Cricket is a national passion. The obsession for the game has bewildered historians who are at a loss to describe the enthusiasm. At every park in the country, cricket is played by youngsters. Particularly on weekends. So grab a pair of sports shoes and join in the fun and frolic. The game of cricket was brought to Indian shores by British sailors and subsequently by the soldiers and civil officers posted to the sub-continent during the Raj era. The romance has become thicker with the passage of time. The game transcends social barriers.
Bangalore is the centre for rock climbing destinations like Ramangaram, Savandurga, Thuralli, Kabbal,Raogodhu and others. Kambakkam, around 100 kms from Chennai, provides good climbing in many grades while Hampi in Karnataka has some of the best granite rocks in India, providing climbers ample opportunity to test their skills. In a 300 kms radius adjoining Kolkata, there are some rock climbing destinations such as Purulia, Matha Bura, Jai Chandi and Susunia hills. Near Mumbai, Kanheri, Mumbra boulders, Manori rocks, Karnala and Matheran are popular destinations for rock climbing. In Gujarat, Pavagadh is a favourite rock-climbing destination. There are numerous other rock climbing destinations, so come to India and enjoy the thrill.
River Running is the most organised water sport in the country. It includes rafting, canoeing and kayaking. India's rafting stretches are mainly on the rivers Beas, Sutlej, Mahakali and Ganges, of which the Ganges is considered the safest. If you're lucky you might even catch the night rafting, when the runners raft by the light of the full moon that casts eerie shadows all over the Hat Himalayan deserted land.
Heli-Skiing has come to stay in India. It is practiced in the area bound by the Hanuman Tibba, Rohtang Pass, Deo Tibba and Chanderkhani Pass near Manali. A sortie of ten minutes carries skiers to the top of a 14,000 foot high slope. Heli skiing in Manali and Gulmarg provides an enormous variety of ski runs and routes as complicated or as straightforward as the individual can tackle.
Take a road trip from Bangalore to Goa. Passing through some astonishing landscapes, this is one of the most fascinating road trips down south. Another beautiful trip by road is from Chennai to Pondicheny via the East Coast Road. Also try a road trip from Raniket to Kasauni in the Kumaon hills of Uttaranchal.
The coral reefs and pristine blue lagoons of Lakshadweep and Andamans are the ideal location to head for scuba diving in India. Facilities existing at the Andaman Beach Resort and the Bay Island at Port Blair, and the Bangaram Beach resort in the Lakshadweep, which has some of the best diving spots in the world.
Indians are great, the Makar Sankranti antri festival is a fun time to join the thousands who share your interest. Check with your travel agent on the dates of the festival. Gujarat is famous for its kites and the locals are experts at flying these paper birds.
Tiger Safaris offer a full experience of Indian wildlife. The Periyar Tiger trail, is an exciting trekking programme through the deep forests in the Periyar river valley, near the Thekkady tourist resort in Idukki district, Kerala. Led by a small team of experienced guides having quit their former jobs as poachers, hike into cool, green forests and out again into vast, sunny meadows. One can hang out with an astounding array of wildlife including elephants, sambar deer, birds like the brilliant blue kingfisher and the great Indian hornbill, and more than 100 species of butterflies.
A challenging and exciting trek over the frozen river Zanskar is the only access to the isolated capital of Zariskar during the harsh winter period. This dramatic and challenging trek begins with sight-seeing in Tibetan influenced kingdom of Ladakh. The trek is on the frozen river with night stops in villages and natural caves. Best time is front mid-January to mid-February.
Explore the Buddhist mountain kingdom of Ladakh and mysterious Nubra Valley. Wide open spaces, wind across your face, breathtaking, bewitching scenery is what you see driving past different landscapes on mountain roads.
The Zanskar valley is a particularly challenging area where even a casual visit to a monastery or a remote village settlement involves a rewarding safari. Driving past different landscapes, apple orchards, quaint villages and temples, the tribal districts where the landscape contrasts starkly with the greenery seen earlier, the Great Himalayan jeep safari is an unmatched experience.
Get onto a yak while others trek along the spine of the Singelila Range to the 4572-meter-high Dui-la, the pass of the Devil. The route with no habitation, follows the ancient grazing trail of the yak herdsmen. It is the domain of yaks, their lonely herdsmen, lakes, glacial valleys, gurgling streams, cascades, chiseled snow peaks, meadows, forests, Rhododendrons, wildlife, birds, and breathtaking views of 6000 to 8000 meter-high peaks of the Khangchenjunga group, and the Mount Everest group. This an experience unique to Sikkim.
Shimla was the summer capital during the British Raj. Since no English township could be complete without a golf course, a suitable site was finally chosen at Naldehra 23 km from Shimla. Ths course is carpeted by a fine springy turf, which requires little maintenance.
Play a round of golf at the Classic Golf Resort (CGR), the first South Asian signature championship course designed by the great Jack 'Golden Bear' Nicklaus. The resort has been built on a 300-acre expanse, at the foothills of the picturesque 20-million year old Aravalli hills.
Riding a camel can take some getting used to, similar to the first time trying to sit cross-kneed. It's not like an elephant ride where one can sit back comfortably and let the animal do the rest. Be prepared for sore ankles and knees. It will be better to try a one-day safari before getting on to anything major. This is the ideal way to spend time exploring rustic Rajasthan. A camel safari moves through the golden sands of the savage Thar Desert passing through remote villages. The fortified cities of Jodhpur, Jaisalmer and Bikaner are the best areas for camel safaris. The camel carts are fully equipped and visitors need not bother about comfort in the desert. Ride or walk along leisurely with the safari and enjoy the desertscape. The best time would be from mid-September to mid-March.
Ballooning is a great way to see a city, New Delhi's Safdarjung Airport provides some opportunities to Float past the old monuments.
Ballooning events are also held annually in Rajasthan’s three cities - Jaipur, Jodhpur and Jaisalmer.
The racing season at Mahalaxmi Rececourse, Lala Lajpatrai Road, in Mahalaxmi runs from November to April. This highlight is the Indian Derby in February. The elegant stands provide first-class viewing of the racing on the flat, oval track; entry fees range from Rs.12 to Rs.200. The racecourse is a popular place for people to visit, to jog or simply take in the fresh air
The yearly, Kingfisher Sea Bird race from Mumbai to Goa has become a major sailing event of the year. At the Royal Bombay Yacht Club and Colaba Sailing Club, one can learn sailing or just sail.
Hyderabad's love affair with automobiles dates back to the days of the Nizams. Even today expect to see Rolls Royces, Packards and Cadillsacs on the streets. Experience an exclusive drive around town in a vintage or classic car
In Mysore, ride thoroughbred and half-bred, Indian Bred Marwari and Kathiawari horses, retired from racing. The average distance covered by the horse safari daily is 20-35 kms. Accommodation is in deluxe tents with separate baths. The best time is between November to March.
In October a ten-day long festival is celebrated to mark the victory of Prince Rama aver the evil king Ravana. Ram Lila, a drama which brings, to life the legend of prince Rama is held in various parts of the country. On the tenth day a huge effigy of Ravana, filled with crackers is burnt. This becomes a most spectacular display of fireworks that fills up the evening sky.
Welcome to Holi, India's fluorescent Mardi Gras where no one is safe from being turned into something that resembles a Jackson Pollock canvas. It is the most colourful, friendly battle on earth. Holi is a time for celebrating the arrival of spring and the approaching harvest season. The frenzy takes place all across northern and eastern India. Join in the celebration as vibrantly coloured powders are thrown on friends, relatives, and strangers. The festival is accompanied with noisy makeshift parades, feasts and dancing in the streets, and in true Indian fashion.
At the majestic Vijay Chowk, the “Beating the Retreat” ceremony is held every year against the backdrop of the setting sun in Delhi. A centuries-old military tradition, Beating the Retreat dates back to the days when troops disengaged themselves from battle at sunset. As soon as the bugles sounded retreat, the troops ceased fighting, sheathed their arms, and withdrew from the battlefield. The custom has been retained to this day when colours and standards are cased and the flag lowered. The annual retreat has the nation's defence forces in a ceremonial playing of pipes and drums that, in effect, is a celebration of joy of being a Republic. It is customary for the country's top brass, including the President, the Prime Minister and the three Service Chiefs, to participate in the celebrations.
The Lal Quila (Red Fort) is an eloquent reminder of the glory of the Mughal era, and its magnificence simply leaves one awestruck. It is a calm haven of peace, which helps one to break away, from the noisy and busy life outside the walls of the Fort, and transports the visitor to another realm of existence. Sound and light shows, highlighting particular phases of history are held here and are worth attending. The shows are in Hindi and English. Sound and light shows are also held at other important monuments.
A shrine in Shivapur, near Pune, named after Sufi Qamar Ali witnesses an unusual event. In the courtyard, visitors to the temple are asked to assist in a demonstration of Qamar Ali's divine presence. The experiment involves a large boulder in the courtyard.
Golconda Fort is a majestic monument, which lies on the western outskirts of Hyderabad city. The magnificent architecture is manifest in its acoustic system, the structural grandeur of the palaces and ingenious water supply system. The fort was famous for its diamond trade and the 'Kohinoor' diamond is said to have come from here. All this is explained in the sound and light show that brings the legend of Golconda to life. With a spectacular interplay of audio and visual effects, its story unfolds over centuries of splendour. The show livens up the glorious past and it is an experience worth watching.
The Habitat Centre prides itself on being the epicentre of the cultural and entertainment life of the capital. With several performance venues, almost all operating daily, every evening can be leisurely spent enjoying a spectrum of performances. In addition, delectable cuisine is available at its food court
From the backwaters of Kerala and the waters of Goa to the northern frontiers in Kashmir, cruising on the calm waters surrounded by scenic beauty adds a magical charm to a unique holiday. You could choose to stay on a houseboat or Shikara in Kashmir. Or relax in the Kettuvalloms in Kerala, houseboats made out of jackwood planks sewn together with coir ropes.
Discover a tropical hill resort in the middle of the Rajasthan desert. Surrounded by forests and flowering shrubs, Mt. Abu was selected as the site of the most sacred mystic rites in ancient times, the sacrifice of the fire pit. Also, it is the centre of Jain pilgrimage. Check out the intricate carvings of the marble Dilwara temples and expect to get lots of spicy vegetarian food.
While in Jodhpur, visit the Bishnoi Village. The Bishnoi clan holds a special significance in the culture of India. Their commitment to the natural environment is extraordinary. The basic philosophy of the clan is that all living things have a right to survive and share all resources. In the fifteenth century, Jambhoji, a resident of a village near Jodhpur, had a vision that the cause of the drought that had hit the area and the hardship that followed was caused by people's interference with nature. Nature protection was given foremost importance in these tenets. Since then, the sect has religiously followed these tenets. The blackbuck and the chinkara are not afraid of humans here and are often seen near the villages eating out of the villagers' hands.
Goa is the ideal place to head for during December. For, the state comes alive during the Christmas and New Year celebrations. Carnivals, music, partying, it's all happening at Goa in December. Make sure to do prior bookings. Once here, you can hire bikes and ride through this picturesque state, stopping over to look at the great architecture of some of the most amazing churches from the Portuguese era.
Mandu in Madhya Pradesh is a celebration of life, a tribute to the tender love of the poet-prince, Baz Bahadur for his consort, Rani Roopmati. The balladeers of Malva still sing of their love. Roopmati's pavilion gazes down fondly upon Baz Bahadur's palace, an outstanding example of Afghan architecture. The other structures of interest are the massive Jama Masjid and Hoshang Shah's Tomb, which served as models for the master-builders of the Taj Mahal, centuries later.
The magic of Mandu lives on in its palaces, mosques, and in its ballads. Mandu comes to life in the monsoon season. But anytime is a good time to see this spectacular place.
While many people come to Khajuraho to see the erotic sculpture, this is a spectacular place for those interested in art and sculpture. Khajuraho is a must for students of art..
The club culture in Kolkata is a British Raj legacy. Today the exclusive clubs of yesteryear are haunts of the native sahibs. Some of the clubs have strict dress codes and adherence to it is recommended. Sip a cup at the Royal Calcutta Golf Club (established 1829, the oldest golf club outside the UK), and experience what it was to be a "burra sahib" (big boss) in the days of the British Raj.
Check out the Howrah bridge. See the New Market where everything from needles, textiles to squirrels is available. The Jewish street is a delight. Here they continue to have their own courts that follow Jewish law.
Make sure to be on board the Darjeeling Himalayan Train. Described by the Guinness Railway Book as ‘one of the world’s most spectacular’ rail Journeys, it is one of the things you must do when you are in India. The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway is a piece of inspirational railway engineering. A tiny locomotive engine heaves its way up a near-vertical mountain, daily hauling its trainload of men and materials up a climb of over 2000 metres.
Manipur is a great place to see over two dozen tribes. Famous for Manipuri dances and handloom textiles, the capital is surrounded by hills and lakes where one can go on nature walks and understand the meaning of true peace.
The magnificent synagogue is named after 'Pardesi' (meaning 'foreigners') who are the 'White Jews' a mixture of Jewish exiles from Spain and Portugal. It is the oldest synagogue built in the former British Empire. In 1568, the Rajah of Cochin, Paraja, gave a piece of land to the Jewish community next to his palace to build the synagogue. The synagogue houses 1600-year-old copper plates on which the community charter of independence and the privileges granted to the Jewish community are inscribed. It was reconstructed in 1662, after the Portuguese bombardment of that year.
A visit to a spice garden is memorable. Here one can find spices native to the state growing in a garden. Pull some nutmeg from the bark of a nutmeg tree or wrench out some peppercorns. Owned by families, one can get a glimpse into their simple homes and taste of their gracious hospitality.
Kanchipuram, the town of thousand temples is one of the seven sacred cities in India. Kanchipuram is famous for its hand woven silks in the form of saris and yardage. The timeless appeal of vibrantly coloured silks makes them prized collections.
Kanya Kumari, the southernmost point of peninsular India, is where the waters of the Bay of Bengal, the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea meet - a place from where one can see spectacular sunrises, colourful sunsets and the full moon rising from another part of the sky! A temple dedicated to goddess Kanyakumari is located close to the seashore. Off the coast, on a rocky island, is the memorial to that great Indian philosopher – Swami Vivekananda who sat in meditation here in 1892.
Get Indian in your attire:
For the ladies, wearing the Indian 'sari' will be a delightful experience. After you've managed to put on one that is. There is an art to it, which the friendly Indian ladies will only be too happy to help you with.
Learn the subtle variations of India's cuisine and unlock the magic of Indian food. The flavours of Indian food are alluring and fragrant. Fluffy rice, tender morsels of meat and chicken, creamy and aromatic sauces, hot baked breads studded with spices, mouth-tingling chutneys and pickles – all these authentic flavours are yours to be discovered and enjoyed.
Numerous local restaurants in South India serve their staple Dosas, griddle-fried pancakes and Idlis, steamed rice dumplings on a banana leaf. It can prove a little awkward to those who have never used their fingers before. But once you get the hang of it, there can be no other way to eat these delicacies.
The Indian paans are famous for their taste and digestive properties. Paans are special leaves commonly had with betel nuts, which can also be tailor-made on request with coconut powder, clove, sugar, camphor, gulkand (a sweet paste), etc. Go ahead and eat your heart out and top it up with a paan.
On the way to Kerala's hill country, Munnar, stop at a tea plantation tea stall and sip a cup of the brew. The cool mountain air makes the experience invigorating. 'Kawa' is a light tea, without milk, topped with grated almonds, popular in Jammu and Kashmir. The masala tea served in the Dhabas in north India is another speciality.
Sorpotel, Goa's prized dish, is served mainly on feast days. It is made-up of diced pieces ol liver, heart and kidney, served in a thick gravy. The gravy is sopped up with sannas, steamed coconut rice pucks that have an intoxicating hint of toddy. The marriage between sannas and sorpotel is blissful, at least so say the Goans. Sorpotel keeps fresh for several days and is actually considered to taste better if left for three to four days before being reheated.
The soft, spongy and syrupy ultimate delicacy, Rosogolla, can claim the status of a national dish. Pop one in your mouth and feel the sweet liquid surge down your throat. As a fun thing try saying 'Rasogolla' with a Rosogolla in your mouth.
Of Mughal origin, Biryani is worthy of a king. In fact, it is said that the last Mughal Emperor bartered his secret recipes in return for his passage to safety! This ultimate meat and rice dish requires elaborate cooking on a slow fire with spices adding to its richness - ginger and garlic, cloves, cinnamon and cardamom, nuts and the king of all flavours – Saffron. A thousand stigmas of this autumnal plant go into producing just a gram of this spice - but just a thread or two will elevate a humble plate of rice into a royal platter.
For the ladies, wearing the Indian 'sari' will be a delightful experience. After you've managed to put on one that is. There is an art to it, which the friendly Indian ladies will only be too happy to help you with. Gentlemen may try out kurta-dhoti and 'sherwanis' with the famous gear for the head, turban.
The Navaratna (nine gems) is an exquisite piece of jewellery and every woman must own one. Traditionally the stone and its weight are decided according to the individual’s astrological chart. The Navratna consists of diamond, ruby, emerald, coral, pearl, sapphire, garnet, topaz and the cat’s eye. This combination of gems is considered highly auspicious and is said to protect the wearer.
Get a 22 carat gold facial at any of the premium parlours like the Shahnaz Herbal Parlours in India. The facial involves a massage-with 22 carat pure gold gel and cream to stimulate blood circulation and lymphatic drainage. Intensive toning and a use of specialized mask, containing 22 carat gold, accelerates cell-renewal. This is an intensive age-control and rejuvenating treatment, leaving you as good as gold.
Mehendi, "henna colouring", has become the in-thing for women. No Indian wedding is complete without mehendi. Whichever part of the country the bride may be from; her hands are adorned with the lovely red hue of mehendi. Visit a local bazaar and get your hands coloured. Popular traditional images used in mehendi designs are the peacock, the national bird of India, the lotus flower, and an elephant with a raised trunk - a symbol of good luck. It usually takes over six hours for the mehendi to set properly. The intricate patterns are dabbed with cotton balls doused in sugar syrup and lime juice to make the mehendi darker.
Indian marriages are symbolised by a host of rites and rituals, traditions, pomp and festivity and numerous customs passed down from generation to generation. Take a quick peek into the world of Indian weddings in all their glory by getting married Indian style at a luxurious heritage hotel. The groom dresses in traditional attire and is welcomed by friends with flower garlands by the bride's 'close relatives' (hotel staff and guests in the case of international visitors). The bride and groom exchange garlands during this ceremony. The mahurat or auspicious time for the wedding ceremony is usually set after dinner. The couple walk around the sacred fire. At the end of the ceremony, the newly-weds touch the feet of elders to take their blessings.
Visit a fair and buy a host of multi-coloured glass bangles to match your eyes, dress, shoes or taste. Ferozabad, a town in Uttar Pradesh, renowned for its glass bangle manufacturing. In each region, bangles are made using materials available locally, like wood in Kashmir and lac in Rajasthan.
Ever since the Diwan's patronage of the pearl industry, Hyderabad has remained the premier centre for buying, sorting, and selling of pearls. The pearls are polished and graded and are then patterned into strings, jewellery, or simply sold by weight.
A Kathakali performance is a major social event that starts at dusk and goes on through the night. Kathakali is performed only by men. The makeup is so elaborate that it is more like a mask. The materials that comprise the makeup include rice flour for white, the red is made from Vermilion (a red earth such as cinnabar). The black is made from soot. The colours are not merely decoration, but are also a means of portraying characters. For instance, red on the feet is used to symbolize evil character and evil intent.
Yoga is a system of exercises for physical and mental well-being. It was developed about five thousand years ago. It combines stylized poses with deep breathing and meditation. The term Yoga is derived from a Sanskrit word meaning to 'join together'. The ultimate aim in yoga is to unite the human soul with the universal spirit. There are great opportunities to learn yoga and make it a part of your everyday living.
Be it the Oscars or the friendly neighbourhood theatre in our country, Indian movies have made a mark in the world. When in India, it will be a good idea to hop into a movie-theatre and experience an exciting array of drama, emotion and dance & music. You will not only be thoroughly entertained but you may also find enough inspiration to make a flick of your own.
Check out the Sunday newspapers in India and you will find amusing reading under "Matrimonials". The advertisements give an idea of the social milieu and society in the country.
When in cities like Delhi or Mumbai visit the local markets like Janpath in Delhi or the Fashion Street in Mumbai. Here you will find an amazing variety of clothes and junk jewellery but the real fun of it is bargaining with the shopkeepers. Not only will you take home a lot of goodies at throwaway prices but you will also enjoy the experience.
Walking the narrow winding streets of bazaars is in itself a novel experience. The bazaars are certainly not the mall. Put aside any notions of peace and quiet and jump into the thick of it. Chandni Chowk, in Old Delhi, has all kinds of shops, from gold and silver to hardware. If you get lost, just hail an auto rickshaw, they'll take you where you want to go.
If you are in the market for a camel, you will have no problem finding one at the Pushkar Camel Fair at bargain prices! The focus is on buying and selling camels; about 30,000 of the snarling beasts trade hands during the week. There is also plenty of camel racing and camel polo. And since this is a trading fair, there is a wide range of handicrafts, bangles, embroidery, and brassware available. It is a calibre of mayhem that can only happen in India - an assault of colour, laughter, and energy topped with a healthy dose of spirituality. Acrobats, Jugglers, snake charmers, mystics, and fire-eaters round out the scene.
A unique culinary experience awaits visitors on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, where visitors can savour authentic Gujarati village cuisine, before wandering throught he grounds to see a museum devoted to Indian utensils.
Utensils have been placed in a simple structure set around an open courtyard. Collected from all over India, the endeavour is to demonstrate the purity of form and shape in these objects of utility. The pot to store water in, utensils to cook and serve in, spoons, rolling pins, a huge vessel in which buttermilk was churned, each objects is beautifully conceived and created to prove that beauty lies in the simple objects of everyday use. The museum celebrates the simple but perfectly designed objects of everyday use.
Visit Asia’s largest open-air laundry in Mumbai. Here hundreds of washermen wash clothes and leave them out in the sun to dry. This Dhobi Ghat could not be further removed in spirit from the manicured lawns of the Mahalaxmi Rececourse, although it is only a few hundred yards away. This is where much of Mumbai’s launcry is donw, by hand in concrete sinks and dried by the sun, as it has been for generations.
A sight exclusive to Mumbai is its legendary dabbawallahs, an army of staff that supplies lunch boxes to Mumbaiites. To see them in action drop by Mumbai’s Churchgate Station or the suburban section of Chhatrapati Shivaji Station (also known as Victoria Terminus) between 11 a.m. and 12 noon on any working day. This unique system work a little like the Internet. Each lunch container has a code which directs its routing. The simple colour-coded instructions determine not only packet routing but packet prioritization as lunches transfer from train to bicycle to foot. Thousands of lunch boxes are delivered everyday.
Take a tour to Kolkata's fish markets and see the numerous varieties of fish from the lively koi (climbing perch), the wriggling catfish family of tangra, magur, shingi and the pink-bellied Indian butter fish, the pabda. Among the larger fish, are rui (rohu) and bhetki, weigh upto eight kilograms. Baskets of pink and silvery ilish (hilsa) match the shine on the glistening blade of the fishmonger.
Top this with a true Bengali meal of fish curry and rice.
Chinatown in Kolkata buzzes with activity the year round. It has rows of shoe stores and shoe makers, where you can get a pair of shoes designed at an amazingly reasonable cost.
On an average, daily, tens of thousands of pilgrims offer their hair at Tirumala, in fulfillment of their vows. The tonsuring centers are busy day and night through the year. Over 200 tonnes of hair are collected every year, wigs are made and exported.
Hyderabad's most famous museum is the Salar Jung Museum, a personal collection which features priceless treasures and whimsical objects side by side. A visit to this museum is a must.
Ayurvedic massages may have tongue-twisting names, but have close-to guaranteed remedies for many ailments. A synchronized massage uses traditional herbal oils as masseurs knead the body. The effect of this is obvious as the body relieves itself of excess fluids. An unusual feeling of wellness is experienced with Sirodhara, as medicated oil is poured in an even stream onto the forehead, said to pacify and revitalize the mind and body.
A quaint enclave in Tamil Nadu, 120 kms from Chennai is Pondicherry, once a possession of the French. It joined the Republic of India in 1960. The town is home to the acclaimed philosopher Shri Aurobindo. The Aurobindo ashram is a must for those visiting the region. The French will find it particularly charming as the homes, culture and cuisine are distinctly French.
Indians are hospitable people and respect religious and social customs. Chances are that if you show an inclination, you will get invited to their homes. Indians have always believed that 'the guest is God.
Cholamandalam in Chennai, Shilpgram in Udaipur, Pinjore in Haryana and Chowkidani in Jaipur are some of the artist villages worth a visit. Here one can see artists at work - be it pottery, embroideiy, painting or various other art forms.
Resting serenely on the banks of the holy Ganga (Ganges), nestled in the lap of the Himalayas in Rishikesh, are ashrams (charity homes) in an atmosphere of true spiritual humility. It is no surprise that pilgrims are drawn here from all over the wolld. The awe-inspiring beauty of the ashrams, the clear, flowing Ganges, the majestic mountains, and the lush green forests will embrace and rejuvenate your entire being. Major ashrams have residential rooms that retain the simplicity of ashram living and yet are equipped with the necessary modern amenities. Each morning, ashram residents join together for universal prayer and meditation as the sun begins its ascent over the Himalayas and the first light of dawn dances on the waters of the Ganges.
Situated on a 15-acre forested estate surrounded by tea gardens of the Kangra valley, one of the most scenic and unexplored areas of Himachal Pradesh, is Taragarh Palace. It has comfortable furnished rooms with attached baths, teak paneled dining hall, old colonial furniture, swimming pool, tennis and badminton courts. While at Taragarh, visit the Tashijong Monastery which has a commanding view of the Kangra valley.
Expect to receive hospitality that is overwhelming. Punjabi food is centered around bread, corn bread, greens and buttermilk (lassi). Buttermilk is whipped yogurt, and can be had sweetened or with salt and is usually very thick. Wheat is the staple food here. Shredded vegetables mixed with spices and stuffed into the dough, are rolled and roasted to make delicious stuffed parathas. 'Tandoori' food, a favourite with many foreigners, is a gift from the Punjab. After eating this meal, you can safely miss the next two meals!
In Old Delhi, close to the Red Fort, is India's oldest restaurant, Karim’s. Founded by a family of chefs who fed the Mughal emperors exotic dishes, the tradition of great cuisine lives on. Try their Kofta, peppery ground lamb tenderly embracing a boiled egg; and succulent chicken yougurt laced with spices that burst upon the palate like star shells.
Situated in the heart of the capital city, Dilli Haat is the first ever permanent crafts market showcasing crafts from all over India. The word Haat implies a weekly market in rural and semi-urban India. The Dilli Haat offers a delightful amalgam of craft, food and cultural activities. The 62 stalls selling handicrafts are allotted on a rotational basis to craftsmen who come from all corners of India for a maximum period of 15 days. This ensures visitors buy authentic wares at prices that have not been inflated by high maintenance costs. Savour the inimitable flavours of the delightful local foods from the 25 food stalls, be it the momos from Sikkim or the bamboo hot chicken from Nagaland.
These days one would find golfers on the ground where royals once moved on their chargers. The Rambagh Palace Polo & Golf Club in Jaipur is an eighteen-hole course with nine greens and nine browns. It overlooks the picturesque Moti Doongri Palace and the historical Nahargarh Fort. The fairway passes through the Rambagh Polo Grounds, which have seen some of the finest polo matches in the tune of the late Sawai Man Singh.
Visit a heritage hotel where members of the royal family, having turned their palaces into hotels, hobnob with their guests. They are inclined to talk of the past and many revealing tales will make your experience an interesting one.
Take a camel safari out into the desert to watch the sunset over miles upon miles of sand. Camp on a solitary oasis, experience the dark starry nights and dance to musicians playing haunting music.
The Lake Palace, Udaipur is one of the most beautiful palaces in the world, arising out of the turquoise waters of the Pichola Lake, an elegant fantasy in white marble. The palace was built in the 17th century on a natural foundation of 4 acres of rock. Run by the Taj Group, the rooms are decorated with cusped arches, inland stones of pink, green lotus leaves and painted mirrors.
The Osho Ashram, Pune, better known as the ashram of Bhagwan Rajneesh, attracts thousands of western visitors every year. It boasts of modern facilities and offers numerous courses. Walk around this beautiful edifice and take a course in meditation.
About 65 km from Kozhikode on the road to Udhagamandalam, one reaches the base camp of the resort by jeep. The virgin track from the camp to the tree-houses has been retained in its primitive condition. The dwellings, 400 sq. ft. each, took nearly five months of collective effort by an engineer, carpenters and Paniya tribals to complete. Living in a tree-house brings stories of Robinson Crusoe to life.
Experience the beauty of the fields of coral. Visit Cinque Islands, one of the most beautiful islands of the Andamans. It is surrounded by pristine coral reefs. Prior permission is required from the forest department to visit the island and only day trips are allowed
Windsurfing is now so popular that most good sea-side resorts offer it. Winter months are best for amateurs as the wind remains gentle. The lagoons at Lakshadweep Islands are excellent for windsurfing.
In Rishikesh and neighbouring Hardwar, each evening, as the sun's last rays reflect off the boundless waters of the Ganges, people gather for the aarti. This divine light ceremony is filled with devotional songs. The aarti, ornate oil lamps, are released into the water. Aarti is a time when people break free from the stresses and strains of everyday life, and gather together in Joy, reverence and peace. As the bright yellow sun dips in the water, one is filled with a deep sense of bliss and spiritual connection.
All that glitters here, for certain, is gold. The temple complex in Amritsar, Punjab is the most sacred place for the Sikhs. The holy waters of the surrounding sarovar (pool) mirror the gold of the temple making it an enriching experience.
On Mathura Road in Delhi, next to the trade fair grounds is the Matke ka Peer. It is believed that wishes are granted if an earthen pot is placed on the branches of the tree. So make a wish and may it come true.
Palitana, city of Jain temples, lies at the feet of Shatrunjaya hills, in the eastern part of the Saurashtra. From this town, a flight of steps lead to a cluster of 863 temples built over a period of 900 years. On a moonlit nights the ivory coloured temples are a delectable sight. The ornate temples with deities studded with gems and jewels, can be reached after a 90 minute climb.
Ganesh is the well-endowed god of prosperity. So it pays to treat him well! Celebrate the birthday of Lord Ganesh along with a million others as they move towards the sea to immerse his idols. The biggest public culmination of Ganesh Chaturthi happens on Choupatty Beach, Mumbai, in the large-scale immersion. They city comes to a standstill as hundreds of thousands of worshipers crowd the beach. As the king-sized idols are dragged into the sea, the crows goes wild and chants, “Ganpati Bappa Morya”. Simultaneously, there are processions, music performances on decorated stages (called “pandaals”), cart races, and wrestling matches.
Visit the quiet little village of Bodhgaya in Bihar. It is here that the Buddha is said to have attained Nirvana. Once here, you can visit the Bodhi Tree (the fifth in succession of the original tree) under which the Buddha had attained Enlightenment. Other places of interest are the spectacular Mahabodhini Temple, Vajrasana and the ancient railings that surround the temple.
Did you know that Juggernaut, defined in the English dictionary as an "irresistible destructive force" was coined by British settlers in India when they witnessed the annual spectacle at the 12th century Jagannath Temple in Orissa? A reason to see the Rath Yathra, or the Car Festival is because it is one of the most stupendous processions on the globe. Tens of thousands of ecstatic singing and dancing people crowd in front of the chariots as they make their way through town. The temple is one of the four holy Dhams, or "abodes of the Divine", and millions of pilgrims come each year to pay homage to the deity Lord Jagannath, Lord of the Universe. The festival takes place once a year in July.
Visit the 17th century monastery of the Mahayana Buddhists in Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh, at an altitude of 10,200 ft. Home to over 500 Lamas, it is surrounded by mountains. The temple contains a huge statue of Buddha and other priceless images and Tankhas. It also has a wealth of old scriptures, beautifully illustrated religious books (some of them in Sanskrit) and a library containing antique books including gold-lettered copies of the sacred Buddhist scriptures.
Madurai, in southern Tamil Nadu is over 2500 years old. Noted for its splendid temple dedicated to the goddess Meenakshi, Madurai is famous for its fine handloom fabrics and beautiful brass lamps.
Bharatpur is the real kingdom of avian fauna in India with approximately 377 bird species already spotted. In early October, the first migrants arrive from central Asia, Mongolia and Siberia, the most eagerly awaited of the lot being the gravely threatened Siberian crane. Get ready for a sudden encounter with the elusive Siberian Crane wintering here. Bharatpur is said to be one of the only two known wintering haunts of the Siberian Crane
Relive the good old days of the sahibs and shikari (hunter) by going on an elephand safari. Elephants might seem huge, intimidating beasts but they are quite gentle really and one can soon get used to the swaying motion of the elephant’s gait. Travel through the hills and wide river valleys of the Corbett National Park, named after the famous hunter turned conservationist, Jim Corbett. Wild boar and herds of deer browse the vegetation in the scenic reserve, becoming a convenient prey for the park’s leopards and tigers.
The Rann of Kutch, which covers an area of roughly 5,000 square km, is primarly knows as the Indian Wild Ass Sanctuary. The sanctuary is the last natural habitat of the Indian Wild Ass, one of the three surviving species of the Wild Ass in the world – the other two being found in Central Asia and in and around Tibet.
Take a cruise around the untouched evergreen forests of mangrove, the Sunderbans, the largest mangrove forests in the world. The vast spaces of densely wooded islands of wild beaches are sprinkled with barking deer and wildlife sanctuaries. Little wonder then that at Sunderbans, tranquillity, peace and serenity get their true meaning. It has the largest species of mangroves. Royal Bengal tigers, estuarine crocodiles and is one of the few large coastal wetlands left in the world.
Every year, as winter starts, thousands of baby Olive Ridley turtles make their journey from India's eastern coast to the sea. Near Bhubaneshway, about 200,000 baby turtles crawl out of eggs laid on the sandy shores, one of the world's largest nesting grounds.
For wildlife buffs, the Kaziranga Widlife Reserve on the banks of the Brahmaputra river is famous for the last major home of 'Rhinoceros Unicornia'. Discover the park that also has wild buffaloes and tigers atop an elephant's back.