Writer Chris Richardson travelled to India and, after many merry months meandering across the mighty subcontinent, he’s here to share his top five activities. Whilst this list could be a top 50 and still fail to capture everything, it’s hoped it’ll serve as a useful starting point for anyone who is planning their travels to this colourful country. So sit back, grab a cuppa and read on to discover five of the best things to do in India.
Dharamsala: take a hike
Whether you’ve just landed in Delhi or spiralled through Rajasthan, there’s no better place to escape the dusty heat than Dharamsala. Boasting the Dalai Lama’s official residence, endless stunning viewpoints and crisp mountain air, this quaint little mountain town has backpackers and travellers staying way longer than they ever intended.
Grab a map and head for the hills: whether you amble from town to town a day at a time, or just take the day out to venture up to the viewpoint in Triund, the views of the Himalayas are unmissable. And when the day is done, chow down with some momos (steamed dumplings) and indulge in the Tibetan-influenced palate.
Taj Mahal: stand in awe
Because no top five would be complete without it! I’m not one for hype: usually they set my expectations far too high, so that in the end everything is inadequate. But the Taj Mahal surpassed every shred of hype. Basking in the radiance of the glinting marble under the scorching sun, I was stunned at its sheer size and beauty.
While it’s definitely worth paying the entrance fee to enter the Taj and tour Mumtaz’s final resting place, there’s a lot to be said about the views from across the river. Take a tuk-tuk to Mehtab Bagh (Moonlight Garden), and ponder the Taj without having to sift through the beehive of tourists. When we visited the park was practically empty, and we were able to sit undisturbed, in awe of this true world wonder. No list of things to do in India would be complete without mention of the Taj.
Jaisalmer: desert slumber
Tucked in the western corner of Rajasthan, Jaisalmer is a quaint little fort town with a twist. A far cry from the derelict forts with which you’re probably familiar, Jaisalmer’s is a bustling mix of bazaars and Jain temples. But when you thought it couldn’t get more scenic, a few miles out of town lands you in the middle of the smouldering Thar Desert.
Rather than speeding through this in an afternoon, opt for a camel trek campout. After trotting across the sands for a few hours, we set up camp for some cabbage curry, sand dune running contests, and gazing at stars and camel silhouettes over the silent sky.
Munnar: your cup of chai
While the town itself is a little dog-eared, the surrounding scenery of Munnar is not to be missed. Rather than paying for an over-priced tuk-tuk, rent yourself a bike and zoom through plantations as your olfactory senses get aroused by the sweet smell of fresh tea.
A 30-kilometre drive up to Top Station is your best bet: by taking this route you can also stop by crystal clear lakes with mesmerising reflections, and cool off under refreshing waterfalls if the breeze isn’t quite doing it for you. And when you can stop yourself from taking snaps of everything in sight, you’ll be rewarded with some tremendous views of the Western Ghats.
If you make it as far south as Kerala, a cruise in the backwaters of Alleppey should be your number one priority. A welcome change from the cumbersome pestering all-too-common in Rajasthan, the murky backwaters are a great place to unwind and really soak up the sights and sounds. The tropical trees and cosy villages nestled on the backwaters’ banks are also fun to explore.
Opt for an overnight houseboat cruise if you can. Rather than being crammed onto the public boats, you’ll get yourself a captain to steer and a chef to cook you some delicious grub, as well as your own private boat with a bedroom. The sights themselves are enough, but docking for the night with a fresh coconut as fireflies spark all around is a truly serene experience.
Has this list of things to do in India got you wanting more? Take a look at our India group tours.