With 28 different states India is spectacularly diverse - with ancient and modern cultures living cheek by jowl. Unsurprisingly there is an extraordinary number of choices but with excellent flight connections between the major cities, as well as to Nepal and Bhutan, it’s more than possible to link different areas. However, for many first time visitors, Rajasthan IS India. In this large desert state there are literally dozens of forts, both famed and forgotten, to explore while the villages of rural Rajasthan pulse with the vibrant colours of saris, turbans and even painted cow horns in contrast to the dust of the desert.
There can be few places in the world where you can stay in a palace and this is absolutely one of Rajasthan’s greatest experiences, but head south to Kerala and you’ll find an equally warm welcome from genuinely friendly hosts in its charming homestays. This small coastal state is also renowned for its laid back atmosphere and nowhere is this more apparent than on its tropical Backwaters where you can drift along watching the world go by from a houseboat.
If you're feeling more energetic head to the hills for wonderful walking among Kerala’s virgin forests and natural grasslands, tea, coffee and spice plantations around Munnar and Periyar. Crossing the ranges of the Western Ghats, Tamil Nadu to the east of Kerala is considered the spiritual heartland of India. Hinduism is at the very centre of everyday life and as well as being magnificent monuments testimony to the wealth of former rulers, Tamil Nadu’s temples attract hundreds of devotees and, more than in any other part of India, you will be welcomed to join their ceremonies and worship.
During spring and autumn the foothills of the Indian Himalaya offer the ideal climate and terrain for a variety of walking opportunities, as well as cultural experiences, beneath awesome snow-capped mountains. Options include the chance to stay in village houses in the Kumaon, or a working tea plantation near Darjeeling for further forays into Sikkim.
While not comparable with the bountiful plains of Africa, the national parks of India, some former hunting grounds of the maharajas, support a fascinating array of wildlife and offer a unique experience. Many species now hover on the edge of extinction. Jeep safaris in Kanha in search of tiger is top of most people’s wish list but for the opportunity to go on a walking safari go to Satpura. Conservation of the One-horned Indian Rhinoceros at Kaziranga is a one of India’s great wildlife success stories and the sight of these prehistoric-looking creatures from elephant back is an unforgettable experience.
Although seemingly only a stone’s throw from India, the regional topography means that Bhutan, the last remaining Himalayan kingdom, has been isolated from the rest of the world until very recently. Travellers are now welcomed by its gentle Buddhist people to explore Bhutan's fortified monasteries and journey through its virgin forests and pristine mountains to discover its legends and spirituality in holy shrines, lakes and temples in a magical country that time forgot.
Nepal’s history is better recorded, not least of all in the exquisite Newari architecture. In the Kathmandu Valley you will find intricate wooden carvings decorating both the temples and palaces of vast city squares and villages where artisans and craftsmen work outside their homes and Hindu holy men rub shoulders with Buddhist monks. You are never far from the Himalaya but for the ultimate mountain scenery head to Nepal’s Annapurna range where you can walk for days with views to die for knowing that there’s a comfortable lodge to welcome you at the end of each glorious day.
Andrea Hulme joins Natural High with a wealth of knowledge, first-hand experience and love of the Indian Subcontinent gained from more than 15 years living, working, volunteering and travelling in India, Nepal and Bhutan.