The Insiders’ Guide to Travelling Through India

Discover the dizzying diversity of India's north, south and Himalayan regions.
February 2023

India is a country of dizzying diversity — a cornucopia of colour and intrigue, where sensory overload is all part of the fun. Follow your heart down the rabbit hole to a destination of lost kingdoms, sacred temples, stately palaces, rugged forts, spice-laden markets and ancient wisdom. Discover contrasting landscapes, from rolling red dunes to dense jungle, honey-coloured beaches to sultry backwaters, and the formidable peaks of the snow-capped Himalayas. Wherever you go you’ll be followed by the faint scent of cardamon and cloves, a trail of incense and infinite helpings of sweet, cinnamon chai.

Unless you have the time, seeing India in a single trip can be a little tricky and choosing which region to tackle first can be overwhelming. That’s why the experts at A&K are here to help. We recommend dividing the country into the far North including the Himalayas, the general North and the South, and spending more time in each. Read on for the ultimate insiders’ guide to travelling in India.


Northern India’s essential destinations include Delhi, Rajasthan, Agra and Varanasi. All four locations are easy to travel to and offer a world of contrasts.


When discovering northern India, most people begin in Delhi, the heart of Indian civilisation, and the gateway to everywhere else in the north. You can’t come to Delhi without exploring Old Delhi, a tangle of ancient streets and alleyways, filled with chaos and mayhem of the very best kind. The immense culture of Old Delhi offers spectacular pieces of architecture, a mouth-watering variety of food, and a living, breathing piece of history.

Discover meandering streets abuzz with atmosphere and ancient Moghul monuments, including the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Red Fort. Marvel at the ancient ‘havelis’ (mansions), Jain temples and discover Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, one of the most prominent Sikh temples in India. Once you’ve taken in the historical sites, tackle Chandni Chowk Bazaar from the back of a rickshaw. An enduring hub of daily life in Old Delhi, the bustling market sells everything from spices and saris, to antique jewellery and colourful textiles, to lip-smacking street samosas and golden jalebi sweets.

Did you know Delhi is growing an international reputation for its contemporary art scene? We also recommend immersing yourself in the National Gallery of Modern Art, the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art and doing a street art tour.


Next stop, Agra! Simply put: Agra is unmissable. Home to the iconic Taj Mahal, and an abundance of fascinating tombs and mausoleums, no picture could ever do the magnitude, grace and beauty of this Moghul mausoleum justice; it must be experienced in person. The Taj Mahal is the jewel of Muslim art in India, the finest example of Mughal architecture — a blend of Indian, Persian, and Islamic styles — and one of the universally admired masterpieces of UNESCO’s world heritage.

The immense mausoleum of white marble was built by a whopping 22,000 laborers, painters, stonecutters, and embroidery artists, and legend has it that Emperor Shah Jahan built it to immortalise his favourite wife Mumtaz Mahal who died in childbirth in 1631. It is said that her moods are captured by the extraordinary changing hues of the marble at different times of the day. Rise early to watch the first rays of dawn bathe the iconic white façade in a soft white aura. Return at dusk as the last waves of sunset wash it in soft pastels or dramatic oranges and reds.

After taking in the light show, join A&K for an exploration of the spice palate in Agra’s hidden laneways. Embark on a culinary journey with your in-the-know guide through Agra’s best eateries. Follow the aromatic spices as you sample traditional delicacies, from scented fritters to tangy chutneys and colourful sweets on a delicious celebration of north Indian cuisine.


By far, the most glorious state in Northern India is majestic Rajasthan. Every city in Rajasthan is packed with opulent forts and palaces, each with its own distinctive splash of paint: Jaipur is drenched in blushing pinks, Jodhpur is washed in sky blue, and romantic Udaipur is opalescent white. The result is an Indian fairy tale and a vast kingdom of riches. Desert landscapes and dreamy lakes provide a backdrop to shimmering saris, richly coloured turbans and mirror-encrusted bangles. Read on for a brief taste of some of A&K’s insider access experiences in each of these three cities; but you’ll need more than a couple of days!


The gateway to Rajasthan, Jaipur — the Pink City — is a fascinating tapestry of ancient forts, royal palaces and colourful bazaars, the heart of which is an historical 18th century old city, surrounded by giant fortification walls and entered through eight towering gateways. Timeless bazaars are spilling over with vibrant textiles, beautiful pottery and the region’s famed stone-infused and silver jewellery.

In Jaipur, the City Palace continues to house the former royal family. With A&K, take an exclusive tour of the family’s home savouring a rare opportunity to witness the grandeur of royalty in their palace living quarters — an area not accessible to tourists. Marvel at the mirrored glass halls of solid gold and a regal collection of royal art and photography.


Behold, the Blue City, a web of winding, medieval streets fragrant with incense and bazaars selling everything from trumpets to saris. The main attraction is the mighty Mehrangarh Fort — an absolute must-see — sitting in all its splendour on a perpendicular cliff 122 metres above the skyline of the city. Spread over 1,200 acres, and burnished a bright red sandstone, it is rightly known as ‘the Citadel of the Sun’.

With A&K enjoy an exclusive curator-led tour of Mehrangarh Fort as twilight descends, hearing tales of sacrifice and adventure, and basking in the sheer joy of discussing the fascinating collection of artifacts on display with the expert.


The third essential destination in Rajasthan is Udaipur, romantically perched on the stunning blue waters of Lake Pichola, and framed by the deep purple mountains of the Aravalli Range. The architecture here is marbled and white, and takes on a stunning yellow glow under a setting sun. A visit to Udaipur would be incomplete without taking in the stunning setting from the waters of Lake Pichola.

Our insiders’ pick for Udaipur is discovering the city’s lively arts scene. Come with us to learn the rare art of painting on water on a bustling lane in the old town. With A&K this rare art form is revealed on a hands-on visit to the last remaining family practising it — a unique experience in the ‘Venice of the East’.


Varanasi, the city of more than a thousand temples, is a sacred site consisting of 88 ghats that lead down to the banks of the river Ganges — where ritual, prayer, bathing and altered states make for the most captivating people watching you might ever see. This is the spiritual heart of India and occupies a central place in the Hindu traditions of pilgrimage, death and mourning. However, Varanasi is not a place of pathos; to the contrary, it is a place of endless paradox and beauty.

Rise early for a sunrise boat trip as the sacred river comes to life. See pilgrims washing themselves at the bathing ghats and offering their morning prayers to the rising sun. Then, set out to explore the city, which is home to more than a thousand temples and shrines. Wander through the old town with its narrow lanes, bustling markets and vibrant temples.

At dusk, be immersed in an aarti, a prayer led by saffron-robed gurus on the banks of the Ganges. Hear the prayerful hymns and rhythmic drumming, smell the incense and watch hundreds of flowers and candles float downstream, as disciples sway and lantern-bearing priests bid the gods and goddesses a restful slumber.

With A&K, take an insider’s step inside a traditional Akhara, a gymnasium where men of all ages practise a traditional form of wrestling known as ‘kushti’. Then, discover Buddhist art treasures in the Archaeological Museum before watching the talented handloom weavers create exquisite silk saris at a local weavers’ colony.

National Parks

The national parks in India’s North take you deep into the heart of tiger country, where you can view a range of spectacular wildlife, and, if you’re lucky, spot a Bengal tiger.

Our top pick for an unforgettable safari is Ranthambore National Park, which works well if you are taking in the other highlights of Rajasthan. Game drives are well timed to give you optimal viewing opportunities amid Ranthambore's lakes, forests and ruined forts. There’s a wealth of wildlife to spot: keep your camera handy for leopard, deer, wild boar, striped hyena, a variety of monkey and sloth bear, not to mention an orchestra of birdlife. As dusk falls climb up the observation tower for remarkable panoramic views of the surrounding jungle.

The jungles of Kanha National Park are also fantastic — India’s most famous tiger reserve and the inspiration behind Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book. With over 200 bird species, Kanha is an ornithologist’s paradise. You’ll see plenty of langur, the odd gaur (Indian bison) and may also encounter chital, blackbuck, leopard, hyena, sloth bear, barasingha, wild boar, and a lonesome jackal or two.


From the Bay of Bengal to the Arabian Sea, South India is an endless and vibrant sensory feast. Here, the splendid relics of ancient civilisations combine with the confluence of six faiths, to bring you some of the most magnificent architecture, palaces, shrines, forts, temples and ruins on the subcontinent. With its colonial ports, steamy landscapes, tea-covered hills, lazy backwaters and world-famous beaches, it offers a vibrant contrast to the north. From the French influence of Puducherry to the tranquil backwaters of Kerala, the cultural charms of Kochi to the ancient temples and ruins of Hampi, expect a slower pace, extraordinary wildlife, an enthralling history and colonial-influenced culinary delights.


Mumbai is the gateway to the south, a fascinating destination and home to the prolific and world-famous Bollywood industry. Over-flowing with some of the country’s finest culinary hotspots, and an indelible sense of enterprise, Mumbai captivates with classic Indian modernity and densely packed layers of history.

With A&K, witness the real Mumbai at dawn, just like a local, as the sun rises over a city bustling with life. See hundreds of newspaper vendors sort editions printed in seven different languages, witness a one-of-a-kind fish auction, peruse a herb market, watch milkmen pass by on their delivery route and admire the riot of colour at a flower market. Discover a cricket ground where you’ll learn how the game captured the hearts of billions, and discover the famous 140-year-old Dhobi Ghat, India’s human-powered washing machine.

For an entirely different insider’s experience, come with us to experience the madness of Bollywood on a behind-the-scenes film and television tour. Learn to dance Bollywood style, go backstage on a live set, attend a special screening, and record snippets of script in a sound studio — all the while, soaking up insider-news from industry experts along the way.


Cruising the beautiful Kerala backwaters through canals and lagoons on a traditional houseboat is a South Indian rite of passage. The Kerala backwaters offer a glimpse into rural Indian village life, the dreamy palm-lined backwaters home to mangroves and rice paddies in verdant shades of green. As you drift, spot pastel-coloured churches behind swaying coconut palms and local boats plying their trade.

We recommend starting at the village of Alleppey, the gateway to Kerala’s backwaters, a chain of lagoons running parallel to the coast on the Arabian Sea. With A&K, board your private houseboat for an overnight cruise. Float lazily through a timeless landscape of lush paddy fields, brightly coloured houses and boats laden with coir and copra. Soak up the atmosphere as children play along the banks and fisherman reel in their daily catch. In the evening, savour a delicious feast of local cuisine prepared by your onboard chef.


Discovering the magnificent and expansive ruins of UNESCO World Heritage site Hampi, is an absolute must-do for any discerning history and archaeology buff. Hampi boasts a huge cache of ruins, shady palm groves, rich banana plantations and sun-swept paddy fields.

Now a city in ruins, the magical landscape of the Vijayanagara Empire was once the ‘second-largest medieval-era city after Beijing’. Its prosperity attracted traders and artists from far and away, and has continued to attract explorers, history lovers and archaeologists for centuries. Unravel the archaeological mysteries of the Virupaksha Temple, the Vittala temple, the iconic stone chariot, Maha Mantapa, the musical pillars of the Ranga Mantapa and the Elephant Stables, and don’t miss a tour at the remains of the Queen’s sprawling recreational mansion.

With A&K start by participating in a fascinating private lecture on the history and architecture of Hampi — the perfect way to whet your appetite for the adventures to come. For an immersive slice of living culture, come with us on a visit to the brightly coloured nomadic tribe of the Lambanis in their village. See their flamboyant garb of sequins, coins, mirrors and shells along with their trademark bright jewellery and be invited into a home for an authentic home-cooked meal.


Discovering the French colonial town of Puducherry — a new-age spiritual centre with a bohemian spirit — makes a refreshing addition to any journey through the south. Here you’ll find tree-lined streets, mustard-coloured colonial villas and chic boutiques, sun-dappled beaches, and temples and churches in what has been aptly named: the ‘Côte d'Azur of the East’. Perhaps tuck into some delicious French food, do some local shopping, or try your hand at one of the many meditation and yoga classes.

Come with us to the world-renowned Sri Aurobindo Ashram, now home to 1,200 devotees from around the world. The main building houses the mortal remains of Aurobindo and his spiritual collaborator ‘the Mother’ in a marble mausoleum. We also champion a visit to ‘the City of Dawn’, Auroville, an experimental New Age community, that attracts devotees from over 45 nations. Gaze upon the vast and spectacular Matrimandir hall, a huge golden globe used as a meditation centre, and tour the utopian community for a deeper understanding of its colourful bohemian residents.

With A&K, dive into ‘pondi’ culinary history in a Creole cooking class. Accompany your chef to a local marketplace learning how to chat to the vendors, discern fresh local produce, and appreciate the Creole palate, before creating your own delicious lunch dishes. Afterwards feast on your creations before taking a leisurely stroll along the gorgeous promenade at sunset.


Glorious Kochi, Queen of the Arabian Sea, is an atmospheric gem, which flaunts one of the world’s finest natural harbours. The magnificent estuary setting has been drawing traders and explorers for hundreds of years. It is an historic centre of the spice trade and today weaves together colonial influences of Portuguese, Dutch and Chinese.

Without a doubt the most iconic experience to be had in Kochi is a sunset visit to the Fort Kochi fishing village to witness the 15th century Chinese fishing nets. Watch as the fishermen hoist their nets and reveal their catch at the Vasco da Gama Square, a narrow walkway that runs along the Fort Kochi beach. Here, tall vertiginous trees line the promenade, and you can dine on fresh seafood.

Our insiders’ pick at A&K is an enchanting night-time performance of Kathakali, one of the oldest Hindu dance forms. Go behind the scenes to see the elaborate make-up process before the show, then watch this unforgettable art form combining classical dance, theatre, opera and pantomime. Witness the artists’ elaborate billowing costumes, intricately painted faces, flowing scarves, detailed ornaments and majestic crowns.

The Far North (Indian Himalayas)

Venture into India’s far north, where hill stations snuggle into vertiginous jungles, and colossal mountains sit blanketed in clouds. Here magnificent Sikh palaces and colonial architecture vie with tranquil Himalayan villages, impossibly high mountain passes, ancient hidden monasteries of red-robed monks, fluttering Tibetan prayer flags and the gentle tick of spinning prayer wheels.

The far north offers a slower pace, while active types will revel in some of the most stunning rafting, walking and hiking in the world. With the exception of Amritsar, it is also marked by a more temperate climate, making it a welcome reprieve from the heat of the south.

Essential destinations include Amritsar, home to breath-taking Sikh pilgrimage site the Golden Temple, Shimla, the fabled colonial hill station, Dharmshala, home of the Dalai Lama, and jaw dropping Ladakh, arguably India’s Himalayan crown jewel.


Sacred Amritsar, India’s golden city, combines satiating food, generous dollops of legendary Punjabi hospitality, and of course, the staggering Golden Temple. Add the satirical theatrics at the Indian/Pakistani border crossing — a pageant of flamboyant hilarity — and you have an essential destination on any trip to India.

The Golden Temple is utterly spellbinding. A mesmerising blend of Hindu and Islamic architectural styles, made of marble and layered with 500 kg of pure 24-karat of gold, it is perched at the end of a long marble walkway, over what is said to be holy water — Sikh pilgrims come from all around the world to bathe in its revered waters. An evening visit to the Golden Temple for the auspicious Palki Sahib night ceremony is a must-do. Witness the Guru Granth Sahib (Holy Book) being carried from the main shrine to the inner sanctum amid the chanting of hymns. We also recommend rising early to visit the Temple as morning prayers begin. Step inside the communal kitchen to see the Sikh community come together to prepare simple meals for the 35,000 pilgrims who visit the temple daily.

You can't visit Amritsar and NOT go to the Attari Border — where a show-stopping, hilarious and flamboyant parade happens on either side of the Indian and Pakistani border, a symbol of brotherhood and cooperation between the two nations. Take your seat in the stands and feel the rush as you witness the theatrical pageant of soldiers dressed in their ceremonial stilted shoes, uniforms and moustaches, shouting, singing and running with their flags — a joyful celebration of patriotism you won’t find anywhere else in the world.


Swathed in the mist of the Himalayan foothills, Shimla, Queen of the Hills, is undeniably one of the most beautiful hill stations in India. The town is threaded along a steep ridge with woodlands and forested mounds falling away in all directions. Rolling valleys, cobalt lakes, bleeding sunsets, heritage and colonial ambiance all come together to lend this hill station an irresistible charm. Summers are nice and cool and come winter, the town is blanketed in snow.

Shimla is best discovered on foot — cars are banned in the centre — and is famed for its Heritage Walking Tours, exploring its rich colonial history as the former summer capital of the British Raj. The meandering main street, ‘the Mall’, is the nerve-centre of Shimla’s social life, a lively market and food district with delicious Punjabi dishes and a host of stalls selling everything, including handicrafts, knitted woollens, Tibetan jewellery, second-hand books, wooden toys, fresh fruits and vegetables.

A key Shimla attraction is the famous Himalayan Queen train, which has been awarded UNESCO World Heritage status, for a journey deep into the Himalayan foothills. The train travels through 20 hill stations, 102 tunnels and over 889 bridges, and bends round 919 curves, the sharpest being 48 degrees. It slowly ascends the foothills through pine forests and sleepy villages and is a quintessential Himalayan experience.

Active types can revel in trekking, hiking, walking, ice skating, skiing, paragliding, cycling, heli-skiing, river rafting, rock climbing and golfing, season depending.


Dharamshala is known as the home of the Dalai Lama (although he technically lives a few kilometres up the hill in McLeod Ganj) and the centre of Little Tibet. With beautiful views of the snow-capped Dhauladhar mountain range and the pristine Dharamshala valley, seeing his residence is a real highlight. Explore his monastery, Tsuglag Khang, the largest Tibetan temple outside Tibet and home to around 200 monks and nuns. Witness them studying and chanting, be mesmerised by the prayer wheels, colourful décor, and the Tibetan-style architecture.

There’s more to this hill station than the Dalai Lama though. Dharamshala has been a Tibetan settlement since 1959, and the influence on local food is a delight for foodies. From freshly steamed momos to delicious soupy Thukpas, there’s multiple Tibetan menus to try, as well as treasure troves of Tibetan-Indian handicrafts, clothes and jewellery. If active adventure is more your cup of tea, try your hand at any number of activities, including paragliding, rock climbing, ziplining, hiking, fishing and cycling.

With A&K you can visit a traditional nomadic settlement of the Gaddi tribe. Watch the Tibetan artisans and their apprentices as they practise the ancient Buddhist art forms of statue-making, thangka painting and appliqué, as well as woodcarving, tailoring and weaving.


Venture into India’s far-flung northern reaches to Ladakh and experience an extraordinary life amidst the cloud-conquering Himalayas, home to more than 6,500 Tibetans and an enduring Buddhist ambience. Witness the magnificent palaces, colourful markets and rich cultures of Leh, unpeel more layers of life outside Tibet, and drive into the colossal mountains to find ancient hidden monasteries and fluttering prayer flags.

Explore the old city of Leh. Come with us to the nine-storey Leh Palace which dates to the 16th century, a mini version of Lhasa’s famous Potala Palace. Then step inside the beautifully restored workshops and galleries of the LAMO (Ladakh Arts & Media Organisation) Munshi House, parts of which are almost 400 years old. Venture to the 12th century Alchi Monastery, standing proudly on the banks of the mighty Indus River. Then head to beautiful ancient Lamayuru Monastery, perched atop a cliff. Legend has it this region was once under a lake that was made to dry up by a holy man.

Essential, is a drive into the heavens through impressive landscapes over the Khardung La pass, one of the highest stretches of road in the world, keeping an eye out for the local two-humped Bactrian camels. With A&K you’ll stay at the luxurious Chamba Camp in Thiksey, an idyllic meadow setting with views over the Thiksey Monastery, framed by rugged, snow-capped mountains.

Rise early and venture to the nearby Thiksey Monastery, one the most important Buddhist landmarks in the region. Hear the call of the conch and watch the monks gather peacefully for morning prayers. Be mesmerised by the chanting and the beautiful surrounds of the prayer hall, and marvel at the shimmering Maitreya Buddha statue, which stands an impressive 32 metres tall.

A&K’s Award-Winning Luxury Journeys to India

Our India portfolio includes both Tailor-Made Journeys and Luxury Small Group Journeys, with the uber-luxurious Wings Over India by private chartered air. Whether you want to stay in a Maharaja's palace, witness the hustle and bustle of Delhi’s street markets, go on a photo safari in search of a Bengal tiger, take a boat ride down the Ganges or simply kick-back and relax as you cruise the southern backwaters — we combine our singular expertise and decades of in-country experience to create the Indian adventure of a lifetime.

Reach out to our Journey Designers, visit our website or contact your travel agent to learn more and start planning today. Below are just some of our favourites to get you thinking.

9-days Splendours of Rajasthan, from $5,345 pp

Experience a bygone era of emperors and princes in royal Rajasthan. Discover Delhi’s colonial grandeur and delectable cuisine; be awestruck by the perfect symmetry and marbled elegance of the iconic Taj Mahal; explore the dusky magnificence of Jaipur's City Palace; and savour a sunset across the exquisite lake palaces of Udaipur — all while staying in India’s most regal hotels. This is India at its most majestic.

12-days India’s Tiger Lands, from $10,390 pp

Beyond India’s dazzling cities are more than a hundred national parks, teeming with spectacular wildlife and home to the iconic and endangered Bengal tiger — India’s national animal. Discover India’s tiger lands through the eyes of Rudyard Kipling, on your very own jungle adventure. This luxury wildlife journey takes you deep into the heart of tiger country, viewing remarkable feats of nature through daily jungle drives, all while relaxing in the country’s most impressive safari camps.

13-days Ancient India: Legends of the South, from $7,695 pp

Uncover the cultural heritage of Southern India, where the splendid relics of ancient civilisations combine with the confluence of six faiths, to bring you some of the most magnificent architecture, palaces, shrines, forts, temples and ruins on the subcontinent. Uncover breathtaking diversity, from buzzing Mumbai and the cave temples of Ajanta to the extraordinary ruins of Hampi, and onto the delicious culinary delights of Bengaluru — immerse yourself in the legends of the south.

9-days Ladakh: A breathtaking Himalayan Journey, from $6,370 pp

Venture into India’s far-flung northern reaches to Ladakh and experience an extraordinary life amidst the cloud-conquering peaks of the Himalayas. Witness the magnificent palaces, colourful markets and rich cultures of Leh; hike into colossal mountains to find ancient hidden monasteries and fluttering prayer flags; and at the end of each day, stay in the most luxurious villas on the mountain.

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