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Best of India travel guide

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21 April 2011 by Luke McCormick

Each week Luke McCormick, Wexas Channel Editor, provides an inside look at the latest headlines and gives his independent, expert comment.

Tamil Nadu

This week: Best of India Travel guide

The Golden Triangle

Fatehpur SikriThe classic golden triangle is India's most popular tourist circuit and a perfect introduction to the magic of the country.

Located in the northwest, it connects an extraordinary wealth of cultural and historical treasures in and around India's three most visited cities: Delhi, Jaipur and Agra.

With some of the country's best Mughal architecture and monuments, incredible forts and temples, colourful towns and cities, bustling street life and lively locals, the region encapsulates the best of this vast and varied destination.

Delhi

Mughal tombThe sprawling metropolis of Delhi is the major gateway into India and one of the country's fastest growing cities.

A city of two distinct halves: the spacious, planned boulevards of the late colonial capital New Delhi grate against the bustling, medieval lanes of Old Delhi.

Historic and vibrant, majestic and detailed, Delhi provides the perfect introduction to the wonders of India.

Jaipur

JaipurThe sandstone pink city of Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan: land of kings and princes.

Located on the ‘Golden Triangle' route toward the edge of the semi-arid Thar Desert, it is an area of pastel-hued buildings, palaces, forts and finely carved temples.

The former seat of the proud Rajput princes, Jaipur is as remarkable for its fine architecture and town planning as the colourful inhabitants who fill the streets and celebrate the region's glorious past in tradition, culture and costume.

Agra

Taj MahalAgra is best loved for the architectural wealth of the imperial palaces, tombs, forts and gardens which dot its riverine landscape, sublime evidence of the imperial Mughal court seated here during the 16th and 17th century before it was moved to Delhi.

Of these, the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort and emperor Akbar's nearby abandoned capital of Fatehpur Sikri are the most revered. Agra is located in Uttar Pradesh, the northern state described as a ‘world in itself' by the Indian writer Ruskin Bond.

Rajasthan

Camel in DesertRajasthan was once a land of royalty and today revels in its regal past. Scores of forts and palaces loom from the arid desert sands, along with cities as colourful as their brightly swathed locals, who fill the streets in dazzling fabric outfits.

The sandstone pink city of Jaipur is an area of pastel-hued buildings, palaces, forts and finely carved temples, while ‘blue' Jodhpur is dominated by the spectacular showcase Meherangarh Fort citadel. In Udaipur you can experience one of the most romantic cities in India or witness tigers and leopards prowling through ancient forests in Ranthambore.

Jodhpur

Mehrangarh FortJodhpur is entirely dominated by Rajasthan's showcase citadel, the spectacular Meherangarh Fort, or Rohet Fort, as it is also known.

A 10-km high stonewall protects the well-fortified old city, with 101 bastions and seven gates leading to a maze of narrow streets and lively markets.

The ‘blue city' of Jodhpur is the second largest in the state, located on the eastern fringe of the arid Thar Desert - a sprawl of sand dunes and rocky terrain.

Udaipur

UdaipurUdaipur is perhaps one of the most romantic cities in India.

Founded on the shores of Lake Pichola, it's mix of white marble palaces, historic temples, placid blue lakes, attractive gardens and lily ponds and fertile green hills are a world away from the surrounding desert.

The former capital of the state of Merwar, Udaipur takes pride in being one of only seven Rajput states to uphold its Hindu allegiance in the face of Muslim invasions and political comprises.

Varanasi

VaranasiAncient Varanasi is dominated by the stone ghats, which line the sacred River Ganges, drawing pilgrims from across the world who come for their daily ritual ablutions.

Founded by Shiva and known as ‘Kashi' or the City of Light, Varanasi is one of the oldest cities in the world and certainly India's holiest.

The city is a maze of narrow alleys filled with wandering sadhus, flower sellers, astrologers and mourners in this ‘crossing place' between earth and the divine.

Shimla

ShimlaShimla is the capital of the northern mountainous state of Himachal Pradesh and India's largest and best hill station.

Shimla gives visitors a great taste for the Himalayas, which tower in the state's north and is also famed for being the former summer capital of the British Raj.

The town retains the feel of an English village where gents stroll The Mall sporting tweeds and smoking pipes, however the shabby bazaars help maintain a distinct India flavour.

Darjeeling

DarjeelingThe Victorian holiday resort of Darjeeling is a premier hill station and a major tea-growing centre in the north of West Bengal state, near Sikkim.

Darjeeling has a considerable Tibetan presence and astonishing views of Kanchenjunga Mountain, the third highest in the world.

Naturally, trekking is a popular pastime in the area and it is possible to attempt the outstanding hike to Sandakphu from September to November to see Everest. The best way to reach Darjeeling is with a flight from Calcutta, capital of West Bengal state.

Mumbai

MumbaiMumbai is India's fulcrum of business, fashion and Bollywood filmmaking, a mega metropolis built around shopping, glitz and glamour. Sprawling slums groan and grow within this modern ‘City of Dreams', as grinding poverty flourishes alongside India's economic powerhouse.

The Taj Palace and nearby Gateway of India, the last departure-point for the last British soldiers leaving India, are Mumbai's defining landmarks and now a favourite for an evening stroll.

Outside of Mumbai, the best attraction is Elephanta Island, whose cave temple and massive three-faced sculpture of Shiva is among the finest examples of Hindu architecture to be found anywhere.

Goa

GoaGoa is known for its idyllic beaches, outstanding monuments and great places to stay.

The beautiful landscapes, colonial architecture, lush jungles, ruined forts, centuries-old churches and lavish basilicas are as much a draw as the sandy, palm-fringed beaches and clean waters of the Arabian Sea.

Most visits are centred around the towns of Panaji, Margao, Vasco and Ponda and the various beaches up and down the coast.

Kerala

KovalamThe name means ‘Land of Coconuts', but it's perhaps better known as ‘God's Own Country': a landscape of endless palm groves, relaxed rivers, emerald backwaters, dream beaches and exotic cuisine.

Ayurvedic health resorts abound from the beaches to the lush green hill stations and across the state precision athletes draw their swords to practice the ancient art of Kalarippayattu.

Chennai & Tamil Nadu

Tamil Nadu templeThe southern state of Tamil Nadu is India's temple heartland.

Bordered by the central Ghats Mountains and the Bay of Bengal, this Tamil-speaking state has traditionally been protected from northern influence by distance and the military might of successive Deccan Kingdoms.

Here, religious ritual is lived and breathed on the streets and along the temple trail it is rare to find a religious building which has outlived its purpose.

India Safaris

TigerMadhya Pradesh
Madyha Pradesh is the heart of India, due in part to its location and as home to the cultural heritage of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Islam.

Throughout the plateau state, numerous monuments, finely carved temples, stupas, forts and palaces grace the landscape, while the spectacular mountain ranges, winding rivers and dense forests are home to some of the country's best tiger reserves.

Ranthambore
Rajasthan's Ranthambore National Park is home to one of the finest and most popular tiger reserves in India.

The few remaining tigers roam freely among the dry forests of the park, which is fed by several rivers that have been dammed to form lakes. Ranthambore is open from October to June, but the best time to visit is in the dry season, from October to March when the lack of water tempts the big cats out to the lakeside.

Among the best places to stay in Ranthambore are the Vivanta by Taj retreat and the Oberoi Vanyavilas, India's leading luxury jungle resort.

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