India is home to approximately one out of every six people on Earth and more than 50,000 years of human history. To put it bluntly, there is a lot to see and do there. After a year and a half, the country is open to fully vaccinated visitors, starting Oct. 15 with charter flights and Nov. 15 with commercial flights. With so much space and time to explore, it’s tough to know where to start.
The Ganges, sacred river of Hinduism, is a great bet. Rivers were the lifeblood of ancient societies, and the Ganges basin remains one of the most agriculturally fertile and populous places in the world. So much of spiritual life is centered on the river, especially in Varanasi, a holy city which hosts several festivals throughout the year.
In the same itinerary you can see the other gems of Northern India: Agra and Taj Mahal, built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as a mausoleum for his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal; the pink city of Jaipur, dotted with resplendent architecture and UNESCO World heritage sites and gateway to the rest of Rajasthan, a romantic land of palaces and lakes.
India is also still a wild place, and Ranthambore National Park and Kanha Tiger Reserve make the perfect destinations for a subcontinental safari. Powerful Bengal tigers burn bright in the forests, alongside leopards, crocodiles, sloth bears, macaques and hundreds of bird species. It’s “The Jungle Book” in real life, and you get to play Mowgli.
Moving south you once again encounter an entirely new land. On the central west coast stretching from Mumbai to Goa you’ll see the remnants of European colonial life, from military forts to houses of worship left behind by the British and Portuguese. You’ll see even older traces of even older civilizations on Elephanta Island. And for those who live in the now, there are myriad beaches and nightclubs along the way.
Still farther south, the landscape turns more tropical. A long way from the frigid foothills of the Himalayas, average temperatures hover in the 80s all year. What states such as Kerala and Tamil Nadu do have in common with places to the far north like Assam are elevation, and the tea plantations that come with it. Ghats — mountain ranges impressive in their own right — run up and down the western and eastern coasts, enveloping the Deccan Plateau and giving home to a diverse range of wildlife. This is the land of spices and monsoons, where the rains hit first and stay longest.
From the Himalayas, where the Ganges begins its long journey, to the Indian Ocean, India remains a land apart.
COVID-19 entry protocols
After considering various inputs, the Ministry of Home Affairs has decided to begin granting of fresh Tourist Visas for foreigners coming to India through chartered flights with effect from October 15, 2021. Visitors must be fully vaccinated and have a negative test taken within 72 hours before departure to India.
Where to stay
The Ultimate Travelling Camp
Nomadic living takes a decidedly luxurious turn with The Ultimate Travelling Camp. This modern-day luxury presents itself in the most remote locations in India. Guests are immersed in a range of signature experiences: prayer ceremonies at Himalayan Buddhist monasteries, rafting along the Indus River, camel safaris on dunes of the Old Silk Route, the Hornbill Festival, and Naga tribal hamlets. All the while glamping in stylishly appointed, air-conditioned tents, and tended to by personal valets. Camp amenities include a library, handicrafts boutique, wellness center, and dining tent offering organic cuisine and culinary classes.
The Leela Palace Udaipur
Pure escapism can only begin to describe The Leela Palace Udaipur. Gracing the banks of picturesque Lake Pichola, this modern, palatial hotel entices with luxurious amenities and authentic experiences – from butler service in each of the 80 warmly appointed, lake-facing rooms to magical evenings filled with Rajasthani folk music and dancing. Surround yourself in marble, rich woods, crystal chandeliers, and fine Indian artwork, and soothe tired muscles with an exotic spa treatment at ESPA the Spa. The executive chef’s cuisine is praised throughout Udaipur; savor the experience in the elegant dining room or a private alcove.
Aman-i-Khás, an impeccable resort at the edge of world-renowned Ranthambore park, invites guests to go on a safari into the park in search of tigers and leopards, and enjoy the rustic luxury of its stylish tent accommodations, complete with bathroom, bedroom, and dining area. Excursions are easily customized to personal tastes. The park is a wildlife sanctuary and home to thousands of creatures, including more than 350 species of birds. Later, make your way to the spa tent for its menu of massages, scrubs, facials, and invigorating foot treatments.
The Oberoi Rajvilās
Situated amid 32 acres of landscaped gardens dotted with reflection pools and fountains, The Oberoi Rajvilās is an oasis of peace built around an 18th-century temple to Shiva, where you can renew your wedding vows with a Hindu priest, or practice meditation and yoga. Traditional techniques were used throughout the resort to replicate the famous pink walls of Jaipur, and gold-leaf frescoes and high-domed ceilings pay homage to the city’s Mughal past. The restaurants have indoor and alfresco seating and live folk music in the evenings. Located in a restored 18th-century mansion, the spa offers signature Oberoi treatments.