1. Leh, India
The Ladakh capital city of Leh lies near the eastern parts of Jammu and Kashmir, on the crossroads of the historic “Silk Route” from Sinkiang to West Asia and to the plains of India. The humbling monasteries of Shey, Hemis, Alchi, Thikse and Lamayuru will nurture your spiritual needs, and the landscape of Leh provides for a number of adventure activities including mountaineering, white-water rafting and trekking along the Markha Valley.
2. Srinagar, India
Srinigar is a modern waterworld, dominated by Dal Lake and its twisting waterways, tree-lined Nagin Lake, and the Jhelum River. Engulf yourself in local culture by embracing your sea legs and renting one of the wooden boats called shikaras for a daytime or twilight cruise. On land, stroll through the terraced hillsides of the 400-year-old Mughal Gardens, created by Emperor Jehangir for his wife, and shop for indigenous crafts like hand-woven silks and embroidered shawls.
3. Varanasi, India
The north Indian city of Varanasi, or Benares, is regarded as sacred by Hindus, Buddhists and Jains. Situated in the fertile Ganga valley and on the banks of the Ganges, Varanasi is a place of pilgrimage for Hindus, who come to bathe in the holy river. Known as the City of Temples and a beacon of culture, Varanasi has produced many renowned writers. It’s also a centre of silk weaving, so practise haggling at the chaotic bazaar for some beautiful souvenirs. Rickshaws are the best way to get about.
4. Jaisalmer, India
The dramatic and romantic desert fortress of Jaisalmer is an exotic city in Rajasthan’s great Thar Desert. “The Golden City” rose to prominence as a result of its position on camel trade routes. It’s now most famous for the 12th-century fort and ornate “Havelis,” fine merchant-built houses and pavilions in the city’s mediaeval lanes. The surrounding Desert National Park offers opportunities to observe blackbucks, desert foxes and chinkaras amid the rolling dunes, rugged crags and waterholes.
5. Udaipur, India
Udaipur, known as the Venice of the East, boasts several sparkling lakes against a backdrop of the Aravail hills. Jag Niwas and Jag Mandir, islands in Fateh Sagar Lake, are the site of Udaipur Solar Observatory and Nehru Garden. Famous palaces include the magical Lake Palace, now a luxurious five-star hotel, and the massive City Palace on Pichola’s east bank, featuring epic courtyards and stunning paintings..
6. Manali, India
In Hinduism, Manu was said to have survived a great flood that destroyed the rest of the world. He then recreated mankind in this Kullu Valley town. What a rush, huh? No wonder the towering peaks and verdant terrain of Manali attracts adventure travellers, with heli-skiing, hiking, mountaineering and river rafting the favored active pursuits. Come down from your endorphin high by breathing deeply at the four-story, wooden Hidimba Devi Temple, which sits in the middle of a nearby deciduous forest, or take a medicinal soak in the hot springs burbling from the ground a 30-minute walk from town.
7. Goa, India
East meets West in this sun-soaked state, where Indian culture intertwines with Portuguese influences left over from a 500-year occupation. The beaches have long served as a magnet for serene hedonists. To the north, the tourist-centric scene is prevalent, with an international flair that is now skewing more hip than hippie. Travel south for stretches of unspoiled sand and an escape from large resorts. Temples, mosques and wildlife sanctuaries provide diversions from the beach.
8. Kodaikanal, India
Kodaikanal has an endangered animal called the grizzled giant squirrel. To us, that alone is reason to book a trip (“grizzled giant squirrel” might be the best animal name ever). Perched on the woodsy southern crest of the Palani Hills, nearly 7,000 feet above sea level, this popular lakeside resort town is a magnet for nature lovers. Wander the peaceful slopes, keeping an eye out for birds, exotic flowers and, of course, grizzled giant squirrels.
9. Amritsar, India
Amritsar is a major commercial and cultural centre in the heart of Punjab. The city is the spiritual and cultural centre of the Sikh religion and is home to the Harmandir Sahib, also known as the Golden Temple. Respectfully marvel at the Indian and Pakistani soldiers who march-off nightly at the Wagha Border, and at the Jallian Wala Bagh the site of the 1919 Amritsar Massacre in 1919.
10. Hampi, India
The former capital of the Vijayanagara Empire, Hampi remains an essential religious hub, housing the Virupaksha, Lakshmi Narasimha, Hemakuta Hill, Big Shivlinga and Vithala temples. The architectural ruins of Hampi are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Rock-climbing enthusiasts will adore Hampi, considered the bouldering capital of India, and the city’s rocky landscape, dotted with ancient temple ruins, makes for a unique climbing experience.