#1 See Spectacular Wildlife on a Nature Safari
India’s jungles, forests, and national parks hide giants — think tigers, elephants, and one-horned rhinos. In Ranthambore National Park, you'll get the opportunity to see Bengal tigers and other animals — like peacocks and bears — on open-air Jeep safari rides. You can also visit Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh, a sprawling reserve with resplendent temples and shrines in the midst of the tropical forest. You'll see tigers (hence the name) as well as wild boars, leopards, and more.
Pench National Park spreads across the states of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra and is said to be the inspiration of Rudyard Kipling’s beloved Jungle Book. The area is a biodiversity hotspot with nearly 200 species of birds and mammals sharing the forests, lakes, and meadows. To see the elusive one-horned rhinoceros, Kaziranga National Park in Assam is the place to visit. You may also catch a glimpse of Asian elephants and buffalo here. And In Karnataka, the Nagarhole Tiger Reserve is home to a large concentration of Asian elephants, as well as tigers and leopards.
If witnessing wildlife is a must for your trip, get inspired by this 13-day wildlife and cultural tour.
#2 Connect with Your Spiritual Side at a Yoga Retreat
There’s no better place to practice your downward dog than in the actual birthplace of yoga. On the banks of the Ganges, the hill station of Rishikesh is often called the "yoga capital of the world."
Parmarth Niketan is the largest ashram (a spiritual center of sorts) in Rishikesh, and it offers a serene place to practice yoga on the banks of the sacred river. Omkarananda Patanjali Yoga Kendra in Rishikesh is another spectacular spot for a week or two away from the hustle of city life to breathe, connect, and deepen your practice.
For more modern accommodations, the hippie beach enclave of Goa is home to Purple Valley. The center is an ideal place to practice Ashtanga yoga in a contemporary setting — mindfulness is a lot easier when you have an Ayurvedic chef preparing healthy meals for you. A gorgeous Indo-Portuguese house with a manicured garden will be your home for the length of your stay.
In the picturesque coastal city of Pondicherry, the International Centre for Yoga Education and Research offers a classical style of teaching with a strictly vegetarian menu, for the more serious yogi.
#3 Visit Historic and Sacred Sites
You probably already know India’s most famous historic site, the Taj Mahal. It's one of the Seven Wonders of the World, a romantic marble jewel of a mausoleum, and a testament of love from Emperor Shah Jahan to his wife Mumtaz Mahal.
Other must-visit sacred sites include the Amber Fort in Jaipur, built by Maharaja Man Singh in 1592, and the opulent city palace in Udaipur. The grand complex took nearly 400 years to complete, its picturesque views of Lake Pichola largely remaining unchanged.
Though less visited by tourists than its Rajasthani counterparts, Bodh Gaya is a mystical place in its own right. The Mahabodhi Temple Complex — in Bodh Gaya — is said to be the place that Siddhartha attained enlightenment, becoming the Buddha. A descendant of the Bodhi tree that he sat under still stands here to this very day. Other notable sites include The Konark Sun Temple, Meenakshi Temple, and Khajuraho Temple.
#4 Celebrate India's Most Colorful Holiday
India’s kinetic “festival of colors” is a bright sensory overload. The Hindu festival of Holi is a celebration of spring, beginning with religious rituals in front of a bonfire. The next morning is a joyous color free-for-all with intense powdered hues bursting throughout city streets — you'll fit right in, as all walks of life take part.
No cities do it better than Vrindhavan and Mathura, where you’ll find yourself covered from head to toe in bright powder, while buckets of color and water guns hit you at every angle. For more ideas on a year's worth of events, read about Indian holidays here.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
#5 Try Mumbai’s Unique Culinary Creations
Crispy bhel puri bursting with spices, chutneys and puffed rice, and delicate dosas are just a few popular dishes that you’ll find in the coastal city of Mumbai. The cuisine in India varies vastly from region to region, with Mumbai having the most distinct scene, thanks to its diverse population and heritage.
In Mumbai, where many Parsis (members of the Zoroastrian faith) reside, you’ll find delicacies like the breakfast staple of akuri — a tongue-tingling combination of scrambled eggs with ginger, garlic, onions, tomatoes, red chili, green chiles, and cilantro. Another popular dish native to Mumbai is bombil, also known as Bombay Duck. Despite its namesake, it’s actually a fish found in the waters around the city, battered lightly in a spiced gram flour and deep-fried.
Other popular street food dishes include vada pav, a deep-fried potato dumpling sandwich with fresh chutneys, and pav bhaji, a vegetable curry served with a soft roll. The luscious milkshake-like concoction of falooda is an amalgamation of sweetly perfumed rose syrup, vermicelli noodles, basil seeds, milk, and ice cream, and it's a must-try when visiting the cultural capital.
#6 Trek the Himalaya
The Himalaya forms an out-of-this-world mountain range that travels over India, Nepal, Tibet, Pakistan, and Bhutan. It contains ten of the world’s tallest peaks and offers breathtaking views, challenging hikes, and spectacular wildlife. Trekking opportunities are especially plentiful in the Eastern Himalaya.
Hill stations dot the range should you need them, and they're used to communicate where to go, much like trailheads. For a lighter trek, start at the rolling tea plantations of Darjeeling, followed by a trek over the Singalila Ridge, which borders India and Nepal. From the ridge, you’ll view peaks like the world-famous Mt. Everest and Chomolhari. Otherwise, a trek to the hill station of Sikkim offers breathtaking views of Kanchenjunga, the third highest mountain in the world. For a jungle-atmosphere, a hike through Talle Valley Arunachal gives way to luscious tropical forests and unbelievable views.
#7 Luxuriate in a Former Palace for a Night
It's about time you feel like a modern-day maharaja. Immerse yourself in India’s opulent history by staying at one of the many luxurious-palaces-turned-heritage hotels. The floating Taj Lake Palace in Udaipur’s Lake Pichola is a stunning marble jewel built by Maharana Jagat Singh in the 18th century. Or, head to Jaipur’s exquisite Rambagh Palace, a former hunting lodge that was once occupied by the Maharaja of Jaipur, has become one of India’s most sought-after and most opulent retreats.
Nestled in the Aravali Hills, RAAS Devigarh is a spectacular resort with modern white interiors that are splashed with gorgeous hues of yellow, green, and gold, offering courtyards and balconies reminiscent of a Rajasthani fairytale. And Jodhpur's stunning Umaid Bhawan Palace is an architectural gem, with lush gardens and over three hundred art-deco style rooms.
You can learn more about unique places to stay in India here.
#8 Go on a Camel Safari in Jaisalmer
The quintessential desert town of Jaisalmer is an excellent starting-off point for a romantic camel safari through the dreamy golden dunes of the Thar desert. The experience offers the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to trek with camels and stargaze — the desert is perhaps at its most beautiful at night.
Trips generally include dining al fresco on local fare cooked on an open-fire, viewing the sunset over the rippling sands, and sleeping under the stars. Throughout the camel experience, you'll likely stop in small villages along the way to experience local culture.
#9 Shop Like a Local
Perusing the local markets is a thrilling way to experience Indian culture first-hand, and it comes with the reward of picking up stunning, one-of-a-kind pieces. Whether you're interested in vibrant silk kurtas with hand-stitched embroidery or gold jewelry with shining rubies and emeralds, there are myriad places for shopping throughout the country, each area offering something different.
Mumbai's sprawling Colaba Causeway market, for instance, is one of the best in the city. Here you'll find everything from purses and leather slippers to silver jewelry and intricate tapestries. Jaipur's Johari Bazar has something for everyone, like traditional gold Rajasthani jewels, precious stones, Jaipuri quilts, and handcrafted clothing at five hundred different stores. If you're in Goa, the beach-side Wednesday-only Anjuna market is an ideal place to visit for handicrafts, delicious street food, and live music.
#10 See Kerala by Boat
The labyrinthian chain of lagoons forming Kerala's sparkling backwaters are a must-see and best viewed via boat. The southern state is also home to some of India's best beaches and the majestic tea-covered hills of the Western Ghats.
The intricate maze of backwaters can be experienced on a day-tour via one of the local boating outfitters. For an even more immersive and magical experience, stay on a houseboat for a night or two while you cruise through the network of tropical waterways—you'll get to experience sunrise and sunset right on the water.