In the southwest is the state of Kerala (Internet: www.keralatourism.org ) with its numerous bathing resorts. One of the most beautiful is Kovalam with fine sandy beaches and a modern tourist complex with luxurious bungalows and a five-story hotel with a swimming pool. The regional capital Trivandrum with the famous Padmanabhaswamy Temple is only a few kilometers away. Further inland lies the Periyar Game Reserve with its diverse flora and fauna. Cranganorre, Alleppey and Kochi are other attractive holiday spots in Kerala.
Mysuru (formerly Mysore) is known for its palace and incense stick production. A visit to the magnificent Maharaja Palace should not be missed. Leave your shoes at the entrance and slide barefoot over the elegant marble and mosaic floors. On Sunday evenings, the palace is spectacularly illuminated to the accompaniment of music. Also worth seeing is the Chamundeshwari Temple on the Chamundi Hills and the Cathedral of Saint Philomena, which was built in the style of Cologne Cathedral.
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There are over 350 species of mammals and 1200 different species of birds in India, including rhinos, Asiatic lions and black langur monkeys in addition to the Bengal tiger and Indian elephant. Over 200 parks and game reserves offer good opportunities to see almost all animal species up close. The most famous parks include Keoladeo Ghana National Park (Rajasthan), Ranthambore National Park (Rajasthan), Kanha National Park (Madhya Pradesh), Corbett Tiger Reserve (Uttarakhand) and Sunderbans Tiger Reserve (West Bengal).
The state of Goa is known for its 100km of palm-fringed coastline, which boasts some of the most beautiful beaches on the subcontinent. Goa was a Portuguese colony until 1961 – the charming mixture of Roman and Indian culture can still be felt today. Panaji is the state capital and one of the most tranquil and beautiful cities in India. The churches and monasteries of the former capital Velha Goa have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1986. The state boasts an impressive array of colorful festivals, including the Mardi Gras carnival .
The world-renowned tea-growing region of Darjeeling stretches across a mountainside that plunges deep into the valley and offers a magnificent view of Mount Kanchenjunga, at 8586m the third highest mountain in the world. One of the most scenic train journeys in the world is the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (website: www.darjeelingtours.co.uk ) journey from Shiliguri to Darjiling. Part of the journey leads through primeval forest, tea gardens and pine forests. Buddhist temples abound in Kalimpong, a market town in the foothills of the Himalayas.
Until 1565, Hampi (Internet: www.hampi.in ) was the capital of the Vijayanagar kingdom . Today, the bizarre ruins are on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Some Vijayanagara style temples from the 14th-16th centuries. century are well preserved. To reach Anegondi, the city’s northern outpost, one can cross the Tungabhadra River in small round basket boats.
Delhi consists of two districts: New Delhi, the capital and seat of government, is a modern city with wide, shady avenues, spacious parks and colonial buildings by the English architect Lutyens; Old Delhi, on the other hand, is a centuries-old city of narrow, winding streets, temples, mosques and markets. There are several UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the city: the Red Fort, the tall tower of the Qutab Minar and the Humayun’s Tomb. Also not to be missed are the Jama Masjid Mosque (largest mosque in India), the bustling Chandni Chowk (once the richest street in the world) and the Jantar Mantar Observatory.
Hill Stations offer a welcome and refreshing respite from the heat of the plains. The most famous hill stations include Shimla (Himachal Pradesh), Ooty (Tamil Nadu), Kodaikanal (Tamil Nadu), beautiful Srinagar (Jammu & Kashmir) with its lotus-covered Dal Lake and Darjeeling (West Bengal), where you can see Mount Everest and can see the entire mountain range of Kanchenjunga.
Taj Mahal and the Golden Triangle
Delhi is at the tip of the “Golden Triangle” – a region with numerous historical sites and monuments. Southeast of Delhi is Agra with the world-famous Taj Mahal, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the new seven wonders of the world. Other landmarks include the Red Fort (also a UNESCO World Heritage Site), Akbar Palace, Jahangir Mahal, the octagonal tower Mussamman Burj and the Pearl Mosque. In the southwest of the Golden Triangle lies Jaipur with its pink old town.
The holy Ganges
The river Ganges, sacred to Hindus, flows through the state of Uttar Pradesh (Internet: www.up-tourism.com ). On its banks lies Varanasi, the religious center of India. The city itself is a maze of winding streets, filled with colorfully dressed pilgrims and sadhus (holy men) offering offerings to the gods. Devout Hindus can often be seen performing their ablutions at the numerous ghats along the river banks.
Odisha and its temples
The state of Odisha has three temple cities. The most important is Bhubaneswar, where 500 of the original 7000 temples have been preserved. Puri is one of the four holiest cities in India. The Rath Yatra (chariot festival) takes place here in July and August: statues of gods on huge wooden triumphal chariots are pulled through the streets and worshiped by pilgrims. Konarak is known for its Sun Temple in the form of a horse-drawn chariot, which is on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Mahabodhi Temple of Bodhgaya
West of Kolkata is the state of Bihar with the religious center of Bodhgaya, a sacred place for both Hindus and Buddhists. The Buddhist Mahabodhi Temple has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. According to tradition, Siddhartha Gautama experienced the Bodhi (awakening) under the cottonwood tree on the west side of the temple and thus became the Buddha.
The state of Assam (Internet: www.assamtourism.org ) has a world reputation as a tea-growing region and is also known for its national parks, which can be reached from the capital Guwahati. In addition to tigers, the Manas Tiger Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is also home to water buffalo, elephant and golden langur monkeys in grassland, rainforest and riverine environments. Kaziranga National Park, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is home to the rare one-horned Indian rhino.
Rishikesh is north of the holy city of Haridwar, from here one can access the holy shrine of Badrinath. The way there leads through the breathtaking Valley of Flowers, particularly worth seeing during the bloom in August. Other trekking destinations include Hemkund Lake, Mandakini Valley and Kedarnath, one of the twelve Jyotirlings of Lord Shiva. The fascinating temple is particularly worth seeing. The source of the Ganges at Gaumukh is also accessible from Rishikesh.
The Western Ghats run parallel to the west coast of India from the Tapti River to the southern tip of the subcontinent, much of it in Karnataka. Madikeri is the starting point of many treks through this area. The Upper Palani Hills in Tamil Nadu are foothills of the Ghats. Two shorter trails lead from Kodaikanal to Pillar Rock and Green Valley View. Courtallam, also in Tamil Nadu, is surrounded by dense vegetation and coffee and spice plantations.
There are several important religious centers in Tamil Nadu, especially Kanchipuram with countless temples and the impressive gopurams (city gates) decorated with statues of gods. Inland lies Madurai with a large bustling temple and Thanjavur. Tiruchirapalli with its imposing fortress on a rocky hilltop is worth a visit. Further south on the coast is Puduchery (formerly Pondicherry), a pretty town in typical French colonial style, and the port town of Rameswaram.
The state of Gujarat (website: www.gujarattourism.com ) is known for its fine silk fabrics, as the birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi and as the last refuge of the Asiatic lions deep in the Gir forest. Ahmedabad, in the east of the state, is the textile capital of India and produces the world-famous silk fabrics. Ahmedabad is also the seat of the Sabarmati Ashram founded by Gandhi, where his ideology of non-violence is still alive today. About 320 km further west is the town of Porbandar, Gandhi’s birthplace.