From discovering historical treasures and natural splendour to exploring flea markets and experiencing colourful festivals, these are the very best activities for immersing yourself in India’s diverse culture.
Explore historical treasures and contemporary marvels
India is a melting pot of religions and cultures, and the result is a land of diverse temples, tombs, forts, palaces, mosques and other monuments. At the time of writing there are 37 UNESCO World Heritage sites across the country. It goes without saying that you’ll want to visit the Taj Mahal, India’s most famous attraction and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. But then there’s also the incredible Hindu temple of Madurai, the magnificent Red Fort in Delhi, and the grand Mysore Palace, each of which helps unpack the country’s rich and diverse history.
See some of India’s most iconic sights on the Moghuls, Mahel & Mayhem tour.
Meet tribal communities
India has one of the largest tribal populations in the world; the hinterlands of the Odisha region alone are home to more than 60 different communities, each with their own distinct culture and traditions. There’s the Bonda tribe, fiercely independent and one of the most primitive tribes in India; the Paraja tribe, who worship numerous deities said to live in the hills and forests; and the Dongria Kondh tribe, who hold a deep reverence for the natural world around them and who made international news during a mining dispute regarding their sacred mountain. Although the tribes differ greatly from one another, they generally share a way of life that is largely unaffected by the modern world, and meeting them is fascinating.
Our Wilds of Orissa & Kolkata tour includes six days in the Odisha Tribal Regions.
Shop at markets and bazaars
A visit to one of India’s many markets and bazaars is complete cultural immersion. Local crowds still swarm daily to do their shopping, purchasing everyday essentials and handcrafted trinkets. Colourful characters tout colourful merchandise, and it’s almost impossible to leave without having bought something. Most regions of India specialise in a particular industry, handed down over generations, and in India, there’s a different market for nearly everything you can think of. For flowers, there’s the Dadar Flower Market in Mumbai; for handcrafted jewelry, there’s the Johari Bazaar in Jaipur; and for one of Asia’s largest spice markets, head to Khari Baoli in Delhi.
Enjoy the food
Sure, Indian food is available all around the world, but (no surprises here) nowhere does Indian food better than India. The Indian cuisine differs greatly as you travel, due to variations in culture, geography and economics, but generally speaking, in the north you’ll find creamy, moderately spicy curries, such as rogan josh and tandoori chicken, whereas in the south you’ll find spicier dishes based around coconut and seafood.
At our homestay in Jodhpur you’ll have the opportunity to learn all about Rajasthani cuisine at an optional cooking class.
Hit the beach
With some 7,500km of coastline, India was bound to have some brilliant beaches, the best of which can be found on the country’s west coast facing out onto the sparkling blue water of the Arabian Sea. The most popular are those in the tranquil state of Goa, where the locals say that time moves more slowly. Elsewhere, it’s said that a dip in the waters of Varkala Beach in Kerala will wash away all the sins in one’s life.
You’ll visit the beaches of Goa and Kerala on our overland expedition around Goa & the Deep South.
Chalking up another mark for India’s incredible diversity is its endemic and beloved wildlife, including the Asiatic Elephant, Great Indian Rhino, and the Royal Bengal Tiger. There are more than 100 wildlife sanctuaries and national parks in India, including the Muthanga Wildlife Sanctuary, where elephants roam freely, and Panna National Park, which is an excellent place to spot tigers.
You’ll enjoy some of the Indian subcontinent’s finest wildlife-spotting opportunities on our overland expedition around Northern India & Nepal.
Travel on a houseboat
Drifting along the Keralan backwaters of Alleppey on a houseboat has become a quintessential entry on any traveller’s bucket list for India. The network of waterways here extends over hundreds of kilometres, which has earned Alleppey the nickname ‘The Venice of the East’. Life revolves around the water here, so of course there’s no better way to explore the region than by boat. Spend a night on board, trying your hand at fishing and enjoying the fantastic scenery.
Visit a tea plantation
India is one of the world’s top tea producers (second only to China), producing over 1,000,000 tonnes of tea each year. This makes it a top travel destination for those who like a good brew. Among the most popular tea plantations in India are those in the foothills surrounding the villages of Darjeeling, whose namesake tea is exported worldwide. There are fantastic views from on top of the ridge here, looking down over the rivers below, and on the clearest days it’s even possible to see Mount Everest in the distance.
Explore some of India’s tea plantations on an overland journey from Kolkata to Kathmandu.
Experience the Bollywood culture
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Enjoy an optional Bollywood dance class on the Rajasthan & Rajput Explorer.
Enjoy the festivals
Being such a spiritual country, there’s no shortage of festivals in the Indian calendar. If you’re fortunate enough to time your trip to coincide with one of their many annual celebrations, you’ll get to experience Indian culture at its very best. The Holi Festival, which takes place each March, celebrates the defeat of the demoness Holika and the triumph of good over evil. It’s also known as the ‘Festival of Colours’, with people squirting each other with water pistols and covering each other with coloured powders. Diwali Festival begins in late October, and also celebrates the triumph of good over evil, this time with lamps, candles, and fireworks, earning it the nickname ‘Festival of Lights’.