Seek — And you shall find

History, culture, cuisines, beaches, mountains, forests, backwaters… India is a tapestry called diversity. Just what your travel agent had in mind

By Karen Ann Monsy

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Published: Fri 18 Apr 2014, 3:32 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 10:55 PM

If you’ve seen the Incredible India campaign (which, last year, evolved into what was perhaps its most effective rendering yet, since its conception in 2002), you’d have to have a heart of stone to keep from melting or losing yourself in the promise of all things India — even if you’re from that wonderful land.

The campaign’s 2013 tagline was ‘Find what you seek’, based on the premise that no matter who you are — adventurer, pilgrim, culture addict, solace seeker — the country has something for everyone. That’s no fancy adman’s line, folks — that’s India, and it’s all we can do to keep from taking a flight back there right now.

It would be impossible to offer a 
definitive list of places to visit, given the sheer diversity of the world’s largest democracy. However, the beauty of lists is that they’re subjective so this here is our very own Top Five:


A popular tourist circuit that lets you cover the most visited cities in northwest India, the route is so called because the three cities it covers — Delhi, Agra and Jaipur — form a triangular pattern on the map and throw up a host of cultural gems along the way.

You could spend an entire week in Delhi alone — and still not manage to cover the city. Connaught Place and its bustling streets, India Gate and the eternal flames that serve as a memorial to soldiers slain in battle, Raj Ghat (where the Mahatma was cremated) — and that’s only New Delhi. Old Delhi is best known for the flourishing marketplace that is Chandni Chowk and its abundance of forts and 
Mughal architecture, including the Red Fort.

Highlight: Agra is home to India’s most stunning monument, the Taj Mahal, worth every bit of the hype that surrounds it. What’s more, you’ll learn to master the art of firm 
refusal with the swarms of hawkers that take pester power to a whole new level.

The last of the three, Jaipur (also known as the Pink City — it will soon be obvious why) encloses must-visits, including the Hawa 
Mahal palace and Jantar Mantar observatory, a World Heritage site.

With so much to see and not enough hours in the day to do it all in, chances are you’ll be back to do the circuit again.

TRUE WONDER: The timeless beauty of the Taj Mahal


A labyrinth of waterways covering more than 900km, Kerala’s backwaters are probably the first recommendation natives will offer a first time visitor to ‘God’s own country’. Comprising five large lakes — starting from the Ashtamudi Kayal in Kollam and traversing Alappuzha and Kumarakom — the best way to ply this trail is by the kettuvallams or houseboats, indispensable traditional barges that can provide food and accommodation on board, if you so prefer. The utter tranquility of bobbing along (or streaming through) the quiet waters, surrounded by hectares of lush verdant foliage and the calming sound of the water lapping at the sides of the boat makes this the perfect soul-renewing getaway, if all you want to do is ‘Delete. Desist. Disconnect’.

Highlight: Don’t miss the Vallam Kali (boat races), where about a hundred muscled oarsmen (per boat!) vie for the prestigious winning title at different races every year.

SMOOTH SAILING: A traditional houseboat, or kettuvallam, as it is known in local parlance


A sobriquet that refers to the 
remote northwestern states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, 
Meghalaya, Tripura, Mizoram, Manipur and Nagaland, the Seven Sisters — which only recently relaxed tourist restrictions (in itself a reason to visit) — is a term coined by journalist Jyoti Prasad Saikia during the inauguration of the new states in 1972. Assam is the most accessible of the lot, best known for its sprawling tea estates and the Kaziranga National Park.

The untamed tribespeople of 
Nagaland will, no doubt, be a source of fascination; the best way to soak up their culture is through the yearly Hornbill Festival that puts up a host of displays under one roof.

Enjoy picturesque Manipur, explore over 1,000 caves in Meghalaya, commune with nature in Mizoram and go boating in Tripura.

Highlight: Perched 10,000 feet above sea level, Tawang Monastery in Arunachal Pradesh is the largest Buddhist monastery in India, home to over 450 lamas and 400-year-old Kangyur scriptures.

ROOTED: The tree root bridge of Nongriat village, MeghalayaWW


We’re going to cheat a little and club a state-and-city trail in here — because you cannot go to India and not visit these two uber-vibrant spots (and because we couldn’t make up our minds). We’re not even going to attempt listing all the beaches you could visit in Goa — just follow the millions of other tourists (no exaggeration) as they head for the azure-green seas. But this home of the rave parties is also known for its rich Anglo-Indian heritage, architectural churches and temples and the daily/weekly bazaars.

Hop over to Mumbai in neighbouring Maharashtra, home of the country’s celebrated Bollywood industry (a tour of Film City is possible for diehard fans). Visit the Gateway of India, satiate your gastronomic impulses with fantastic street food and marvel at exquisite colonial architecture.

Highlight: Don’t forget to stop by Elephanta Island, a small island with cave temples that will take your breath away.

SHACK TRACK: Beach huts line the Arambol or Harmal beach in Northern Goa


Or to be more specific, just make a beeline for Varanasi aka Benares, one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world. How old? We’re happy to go with Mark Twain’s approximation: “Benares is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together.” Take your touring cues from its many other names: the city of Ghats, the spiritual capital of India, the city of learning… Temples abound as do Ghats. The Benares Hindu University, one of Asia’s largest residential alma maters, is located here.

Highlight: The River Ganges is integral to the very pulse of this city and several legends surround the notable Ghats that lead down into the river. Watching hordes of people flock to the river for a dip every morning before the rising sun is an experience in itself.

(What’s your favourite destination in India? Any place you think that deserves a spot on this list? Tell us at

STANDS STILL: Boats by Manikarnika Ghat, River Ganges at dawn

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