India is suited only to experienced travelers and those prepared to tolerate an occasional degree of discomfort. The clichés are all true. Its cities are dirty, polluted, chaotic and unbelievably overcrowded. However, India possesses epic landscapes, extraordinary architecture and a subtle, varied and distinctive cuisine. Those who become addicted to its cultural riches tend to return time after time. And as the Indian economy develops, travel becomes progressively easier. There are now numerous world-class hotels, and air travel is increasingly efficient and reliable. Some of the Oberoi resorts rank among the finest in Asia.
As a result of India’s increasing affluence, areas of the country that were once suitable only for more adventurous travelers now offer luxury hotels and resorts. In particular, the new wealth of Mumbai (Bombay) and the high-tech center of Bengaluru (Bangalore) has flowed to the delightful southern state of Kerala. South India contains most of the great and ancient Hindu temples of India in cities such as Madurai, Thanjavur (Tanjore) and Kanchipuram. As yet, however, the hotels there are only adequate, though Kanchipuram is accessible from Chennai (Madras).
India’s most populous city may be a dynamic metropolis, but it is definitely unsuitable for the squeamish or fainthearted. It acquired its original name from 16th-century Portuguese explorers, who called its location on India’s west coast “bom bahia,” or “good bay.” In 1995, it was renamed “Mumbai,” which derives from the Hindu goddess Mumbadevi. Mumbai’s deep natural harbor makes it a busy industrial port, and the city is also home to Bollywood, the center of the popular film industry. The southern part of the city is the base for most visitors, being home to the upscale hotels and restaurants, as well as museums and galleries.
Steeped in centuries of history, India’s capital is dotted with the impressive monuments left by successive waves of conquerors. The most prominent are the 17th-century Mughal Red Fort and those of the British imperial city of New Delhi. The latter includes a majority of the most striking landmarks, including Sir Edwin Lutyens’ majestic Rajpath, an immense ceremonial avenue that leads up to the Presidential Palace and Parliament buildings. Delhi today is a vibrant city, but it is still struggling with chronic air pollution and congestion.
The great peaks of the Indian Himalayas are central to the mythology and philosophy of Hinduism. The River Ganges descends from glaciers close to the Tibetan border to the pilgrimage city of Haridwar, located at the northern extent of the Indian plains. In the first range of foothills lies the town of Rishikesh, internationally famous for its ashrams and temples. Here the Ganges is still a clear, fast-flowing mountain stream, and as well as being a holy river — even a brief dip is said to bring you closer to “moksha,” or “liberation” — it is highly regarded by the less devout for its excellent whitewater rafting. For Hindus, Rishikesh is also a point of departure for the great “Char Dham” pilgrimage to the four holy sites of Kedarnath, Badrinath, Gangotri and Yamunotri, plus Gaumukh, the source of the Ganges, all situated high in the Himalayas at more than 10,000 feet.
North India: The northern plains are hot and dry for much of the year, with temperatures soaring to uncomfortable heights in April and May. The south enjoys a gentler subtropical climate. Everywhere, the dominant weather event is the monsoon, which brings heavy rain from June-September. The best time to travel is October-February, with November perhaps the most agreeable month of all.
South India: The subtropical climate of southern India is more moderate than that of the northern plains, with higher humidity but less scorching heat. In the south, the landscape tends to be green, fertile and more prosperous. Here, the food staple is rice, not wheat. The dominant weather event is still the annual monsoon, which brings heavy rain from June-September. The best time to travel is October-March.
GENERAL INFORMATION: Visit www.incredibleindia.org before your trip.