India is much more than most modern travelers imagine. Any one of India’s 26 states is comparable in size, population and history to a European country. A state like Maharashtra, for instance, has a population of 100 million. Until a few years ago, western travelers were only experiencing the thinnest slice of this amazing country. Indeed, today they’re only experiencing a few slices and you can be sure more destinations and more types of experience are only around the corner for a country thousands of years old, which is still only awakening.
Almost every non-business trip to India was a combination of Delhi, Rajasthan and Agra. With some of the finest monuments anywhere in the world--in Delhi, Jaipur, Jodhpur and of course, Agra, with its dream-like Taj Mahal--that slice of India is still one of the great journeys in travel. But these days travelers are discovering a multitude of other experiences in India that go beyond explorations of culture and history into the realms of eco-tourism and luxury rail travel.
In recent years, tourists have discovered the wonder of the Kerala Backwaters, the high alpine majesty of northern India’s Himalayas, the spiritual experience of the Ganges at Varanasi, the Buddhist sculptures in Maharashtra’s caves, and luxury rail journeys in Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Karnataka. The latest luxury train, the new Maharaja Express, is the first to explore itineraries throughout the subcontinent. Beyond the rails and the glittering cities, India is home to vast areas of wilderness. Such Indian hotel companies as Oberoi and Taj have been opening safari lodging in India’s national parks and tiger reserves. Now travelers can walk that same line between timeless wilderness and ancient civilization that is so prominent in the stories of Rudyard Kipling.
Much of India’s beauty is its commitment to spirituality, and many travelers experience that most profoundly in Varanasi where people seek purification in the waters of the Ganges River. Another kind of spirituality is on display along the palm-fringed canals of Kerala where Kathakali dancers perform scenes from the Mahabharata, India’s glorious national epic. At Khajuraho, sculptors worked for more than 200 years to construct the spiritually erotic temple there more than a thousand years ago.
Mumbai, home of the world’s largest film industry, presents a fully modern vision of India as its global business capital. As the largest city in the state of Maharashtra, modern Mumbai is also a gateway to some of India’s most breathtaking antiquities: the Ajanta and Ellora Cave complexes.
Indian food is as diverse as India. As in many countries, it tends to get spicier the further south you go. The winter is the most pleasant time of year to visit most of India. That’s when the temperatures are lowest, usually about 80 degrees in Mumbai in January and February, and it’s also the driest time of year. A full complement of airlines serve India from several gateways in the U.S. including Air India, Delta, Northwest and Jet Airways.