9 must-see sights for first-time travellers to India
The tourist office likes to proclaim 'Incredible India', and with good reason. The hype around this spellbinding, ever-thrilling nation of over one billion souls is more than deserved.
What's more, there are many different Indias to discover. From the chaotic urban charm of New Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata to the epic beauty of the temples, the serene mountains of the Himalayas and the laidback beach escape in the likes of Goa, there's something for all travellers in India*.
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Take a rickshaw tour of Old Delhi
The city may officially be called New Delhi*, but ever-captivating Old Delhi is the place I prefer to spend my time.
Its exotic sweep of pungent spices and chaotic street life (dogs, pigs, monkeys and the sacred cow walk among a constant stream of motorbikes in the jam-packed streets)is the perfect introduction to the maelstrom of much of India.
The best way to immerse yourself in it all is on a cycle rickshaw tour - even better if you stop off to try delicious street food en route too.
Marvel at the magnificent Taj Mahal
Countless words have been waxed on this utterly unique testament to one man's love for his wife. The word even the most world-weary traveller or deepest cynic will inevitably end up exhorting is 'Wow!'.
It is that special. It is that jaw-dropping. Built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan to house the tomb of his beloved wife, Mumtaz Maha, the Taj Mahal is a ridiculously opulent creation awash with marble and other precious and semi-precious stones.
It's busiest at sunset but do come back at sunrise when its marble hues change colour every few minutes.
India is arguably the best country in the world for spotting tigers. Real attempts have been made in recent years to preserve the tiger population and it is bearing fruit in the national parks.
First timers should choose from big hitters, Ranthambore and Satpura(or visit both!). Ranthambore is handy as it's near the well-trodden, well-equipped Golden Triangle of Delhi, Agra (Taj Mahal) and Jaipur.
Even better is Satpura, a fabulous park that has only really opened to forgein visitos over the past few years. Here you can enjoy walking and canoe safaris, as well as the usual Jeep adventure.
The best time for sightings at both parks is in the hotter summer months when the tigers have to seek out watering holes.
Head to the Pink City
On first sighting Jaipur, you'll soon see why it has earned its pink moniker. This lavish city and its maharajas retained a lot of their spirit and independence even during British colonial rule.
That pride lingers on in a city awash with red sandstone temples, palaces and wide boulevards. Jaipur is quite easy to walk around too, which is unusual for a major Indian hub. Do book a sunrise guided bike tour with stops to try the local street food in the early morning.
Hike in the Himalayas
You'd need serious climbing gear and high altitude training to enjoy a hike deep into India's northern high Himalayas*. Instead of tackling the big technical peaks, take a walk in the foothills in and around the Almora district, where there are lots of little villages where few tourists venture.
There are good walking tours* too and you are still over 2,000 m high here. The views of the higher snow-capped peaks are sensational.
This is the historic Indian city for sunseekers as it is known as 'Sun City' due to its impressively clement weather. It's also a charming oasis of forts, palaces and temples set dramatically in the middle of an unforgiving desert.
The Clock Square is the heart of the action with a web of colourful markets swirling around it. This is my favourite city in India to just relax in a café with a chai. Come here and I think you will soon see why.
Enjoy a real Indian
India is famous for its food and it deserves to be though, of course, you have to be mindful of the dreaded 'Delhi Belly'. The food here is far more tasty than the chilli-for-the-sake-of-it dishes you sometimes get in the UK.
It's all about fresh spices and depth of flavour. This is the real thing with a diverse array of freshly ground spices setting the tastebuds tingling at every meal. My favourite restaurant is Bukhara in Delhi; tandoori cooking will never be the same again.
Hop on a train
Don't miss the opportunity to ride the rails. India's railways are such an experience and an integral part of the country's culture. Don't even think about braving second class as it's an anything-goes-cram-everyone-in riot where passengers end up hanging out of windows and balancing on the roof of carriages.
It's quite a spectacle, best viewed from the highest travel class you can snare. The higher class seats often come with meals too and, compared with European prices, are great value.
Laze on the beaches of Goa
On India's sultry, lush western coast this state has a far more laid-back, tropical vibe than the north. It's no longer just a hippie retreat but a fully-fledged resort playground.
Expect superb hotels and restaurants with dishes infused with coconut milk, spice and a touch of Portuguese influence from Goa's colonial days. Other beach options include the less-discovered Andaman Islands over on the east coast.
Weather in India
|Maximum daytime temperature °C
|Hours of sunshine (daily)
|Days with some rainfall
India is more than a country; it's an enormous, sweeping continent and as such the weather varies greatly from north to south, east to west. The above guide shows the weather in New Delhi and you find out more about conditions across the country in our complete guide to the weather in India.
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