Although the first things that probably come to mind when you think of traveling India are temples, the Taj Mahal, and bustling cities, India also has a lot of natural attractions, with a variety of adventure activities on offer. It's an enormous country with mountains, deserts, jungles, and beaches, so brace yourself for the call of the wild, if you're so inclined.
As India is so massive, joining a tour that caters to your interests is a great way to cover a lot of ground and pack in many points of interest without stressing yourself with the logistics. India is relatively inexpensive, making many tours and guided activities very good value. Read on to learn about tours you can book in India for any kind of traveler.
In a country where even stepping outside your hotel room is an adventure, you're really in for a treat if you set out for India with a purposeful appetite for the new and crazy. India offers everything from skiing to safaris, mountain-biking to surfing, but we've narrowed it down to just the most impressive, not-to-be-missed activities on the subcontinent. Guided tours can be arranged before you leave home, or if you have a bit more time and flexibility, you can find smaller tour operators and local guides at your destination.
- Where: The 'Golden Triangle' (Delhi, Jaipur, Agra); Rajasthan; Mumbai and the Ajanta and Ellora Caves; backwaterof Kerala; spirituality in the Himalayas and Varanasi
India has a rich and extremely diverse culture, and if you're short on time or have particular interests, it's a good idea to pick a region of the country to focus on. A route popular with first-time India travelers is the 'Golden Triangle' of Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra, which takes in some of India's most spectacular landmarks, like the Taj Mahal. These three cities are among the most hectic in the country, so if you're a bit apprehensive about letting loose in India, a guided tour of these places is a good idea.
Other ideas for cultural tours of India include the sublime desert forts and palaces of majestic Rajasthan; the glamorous metropolis of Mumbai and the ancient Hindu and Buddhist caves nearby; the peaceful, lush backwaters of tropical Kerala; or yoga and spirituality at an ashram in Rishikesh, Haridwar, or Varanasi.
- Where: The national parks of northern and central India, such as Ranthambore, Jim Corbett, Sundarbans NationaPark; Wayanad in South India
It's easy to get far away from India's teeming cities. There's a lot of protected jungle where you can see an abundance of plant, bird, and animal life, including Royal Bengal tigers, rhinoceros, crocodiles, and even the rare Asiatic lion. Rudyard Kipling's 'The Jungle Book' used what is now the central state of Madhya Pradesh as its inspiration, so for a quintessentially Indian jungle adventure, head here.
- Where: The Himalaya region, north India (Ladakh, Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, Darjeeling)
While India's northern neighbor (Nepal) might receive most of the attention in this category, that's precisely what makes including India in your trekking plans even more attractive. There are fewer trekkers, many off-the-beaten-path opportunities, and a huge range of topographical attractions to see, from ice-capped mountains to pure jungle.
While there are treks available that range from a half-day to two weeks or longer, be advised that the most interesting ones tend to be about a week long. You'll want to be mentally -- as well as physically -- prepared for that kind of undertaking. That said, there are options for people of all kinds of fitness levels, so you can certainly seek out what you're comfortable with. Expect to camp or stay in local homestays on most multi-day treks.
White Water Rafting
- Where: The Himalaya region, Ladakh, Uttarkarand (Rishikesh), Himachal Pradesh, and Sikkim
India is known the world over for its rivers, especially holy rivers like the Ganges. In some places along the Ganga, you can catch sight of families cremating the body of a loved one and scattering the ashes into the river (and then bathing in the same river the next morning with thousands of other Hindu devotees), while just a few miles down groups of travelers raft along through picturesque scenery, whooping and hollering with delight.
Rishikesh and Ladakh are especially well known for their multi-day rafting trips, where you camp on beaches along the way. White water kayaking is also available in some places for those who want the added thrill.
Planning Your Trip
Best Time to Visit India
It is extremely important to plan your trip to India around the climate, otherwise you may find yourself facing over 100 degree temperatures or trying to jet ski in Goa during rainy season. Each part of India has a unique climate pattern, so be deliberate about where you're going in the country and then decide when to go.
Usually, November to February will have decent weather anywhere south of Delhi. The Himalayan states are popular during the summer months (May to September), as the higher altitude makes the temperatures more comfortable than on the plains. Avoid Rajasthan after March, as well as anywhere south of Mumbai, because it will be just too hot.
What to Look for in a Tour to India
In India, it's especially important to make sure you choose a reputable tour provider. This doesn't necessarily mean a big-name company if that's not your style, just one that comes with plenty of positive reviews. Notorious scams in India involve new arrivals in Delhi being conned into paying for an overpriced tours to Rajasthan, Kashmir, or elsewhere. If someone seems overly keen to sell you something, you should listen to your instincts and refuse to part with any cash.
A popular way of touring India is to hire a car and driver for a couple of weeks, who will take you to the most popular sites. Be aware that drivers are generally not legally allowed to act as tour guides (beyond the confines of your car!), so if you sign up for this kind of 'tour', you'll be exploring the sites themselves on your own.
India is a massive country, so beware of tours that try to cram too much into a short time (unless that's what you really want to do). You'll end up sitting in a bus for the majority of your tour, and Indian traffic jams can be bad! It's better to choose a region you're interested in and focus on that.
Typical Tour Costs
India is very inexpensive, so the cost of doing almost anything shouldn't be prohibitive. Joining a guided tour or hiring an individual guide is good value. For example, an all-inclusive tour from a reputable international company should cost upwards of $100 per day.
Local tours can be cheaper. If you're on a tight budget, you may be able to afford to hire services in India that would be too expensive elsewhere in the world. For example, trekking with a guide and food included can be about $20 per day, and rafting trips can cost as little as $10.
Don't be afraid to haggle over the initial prices offered for just about anything, but also realize that $2 you're saving may be more needed and better used by the local you're negotiating with than sitting in your pocket.
Packing Tips & Gear Rental
Although you'll want to pack well to meet your needs while traveling in India, it's important to realize that in the cities, almost anything you might want to buy is available. Lightweight and culturally-appropriate clothes are available in markets, so you can always pick up something you've forgotten on the road.
Be aware that while all kinds of medication is available cheaply over the counter at Indian pharmacies, the quality (and even the authenticity) of said medication is sometimes dubious. So, bring anything essential with you from home.
Health & Safety
The biggest safety concern you're likely to face anywhere in India is getting sick, and it's bound to happen (especially if it's your first time in the country). Pharmacies are well-stocked and used to foreigners with stomach problems, so you can easily get a course of Cipro (an antibiotic) when food poisoning strikes. It's wise to keep some emergency diarrhea medication on hand at all times. Don't let this prevent you from enjoying Indian food though, including the street food! Look for places busy with locals, where the food is hot and selling quickly.
Consult with your health provider before departure to make sure all your tropical vaccinations are up-to-date. Depending on where you plan to travel, you may require medication to prevent malaria.
Indian roads are notoriously dangerous, with accidents claiming many thousands of lives each year. It may be impossible to avoid traveling by road, but if you have the choice, traveling overland by rail is a good option. It's quite a cultural experience, too! Some tour providers take advantage of this, so if you want to include an Indian rail journey in your experience, look for tours which offer this.