India Travel is unique. There is so much you can explore that you can get lost in the options. Most of the times you are not even aware of the options available and you end up going to cliché places only.
While your India Travel plan should definitely have the famous monuments like Taj Mahal, it is the experiences that would give you the real flavor of this nation.
Top 12 India Travel Experiences
So, let me take you through some Indian experiences that you can include in your travel itinerary.
1. Explore the Wildlife of Indian Forests
In the culture that is overwhelming, sometimes the countries wildlife takes a back seat. Remember India is home to unique species including Tigers, Lions, Single Horned Rhinos, Elephants. Indian forests and jungles are full of animal species that would amaze you.
Most forests come under the forests department who are responsible for conserving and preserving them. This means the entry is restricted. It is usually accessible through guided safaris, where a forest jeep and a forest guide will take you around and show you flora and fauna of the forest. Some national parks also offer elephant safaris, walking safaris and boat safaris too.
All safaris are worth exploring. Imagine sitting in a boat surrounded by lush green forest and animals just doing their regular business and birds flying all over.
Some national parks like Pench, known for being the setting of Mowgli allow you to live in tree houses. There are some forests with lovely tribal villages or forts and this where you get to explore nature and ancient aboriginal culture.
Read More – Our Complete Guide to Planning Wildlife Holidays
2. Understand the Indian Temple Architecture
Growing up in the northern state of Punjab, I grew oblivious to the stunning temples that exist in most of India. I discovered the temple architecture pretty late in life. However, once enticed, I can not just get enough of them. The more I visit an ancient Indian temple, the more I discover, an architecture that is soaked in stories, legends, philosophy, aesthetics, and history.
I highly recommend that you visit at least one set of ancient Indian temples, whichever part of the country you visit.
If you are visiting for the first time and doing the most popular Delhi, Agra & Jaipur circuit, consider extending it to include Khajuraho.
Heading to the Himalayas? check out Jageshwar Dham in Uttarakhand or Stone and Wood Temples of Himachal Pradesh.
If you are doing southern states, you would be spoilt for choices, wherever you go, you will find beautiful temples. My favorite cities to explore south Indian temples would be Kanchipuram and Thanjavur. Both present the two prominent temple architecture styles – Pallava & Cholas. Kerala has its own slanting roof architecture dominated by wood.
Eastern states, check out the lovely Terracotta temples of Bishnupur or the Puri, Bhubaneshwar, and Konark in Odisha.
In the North East, there is Kamakhya temple near Guwahati and then the temple town of Sibasagar.
Even the touristy Goa has its own style of Goan temple architecture.
Look for the material used in the making of a temple, the motifs used, the stories carves, the style of Shikhara or the superstructure, the presiding deity and local folklore when you visit an Indian temple.
Check out our series on Temples of India
3. Visit a Museum for some time travel
Museums are not really our strong point when it comes to popular tourist places. Having said that, to meet India of a different space and time, you do need to check out some of our museums. Your travel cannot be complete without visiting a few museums.
Archaeological Survey of India has many museums full of ancient artifacts, specially excavated sculptures that are like a treasure hunt. Ask a curator to take you around the museum, and you will discover the stories and technologies of good old days of the nation.
- Delhi, I highly recommend the National Museum and Sulabh Toilets Museum
- Mumbai check-out the Bhau Daji Lad museum that documents the city of Mumbai and its rich & diverse history
- Chennai – the Egmore Museum has the best of Chola bronzes
- Kolkata, we have the oldest of Indian Museums called India Museum
- Hyderabad has Salarjung museum for history and a very innovative Sudha Car Museum
- Jaipur has the Albert Hall Museum
- Ahmedabad has Calico Museum
- Vizag has a submarine museum
Every state capital and major archaeological sites have impressive museums. Mathura museum has some of the best gems of Mathura school of Art.
Do not hesitate & request the staff to show you the museum. The documentation and guided tours are still in the making. Hopefully, this should change soon.
4. Enjoy Indian Cuisine in a Thali
You would probably eat Indian food primarily during your India tour. However, make sure you try a local Thali whichever part of the country you set out to explore. A Thali is a full platter that comes with many dishes, sometimes as many as 30+.
Thali meal usually comes in a round plate, with different bowls carrying different dishes. Some items are common but Thali from every region is different. It is full of local cuisine, local and seasonal vegetables and side dishes like pickles, lassi or sweets.
You must experience a local Thali whichever part of the country your India Itinerary takes you to.
I also recommend that you try a meal at a local temple or an ashram. This would be simple yet wholesome food that is served with a lot of gratitude. It is almost always served free though you are free to contribute to the temple after the meal.
Check out our detailed post on – 15 Best Indian Thalis to explore Indian Cuisine
5. Converse with an Indian River
Ancient Indian Civilizations grew on the banks of rivers. Even today, almost every major city or town has a river or two flowing through it.
Rivers are considered Goddesses for their life-sustaining waters or mothers for they nurture us with their water. The tradition today lives in the form of river worship. In many places, you will see temples dedicated to major rivers like Ganga, Yamuna, Narmada, and Kaveri.
I strongly suggest that you attend at least one Arti of a river that you may be passing by. The most well-known river Artis are:
- Ganga Arti at Dashashwamedha Ghat in Varanasi
- Ganga Arti in Haridwar & Rishikesh
- Saryu Arti in Ayodhya
- Yamuna Arti in Mathura & Vrindavan
- Narmada Arti in Maheshwar
- Tapti Arti in Burhanpur
Most of these Artis is done in the evening, just after sunset. Lit up lamps reflecting in the waters of the river look beautiful. This is not a formal event where you need an invitation. Just land up at the place where Arti is performed, and be a part of it.
6. Go Shopping in Indian Bazaars
Markets are a microcosm of a culture, an indicator of what is consumed by that land. Now, of course, we have new age shopping malls in almost all big and small cities.
My favorite go -to places are old style markets where small vendors bring their stuff to sell. You will be surprised how these markets are dominated by women.
Old markets have areas designated for different types of merchandise like one lane for clothes, another for jewelry and a different for spices. So, you get all your options in one place to choose from. In Goa, Mapusa market is even designed to make sure that you can buy the fish just before heading home.
Indian markets are crowded and chaotic and buzzing with energy. I can bet this is the best place in the world to hone your negotiation skills. If you are not in a mood, just stand in a corner and see the ongoing negotiations. They are just a treat to watch.
Some of our favorite markets across the country are:
- Delhi – Bazaars of Old Delhi or Chandni Chowk
- Hyderabad – Laad Bazaar and the lanes around it
- Goa – Anjuna Flea Market
- Jaipur – Bapu Bazaar
- Varanasi – Thatheri Gali
- Chennai – T Nagar
Highly recommend that you spend a few hours in a local Indian market during your India Travel, no matter which part you travel to. You see a transactional world that is so much a part of any culture.
7. Hike to a Fort
In Sanskrit or Hindi, Fort is called Durg meaning something that is not easy to reach. So, the forts are usually located on hilltops from where the soldiers can keep an eye on any approaching danger of any kind. There are forts all along the long coastline of the nation.
Many forts are as large as a mid-sized city with villages living within the fort walls. Fortified with tall strong walls on which you can literally walk, these forts are a living heritage. Each fort has some unique construction to admire like Vijay Stambh in Chittorgarh Fort or the second longest wall of Kumbhalgarh Fort.
There are sea forts like Sindhudurg that have been standing in the middle of the see for 400+ years with a source of sweet water. There are forts like Jhansi made famous by the queen who ruled from here. And there are living forts like Orchha and Jaisalmer Fort.
India was made up of many small kingdoms until 1947. So, it is not difficult to find a fort anywhere in the country. Check out our series on – Forts of India
You can also try and live in a heritage hotel, which may have been a palace or a house of a noble family once upon a time.
8. Taste Street Food & Let your taste buds go wild
I can live on Indian Street Food. You find it everywhere, in the streets, in public places, outside colleges and universities and just about anywhere.
Indian street food is generally tangy with a generous dose of spices. They work perfectly on the tongue, though on the stomach the effect may vary from person to person. The list of street food is exhaustive, but here are some popular options:
Pani Puri also called Gol Gappe or Puchkas
Bhelpuri or Jhalmuri
Bhajjis or Pakodas
Bhutta or roasted corncob
My favorite cities for vegetarian street food are Indore, Lucknow & Ahmedabad. Though every city has something unique to offer in their platter of Indian street food.
9. Weave in a Textile Stop in your India Travel Plan
India has a long history of textiles and everything to do with textiles. The world came to us for textiles, for the dyed cloth in indigo. There are different weaves and patterns that have evolved over a period of time, over which we paint and we do embroidery, sometimes even with gold and silver and gemstones. Textile heritage of the country is incredible and one that you must explore beyond just shopping.
Popular weaving hubs are Varanasi, Kanchipuram, Sri Kalahasti, Pochampally, Patan, Paithan, Bhagalpur, Maheshwar, Bishnupur among many others.
You can also see weaving being done at some of the Khadi Ashrams. Try to understand how the threads are woven together to make patterns on the garment.
Saris are the most beautiful example of the textile tradition of the nation. However, the woven cloth is used to stitch all kinds of garments and home linen.
Do include Textiles in your Indian tour – it is one of the few continuously living heritage of the country.
If you are a jewelry enthusiast, do explore the jewelry along with textiles. From tribal jewelry in beads and silver to gem-studded jewelry to junk jewelry on the roadside stalls – it is a world in itself to explore.
10. Fruits – Have you tasted our Mangoes?
Fruits thankfully still belong to their respective geographies despite all the initiatives to plant them elsewhere. Mango is the king of fruits for us and the best time to enjoy them fresh is peak summers.
Sometimes I feel we manage to tolerate the summers only because it brings Mangoes and other juicy fruits like melons with it. Most Indians would have fond Mango stories to tell.
We all fight about which Mango variety is the best. Everyone likes the one they grew up with. I love Banarasi Langda while my spouse thinks Alphonso is the best mango. There are mangoes that you cut and eat, the ones you suck and eat, the ones you make drinks from and eat and the ones you pickle to savor for the rest of the year.
Litchi and Bel are some other summer fruits found mostly in the foothills of Himalayas.
Enrich your India Travel by tasting these yummy fruits.
Read More – Pink & Purple Fruits of Goa
11. Explore the Rural Life and Artisan Villages during India Travel
You might have heard that real India lives in its village. I do not agree with that. I think urban areas may have similarities with urban pockets around the world. Rural regions are little more rooted in the culture and traditions.
I recommend spending some time in a small village. Check out this list of Rural Tourism Companies that offer experiences in Indian hinterlands.
You can also choose to visit artisan villages like Bishnupur in Bengal, Raghurajpur in Odisha, Pochampally near Hyderabad or Firozabad near Agra. Again these places are not too difficult to find. You just need to budget some time in your trip itinerary to stop at a village and explore the simpler life of agrarian society.
12. Soak in a bit of Living Art Forms during India Travel
Culture is best communicated through native art forms and the country has so many that I always lose count. Here are some ideas for you to connect or pick up. Check out the local newspapers for ongoing shows and tickets.
- Watch a classical or a folk-dance performance
- Watch a Bollywood Film – you can even take a Bollywood tour in Mumbai
- Attend a painting or a Rangoli making workshop
- Visit an Art exhibition
- Take a Yoga class
- Join a cooking course
India Travel is all about discovering a new facet of the country at every step. We have a local saying that translates – Every 3 km the water changes and every 12 km the language changes and along with them changes everything else. This is the nuanced diversity this country holds.
Do include some of these experiences if not all when you plan your India travel.
Do not forget to share your experiences with us.