Our Pick of India's Top 10 Experiences

India isn’t all about clamor and spice. Find stillness in an ashram, experience culture on the ghats of Varanasi, go hiking through the high Himalayas, or hire a kayak in the Bay of Bengal. As long as you choose your seasons wisely, you’ll fall in love with India’s chaos.

In no particular order, we take a look at some of the best experiences in India, as told by our local insiders.

Watch the Sunrise from Tiger Hill

A 3:30am wake-up call is well worth the effort to hike 3hrs to the top of Tiger Hill in Darjeeling, just in time to see the sun rise over the Kangchenjunga mountain range. If you’re lucky, on a clear day you might see Everest in the distance!

Darjeeling with Kanchenjunga in background. Photo credit: iStock

Go Hiking in Hampi

Awash with mysterious giant boulders, secret caves, and ancient temples, there’s so much to explore in Hampi.

The rooftop of the Veerabhadra Temple on Matanga Hill is widely touted as the best sunrise/sunset point. But while the 30-minute climb offers stunning views of the boulder-strewn ruins, it’s the little Hemakuta Hill that is truly charming at sunset.

Hemakuta Hill, Hampi. Photo credit: iStock

Discover the Andaman and Nicobar Islands

Far off the coast in the Andaman Sea (much nearer to Thailand than mainland India) lies one of the country’s best kept secrets: the Andaman and Nicobar islands.

With only 38/500 islands permanently inhabited, coral reefs, active volcanoes, and pristine beaches are far removed from the rest of India, but still retain the feel and culture of the sub-continent.

Ross Island, Andaman Islands. Photo credit: Shelley Seale

Explore Kerala’s Backwaters

From Kochi, it’s an easy drive to Alleppey, the gateway to Kerala’s famous backwaters. Here, you can rent a houseboat and crew to cruise the network of canals.

Better yet, hire a canoe or kayak for the day to access narrower canals that houseboats can’t squeeze through. Wind your way through the backwaters, and listen to tales of local life from your guide. Learn a bit of the local language to impress the locals before you arrive.

Kerala backwaters. Photo credit: iStock

Day-trips from Pondicherry 

Don a helmet, rent a bike or motorcycle, and visit the smaller villages on the outskirts of Pondicherry. A favorite is Tiruvanamalai, a laid-back town on the southern hippie trail with good cafes and vegetarian food, as well as yoga classes. Here, you can hike up the holy mountain Arunachala, or walk around the base and stop off to see the nine temples, which are in honor of the nine celestial planets.

Tiruvanamalai. Photo credit: Ariel Sophia Bardi

Wander the Ajanta and Ellora Caves in Maharashtra

30km northwest from the city of Aurangabad, you’ll find the intricate rock-cut Ellora Caves, dating back to the 6th and 9th century. More than 100 caves were carved from the stone face of the Charanandri hills, and 34 of them are open for public exploration.

100km northeast are the Ajanta Caves, where 30 caverns were cut into cliffs between the 2nd and 7th century for Buddhist temples, shrines, prayer halls, and dormitories.

Ellora Caves. Photo credit: iStock

Join in the Festivals of Odisha

Coastal Odisha is where most travelers head, and with good reason. Konark, almost directly east of Bhubaneswar, is home to one of India’s most stunning UNESCO sites: the 13th century Konark Sun Temple.

Konark Beach is the site of the annual International Sand Art Festival, timed to coincide with the Konark Festival in February. Join in the five-day dance festival, where travelers are treated to classical Odissa dancers performing with the Sun Temple as backdrop.

Konark festival, Odisha. Photo credit: Mariellen Ward

Experience Rajasthan’s Pushkar Camel Fair

A trip to Rajasthan would be incomplete without a desert camel ride among the sand dunes, followed by fire-roasted flatbreads and camping under the starry skies.

If you time your trip right, for one week in November, the Pushkar Camel Fair brings camel and horse traders from across the country to the holy city of Pushkar. Throughout the week, you’ll see street shows, magicians, camel races, and beauty contests.

Pushkar Camel Fair. Photo credit: iStock

Embrace the Colors of Holi Festival

Visit Vrindavan or Mathura at the beginning of March and join in the Hindu spring festival of Holi. Leave your valuables behind, wear clothes that you don’t mind ruining, and join in the madness.

Locals smear gulaal (colored powder), and drench each other with water balloons, water guns, and buckets.

The only breaks are for crispy, sugar-soaked jalebis (deep-fried sweets) and thandai (a drink of milk, nuts, and spices).

Holi festival. Photo credit: iStock

Find Peace in Ladakh’s Mountains and Monasteries 

Sandwiched between the world’s highest mountains, the high-altitude desert region of Ladakh is one of India’s most unforgettable destinations, with jaw-dropping landscapes, and unique Sufi and Buddhist-influenced culture.

Centuries-old Buddhist monasteries, known as gompas, are an unforgettable part of Ladakh. Topped by snowy peaks, they’re perched at the top of bare, twisted hills. A highlight is Lamayuru, located in Ladakh’s famous “moonland,” overlooking a strange, lunar-looking landscape. Inside, you’ll find ancient ritual objects – some crafted from human bones.

Thiksey monastery. Photo credit: iStock

Have you been to India? Share your top experiences below!

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Watch the sun rise and set in the south, or find solitude in the far northern Himalayas. Our local insiders show you how to find peace among India’s chaos.

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