Best of the best India travel guide: six places to holiday this winter
Beaches, wellness, nature, spirituality, wildlife, history – whichever’s your thing, India, with its varied landscape and wealth of heritage, has options to suit every holidaymaker
Come the cooler season, tourists begin to flock to India from all over the world. And Indians themselves shake off the stupor of the sweltering summer and muggy monsoon months, and begin their exploration of the country. Whatever your interest, there is something in India to suit every kind of traveller: here is our list of must-visit destinations for this winter.
Best for history: Orchha, Madhya Pradesh
In the sprawling state of Madhya Pradesh, right in the heart of India, is the historic town of Orchha. Despite its proximity to popular locations like Gwalior (famous for its nearby medieval fort) and Khajuraho (the town of temples with erotic wall carvings), it is off the beaten tourist trail. However, this town, by the Betwa river, is definitely worth a trip for its exquisite 17th century monuments.
What to do: start at the Jahangir Mahal palace inside the fort complex, and then walk across the courtyard to Raj Mahal palace for the colourful wall murals. Come back later in the evening to catch the sound and light show that presents the chequered history of this region.
Go temple hopping, making sure to include the Chaturbhuj temple with its soaring walls and tall ceilings, and the Laxminarayan temple, which is the nucleus of local life in Orchha.
See the cenotaphs, known locally as chhatris, erected in honour of past rulers. If possible, take an early morning walk along the Betwa river and enjoy the view of the group of cenotaphs from across the water.
Where to stay: Amar Mahal (amarmahal.com) has an architectural style that reflects the glory of the Bundela dynasty that ruled over this region
Best for nature: Binsar, Uttarakhand
Far away from the madness of the plains, yet within a day’s travel from Delhi, Binsar offers a quiet retreat amidst the lofty Himalayas. Snow-clad peaks including Nanda Devi, Trishul and Panchachuli seem almost within touching distance from this settlement.
What to do: Binsar is more a “be” destination than a “do” one, but for those who like to stay active, the best choice is to hike up the Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary to Zero Point for spectacular mountain views.
Head out for the day to the 9th century Jageshwar temples, or go on a birdwatching trip around your hotel.
Where to stay: for a complete escape in the midst of oak and pine forest silence, stay at the Mary Budden Estate (marybuddenestate.in), a restored 19th century home.
Best for spirituality - Amritsar, Punjab
Amritsar combines interesting history, great food and cheap shopping with a soothing dose of spirituality. The Golden Temple (Harmandir Sahib) welcomes not only Sikhs, to whom this is the ultimate expression of their faith, but people from all religions.
What to do: begin the day early with a trip to the Golden Temple, beating the morning crowds. After a walk around the periphery, find a quiet spot for people watching.
Sample hearty Punjabi food like alu kulcha (a thick bread stuffed with spiced potatoes) at Bhrawan da Dhaba, next to the Town Hall. Wash it down with a tall glass of lassi (churned yoghurt, sold sweet or salty) at any of the lassi stalls that dot the lanes.
Pay a visit to Jalianwala Bagh, the garden which marks a gory incident in the history of British rule in India.
Where to stay: Ranjit’s Svaasa (svaasa.com) is a lovely boutique hotel with just 18 rooms and suites, located in the centre of the city.
Best for wildlife: Tadoba, Maharashtra
Tadoba has been in the limelight for the last year or so, thanks to its fierce tigresses Maya and Chhoti Tara, who have recently given birth to litters. Wildlife enthusiasts from all over the country are flocking to this offbeat National Park for a glimpse of the cubs.
What to do: book your safaris in advance, easiest done through your hotel, and head into the jungles twice a day.
Where to stay: Svasara (svasararesorts.com) is a popular option, located practically next door to one of the main entries to the forest.
Best for wellness: Kochi, Kerala
Kerala may be an all-year tourist favourite but it really comes into its own during its mild winter season. The days are cool and perfect for sweating it out on the massage tables and in steam rooms, and there is no better place in the country for a wellness retreat, especially for authentic Ayurveda.
What to do: cruise on a houseboat along the narrow backwater canals of Alleppey and Kumarakom (both close to Kochi), watching everyday life along the banks.
Catch a Kathakali dance performance or a Kalaripayittu martial arts demo one evening, for a look into Kerala’s classical art forms.
Check into an Ayurveda retreat for a longish rejuvenation therapy session. At the very least, indulge in a stress-busting massage or two, at the place you are staying in.
Where to stay : Carnoustie (carnoustieresorts.com) is a luxury resort that takes a holistic approach to wellness, and offers traditional therapies tailored to each guest’s specific needs.
Best for beaches: Andamans, Andaman & Nicobar Islands
Although Goa is considered the mecca of seaside holidays in India, nothing can beat the solitary splendour of the beaches on the Andaman Islands. Their remote location in the Bay of Bengal, far from the Indian mainland, also means that fewer tourists visit them even in peak season. Only a dozen or so islands of this archipelago are open to visitors.
What to do: Beach 5 and Radhanagar beach, both on Havelock Island, are great places to get away from it all. Think long strolls by the shore and tropical sunsets in flaming colours.
Learn scuba diving in the emerald waters, or go the whole hog and get PADI certification.
For a spot of history, visit the Cellular Jail National Memorial, an erstwhile British prison for political dissidents.
Where to stay: the Barefoot at Havelock (barefoot-andaman.com) keeps you close to nature, as the name suggests.