India is one of the most amazing places on the planet. Rich in culture and geographically diverse, people flock to India, from all around the world, every year in search of some of the world’s greatest wonders. It holds the 2nd biggest population, not that one would doubt it by walking through the fantastically wonderful and bizarre streets of Delhi.
The seventh largest country by area, there is so much across India to explore and experience. Whether you’re on a gap year backpacking, looking for an active adventure or on a luxury vacation, India has a life-affirming experience for everyone. So, here are just some of the incredible things India has to offer:
Tiger tracking in Ranthambore
Go in search of the elegant Bengal Tiger in Rajasthan’s Ranthambore National Park, an area of incredible natural beauty. Witness these majestic creatures in their natural habitat and get up close and personal with Ranthambore’s many other animal and bird species.
Go on safari in style
In the heart of the lush Ranthambore forest, crawling with tigers, sloth bears and sambar deer, are nostalgic tents right out of a 1920s colonial hunting camp… Welcome to SUJÁN Sher Bagh! Cool down in a sleek little swimming pool, sup on ‘Tigertini’ cocktails served at sunset, dine under the stars around the campfire, surrounded by oil lamps that hang from branches to light up the earthen paths and have your every whim catered with pitch-perfect service.
Amanbagh, seriously one of the best
Take a dip in your own private pool while staying in one of Amanbagh’s Pool Pavilions, which we think are the sexiest private villas in Asia. Overlook paradise, or the closest thing to it on earth, with one of Amanbagh’s private dining terrace experiences. Be waited upon like a Maharaja in the open-air restaurant as local musicians fill the air with atmospheric Indian folk songs. Amanbagh is very serious – seriously beautiful, seriously relaxing, seriously one of the best!
Explore the ancient Amber Fort in Jaipur
A citadel that pre-dates Jaipur, Amber Fort is one of Rajasthan’s most exhilarating sights. Built on the Aravalli Hills Amber Fort, 17 kilometres north of Jaipur, was the capital of the Kuchwaha region for 700 years before the population moved to Jaipur which offered more space. A magnificent palace, built from an exquisite mix of pale pink and yellow sandstone and white marble, it is an iconic landmark of Jaipur which glows golden at sunset.
Stay in the former residence of the Maharajas of Jaipur
While in Jaipur stay in style at the unforgettable Taj Rambagh Palace. A majestic retreat that was once home to the Maharaja of Jaipur, Rambagh Palace is one of the finest hotels in the world. The historic swimming pool is where Gayatri Devi, the last Maharani of Jaipur, swam lengths in this pool every morning.
Go on a family adventure in Kipling Country
The central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh is the stuff of legend; home to Shere Khan, Bagheera and Baloo the Bear… Pench National Park was the inspiration for Kipling’s celebrated classic, The Jungle Book. A stay at the tented Jamtara Wilderness Camp on a bespoke Indian wildlife adventure will bring to life Rudyard Kipling’s stories.
Discover the Golden City of Jaisalmer
There is something magical and ethereal about the 12th century fortress town of Jaisalmer in the heart of Rajasthan’s vast Thar Desert. Explore the forts and dunes by camelback, and stay at SUJÁN The Serai, a luxurious tented camp surrounded by sand dunes, it’s one of the highlights of any visit to Jaisalmer!
Try zip-lining over Jodhpur’s Mehrangarh Fort
In true Batman style (Batman buffs may recognise Mehrangarh Fort as the setting for scenes of The Dark Knight Rises movie). With emerald green moats beneath you and the cool blue of the Old City in the distance, this exhilarating activity is perfect for daredevil sightseers and is one of the highlights of visiting Rajasthan. Before taking the plunge, be sure to admire the views of the Blue City from this commanding fortress.
Take afternoon tea in Darjeeling
The tea that made Darjeeling famous only arrived in this hill station in the mid-19th century, soon contouring these steep slopes in rows of beautiful emerald green. The charming Glenburn Tea Estate offers an extremely rewarding experience, with stunning Himalayan views, long history and impeccable white-gloved service. Cosy up in old planter’s bungalows and enjoy cream teas by the fire, hot water bottles in bed and refreshing tea plantation walks.
Explore the streets of Old Delhi
Dating back to the 17th century, Old Delhi is a heady combination of chaotic, medieval winding alleyways and a buzzing atmosphere, crammed with cycle rickshaws, tuk-tuks and noisy street traders, and colourful shops selling everything from flowered garlands, wedding bangles, saris and spices.
Visit the world’s holiest city
Love it or hate it, you certainly won’t forget a visit to Varanasi, one of the world’s holiest cities located on the River Ganges. Varanasi has been a place of spiritual significance and a pilgrimage site, particularly for Hindus, since the 6th century BC, its status known as a “crossing place”, where gods and goddesses can descend to earth.
Marvel at the Golden Temple of Amritsar
A symbol of human equality and the most important monument of the Sikh faith, this ancient two-storey marble structure was built in 1577 by Ram Das, with an imposing and glittering dome of pure gold which reflects in a surrounding sacred pool. The Golden Temple in Amritsar is a stunning sight to behold, particularly at dawn or dusk when the light begins to change.
Stay in opulent grandeur in the City of Pearls
Feel history seep from the walls of Hyderabad’s Taj Falaknuma Palace, which boasts marble staircases, lavish chandeliers and rare objects d’art. It really is as grand and magnificent as it looks – a real-life fairy tale! Dine in stately grandeur in the lavish dining room and re-live the history of the Nizams of Hyderabad or cool off in the beautifully restored swimming pool.
Admire the world’s finest monument to love
For first timers to India, a holiday would not be complete without a visit to the Taj Mahal in Agra. Admire the view of the world’s finest monument to love from across the banks of the River Jumna or visit at sunrise for an unforgettable start to the day. While away an afternoon at the Oberoi Amarvilas’ impressive Moghul-inspired multi-layered swimming pool, with impressive views of the Taj in the background.
Experience the Festival of Lights
Diwali is one of India’s most visually spectacular and important festivals, and it is celebrated nationwide every November. Head to Rajasthan for dazzling and seemingly endless firework displays, as celebrations of wealth, auspicious beginnings and the triumph of good over evil, continue late into the night.
Visit India’s most important Jain temple
To the north of Udaipur is Ranakpur, one of the most significant Jain temples in India, dedicated to the first Teerthkar, Lord Adinath. The spectacular Ranakpur complex is three storeys high, with 27 halls and domes supported by over a thousand uniquely carved pillars; legend has it that it is impossible to count all of the pillars. Spend time admiring the ancient 15th century, intricate carvings of this beautiful white marble temple complex.
Join in the with fun of Holi
Also known as the Festival of Colours, Holi normally takes place at the end of March each year and is celebrated with colour and excitement all over India. Holi marks the coming of spring and commemorates the victory of good over evil.
Stay in the former home of a Maharaja
Ahilya Fort, tucked away in the heart of India, was formerly home to the Maharaja of Indore and now one of our favourite hotels in India. Today it belongs to Richard Holkar whose father was the Maharaja of Indore. Perched atop an impressive fortress, overlooking the sacred Narmada River, Ahilya Fort is a home away from home, and an enchanting, comforting and beautiful place to stay.
Be blown away by the dramatic landscapes of Ladakh
With soaring snow-capped mountains, enormous sweeping valleys, deep blue skies and crystal-clear lakes, Ladakh is a land of otherworldliness. Perched at an altitude of over 3,500 metres, Ladakh, also known as the Land of High Passes, is both physically and culturally spectacular. Camp beside the remote and hauntingly beautiful Pang Gong Lake, which although now high up in the Himalayas, it is actually the site of a pre-historic ocean.
Stay in a restored boatyard
If you like boats, then you’ll love staying in our favourite hotel in Cochin, the atmospheric Brunton’s Boatyard, set in a restored shipyard surrounded by artefacts from the age of steam and sail. A particular highlight is to watch the sunset behind the iconic Chinese fishing nets from aboard Brunton Boatyard’s boat.
Enjoy a slice of France in southern India
Sitting neatly beside the azure waters of the Coromandel Coast, Pondi was an outpost of the French Empire for almost 300 years. Explore the fine colonial architecture, stroll along the Riviera of the East and be sure to stop by the vast Roman Catholic church, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Bask on the coastline of Tamil Nadu
Remote and windswept, the coastline of Tamil Nadu is largely off the tourist track. Come here to discover a chilled-out pace of life and friendly welcome. Head to the old Dutch seaside town of Tranquebar or head further north to visit the ancient Shore Temples of Mahabalipuram.
Stay in one of the world’s most romantic hotels
A floating palace on Lake Pichola, the Taj Lake Palace is an icon of Udaipur and is one of Rajasthan’s most luxurious hotels. Have an al fresco tea around the Lily Pond, enjoy a traditional North Indian breakfast with a view, and indulge all afternoon on the Lake Palace’s very own spa boat, enjoying signature spa treatments and soaking in the hot tub as you enjoy the view of Udaipur’s City Palace.
Dine in the best restaurant in Udaipur
Enjoy an atmospheric candle-lit dinner at Sheesh Mahal, the Leela Palace’s open-air fine dining restaurant with killer views over the majestic City Palace, the Lake Palace, Jag Mandir and the Aravalli mountains. Dine on some of the finest Indian cuisine in the city as traditional Rajasthani music performers seduce you on the banks of Lake Pichola.
Glide along the Keralan backwaters on a private houseboat
Houseboats were traditionally used to carry grain stores up the Backwaters of Kerala. Luxuriously adapted, they now offer the unique chance to travel these nature-filled network of waterways. Use your time in the Backwaters to drink in the tranquillity and gain an understanding of daily life on these sleepy Keralan waterways.
Slow down in Goa
The South Indian idyll of Goa is a beautiful, small state, with almost 100 kilometres of rich golden sand beaches overlooking the glittering Arabian Sea. Set on an idyllic spit of land in north Goa overlooking the ocean, Elsewhere – The Beach House is a charming Portuguese-style house with friendly staff, fishermen and egg-laying turtles for company… bliss.
Delve into the heart of Dravidian history
Tanjore is the ancient capital of the Chola dynasty and the stone Brihadishwara temple complex is an outstanding example of ancient Chola architecture. The sheer size and magnificence of the temple and the impressive bas-relief figures make for the perfect place to shelter from the sun while watching busy Hindu temple life unfold.
Explore the Pink City
The old cobbled streets of Jaipur are incredibly picturesque and bustling with vibrant bazaars. Street vendors are divided up into districts, and merchants have been selling their wares for generations. We recommend sampling a lassi, a delicious yoghurt-based drink, from one of Jaipur’s many vendors.
Dine in a magnificent Art Deco palace
For a once in a lifetime experience, dine by candlelight in the picturesque grounds of Jodhpur’s majestic Umaid Bhawan Palace. Still, the home of the erstwhile Royal Family, Umaid Bhawan Palace is the last of India’s great palaces and a firm Ampersand favourite.
The ultimate Himalayan escape
A hotel so remote that the only way to get there is by foot, Shakti 360 Leti in the Himalayas is perfect for those with a sense of adventure and who love the idea of a luxury Himalayan escape. Surrounded by mountains on all sides, kick back with a G&T and drink in those stunning panoramic views.
Visit the ancestral homeland of the Chettiars
The Chettiars were a prosperous merchant class from the 19th and early 20th centuries. The central region of Tamil Nadu, known as Chettinad, is where they were based and is still home to many of the wealthy Chettiar community. Visit some of their finest examples of huge mansions with exquisite teak and silkwood pillars, marble detailing and lime-plastered wall.
James Jayasundera is Founder and Managing Director of Ampersand Travel. Ampersand Travel create bespoke and luxurious travel experiences to Asia, the British Isles and Southern Africa.