When the first Western traders returned from India thousands of years ago, they brought with them stories of a fantastical place teeming with life, art and the treasures of the Far East. Today’s India is just as alluring, and a visit is an opportunity to immerse yourself in all of the color, culture and history of this complex country. From riding through the streets of Delhi to cruising on the Kerala backwaters, here are six things to do on a tour of India.
Take a rickshaw ride in Old Delhi
For those accustomed to seeing cities from an air-conditioned vehicle, stepping out of your comfort zone and taking an open-air rickshaw ride through the bustling streets of Old Delhi can be eye-opening. It’s an exciting, sensory experience that allows you to take in the Indian capital’s sights, sounds and smells firsthand. Soak in palpable energy and develop a better sense of local life as you wind down narrow roads in the heart of the city.
Look for tigers on a game drive
If getting the chance to see the elusive Bengal tiger in its natural habitat is on your bucket list, a game drive through Ranthambore National Park in northern India is a must. This reserve once served as royal hunting grounds, but is now distinguished as one of the country’s most renowned wildlife sanctuaries and a safe haven for a large population of big cats. Spend a morning or afternoon zipping over the park’s rugged terrain past ancient ruins, keeping your eyes open for tigers and other predators such as leopards, striped hyenas and Indian mongeese as you go.
Watch the sunrise at the Taj Mahal
This expansive mausoleum is distinguished as one of India’s most iconic landmarks and is a site you truly have to see to believe. The UNESCO-listed structure was built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as a monument to his beloved wife, and seeing the first rays of the morning sun glinting off its marble domes makes it even more magnificent.
Stroll through Jaipur’s colorful bazaars
Beaded jewelry, handmade ceramics and colorfully woven textiles are all up for grabs at Jaipur’s many markets, which are the places to go for authentic Indian souvenirs. Need ideas of what to look for? Precious and semi-precious stones, which are cut and polished in the city. Or, opt for handcrafted blue pottery, block-printed clothing, stone carvings and traditional lac jewelry. Even if shopping isn’t your thing, strolling through these markets is a cultural experience that’s not to be missed.
Cruise on Kerala’s backwaters
The southern tip of the subcontinent is home to one of India’s most captivating places: Kerala. Sometimes referred to as “God’s Own Country,” this Indian state is known for its verdant jungle, placid canals and terraced fields of tea and spices. One of the best ways to view these breathtaking landscapes is by cruising on a houseboat along the backwaters, which meander past emerald rice fields and palm-tree-lined shores, where local farmers and fishermen complete their day’s work.
Visit the caves on Elephanta Island
Of the UNESCO World Heritage sites in India, the stone-carved caves on Elephanta Island provide one of the best examples of ancient Indian art. Board a catamaran out of Mumbai to visit these 8th- and 9th-century temples etched into rock, which are held up by imposing columns and house stunning busts of the Hindu deity, Shiva. Not only are the caves visually impressive, but their jungle location provides a peaceful retreat from the exciting energy of the city—and plenty of opportunities to view wild Macaque monkeys.
What are your favorite things to do and see in India? Tell us in the comments below!