Incredible India – An Introduction

Incredible India – An Introduction

indiaIndia, where culture echoes, tradition speaks, beauty enthralls and diversity delights. Bounded by the majestic Himalayan ranges in the north and edged by an endless stretch of golden beaches, India is the kaleidoscope of landscapes, magnificent historical sites and royal cities, misty mountain retreats, colorful people, rich cultures and festivities.

The timeless mystery and beauty of India has been waiting for you for 5000 years, always warm and inviting, a place of infinite variety – one that favours you with different facets of its fascination every time you visit India.

Passports and Visas

All foreign nationals require visa to enter India. However, there are some relaxations for Bhutanese and Nepalese nationals. Details and types of visa and the fee may be obtained from the Embassy of India.

Information for trekking and expeditions to India.

1) Where the proposed tour includes any point above 6000 m, visa may be given only after receiving the formal clearance from the Indian Mountaineering Federation.

2) Where the proposed tour is for areas below 6000 m. The visa applications should be accompanied literary indicating days and places to be visited along with their height, a map of the proposed area with the distinct markings of the places to be visited and a copy of the brochure outlining the tour highlights. These details are required to ensure that the proposed tour does not violate the mandatory conditions laid down by the IMF.

Restricted and Protected Areas

Certain parts of the country need special permits before they can be visited.

Nagaland

Foreign Tourists can visit Nagaland In order to promote tourism in the North-east region; the Government of India has decided to allow foreign tourists to visit Nagaland. Until recently the entire state of Nagaland was a restricted area. However the Government of India has decided to allow foreign tourists to visit the districts of Dimapur, Kohima, Mokokchong and Wokha for a maximum period of 10 days and in a group of 4 or more. This restriction of group is not valid for married couples. These permits are issued by the Under Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs, Foreigners Division, Lok Nayak Bhavan, Khan Market, New Delhi 110 003

Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram

These States/Union Territories have been designated as protected areas and foreigners cannot enter these areas without special permits. These permits are issued by the Under Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs, Foreigners Division, Lok Nayak Bhavan, Khan Market, New Delhi 110 003 at least 4 weeks before the date of the expected visit.

Sikkim

Certain areas of Sikkim like Gangtok, Rumtek, Phodang and Zongri in West Sikkim and Pamayangtse have been excluded form the inner line and declared as restricted areas. Individual tourists are permitted to visit Gangtok, Rumtek and Phodang. Tourists are permitted to visit Zongri and Pamayangtse. The duration of stay maximum 15 days. Permits can be issued by all Indian Missions abroad, Immigration Officers at Airports at Mumbai, Calcutta, Chennai and New Delhi.

indiaManipur

Manipur has also been opened to foreign tourists; permits can be issued by all Missions abroad, Home Commissioner, Manipur and Imphal. The duration of stay has been raised from 3 to 5 days. Permits are no longer required for Darjeeling, Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura.

Andaman and Nicobar Islands

Individual foreign tourists can visit Port Blair Municipal Area, Havelock Island, Long Island, Neil Island, Mayabunder, Diglipur, Rangat, where a night halt is allowed and Jolly Buoy, South Cinque, Red Skin, Mount Harriet, Madhuban where only day visits are allowed. Prior permit is necessary.

Lakshadweep Islands

Only Bangaram and Subeli Islands are open to foreign tourists. Permits are required, obtainable from the Lakshadweep Administration, Wellington Island, Harbour Road, Kochi -3, Manipur Loktak Lake, Imphal, Moirang, Keibul Deer Sanctuary and Waithe Lake.

Language

The official language is Hindi in the Devanagri script. The States are free to decide their own regional languages for internal administration and education, so there are 18 official languages spoken throughout the country. English is widely spoken.

Guides

Trained English speaking guides are available at fixed charges at all important tourist centers. The Govt. of India Tourist Offices can be contacted by tourists for the services of approved guides. French, Italian, Spanish, German, Russian and Japanese speaking guides are available at some cities. Please consult the nearest Govt. of India Tourist Office. Unapproved guides are not permitted to enter protected monuments, and tourists are, therefore, advised to ask the guides for the identity card issued by the Department of Tourism, Govt. of India.

Weather and Climate

Hot tropical weather with variations from region to region. Coolest weather lasts from November to mid-March, with cool, fresh mornings and evenings and dry, sunny days. Really hot weather, when it is dry, dusty and unpleasant, is between April and June. Monsoon rains occur in most regions in summer between June and September.

Western Himalayas: Srinagar best from March to October. July to August can be unpleasant; cold and damp in winter. Shimla is higher and therefore colder in v inter and places like Pahalgam. Gulmarg and Manali under several feet of snow (December to March) and temperatures in Ladakh can be extremely cold. The road to Leh is open from June to October.

Northern Plains: Extreme climate, warm inland from April to mid-June falling to almost freezing at night in winter, between November and February. Summers hot with monsoons between June and September.

Central India: Madhya Pradesh State escapes very worst of hot season but monsoons are heavy between July and September. Temperatures fall at night during winter.

Western India: November to February is most comfortable; although evenings can be cold summers can be extremely hot with monsoon rainfall between mid-June and mid-September.

Southwest: The most pleasant weather is from November to March. Monsoon rains between late April and July. Summer temperatures hot as high as Northern India although humidity is extreme.

indiaOpening Hours

These may vary from region to region. All international Hotels have a 24 hours money changing facility.

Time

GMT + 5.5 hours.

Communications

Fax/Telex/Telegram: International 24-hours service from large hotels and telegraph offices in major cities.

Telephone: Telephone calls to most countries are now direct. There are telephone facilities between the most cities and towns. The international direct dialing code for India is 91.

Money

Currency: Rupee = 100 Paisa. Coins are in denominations of 10, 25 and 50 Paisa and l, 2 and 5 Rupees. Notes are in denominations of Rs 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 and 500.

Airport Tax

Passengers embarking on journey to any place outside India will have to pay an airport tax of Rs. 300. For journey to Afghanistan, Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the Maldives = Rs. 150.

Public Holidays

There are many festivals and special events in India, but only a few of these are full public holidays. These are: 26 Jan Republic Day, 15 Aug. Independence Day, 2 Oct. Mahatma Gandhi’s Birthday. For dates of other holidays and festival please contact Tourist Offices in India.

Electricity

Voltage in most places is 220 volts AC, 50 cycles, although some areas also have DC supplies.

Photography

Special permission of the Archaeological Survey of India, New Delhi, is required for use of tripod and artificial light. Photography in the wildlife sanctuaries is allowed on payment of a prescribed fee. Photography is prohibited in tribal areas.

Custom Regulations

All personal objects which are required in India are free from duty. Under this heading falls personal jewelry, presents up to a value of Rs. 600, 200 cigarettes, 50 cigars and 0.95 l alcoholic beverages. Professional material and articles which have a high value can only be imported duty free if the traveler gives a written undertaking that these articles will be re-exported.

Public Holidays

There are many festivals and special events in India, but only a few of these are full public holidays. These are: 26 Jan Republic Day, 15 Aug. Independence Day, 2 Oct. Mahatma Gandhi’s Birthday. For dates of other holidays and festival please contact Tourist Offices in India.

indiaMusic and Dance

Indian music (Hindustani in the north and Carnatic in the south) has been evolving as part of India’s culture for centuries. Aspects of musical from such as tonal intervals, harmonies and rhythmical patterns are the unique products of a wealth of musical traditions and influences; they are also very different from those familiar in the west. Much of the music recalls Indian fables and legends, as well as celebrating the seasonal rhythms of nature. Indian dancing, similarly unique and timeless, is also widely performed throughout the country, either at major festivals and recitals, or at the many cultural shows which are staged in hotels.

The following is a list of the major music festivals in India:

  • Sangeet Natak Akademi – New Delhi.
  • January: Tyagaraja – Tiruvayyaru near Thanjavur.
  • March: Shankar Lal – New Delhi.
  • August: Vishnu Digambar – New Delhi.
  • September: Bhatkhande – Lucknow.
  • October: Sadarang – Calcutta.
  • November: Sur – Singar – Bombay.
  • December: Tansen – Gwalior.
  • Music Academy – Madras.
  • Shanmukhananda – The Music, Dance, and Drama Festival, Bombay.

Festivals and Fairs

The Indian calendar is a long procession of festivals; if you can find yourself in the right place at the right time; it is possible to go through your visit with a festival each day. The harvest festivals of the south, the immersion of Ganesh in Bombay, the car Festival of Puri, snake-boat races in Kerala, Republic Day in Delhi… every region, every religion has something to celebrate. Below is a selection of the major ones, but there are countless others.

January / February:

Sankranti / Pongal: Mainly Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. 3 days and colorful: Tamil harvest festival.

Republic Day: National: establishment of Republic 1950. 26th January. Grand Military Parade and Procession of dancers in Delhi.

Vasant Panchami: National (Mainly in the Eastern region): Hindu – dedicated to Saraswati the beautiful Goddess of Learning. Women wear yellow saris.

Floating Festival: Madurai: Birthday of local 17th century ruler; elaborately illuminated barge carrying decorated temple deities at the Mariamman Teppakulam Pool amides chanting hymns.

February / March:

Shivaratri: National: Solemn worship of Hindu deity, Lord Shiva. Fasting and chanting. Special celebrations at Chidambarum, Kalahasti, Khajuraho, Varanasi and Bombay.

Holi: Mainly northern, popularly called the festival of colors. Advent of spring. Lively and much throwing of colored water and powders.

Mardi Gras: Goa: Mainly three days during lent. Unique celebrations at this carnival.

Ramnavami: National: Birth of Rama, incarnation of Vishnu. No processions. Plays and folk theaters.

Mahavir Jayanti: National: Jain festival; birth of Mahavira, the 24th and last Tirthankara.

Easter: Good Friday / Easter Sunday National.

March / April:

indiaKumbh Mela: The oldest and most important of the Hindu festivals. It takes place every three years, at one of the four great holy cities; Nasik in Maharashtra, Ujjain (MP), Prayag (Allahabad) and Hardwar (both in UP). It is attended by millions of pilgrims who take a holy dip in the sacred Ganges River.

April / May:

Baisakhi: Northern India, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu; Hindu Solar New Year. Bhangra dancing. Women wear yellow saris.

Pooram: Trichur: New Moon. Spectacular sight of large number of elephants carrying ceremonial umbrellas going round the temple; midnight fireworks display.

Id-Ul-Zuha: (Bakrid): Muslim, National: The most celebrated Islamic festival in India, commemorating the sacrifice of Abraham.

Id-Ul-Fitr (Ramzan Id): Muslim, National: Celebration to mark the end of the month of Ramadan.

Meenakshi Kalyanam: Madurai. Marriage of Meenakshi with Lord Shiva. Colorful temple festival. Deities borne by colossal chariot. Ten day festival.

Urs Ajmer Sharif. Ajmer, 6 days. Religious cultural and commercial extravaganza dedicated to the Sufi. Music; no procession.

June / July

Rath Yatra: Mainly Orissa. Greatest temple festival in honour of Lord Jagannath (Lord of the Universe). Three colossal chariots drawn from Puri temple by thousands of pilgrims. Similar festivals, on a smaller scale, take place at Ramnagar (near Varanasi), Serampore (near Calcutta) and Jagannathpur (near Ranchi).

July / August

Teej: Rajasthan- Particularly Jaipur: Procession of the Goddess Parvati to welcome monsoon; elephants, camels, dancers etc. Women wear green saris. Colorful.

Raksha Bandhan: Northern and Western India. Legendary reenactment, girls tie rakhis or talismen to men’s wrists. Colorful build up.

Naag Panchami: Mainly Jodphur, Rajasthan and Maharashtra. Dedicated to the green thousand-headed mythical serpent called Sesha. The day is also observed in many other parts of Western and Eastern India.

Amarnath Yatra: Hindu: Lidder Valley, Kashmir at full moon. Pilgrims visit the place where Lord Shiva explained the secret of salvation to his consort Parvati.

August / September

Independence Day: (15th August). National: Independence Day. Prime Minister delivers address from Delhi’s Red Fort.

Janmashtami: National, particularly Agra, Bombay and Mathura; Lord Krishna’s birthday.

Onam: Kerala’s Harvest Festival; spectacular snake boat races in many parts of Kerala.

Ganesh Chaturthi: Mainly Pune, Orissa, Bombay, Madras, dedicated to elephant-headed God Ganesh. Giant models of the deity processed and immersed in water. Colorful, and a particularly worth visiting on the Day of immersion at Bombay.

September / October

Dussehra: National: The most popular festival in the country, celebrated in different ways in different parts of the country. In the north and particularly in Delhi (where it is known as Ram Lila), plays and music recall the life of Rama; in Kulu, the festival is also very colorful celebrated. In Bengal and many parts of Eastern India it is known as Durga Puja, and in the South as Navaratri.

Fair, Himachal Pradesh: Kulu Valley to coincide with Dussehra (10 days).

Gandhi Jayanti: National: Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday. No processions.

Diwali: National: One of the most lively and colorful festivals in India. In some parts, it marks the start of the Hindu New Year. In Eastern India, the goddess Kali is particularly worshipped; elsewhere, it is Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity, who is venerated. Everywhere there are magnificent illuminations and fireworks.

Gurpurab: Mainly in northern India. Anniversaries of ten gurus, spiritual teachers or preceptors of Sikhism. No procession.

November

Muharram: Muslim. Commemoration of Imam Hussain’s martyrdom. Tiger dancers lead processions of colorful replicas of martyr’s tomb. Colorful, particularly at Lucknow.

Bihar: Largest cattle fair in the world; 1 month Sonepur, Patna; on banks of the Ganges.

Pushkar Mela: Pushkar, near Ajmer, Rajasthan. Important and colorful. Camel and cattle fair, attended by Rajputs from miles around. Camel races and acrobatics etc.

December

Christmas Day: National: Most exuberantly celebrated in Goa, Bombay and Tamil Nadu.

Entertainment

Entertainments of various kinds are found in the major cities, including some western-style shows, clubs and discos. In general the evening entertainment available will provide a relaxing opportunity to experience come of the country’s rich cultural heritage. In most places, the main attraction will be cultural shows, featuring performances of Indian dance and music, exhilarating, graceful and colorful. Enquire at your local hotel for details. The Indian film industry is the largest in the world, now producing 3 times as many full-length feature films as the United States. Bombay and Calcutta are the country’s two Hollywood. There are cinemas in almost every town, some of which will show an important part of Indian cinema, combining with many other influences to produce a rich variety of film art. Larger cities may have theaters staging productions of English-language plays.

Hill Stations

Hill stations are popular as resorts among both Indians and visitors, providing a relaxing and salubrious retreat from the heat of the plains. The map below gives the location of both the well known and the less well-known stations. There follows a brief description of some of the facilities available. Further information on some of the places mentioned here many are found by consulting the Conducted Tours section above or the Trekking section below;

india

Kashmir: Srinagar-Pahalgam. Gulmarg, Leh and Ladakh, Sonamarg, Kokemag, Batote.

Himachal Pradesh: Shimla, Kufri, Kulu, Manali, Dalhousie, Dharamshala, Nahan, Paonta Saheb, Keyling, Chamba, Kangra.

Uttar Pradesh: Nainital, Almora, Ranikhet, Mussoorie, Dehra Dun, Landsdown.

West Bengal: Daijeeling, Kalimpong, Mirik, Kurseong.

Meghalaya: Shillong.

Sikkim: Gangtok.

Tamil Nadu: Ootacamund (Udagamandalam), Kodaikanal, Coonoor; Kotagiri, Coorg.

Karnataka: Mercara, Keman-gudi.

Madhya Pradesh: Chikal Dhara, Pachmarhi.

Maharashtra: Mahabaleshwar Panchgani, Panhala, Matheran, Lonavala, Khandala.

Rajasthan: Mount Abu.

Gujarat: Saputara.

Kerala: Ponmundi, Munnar.

Andhra Pradesh: Horsely Hills.

Bihar: Netarhat.

World Heritage Sites India

india1983 Ajanta Caves
1983 Ellora Caves
1983 Agra Fort
1983 Taj Mahal
1984 Sun Temple, Konarak
1985 Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram
1985 Kaziranga National Park
1985 Manas Wildlife Sanctuary
1985 Keoladeo National Park
1986 Churches and Convents of Goa
1986 Group of Monuments at Khajuraho
1986 Group of Monuments at Hampi
1986 Fatehpur Sikri
1987 Group of Monuments at Pattadakal
1987 Elephanta Caves
1987 Brihadisvara Temple, Thanjavur
1987 Sundarbans National Park
1988 Nanda Devi National Park
1989 Buddhist Monastery at Sanchi
1993 Humayun’s Tomb
1993 Qutb Minar and its Monuments, Delhi
1999 Darjeeling Himalayan Railway
2002 Mahabodhi Temple Complex at Bodh Gaya
2003 Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka

Wildlife Sanctuaries

The Indian peninsula is a continent in itself, whose geographical diversity has encouraged the flourishing of a whole range of wildlife with over 350 species of mammals and 1200 species of birds in the country. While there is an overlap in the habitats of many species, each region has something special to offer – the hangul is restricted to the valley of Kashmir in northern India, the rhino is found in North-East states of India and pockets along the Brahmaputra river area, the black langur in the western ghats, and western India is the home of the last remaining Asiatic Lions. Two of India’s most impressive animals, the Bengal/Indian Tiger and the Asiatic Elephant are found in most regions; The tiger originated in Central Asia and migrated over the great Himalayas to the dense tropical forests, adapting itself well to the plains.

A herd of elephants in the wild is a breathtaking sight. These huge mammals are respected by all animals, including the Tiger. Widely distributed throughout India, the Indian Elephant is slightly smaller than its African counterpart. Generally, only the males have tusks. Today, most of India’s wildlife finds refuge in over two hundred sanctuaries and parks around the country. The following section gives a brief description of some of the more important of these. The accommodation often needs to be booked in advance, either by direct application to the hotel, rest house etc. concerned, or through the local State TDC or the controlling authority of the respective park. Brochures giving further information may be obtained from Government of India Tourist Offices.

Beaches

India’s coast is decked with some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. From endless stretches of golden sand to palm-fringed coves, India offers the visitor the ideal beach holiday. Both well known resorts, such as Goa, Kovalam, and several intriguing lesser-known beaches are listed below. Hotel facilities and accommodation are also indicated.

Goa: Calangute, Baga Beach, Colva Beach. Five star hotels with private beaches: Fort Aguada Beach resort, Oberoi Bogmalo beach and Cidade de Goa. Reasonably priced hotels, Tourist Cottages, Tourist Resort and Youth Hostels. Majorda Beach Resort.

Mumbai: Juhu Beach Resort. Five star hotel complex, including beach cottages, Halcyon Castle, Kovalam Palace Hotel. Hotel Samudra, Kerala Tourism Development Corp.

Kovalam: Ashok Beach Resort. Five-Star-Hotel. Halcyon Castle, Kovalam Palace Hotel. Hotel Samudra (KTDC).

Chennai Region Coyelong: Fisherman’s Cove

Mamallapuram (Chennai): Shore cottages by the shore temples. Mamallapuram Beach Resort.

Puri: 3 and 4 star hotels Tourist Bungalows, Youth Hostels. Major Hindu pilgrim centre.

Gujarat: Tithal, Ubhrat, Hajira, Diu (UT), Daman (UT), Chorwad, Dahan, Dwarka. Cheap hotels, Holidays Home.

Maharashtra: Off Bombay, Madh, Marve, Manori. Cheap hotels. Murud Janjira. Holiday Home. Erangal.

Goa: Karwar, Ankola, Gokama, Honnavar, Bhatkal.

Karnataka: Ullal (smaller beach resort, Summer Sands, Cottages). Udupi (Hindu pilgrim centre), Mahe, (UT) Mangalore.

Kerala: Cannanore, Quilon, Varkala.

Tamil Nadu: Kanya Kumari, Tiruchendur, Rameswaram, Karikal (UT), Pondicherry (UT).

Andhra Pradesh: Mypad, Machilipatnam, Manginipundi, Bheemunipatnam.

Orissa: Gopalpur on Sea, Oberoi Hotel, Tourist. Bungalows

West Bengal: Digha, Reasonably.

Note: UT Union Territory.

Visiting Places

Museums in IndiaJammu and Kashmir

Jammu and Kashmir is India’s northernmost state, and the one which is best known for trekking. It is an extravagantly beautiful land of flower spangled meadows, wild orchards, spectacular coniferous forests, icy mountain peaks and clear streams and rivers. The capital, Srinagar, is the base for many treks, notably to the blue Zabarwan Hills and Shankaracharya Hill. The three other main bases in J and K are Pahalgam (100 km from Srinagar) in the Lidder Valley, the base for treks to sacred Amarnath, Aru, Lidderwat and the glacial lakes of Tarsar and Tulian; Gulmarg (51 km from Srinagar), from where treks can be made to the crystal tarns of Apharwat and Alpather, the upland lakes of Vishansar and Gangabal and the Thajiwas Glacier; and Sonamarg, in the Sindh Valley, the base for treks into the surrounding mountains. Srinagar is also the road head for trips into the arid plateau of Ladakh, a country of perpetual drought, the home of wild asses and yaks and with high ranges that have some of the largest glaciers in the world outside the polar regions. Leh, the divisional capital, lies on an ancient silk route and is the base for spectacular treks across this remarkable landscape. Further south, excellent trekking may be had in the vicinity of Jammu, the railhead to the Kashmir Valley. The three main centers are Kishtwar, Doda and Poonch.

Himachal Pradesh

The landscape of this province ranges from the barren rocks and raging torrents of the valleys of Spiti and Lahaul in the north to the southern orchard country of Kangra and Chamba. Treks from Manali include the Bhaga river to Keylong, and then on to the Bara Shigri glacier or over the Baralacha Pass to Leh (see above). Kulu, in the centre of the province, is set in a narrow valley between the towering Himalayas and the river Beach, and is famous for its temples and religious festivals. Treks from here traverse terraced paddy fields and on to remoter regions of snow and ice. The view from the Rohtang Pass is particularly spectacular. The town of Dharamsala, in the Kangra Valley area, is the base for treks into the Bharmaur Valley over the Indrahar Pass, and on to other still higher passes beyond. Chamba, situated on a mountain above the Ravi River, is named after the fragrant trees which flourish around its richly carved temples. Treks from the nearby town of Dalhousie lead to the glacial lake of Khajjiar and to the passes of Sach and Chini. Simla, the summer capital of the British, is a high hill station and the base for treks into Kulu Valley via Jalori Pass and on to the Kalpur and Kinnaur Valleys.

Garwhal

Set high in the Garhwal Himalayas, this region (which is sometimes referred to as the Uttarakhand) abounds in myths and legends of the Indian Gods. It is also where the source of the life-giving Ganga is to be found; indeed, many of the great rivers of northern India have their headwaters in this land of lush valleys and towering snow-ridged peaks. Mussoorie, a hill station much used by the British to escape the searing heat of the plains, is an excellent base for treks into the Gangotri and Yammounotri valleys. The source of the Ganga at Gaumukh can also be reached from here. Another hill station, Rishikesh, is situated just north of the sacred city of Hardwar, and is the base for treks to another holy shrine, Badrinath. A particularly rewarding stop en route to Badrinath is the breathtaking Valley of Flowers, which is in full bloom in August. Other destinations include Hemkund lake, Mandakini Valley and Kedarnath, one of the twelve Jyotirlings of Lord Shiva with a beautiful temple.

Kumaon

This region, which stretches from the Himalayas in the north to the green foothills of Terai and Bhabar in the south, consists of the three northeastern Himalayan districts of Uttar Pradesh, all of which are particularly rich in wildlife. One of the major trekking centers is Almora, an ideal base for treks into pine and rhododendron forests with dramatic views of stark, snowcapped mountains, The Pindiri Glacier and the valley of Someshwar can be reached from here. Another base is Nainital, a charming, orchard-rich hill station. It is the base for short treks to Bhimtal, Khurpatal and Binayak Forest. Ranikhet, with a magnificent view of the central Himalayas, is the base for treks to Kausani. The view from here is one of the most spectacular in India, and inspired Mahatma Gandhi to pen his memorable commentary on the Gita-Anashakti Yoga.

Darjeeling and Sikkim

Dominated by the five summits of mighty Kanchenjunga, the Darjeeling and Sikkim area of the Eastern Himalayas is also a region of gentle hills and dales, pine forests, turquoise lakes and burbling streams. One of the best ways of arriving in the area is by the “toy train” from New Jalpaiguri. The town of Darjeeling is the home of the Everest climber Tenzing Norgay and also of the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, and is the base for both low- and high-level treks. Destinations include Tiger Hill (offering a breathtaking view of the Himalayas), Sandakphu and the peaks of Phalut, Sandakphu, Singalia and Tanglu. To the north, Sikkim is a wonderland of ferns and flowers, birds and butterflies, orchids and bamboos, forests of cherry, oak and pine, all set among sweetly flowing rivers, terraced paddy fields and blazing rhododendrons. Deep in the interior are Sikkim’s famous monasteries, their white prayer flags fluttering against a deep blue sky. The capital is Gangtok, a convenient base for treks into the mysterious north and east of the region, to sacred Yaksum, Pemayangtse and the mountains near Bakkhim and Dzongri.

Aravalli Hills

The Aravallis, remnants of the oldest mountain range in the subcontinent, resemble outcroppings of rocks rather than mountains and are virtually barren except for thorny accacias and date palm groves found near the oases. The main resort in the region, Mount Abu, stands on an isolated plateau surrounded by rich green forest. A variety of one day treks are available from here, all of which afford the opportunity to visit some of the remarkable temples in the region, notably Arbuda Devi Temple, carved out of the rock face and offering spectacular views across the hills. Guru Shikhar, Gaumukh and Achalgarh Fort can all be reached during one day treks from Mount Abu.

Satpura Hills

This range straddles central India and forms the northern border of the Deccan. The main hill station is Pachmarhi, a beautiful resort of green forest glades and deep ravines overlooking red sandstone hills. Short treks can be had from here to the Mahadeo Dhupgarh peaks.

Western Ghats

The Western Ghats run parallel to the west coast of India from the river Tapti to the southernmost tip of the subcontinent. The mountains are lush and thickly forested and although they cannot claim to have the awesome majesty of the great Himalayas the region has many features of great natural beauty. The hill station of Mahabaleshwar, in the north of the range, is the highest in the area and is considered an ideal base for trekkers. Other popular bases and trekking destinations include Lonavala, Khandala, Matheran and Bhor Ghat, a picturesque region of waterfalls, lakes and woods. Further south in Karnataka is Coorg, perched on a green hilltop and surrounded by mountainous countryside. Madikeri is a take-off point for treks in this region. The Upper Palani hills in Tamil Nadu are an offshoot of the Ghats covered in rolling downs and coarse grass. Kodaikanal is the attractive base for two short treks to Pilar Rock and Green Valley View. Courtallam, also in Tamil Nadu, is surrounded by dense vegetation and coffee and spice plantations; rich in wildlife, it is also one of the most beautiful areas of the Western Ghats.

Nilgiris

The gentle heights of southern India, a world away from the daunting Himalayas, are friendly and approachable with treks made simple by moderate altitudes and a pleasant climate. Sometimes known as the Blue Mountains because of their lilac hue, they are noted for their orange orchards, tea gardens, wooded slopes and tranquil lakes. There are three major trekking centers here: Ootacamund (popularly known as Ooty) is the base for walks to the Wenlock Downs, the Kalahatti Falls and Mudumali Game Sanctuary; Coonor, conveniently situated for Drogg’s Peak and Lamb’s Rock; and Kotagiri, the oldest of the three, whose sheltered position enables it to offer many shaded treks to explore the tranquility of the Nilgiris.

West Bengal

Calcutta, three hundred years old, traces its history to the landing of Robert Clive on the banks of the Hooghly beside three villages. It was from here the monumental British Raj was launched in India. The capital of West Bengal, Calcutta is the major entry point. If Delhi is the elegant capital of the nation, and Bombay its major industrial city, then Calcutta ranks as the intellectual capital. Poets, thinkers and film directors of international renowned hail from this city where avant garde plays and art exhibitions go on show practically every day of the year. Calcutta was the first headquarters of the East India Company, and some of its best known monuments were built by this British trading house. However, the city has, within its 300 years’ history, hosted other communities both from other parts of India as well as abroad – Chinese, Armenians, Jews – all of whom have left their imprint in pockets of Calcutta. Sightseeing in this fascinating city includes Raj Bhawan, the residence of the Governor of Bengal; Victoria Memorial, the city’s landmark; Botanical Gardens, which are notable for the oldest banyan tree, and orchid house; Armenian Church; Marble Palace, one family’s collection of memorabilia; and the Birla Planetarium. Darjeeling, the state’s most popular hill resort, is a slice of England 2,134 metres above sea level. Surrounded by tea gardens growing the prized leaf known as Darjeeling, the little town faces some of the Himalayas highest peaks. Darjeeling is an abrupt variation from the lowlands of West Bengal. Buddhism, being a major faith here, Darjeeling and the nearby town of Kalimpong has, between them, several Buddhist monasteries, chiefly of the Yellow Hat sect.

Kolkata

Grown from mangrove swamps, Calcutta is the largest metropolis in India. Calcutta’s role in the national economy is of crucial importance as the Gateway to Eastern India. Ships were the beginning of Calcutta’s history and the river Hoogly was the key to the city’s fortunes.

Sundarban

A thrilling cruise through the largest estuarine delta in the world and the biggest colony of the `Royal Bengal Tigers’ – the Sundarbans. These evergreen mangrove forests pulsate with myriad forms of life. Above the Kingfisher and White-bellied Sea eagle add a brilliant burst of color. The sea creeps in at high tide. The forests float. The ebbing waters reveal nature so alive on the glistening mud flats. The land is split by numerous rivers and water channels all emptying into the Bay of Bengal. Venture further to discover a rich tribal folklore. It is believed that Bonbibi, the goddess of the forest, protects the wood-cutters, honey-collectors and fishermen on their hazardous missions. For, as the saying goes, `Here the Tiger is always watching you’. Delta-forest is home of the Royal Bengal Tiger. The Ganges, which is rightly known as the Ganga, carries silt and fertility from its ice-melt sources in the high Himalayas, through the lush plains of India, past the riverine port of Calcutta. Here, however, it is no longer the Ganga because it has become one of the major distributaries. For, in the flat grey-clay lands of Bengal, the great river splits into numerous channels, dividing and sub-dividing like the roots of a tree, till it pours through many mouths into the Bay of Bengal.

Between Calcutta and the final outpouring of the river are the lands knows as The Sundarban: literally, the Beautiful Forests. Some people believe that they could,” however, have got their name from the profusion of Sundari trees. These forests are extremely dense, often impenetrable, fringed by mangrove jungles and are one of the most intriguing wildernesses on earth. Most journeys through these humid forests are done by boat, and it is a fascinating trip. Fishermen’s boats, like black scimitars, drift past, spreading nets for the fish that teem in these rich waters. Near the delta villages the clay is relieved by green vegetation. When the tourist ferry stops, occasionally, visitors walk ashore on palm- and-bamboo jetties to enter forest areas fenced in by bamboo corrals. Fiddler crabs extend their cherry-red claws out of their mud burrows; curious, air- breathing, mud skipper fish climb the stilt roots of the mangroves on their flipper-like fins, viewing intruders with pop-eyed amazement. Tribes of honey gatherers live in these dark forests. They believe that the giant, saline water drinking Royal Bengal Tigers always attack from the rear and so they wear masks on the backs of their heads. This is why a posse of armed policemen accompanies all visitors who venture into these beautiful forests. Other wild creatures which lucky visitors might see are spotted deer, boar, monkey, crocodile, python, Salvador lizards, and a wide range of water birds.

Jaldapara Sanctuary

Jaldapara Wild Life Sanctuary situated in Alipurduar Sub-Division of Jalpaiguri district in West Bengal was constituted in the year of 1941 for the protection of wild life, particularly single horned Rhinos. River Torsha runs through this riveraine forest sanctuary which is mostly covered with tall grasses. The wild life, in addition to the famous single horned rhinos, consists of Royal Bengal Tigers, wild elephants, deers, swamp deers, hog deers, wild pigs, bisons and a number of birds, pea-fowl etc.

Shantiniketan

An International University founded by Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore where the cultures of the East and the West could meet and mingle. Named Vishva-Bharati, the University represents Indian traditions while incorporating the best of other cultures. Shantiniketan, the abode of peace, was initially an Ashram or hermitage founded in 1863 by Maharishi Devendranath Tagore. In 1901 his son, Rabindranath converted it into an experimental open-air school with just five students. It proved a success. He widened the scope of studies which gradually formed the nucleus of a University. Another interesting feature about Santiniketan is that splendid sculptures, frescoes, murals and paintings of Rabindranath, Nandlal Bose, Ramkinkar, Bindobehari Mukhopadhyaya and others adorn the campus.

Vishnupur

Terracotta, metal ware and temples characterize Vishnupur. The temples are built mostly of brick and at times, of literate. Clay and literate are the only building materials available here besides wood and bamboo. The architecture is modeled on the pattern of Bengali huts built of bamboo and mud and roofed with thatch. Vishnupur will remain ever famous for its distinct style of music, i.e. the Vishnupur Gharana, if not anything else. The name of Jadu Bhatt, the music teacher to Rabindranath Tagore, is remembered with respect to this day. A discerning visitor may find traces of the past splendor and glory that was Vishnupur in its superb temples and unique handicrafts.

Sagardweep (Sagar Island)

Gangasagar Mela, the largest fair in west Bengal held near the confluence of the Ganga and the Bay of Bengal, draws millions of pilgrims from all over India. They come for a holy dip on Makar Sankranti (last day of the Bengali Month) Negha -Mid January) and after their obligations at the Kapilmuni Temple nearby.

Kurseong

Situated at an altitude of 2458 metres (4860 feet), Kurseong is 51 kms from Shiliguri and 30 kms from Darjeeling. The word Kurseong means the place of White Orchid. Because of its lower elevation, Kurseong enjoys a milder and very healthy climate throughout the year. Kurseong means the places of White Orchid. Because of its lower elevation, Kurseong enjoys a milder and very healthy climate throughout the year.

Kalimpong

Just 51 kms east of Darjeeling is situated the picturesque town of Kalimpong, the former headquarters of the Bhutanese Governor. Situated at an altitude of 1250 metres between the Deolo and Durbindra Hills, Kalimpong is an ideal place for a quiet holiday amidst gently rolling hills and deep valleys at the foot of the mighty Himalayas.

Durgapur

Durgapur projects an image of an industrialized India. It is the third integrated steel plant of Hindustan Steel Limited and occupies an area of 6.47 sq. kms. Founded under the Colombo Plan Mission which visited India in April, 1955, the plant has been instrumental in changing the rural face of Durgapur into a vast industrial complex comprising public and private sectors.

Digha

Beach-on-the-bay of West Bengal, Digha, has the whispery, languid, soft-focus, charm which is so graciously Bengali: sighing casuarinas, ponies nodding on the beach, prolonged meals in the flavorsome sweet-and-salt idiom of the state and timeless days and nights of nothing to do but unwind and find you.

Buxa Tiger Reserve

Buxa Tiger Reserve was set up in the year of 1982-83 at the north eastern corner of West Bengal bordering Bhutan and Assam. This picturesque reserve with its prodigious Terai, Bhabar as well as Hilly landscape is dissected by numerous rivulets. It’s declared a National Park in January 1992. The veritable flora and fauna of these wet forests having an annual downpour exceeding 5000 mm, attracts tourists and nature lovers every year. This part of the country is characterized by its high degree of plant and animal bio-diversity where 60% species are endemic to the area. The Generic diversity of mammals is second highest among all the tiger reserves of India. Astonishing bio-diversity of animals comprise of a reach avifauna of more than 230 identified species, 67 mammals (out of which 21 are endangered), 36 species of reptiles (10 numbers are endangered). Apart from Bengal Tiger the flagship species, there are plenty of Leopard, Fishing Cat, Leopard Cat, Jungle Cat, Indian Civet, Palm Civet, Wild Dogs, Malayan Giant Squirrels, Mongooses, Asian Elephant, Gaur, Small Claws Otter, Chital, Sambar, Barking Deer, Hog Deer, Wild Buffalo, 3 varieties of Pythons, Monitor Lizard and a host of land tortoises. A number of animals like Chinese Pangolin. Regal Python (reticulate) Clouded Leopard is endemic to the region.

The Avifauna is rich in both endemic as well as migratory species. The swift rivers of Rydak and Jainti are visited by Trans Himalayan Migratory Goosanders, the beautiful Ibis Bill, resident Fork-tails, varieties of Red-stars, Wag-tails; the Narathali Lake is visited by migratory Common Teal, Gargani Teal, Large Whistling Teal, and White Eyed Poacher etc. The Hornbills including greater Pied Hornbill abound the area. One of the rarest birds of India the Black-necked Crane has been sighted in the Reserve during the early winter. The migratory beautiful Black Stork is a visitor of the area. The monsoon ends and beautiful Minivets, Sultan tits arrive, during summer rare Ashyminivet is also sighted.

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