Top 10 Things to See and Do
- Although perhaps a predictable one, there is a reason that the Taj Mahal makes it onto all lists of India's top attractions. This white marble palace was a built to honour the late wife of emperor Shah Jahan in 1632 and called ‘a teardrop on the cheek of eternity’. Its majestic architecture and surrounding manicured landscape (including reflecting pools and ornamental flowering gardens) add to the poetic atmosphere of this world renowned structure.
- The Virupaksha Temple in Hampi was once a tiny shrine before the Vijayanagara rulers came to power and built it into an awe-inspiring temple; today, it is one of the oldest functioning Hindu temples in India.
- Ranthambore National Park is the largest and most well known of its kind in Northern India; 130km from Jaipur, it was once the favourite hunting ground for the Maharajas of this region, but today is one of the most visited wildlife attractions in the country.
- Chandni Chowk means moonlit market and is one of the oldest in Old Delhi. Built in the 17th century, it is the largest wholesale market, and bartering here is just part of the experience. If you’ve got a sweet tooth you may be interested to know that our India team highly recommend the Jalebi Wala stall here, called ‘Old Famous Jalebi Wala’, serving this traditional dough snack, dipped in Ghee and rolled in sugar.
- The chain of lagoons and lakes known as the Kerala Backwaters lie parallel to the Arabian Sea coast; with over 1500km of canal both manmade and natural, they attract a large amount of visitors each year. Traditionally one of the main transportation systems, today the Kerala backwaters offer a relaxing, peaceful and breathtaking experience when explored by boat.
- Meenakshi Amman Temple is a historic Hindu temple in Tamil Nadu, on the bank of theVaigai River; it is well known for its sculptures, with over 33,000 of them gracing the outsides of the structures. The Temples were on the final shortlist for the Seven Wonders of the World.
- We are a nation of tea lovers, however do we really know how our ‘national’ drink came to be in small bags on our supermarket shelves? Visiting one of the tea plantations around India offers a fascinating insight into how tea is made from start to finish, as well as helping to understand Indian culture. Tea estates usually offer day tours or the opportunity to make your own tea.
- The breathtaking Ahilya Fort sits on the banks of the Narmada River; once the capital of the celebrated female rulers, this expansive fort is now run by the Maharaja and has been converted into a hotel without changing much of the original architecture from the 1760’s.
- Perhaps the most controversial attraction on our top ten is the Khajuraho Group of Monuments, with its sculptures depicting intimate and complex sexual scenes. Located in Khajuraho, these erotic sculptures were first erected between 950 and 1150 by the Chandela monarchs.
- The Amber Fort is perched among the picturesque hills just outside Jaipur, and is a blend of Hindu and Mughal architecture. Built in 1592, this breathtaking palace simply exudes romance, and offers awe-inspriing views across Maota Lake.
India Festivals & Events
It is unsurprising given its hotch-potch of cultures and people that several festivals are celebrated here throughout the year, both country wide and regionally, and preparations and involvement are taken seriously by its people! The three major national holidays in India are Independence Day, on the 15th of August in celebration of their gaining independence from British rule in 1947, Republic Day on the 26th of January and Gandhi Jayanti, on the 2nd of October in celebration of Mahatma Ghandi’s birthday. Some of the other major festivals are:
Dance and music claim the day, or the month as it may be, with the Chennai Music Festival, Mamallapuram Dance Festival, Hampi Festival and the Mukteshwar Dance Festival to name but a few. Arguably the most popular is the Chennai Music Festival, a highly anticipated event, often referred to as the world’s largest cultural event, enticing locals and tourists alike into the excitement of traditional Carnatic music and dance. With relevant seminars, over a thousand performances and music related discussions, the festival takes place at music halls all over Chennai.
The first weekend in February marks one of the biggest events in the Mumbai Social Calendar as the Indian Derby weekend takes place, a huge sporting celebration with over 25000 attendees every year. Aside from the horse racing, aerial ballet graces the skies, professional salsa dancers strut their stuff to live bands and covers of the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Cliff Richard reign supreme. Aside from this various art festivals take place, like Kala Ghoda Arts Festival between 1st and 9th of Februrary which spills out from the Arts Precinct of Kala Ghoda and out onto the streets, igniting a vibrant street party. Jaisalmer Desert Festival takes place toward the middle of the month and is a chance for tourists to experience the exuberant atmosphere of this sandstone city of Jaisalmer as parades of camles and fancy dressed locals add to the atmosphere of the polo matches and bizarre string of competitions, such as the finest facial hair. The day of the full moon in February and March is celebrated by India, with an eruption of colour and excitement, giving Holi the name ‘the festival of colours’. Bonfires are lit and people throw coloured powder on one another to celebrate the beginning of Spring. The coloured powders represent the new harvest and return of the much missed colours of nature that become muted through the winter months.
The Goa Carnival bursts into life during the first four days of the month and is the state’s most famous event, as the streets fill with floats, parades, music and masked dances, finishing with a formall ball in Panaji. A mellower atmosphere can be found in Uttarakhand at the International Yoga Festival at the same time and attracts over 400 visitors to join in with the classes lead by world class yoga teachers, while the evening boasts vegetarian cooking classes and evening discussions. Also fairly well known is the Jaipur Elephant Festival, proving that Rajasthan is not exclusively about the Camels, where prized elephants are groomed on the eve of Holi Festival, and decorated before being paraded around the streets. There is also a highly entertaining tug-of-war between the Elephants and humans.
The Godwar festival takes place from March 30 until April 1st and celebrates traditional Rajasthani folk dance and music with performances and competitions such as bullock cart rides taking place an hour outside of Udaipur. The Tulip Festival also takes place in March, when Kashmir bursts into life with flowering tulips aplenty. The festival marks this beautiful time of year with a programme of daily cultural sessions, handicraft markets and traditional Kashmiri Cuisine.
May begins with one of the largest celebrations in Madurai, the Chithirai Festival, re-enacting the wedding of Lord Shiva and Goddess Meenakshi (Lord Vishnu’s sister), with the party lasting until the middle of the month. The Thrissur Pooram takes place right in the middle of Chithirai, with processions of over 30 decorated Elephants, interspersed with parasol displays, fireworks and drum concerts.
The world renowned Ladakh International Film Festival takes place between the 27th and 29th of this month and is concerned not only with films but also with conservation issues, acting as a platform for environmental and ecological issues, particularly wildlife conservation. Earlier on in the month (2nd-6th of June), the Shimla Summer Festival graces the mountains in the north for five days of musical performances, often by well known names, food and fashion as well as plenty of local goods to buy.
Only emerging in 2008, the Splash Monsoon carnival is now a firm fixture on the Indian festival calendar and consists of three days packed with indoor and outdoor events. It is a great opportunity to see the natural beauty of the area as well as immerse yourself in a plethora of fun activities to celebrate the monsoon season. Splash takes place between the 11th and 13th of July. If you’re in Kerala during July then make sure you witness the Champakulam Boat Race, the oldest snake boat race in Kerala as well as the first of the season. The awe-inspiring procession which precedes the race itself is full of exotic floats, decorated boats and vibrant parasols.
From the 9th – 10th of August, the Teej Festival takes place and is an important one for women as they apply henna to their bodies and dress up. Commemorating the reconciliation of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati, these two days see decorated elephants, chariots and dancers parade through the streets, bringing with them a celebratory atmosphere. At the end of August, Govinda/Krishna Janmashtami takes place, where people take to the streets to help build human pyramids high enough to reach the clay pots filled with curd that are strung from the rooftops. This festsival commemorating the birthday of Lord Krishna is celebrated throughout India but is particularly enjoyable in Mumbai, where the city erupts in celebration and a cultural programme is run at the ISKCON temple complex.
Honouring the birth of the much loved Hindu elephant-headed God Lord Ganesha, this vibrant eleven day festival begins on the 9th of September and sees over-sized, meticulously crafted elaborate statues of Ganesha installed all over public areas and in the homes of residents. At the festival close on the 18th of September this statutes are taken down and paraded through the street, escorted alongside much singing and dancing, before being submerged in the ocean.
October marks the month of shopping, as the Jaipur Shopping Festival begins, running all the way up to Diwali and featuring craft bazaars showcasing local and national goods interspersed with music, dancing, singing and fashion shows. Diwali itself begins on the 23rd of October, known as the festival of lights, it marks the beginning of the financial year in India and is associated with the goddess of prosperity Lakshmi. Celebrated on the fifth day of Diwali, Bhai Dooj celebrates the new moon and is popular throughout India, although its name varies. Brothers and sisters decorate one another and pass round sweets as offerings, as well as daughters being lavished with gifts and blessings.
Celebrated from the 9th of October, the nine day festival of Durga Puja is celebrated by Hindus in most areas of India, with people fasting and praying and such a time is considered as the most propitious time in the Hindu calendar. Lastly, one of the most popular festivals, Dussehra marks the Goddess Durga’s triumph over the buffalo-headed demon, Mahishasura. The theme of the festival is good triumphing over evil.
Diwali also sometimes falls early November, the festival of lights, illuminates the darkness of the New Year’s moon and is used by many who live in India and across the world to strengthen bonds with family and friends and gain new knowledge through self discovery. Lots of clay lamps, called divas, are lit and placed in houses and fireworks light up the skies banishing the night. People also clean their homes and present one another with sweets and gifts.
The Konark Festival combines traditional dance from many regions alongside exhibitions and craft fairs from the 1st of December until the 5th each year. The International Sand Art Festival is held alongside this, with renowned international and local artists competing to win the honour of best sandcastle.
Culture in India
One of the oldest cultures in the world, dating back 5000 years, the people here refer to it as ‘Sa Prathama Sanskrati Vishvavara’ which translates as the first and most supreme culture in the world. There is not simply one culture in India but a diverse range of religions, language, arts and customs varying region by region. Religion is a significant part of life here, as the birthplace of Hinduism and Buddhism, and calls to prayer can often be heard. Food, architecture and art also reflect the varied culture here, with Arabic, Turkish and European influences.
Colour, culture, cuisine and more – India holidays offer a wide range of experiences, from standing in awe in front of the majestic Taj Mahal to practising yoga in one of Western & Oriental's featured enlightening Indian mountain wellness retreats; relaxing on the soft sandy beaches in South India, to the excitement of seeing tigers in central India. Our collection of India multi-centre holidays are designed to help you experience the buzz this country is famous for alongside the culture of another place or just juxtaposed against a tranquil beach location, putting into perspective the unique atmosphere India has to offer.