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With its dazzling breadth of experiences and deep spirituality, India never fails to delight the senses and uplift the soul.

This is a giant of a country, and from the cool climes of the Himalayas to the sultry beaches of the south, India’s landscapes are diverse and exhilarating. Feast your eyes on the architectural splendour of the Taj Mahal, gaze across the tea plantations of Darjeeling and gain a powerful insight into Hindu beliefs on the banks of the sacred River Ganges in Varanasi.

The exotic spice and colour of Indian cuisine is a real joy to discover too, whether its the diverse regional fare, vegetarian delights or seriously sweet treats. Travelling in India is always an adventure – just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, up pops another anomaly. But it’s this very unpredictability that makes travel here so inspiring – no one ever forgets their time in mind-bending India.

 

Things to do

Saga’s holidays to India strive to reflect the sheer breadth and diversity of this incredible country. Whether you’d like to book the classic Golden Triangle tour visiting New Delhi, Jaipur and Agra, roam the princely realms of Rajasthan or explore the balmy south in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, we’re sure to have a tour to suit you.

Film buffs can track down the locations of the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in Udaipur, while railway enthusiasts can board a train winding its way from Kalka through the foothills of the Himalayas to Shimla, the summer home of the British Raj. Tea aficionados (and let’s face it, who isn’t?) might like to sup their way through the hill stations of Darjeeling and Gangtok into Bhutan, while wildlife photographers can head to Ranthambore National Park in search of tigers.

There’s really no end to the adventures of India, and we’ll hazard a guess that once you’ve tasted it, you’ll be back for more.

Rajasthan

Bordering Pakistan in the north and the states of Punjab and Gujarat, Rajasthan is characterised by flowing desert landscapes, camel trains, wild tigers and some of the finest historical architecture in the country. From the pink palaces of Jaipur to the temples of Ajmer and Pushkar, and the mighty fort at Jaisalmer, the list goes ever on… Rajasthan is also celebrated for the quality of its fabrics and crafts, not to mention its splendid cuisine, all of which are fit for a Maharaja!

Uttar Pradesh

One of the country’s largest states, Uttar Pradesh doesn’t do things by halves – it’s home to Agra and the glorious Taj Mahal after all. This is also where you’ll feel India’s religious fervour to the fullest – along the banks of the Ganges in spiritually charged Varanasi, during early morning devotional prayers in Allahabad and amid the ancient Buddhist monuments of Kushinagar and Mathura.

Kerala

Long, slim and fringed with palm-clad beaches, Kerala stretches nearly 400 miles along the Arabian Sea in India’s southwest. Behind the beaches lies a network of inland waterways where handsome houseboats glide on tranquil waters. The foothills of the Western Gnats rise up beyond, creating perfect conditions for the cultivation of tea and spices.

Tamil Nadu

Draped around the Bay of Bengal, Tamil Nadu takes up the southeast portion of India. The capital Chennai (formally Madras) is a dynamic coastal city, and this ancient land is dotted with age-old temple towns. The written history of the Tamil people stretches back an incredible 2,000 years and their traditions live on through dance, poetry and language.

West Bengal

Between the mountains and deep blue sea, West Bengal is a diverse state with its head in the cool foothills of the Himalayas and its feet in the balmy Bay of Bengal. In-between you’ll find Kolkata (formally Calcutta), once the seat of the East India Trading Company. The city is grandly decorated with colonial landmarks of the British Raj and is home to the final resting place of Mother Theresa.

 

Culture and history

A melting pot of several cultures, India is the birthplace of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. Marriages are still arranged in most communities – and the divorce rate is 1%. Indian cuisine varies widely but tends to be spicier the further south you travel. The wildlife of India has had a profound impact on popular culture, not least of all through Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. And of course the country has had a long romance with dance, music, drama and theatre, and you only have to look at the Taj Mahal to see the importance of architecture.

Cricket is virtually a religion here and the film industry – Bollywood – is considered to be the largest in the world in terms of films produced and tickets sold. Condensing India’s history in to a few paragraphs is a tough challenge indeed, but we’ll give it a go. Evidence of human life in the country dates back many thousands of years and initially sprung from the Indus Valley region close to the border with present-day Pakistan.

Nomadic tribes slowly began to settle into urban living, and by 2,500BC there were several large cities in the region and a thriving culture known as the Harappan. Over the centuries various tribes filtered into Northern India from Afghanistan and central Asia and new dynasties began to gain power. Then came the early days of Hinduism, which can be traced back to around 1,000BC when the ancient Vedic scriptures were written down.

A little later came Buddhism and Jainism and it’s during this period that the caste system was formalised. From the 1st century AD many separate, mainly Hindu, kingdoms ruled India, and music, art and culture flourished throughout. Trade was strong, especially so in the south, which formed an integral part of the Silk Road trading with the Roman Empire, the Egyptians and China.

Meanwhile, in the north, there were to be several Muslim-led invasions, and from around the 11th century they gained power, taking over much of the northern territories. In the following centuries these different empires wrangled for power, but all was eclipsed with the coming of the Europeans. The first to arrive were the Portuguese when Vasco de Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope and landed in Kerala at the end of the 15th century.

Though they controlled Goa until 1961, it was the French and the British who wielded the majority of power. Throughout the 1600s the British-owned East India Trading Company set up posts in Madras, Bombay and Gujarat. The French vied for control of European/Indian trade, establishing a trading post in Pondicherry, but ultimately the British prevailed and by the early 1800s India was under British rule.

During this time many of the bureaucratic systems of the British were introduced, along with English as the common language. The farming of cotton and tea increased in scale and India’s famous rail network began to take shape. By the beginning of the 20th century opposition to British rule ramped up.

The independence movement, led by Gandhi, was interrupted by two world wars, but eventually in 1947 an independent India was born.

 

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