Impressions of the Indian Subcontinent
The Indian Subcontinent is a mesmerising place to visit fuelled as it is by an intoxicating blend of cultures, religions, cuisines and colours, all with a historical backdrop of 5,000 years.
The mighty Himalayas
Its allure lies largely in its incredible diversity; venture here and you will find everything from electric cities and crumbling fortresses to serene backwaters, beautiful beaches, abundant wildlife and dramatic mountain landscapes.
Himalaya by Carol Lawrence
The mighty Himalaya, or ‘adobe of snow’, stretch from Pakistan in the west to the eastern end of Bhutan. From the lower foothills in Northern India to the majestic peak of Mount Everest in Nepal and Tibet, one thing that can be guaranteed are the incredible experiences you will encounter in this melting pot of culture, religions and countries.
Walking in the shadows of the Himalaya takes you close to nature and on my last visit I was lucky enough to trek in the Annapurna Range. The scenery here is staggering and changes at each turn but the local people are equally impressive. Walking past in flip flops as we panted along the mountain trails, it was hard not to wonder at their sheer stamina and fortitude in this harsh environment.
There are plenty of exciting places to visit in the Himalaya, each one as magical as the next, but the warmer temperatures and clearer skies mean that October and November or March and April are the best time of year to visit and trek in Nepal.
The Keralan Backwaters by Stuart Redhead
A Keralan Backwaters cruise along the palm-fringed waterways of the emerald state is an unforgettable experience. Gliding slowly past the Chinese fishing nets, water lilies, lush paddies, traditional villages,grass-topped homes and mile upon mile of coconut groves in a rice boat (or houseboat as they are also known) is a tranquil and enchanting adventure.
A meandering tour down the Backwaters provides a complete picture of local life, the rippling sound of water awakening your senses as you drift along. Stopping off for an overnight stay with a local family gives you the opportunity to experience life along the water’s edge. The hospitality is second to none, the food is traditional and cooked to your tastes. You will simply not want to leave.
Tea Plantations in Darjeeling by Tom Draper
The optimum altitude and topography for growing high quality Darjeeling tea means that visitors to the plantations are also blessed with some stunning views. The steep-sided valleys, pine forests and distinctly Bhutanese and Nepalese influences here make it hard to believe that you are still in India.
A stay in a colonial-era tea planters’ house south of Darjeeling city is a superb way to finish off a tour of the area. Whilst there I tasted a range of locally produced teas with the estate manager and it has certainly given me a new appreciation of the work that goes into producing a really excellent blend.
For ideal temperatures and visibility, Darjeeling is best enjoyed from September to November and February to April. However tea production is on hold during the winter months.
Bhutan: Tsechus by Daniel Smith
Bhutanese festivals or tsechus are staged all over the mountain Kingdom of Bhutan. Teschus are integral to Bhutanese culture and take place everywhere from tiny, isolated villages to some of the country’s largest dzongs (monasteries). People travel from all over the country to celebrate and increasingly, these colourful events are attracting visitors from around the world.
Tsechus are a wonderful way to experience and gain an insight into this unique culture. Whether visiting a large festival or a smaller, more intimate tsechu you will be thrilled with a captivating mix of sound, colour and atmosphere. I’ve organised a number of once-in-a-lifetime trips to Bhutan for clients and they have been so taken with what they saw, that I have arranged for them to return a year later.
It seems Bhutan’s ‘gross national happiness’ is infectious! Large festivals are extremely popular so it is worth planning 9 to 12 months in advance.
Kandy, Sri Lanka: Perahera Festival by Alison Hall
The Escala Perahera festival in Kandy, which happens every August, is the most famous of Sri Lanka’s colourful celebrations. The country’s most sacred relic, one of Buddha’s teeth, is normally kept enshrined within the town’s Dalada Maligawa temple but during the festival it is paraded around the streets with much fanfare. The festival lasts ten days and is a spectacle of elephants, drummers, dancers, chieftains, acrobats, whip-crackers, torch bearers and thousands of pilgrims in procession.
The Perahera gradually becomes longer and more lavish over the ten day period and culminates in a dazzling celebration on the final night led by a cast of hundreds of elephants and thousands of performers. The festival is unparalleled in Sri Lanka and one of the finest spectacles in the Indian Subcontinent.
Rajasthan: Holi by Ben Whitaker
Without doubt Hinduism’s most inclusive festival, Holi, is also known as the “festival of colours”. Famous for the throwing of coloured powders and paints; men, women and children of all ages and castes take to the streets in a spirit of celebration and the party often carries on all day. Whilst some families do still observe Holi as a religious festival, these days t’s primarily a chance for fun, to spend time with family and make new friends.
The festival usually takes place in March although, like many Hindu festivals, its exact date is determined by the lunar calendar. A myriad of stories lie behind the origins of Holi but it is most often associated with the celebration of the fecundity of the land and the coming of spring. Although Holi takes place all over India, rural Rajasthan is probably the best place to experience it – villagers are very welcoming and it’s a great chance to get involved in a truly unique and colourful experience.
North Kerala: Theyyam by Lucinda Paxton
Theyyam is an ancient form of Hindu ritual worship found in northern Kerala which dates back several thousand years. Unlike many forms of Hindu worship it embraces almost all the castes or classes. Ceremonies take place not in temples but at small holy shrines in the countryside and it is not the Brahmin whom the gods choose to incarnate but Dalit (or untouchables, from the lower caste) who are worshipped by the community.
The dancers are meticulously made up with bright face paints and striking mirrored headdresses before captivating the crowds with a trance-like dance with drummers and local musicians creating a feverous atmosphere. The daytime celebrations continue late into the night. Having experienced the magic of Theyyam celebrations myself I would not hesitate to recommend it for those looking for an insight into Indian culture. The Theyyam season runs from December to May and can be experienced from
Tellicherry and Neeleshwar.
Birds by Sophie Tissiman
The Indian subcontinent embraces an exquisite collection of birds and an enormous range of habitats that support indigenous and migratory species extending from the great Himalaya and vast Gangetic plains in North India, through Central India and down to the tropical South.The subcontinent is home to over 1,200 different species of birds and many birders flock to the area every year with Audley.
As a keen birder I have to say seeing the rare Indian skimmer with its scarlet red legs, black cap and tropical orange bill was definitely a highlight for me. India is a bird lover’s paradise where you can enjoy river boat safaris along the calm and placid Chambal waters or kayak along the Tawa reservoir in Satpura. Whatever your interest, be it a particular animal or bird, we can suggest the right time of year, parks and activities to suit you.
Tigers by Abigail Singh
The excitement in the jeep was palpable as we embarked on our first game drive in the National Park. We learnt about the alarm calls of the larger mammals and started to listen for them as we began our pursuit of the tiger. Before long, we heard some increasingly desperate calls of deer and sat in silence not knowing when, or if, the tiger would reveal itself to us. We were transfixed. After 45 minutes of waiting, the tiger came into the light.
We watched as those magnificent stripes slinked in and out of the trees, all of us amazed by its agility and size. We frantically took photos and scrambled for our binoculars to get a better view and, within a minute, the tiger was gone. He was gone from sight but not from our minds. I still think of that sighting as the most genuine and exciting encounter I had with this incredible creature. Most of India’s parks are open from October to June.
Elephants by James Carpenter
Elephants are revered throughout India and play a major role in all aspects of life from religious ceremonies and festivals to assisting labourers in the fields. In the temples of Pondicherry and Tamil Nadu elephants can be seen performing a variety of important tasks including the giving of blessings. Decorated elephants are used in marriage ceremonies and festivals and are usually accompanied by music, dancing and large numbers of people.
An elephant’s life is not all fun though and many are also found at work throughout India, particularly in the rubber plantations of the south. If you wish to experience an elephant ride this can be arranged at the Serenity Hotel in Kerala. Riding an elephant through the local villages and up into the hills often proves to be the highlight of a trip. Elephant rides are also possible at Dera Amer near Jaipur where they are trained to play elephant polo.