their wares each year. Also worth a visit in this region is Fatehpur Sikri, a regional capital which was barely used and has thus been beautifully preserved to this day.
Move on to Jaipur, famed as the Pink City. It’s home to historic architecture and wonderful museums. Meanwhile, Delhi is the other great city in this area and mixes the old and the new wonderfully. It’s also one of the best places to witness one of India’s great social spectacles – a traditional wedding, with parades, sacred flames and more.
This is not historically a region much visited by tourists – which is, of course, what makes it such an intriguing proposition. Darjeeling overlooks the Himalayas, the lofty monasteries tucked away there, and even a steam railway.
Nearby Namchi rewards a visit with colossal religious statues and bustling markets while passing through Pelling will bring you to the Khangchendzonga National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site offering views of snow-capped mountains and expansive woodlands to hike through.