With a country as vast and eclectic as India, it's unsurprising that the experiences on offer are many and varied. Find out the best things to do on a visit to this beguiling country.
WATCH SUNRISE OR SUNSET AT THE TAJ MAHAL
To see this stunning marble mausoleum without the crowds (and snap a people-free picture of the Taj Mahal at sunset), arrive before the gates open. Red Savannah can arrange for you to be met by a guide to ‘jump the queue’. Alternatively, visit in the evening when it’s quieter, and your guide will show you the perfect spot on the banks of the river to see the sun setting behind the famous monument.
SPEND AN EVENING WITH AN ART COLLECTOR
Enjoy authentic regional cuisine with art collector Surajit Bomti Iyengarat at his top floor apartment in one of Kolkata’s most important heritage buildings. Sip cocktails while he showcases his extensive collection of oil and watercolour paintings, then tuck into a feast of local delicacies while he shares anecdotes about his beloved city.
RIDE THE TOY TRAIN
Take a two-hour round-trip on the UNESCO World Heritage Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) from Darjeeling to Ghum (India’s highest railway station). The tiny steam engine moves at just four miles per hour so it’s a great way to see the beautiful mountain landscape and villages as you slowly chug by.
TAKE A PRIVATE TOUR OF MEHRANGARH FORT
Set on a hilltop and covering 1,200 acres, the impressive Mehrangarh Fort is home to several palaces, courtyards and museums. Visit at sunset for a glass of champagne and exceptional panoramic views from the ramparts. Curator Karni Singh will explain the collections and give you a tour of parts of the fort not usually open to the public. Knowledgeable about everything from antique artillery to elephant howdahs, he is a spellbinding storyteller who has done much to restore this iconic site in recent years.
GO ON A TIGER SAFARI
Wake at dawn, binoculars at the ready, and venture into Ranthambore National Park, one of the best-known places in the world to spot wild tigers. Once the private hunting reserve of the Maharajas of Jaipur, the park (which takes its name from the crumbling 10th-century fort perched on a rocky outcrop at its heart) was designated an animal sanctuary in 1980. While the fortunate might glimpse a Royal Bengal Tiger stretched out on the ramparts in the morning sun, there is plenty of other wildlife to be seen too, including sambar and chital deer, nilgai (an Asian antelope) and wild boar. Antelopes and monkeys cavort in the Mughal ruins and cenotaphs while jackal, mongoose and leopards stalk the forests. The lakes, filled with marsh crocodile, are ideal for viewing the diverse birdlife.
CYCLE AROUND UDAIPUR
One excellent way to explore Udaipur is on two-wheels. Start your day with a gentle ride through the backstreets of the old city, known as Jagdish Chowk after the elaborately adorned temple at its centre. Pass streets lined with elegant old havelis and wind your way through fragrant bazaars selling spices and exotic fruits, livestock and household essentials.
After a stop for a reviving mug of masala-chai, continue along the narrow lanes to the banks of Lake Pichola where local children hurl themselves into the bracing waters in front of the city palace every morning and evening. Finish at Tripoliya Gate for refreshments while taking in the spectacular views of the city. I’m not sure if this is guided?
ENJOY A PRIVATE SUNRISE YOGA SESSION
Rejuvenate your mind, body and soul with a sunrise yoga session at Central Park in Jaipur. As the sun rises and the city awakens, your instructor will guide you through the practice; afterwards enjoy the three kilometre walk around the park’s track. Don’t miss the cluster of sandstone statues which were installed by local artist Sameer Wheaton.
RIDE IN A RICKSHAW
Discover some of the oldest cities in India by using the most traditional form of transport – a rickshaw. Attentive guides will steer you through the hustle and bustle as they point out sights of interest, from architecture to historical landmarks, as well as introduce you to off-the-beaten track highlights. Stop to taste local street food and take photos along the way.
ENCOUNTER ELEPHANTS AT DERA AMER
Owned by a local Rajput family, Dera Amer is an elephant sanctuary in the Aravalli Hills where you can walk with these gentle giants and their mahouts through the Saluwar Forest.
Spend time bathing them (the sanctuary does not support elephant riding) before tucking into a meal of traditional Pushkar dishes.
TAKE A PRIVATE CRUISE ON LAKE PICHOLA
Set sail for a private cruise around tranquil Lake Pichola in Udaipur. A knowledgeable private guide is available to speak about the history of the region, the lake and its four islands: Jag Niwas, Jag Mandir, Mohan Mandir and Arsi Vilas. The highlight is watching the sun set behind the Taj Lake Palace hotel, which sits in the middle of the lake.
JOIN A BOLLYWOOD DANCE CLASS
While Bollywood originated in the 1930s in Bombay (now known as Mumbai), it has seen exponential growth since the turn of the century, with audiences enthralled by charismatic actors delivering choreographed fight scenes, romantic melodrama and historical and mythological epics. Colourful song and dance routines feature heavily, leaving a feel-good factor that can be replicated by creating your own dance routine with a Bollywood expert. Spend an afternoon learning about the history of Bollywood, trying on dance costumes and having a go at some of the basic steps. It's incredible fun and a great activity with children.
GET INVOLVED IN A CHARITY PROJECT
A non-profit NGO, the Salam Balek Trust provides support for the street children of Delhi through education, nutrition, mental health and vocational training. A city walk with a beneficiary of the trust provides a truly fascinating insight into the lives of these remarkable people and the work undertaken by the organisation.