To mark the 71st anniversary of Indian independence, here are a few good excuses for a visit.
1. It’s cheap
According to the biennial World Economic Forum (WEF) Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report, India ranks 10th best for “price competitiveness”. Luxurious accommodation is relatively affordable, eating out cost very little indeed, and you can get around the country by train for peanuts. A recent drop in the value of the rupee, meanwhile, means a trip to India is even cheaper than usual right now. The pound currently buys around six per cent more Indian currency than it did a year ago.
What’s more, if you’re willing to fly via Iceland you can get there by budget airline. WOW air recently became the first low-cost carrier to offer a service between Europe and India (Delhi, to be precise).
2. There’s the food
Perhaps no other country can offer the range of cuisine that India does. There’s no such thing as typical Indian food; from Kerala to Kolkata there’s a smorgasbord of fabulous regional dishes to be discovered, beyond the familiar favourites of chicken tikka masala, rogan josh, malai kofta and tandoori butter naan, which can often be harder to find in India than in the UK.
3. The world’s most famous building
“The Taj Mahal is the most recognisable building in the world and arguably the most beautiful,” writes Telegraph Travel’s India expert, Gill Charlton, in her guide to visiting it. “The architecture is sublime but it is the story that the stones embody that draws seven million visitors each year.”
4. And the madness of Delhi
India’s capital is a pulsating megalopolis that stifles and stimulates in equal measure (as many of India’s cities do). But bear with this seething settlement and it will slowly reveal a side you may not have expected; discover leafy parks with their early morning yoga classes, get lost in its dusty bookshops, wander around its lavish Hindu temples, listen to the call to prayer echo from timeworn mosques, shop at bustling markets, go to a comedy club and take in a Bollywood show.
5. You can witness the Wagah border ceremony
Since 1959, at the frontier between India and Pakistan, border guards from both nations have engaged in a bizarre border ceremony that, according to Jack Palfrey, a recent visitor, evokes “the poise and elegance of ballet and the showmanship and aggression of professional wrestling.” Expect goose-stepping, shouting and much excitement from the crowds that gather to watch every day.
6. And stay in a palace
Live like a Mughal king in one of India’s former palaces, many of which have since been converted into lavish hotels. There are so many to choose from – find some inspiration further below.
7. The wildlife is incredible
Experience Rudyard Kipling’s India with a wildlife-watching excursion to one of the country’s many national parks, where visitors can see everything from tigers and elephants to rhinos and rufous-bellied hawk eagles. Notable parks include Ranthambore, Pench, Kanha and Bandhavgarh.
8. Indian art is resurgent
According to the Telegraph’s arts editor, Alastair Smart, these are exciting times for Indian art, which is going through something of a renaissance, led by creatives in Mumbai. Read all about it in his dispatch from the steamy Indian city.
9. There are wonderful railway journeys
Nothing quite compares with travelling around India by train, an experience that engenders wonder, nervous anticipation and heady exhilaration in equal measure. The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, a Unesco World Heritage site that winds through the narrow streets of Darjeeling, is an obvious highlight, but there are many others.
10. You can cruise Kerala’s backwaters
Kerala’s backwaters are a maze of winding rivers, canals and lakes stretching nearly 50 miles, and they are best explored on one of the old rice barges, which were formerly used for transporting grain but have since been converted to ferry tourists around.
3. You can hike the Himalayas
Though the star attraction of the Himalayas, Mount Everest, lies many hundreds of kilometres away from India, on the frontier between Nepal and China, the Indian portion of this epic mountain range offers many attention-grabbing vistas and fine hiking. Or spend a little time in the foothills. Rishikesh, the north Indian town on the Ganges often called “the yoga capital of the world” became world-famous thanks to the Beatles, who came to stay 50 years ago, and (with no undue rush) it’s now making the most of its celebrity connection. The focus is an intriguingly alternative tourist attraction – the remains of the ashram run by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, a man with a winning line in charisma and a seriously straggling beard.
14. It’s a bit French
“The long, sweeping promenade – the Rue de la Marine – that borders the Bay of Bengal carries echoes of Deauville or Biarritz. The street signs would be at home in any French provincial town; and this is the only place in India where the police wear red képis.”
15. There’s a slice of paradise
Goa is lovely, but if you want swaying palms, golden sand and turquoise waters, then head to the Havelock Islands. Floating in the Bay of Bengal, this tropical archipelago offers perhaps the best diving in India and is, by most definitions of the word, paradise.
16. You can watch a game of cricket
Cricket is a national obsession in India; from dusty parks to mega stadiums, the game is played with gusto across the country. There are excellent cricket grounds in most of the main cities, but for something extra special head to the HPCA Stadium in Dharamshala, which, incidentally, is where the exiled Dali Lama lives. The ground has arguably the best backdrop of any in India; framed as it is by the snow-capped Himalayas. Exquisite.
17. With a proper cuppa
Most of the tea consumed in Britain comes from India, so you’re guaranteed a quality cup during a trip to the subcontinent. As well as brilliant brews, tea plantations in the likes of Darjeeling and Assam, the country offers exquisite scenery, cooler weather and quaint hotels.
18. There’s a temple that will restore your faith in humanity
Imagine what it is like to share and celebrate food with as many as 50,000 pilgrims or, on high days and holidays, twice that number. This is exactly what happens in the langar (dining halls) of the Golden Temple in Amritsar, the most sacred place in Sikhism, every day of the year. Better still, it is free. All the food is donated and most of the helpers are volunteers. The Golden Temple is a shining example of the good in people’s hearts. Everybody who visits is welcome to the feast and the kitchens (there are two) and dining halls (also two) are open all day. The food is prepared and cooked non-stop, at all hours of the day. This is a place that is never closed to travellers, worshippers, witnesses or the simply gobsmacked – and no one is ever turned away.
19. And a very boozy literary festival
Jaipur is rightly famous for its fine architecture (Hawa Mahal is utterly magical, and a trip to Galtaji, known as “Monkey Temple” thanks to the troops of macaques that wander it, is a must), but it is also home to a rather raucous literary festival. “It’s larger, louder, brighter and more bombastic than any festival I’ve ever attended, with drums, dancing, non-stop food and drink and unbelievably exotic parties thrown in forts and palaces,” said the author Anthony Horowitz. “The flow of alcohol reaches Hemingway proportions. Quite frankly, it makes Hay or Edinburgh look like afternoon tea with the vicar.”