You want to go India but the choices of tours are over- whelming. Should you go to the north and visit Rajasthan, the Taj Mahal or Varanasi? Or you should you go to the south, travelling the backwaters of Kerala or lounge on the beaches of Goa or Kovalam? Then there are Ladakh and the Himalaya or even more remote areas.
Read on for what we think makes a great introduction to travel to India, and what you should see on consecutive trips.
Travel to India 101
For first time visitors of India who only have a few weeks to travel I suggest you visit the north of the country - start off in Delhi and be sure to include Varanasi, the Taj Mahal and Jaipur. This extended Golden Circle tour can be done in about a week to ten days.
Delhi is an exciting, busy, and often chaotic city rich with historical sites from different eras, museums and galleries, shops and endless bazaars.
The incredible Taj Mahal in Agra is one of the architectural wonders of the world and should be visited by anyone at least once in their life. Varanasi, located on the banks of the sacred Ganges is a must-see for anyone travelling to India. Take an early morning boat ride on the river or watch a ceremony on its banks - Varanasi is like India in miniature and it will change you forever. Jaipur is crammed with palaces and bazaars, including the Palace of the Winds and the City Palace. Don't forget the nearby massive Amber Fort.
More time for your first trip?
If you have 3 weeks to spare on your first trip, consider adding more places in Rajasthan: The Blue City of Jodhpur, with its jumble of houses and shops lining winding medieval streets, is guarded by the mighty Mehrangarh Fortress, an architectural masterpiece. Or visit Ranthambhore, India's best place to spot tigers and other animals. Udaipur is India's most romantic city - rolling hills, white palaces and lakes come together to paint a picturesque town. Laid-back Pushkar comes alive with the annual Pushkar Fair, a gathering of camel traders, pilgrims and funseekers from all over northern India, while the honey-coloured fortress town of Jaisalmer makes for a good base to take a camel into the sands beyond.
Travel to India 201
For your second trip, or an extended first tour of India, consider the south. While Rajasthan and much of the north is desert, the south has lush mountains, farm fields, gorgeous beaches and an array of colonial towns and historical and active temples. You will need a minimum of a week to see some of the highlights, but 2-3 weeks will allow you to explore in depth.
The first European trading post in India, the old town of Cochin retains the character of a romantic colonial town.
South of Chennai (formerly Madras) lie the towns of Kanchipuram & Mahabalipuram, famous for their temples from the 6th - 8th century. Those at Mahabalipuram occupya stunning position on a rocky outcrop overlooking the sea.
The Meenakshi Temple in the bustling city of Madurai with its carved columns and sculptured ceiling is a hive of activity and the scene of an almost continuous religious festival.
There is nothing quite like exploring the Backwaters of Kerala, a network of rivers, canals and lakes, by traditionally crafted wooden houseboat. Watch the scenery float past, visit a hamlet or two and enjoy some of the great food Kerala is known for.
And with swaying palms, white sands and sparkling waters India's beaches have all the necessary ingredients for an ocean-side vacation. From laid-back Portuguese-influenced Goa to the backpacker hangout of Varkala and the Ayurvedic resort town of Kovalam, end your trip to India with a few days on a beach.
India for afficianados
If you cannot get enough of India there are more areas to visit. In the southern interior you may wish to visit ancient Hampi, an incredible series of ruins amidst fantastic boulder-strewn landscapes. In the north you may wish to visit a hill station, ride a narrow-gauge railway in Darjeeling, explore the Golden Temple in Amritsar or visit the Tibetan monasteries in Ladakh.