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Iocated in South Asia, India is the world’s largest democracy and the second most populous country. India is synonymous with diversity and every aspect of the country – landscape, flora and fauna, language, food, religion, festival, culture and tradition, stand true to this fact. India also boasts of one of the world’s oldest civilizations and a long rich history.
With 28 states and 8 union territories, the country can be broadly divided into six regions – central, north, west, south, east and northeast.
Northern India is where Delhi, the country’s capital is located. Divided into two, New Delhi and Old Delhi, it is a bustling city with both modern and ancient elements. While New Delhi is the seat of the government of India, Old Delhi is dotted with numerous historic sites and monuments. The India Gate, Red Fort, Qutub Minar, Humayun’s Tomb, Jama Masjid, Lotus Temple, Purana Qila, Raj Ghat, Jantar Mantar and the National Museum, are the capital’s most popular attractions. One of seven wonders of the world and India’s iconic landmark, the Taj Mahal, located in Agra, is about 250 km away from Delhi. This impressive marble structure, on the banks of the Yamuna river is considered worldwide as a symbol of love.
The northernmost region of India – Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Ladakh, are home to the mighty Himalayan ranges and lure visitors with their jaw-dropping scenery. The predominantly Buddhist regions of Ladakh and Spiti Valley offer great hiking and trekking through breathtaking landscapes dotted with pine forests, verdant meadows and picturesque Buddhist monasteries like Thiksey and Key. During the months of June and July, Ladakh hosts two of its most popular annual festivals – Saka Dawa and Hemis. The picturesque town of Leh is the perfect base to explore the Ladakh Valley, while Kaza is the main town in Spiti Valley. A lot of Indian honeymooners also visit the states of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand for their pleasant weather and beautiful scenery.
Religious tourism is quite popular in north India and almost every state has at least one important religious site. For instance, the Vaishno Devi and Amarnath temples in Jammu and Kashmir, Dharamsala, home to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile in Himachal Pradesh, Golden Temple in Punjab, Rishikesh, Haridwar, Gangotri, Badrinath, Kedarnath in Uttarakhand and Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh. The Ganga River, the most sacred river in India, also flows through this region. The desert state of Rajasthan is known for grand royal palaces and majestic forts and is one of the most bucket-listed regions in the country.
The states of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh in central India are home to the Khajuraho temples, numerous palaces, forts, temples, and stupas along with national parks and tiger reserves. The UNESCO world heritage listed Khajuraho features elaborate stone carving, and the millenia-old Gwalior Fort will leave you in awe with its marvellous architecture. Chitrakoot and Dhuandhar Falls, are the region’s most beautiful waterfalls, while Kanha Tiger Reserve, Bandhavgarh National Park and Pench National Park are the best places for wildlife-watching, especially tigers. The main city in Central India is the capital of Madhya Pradesh – Bhopal.
Maharashtra and Gujarat are two of the most industrialized states in India. The financial and entertainment capital of India, Mumbai, is located in Maharashtra. It is a city of extremes, where you will come across Asia’s biggest slum, Dharavi, and the world’s most expensive residential house, Antilla. Some of the city’s major highlights are the Gateway of India, Taj Mahal Palace, Elephanta Caves, Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Shri Siddhi Vinayak Ganpati Mandir and Marine Drive.
Maharashtra is also home to the UNESCO listed caves of Ajanta and Ellora, which has one of the world’s largest rock-cut temple cave complexes, dating back to at least 600 CE. The hill town of Mahabaleshwar, a major strawberry and wine producing region, has pleasant weather and is a popular weekend getaway.
Somnath Temple – a sacred Hindu temple, Girnar Temples – a pilgrimage site for the followers of Jainism, Gir National Park – home to Asiatic lions, Sabarmati Ashram – Mahatma Gandhi’s former home and Rann of Kutch – one of the world’s largest salt deserts are some of Gujarat’s highlights.
Tucked in between Maharashtra and the South Indian state of Karnataka, the tiny state of Goa is India’s ultimate beach holiday destination. With lovely beaches, excellent seafood, casinos and vibrant nightlife, Goa lures visitors from around the world. You can also take a break from beach hopping and explore Goa’s crumbling churches, forts and cathedrals to know more about its Portuguese history.
India’s southern states – Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Telangana offer a different experience from northern India altogether and every state has a unique flavour. The region is known for lush landscapes, beaches, backwaters, hill stations, temples and historical sites. Chennai, Bengaluru and Hyderabad are the major cities.
Hampi’s ruins and Mysore Palace showcase Karnataka’s grand heritage. With ancient monuments and temples surrounded by a beautiful bouldered landscape, the UNESCO world heritage listed Hampi is one of the region’s most popular archaeological sites. Karnataka’s capital Bengaluru, referred to as the Silicon Valley of India, is a major IT hub in the country and has a modern culture and lively nightlife. About 265 km from Bengaluru lies Coorg (also known as Kodagu) district, a favorite destination for backpackers, honeymooners and nature lovers. Coorg draws visitors with its breathtaking mountain scenery and pleasant weather, which gives it the nickname, ‘Scotland of India’.
Tamil Nadu’s capital Chennai (formerly Madras) is the largest commercial and industrial powerhouse in South India, and is known for its historic monuments, museums, lip-smacking food and a famous textile industry. The city is home to the world’s second-longest urban beach, Marina Beach. The Meenakshi Amman Temple is a perfect example of Tamil Nadu’s historic temples and architecture. Situated at the confluence of the Indian Ocean, Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal, Kanyakumari, the southernmost point in mainland India, is an important Hindu pilgrimage site. Another important Hindu site, Rameswaram, can be reached on a scenic train-ride and is connected to the mainland by India’s oldest railway sea bridge and an engineering marvel, Pamban Bridge. Pondicherry, a former French settlement and a union territory of India, is popular for its White town, beaches and Auroville retreat.
Sri Venkateswara Swamy Vaari Temple, more popularly known as Tirupati Temple in Andhra Pradesh’s Tirumala is considered one of Hinduism’s holiest shrines and attracts millions of devotees each year. Encircled by beautiful landscapes, Andhra’s Araku Valley is a forest-covered hill station and known for its coffee plantations.
The state of Telangana was carved out of Andhra Pradesh in 2014, and Hyderabad is their common capital. Famed for its traditional Hyderabadi Biryani, the city is home to the iconic Charminar and the impenetrable Golconda Fort.
With more than 500 km of coastline, Kerala is known for its palm-fringed beaches, backwaters and canals. Charter a houseboat and drift in the maze of backwaters, watch mesmerizing sunsets from the cliffs at Varkala beach, or go tiger-tracking at Periyar National Park. Kochi (formerly Cochin) is Kerala’s historic port town where you can still see chinese fishing nets in action, which were introduced by chinese merchants over 500 years ago. Kerala also has one of South India’s most celebrated hill stations, Munnar, which is surrounded by undulating hills and dotted with tea plantations.
India’s third-largest city, Kolkata, is a bustling metropolis, the capital of the eastern state of West Bengal and former capital of British India. Bengal has produced intellectuals, philosophers, poets and saints like Rabindranath Tagore and Swami Vivekananda. Here, you can experience the exquisite Bengali culture, stay at a tea garden in Darjeeling and explore British-era architecture, art galleries and museums like the Victoria Memorial and cultural festivals. The mangrove forests of West Bengal’s UNESCO world heritage listed Sunderban National Park is a world-renowned tiger-watching destination. The neighboring state of Odisha is home to iconic Hindu temples like the Konark Sun Temple and Puri’s Shree Jagannath Temple.
The eight northeastern states of India are known for their unique culture, traditions and folklore. Often overlooked by international travelers, this is a must-visit region for those who seek destinations with an offbeat vibe and a strong natural punch. The main city in the region is Guwahati, which has good connectivity with the rest of the country. The Kamakhya Temple and the world’s smallest river island Umananda, are Guwahati’s highlights. Visitors can head out to the Kaziranga National Park, which is the best wildlife-watching destination in the region and known for its rare one-horned rhino population. Assam is also the home to the world’s largest river island Majuli, an ever changing island, depending on the mood of the mighty Brahmaputra river.
To experience some of the region’s most scenic natural beauty, visit the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Nagaland. Undertake a painstaking road journey to Arunachal’s famed Tawang Monastery which is the second largest in the world after Lhasa’s Potala Palace, discover hidden root bridges and waterfalls in Meghalaya, trek in the Dzukou Valley and encounter headhunters in tribal Nagaland. Sikkim’s capital Gangtok is one of India’s favourite hill stations and offers breathtaking scenery of the world’s third-highest mountain, Kangchenjunga.
India is one country but feels like one hundred. You cannot come across a more heterogeneous country anywhere else on the planet.