The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway is a little blue train that zigs, zags, loops and winds through some of the most towering, beautiful land on earth. It was opened in 1881 and today is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, connecting Darjeeling to New Jalpaiguri. The train departs from the historic Darjeeling station, taking passengers on short tourist routes or “joy rides” to Ghum, the highest railway station in India at 7,407 feet above sea level, or on longer routes amid lush forest, across soaring hills, around tea plantations and through small villages. This railway line was an impressive feat of engineering when it was built, climbing as it does through the hugely steep terrain with a two-foot narrow rail gauge and track layout that was innovative and highly effective. It had a significant influence on the social and economic development of the region; passengers can still see the local population interact with the train as it shares the road with cars, buses, donkeys, bikes and other manner of transport for long stretches of the full six- to seven-hour journey. Sit back and watch the foothills and steep sloping valleys of the Himalayas pass by. If it is a clear day, you might catch a glimpse of the mighty snowcapped tip of Kanchenjunga. Stretch your legs at the scheduled station stops and refresh with sweet chai and fried pakoras. All aboard.
WHEN TO GO: The heat and colorful flourish of spring are the best time to sightsee in the Himalayan foothills. Book your trip in the months of March to May.
FOR KIDS: This activity is safe and enjoyable for children of all ages, but take standard precautions for children 6 and under. Train requires patience, as children will be sitting in a seat for the duration of the ride; so consider this for children who are more active and spirited.
The stark beauty of the Zanskar and Indus Valleys of Ladakh is — quite literally — breathtaking, perched as it is in the high altitude desert of the Tibetan Plateau near mighty rivers that descend from the record-setting peaks of the Karakoram and Himalayan ranges. To explore this otherworldly landscape is to step out of modernity altogether in the most inviting way. Dotted with towering Buddhist monasteries and ancient village settlements set among oases of swaying poplar trees, a walk along the well-worn trails here is an authentic escape to a fascinating ancient Buddhist culture still thriving in a land that time forgot. Only open to tourists since the 1970s, Ladakh still feels a bit like it is located at the end of the world: off the beaten path, and serenely beautiful. Yet a warm welcome of ‘julehy’ is assured everywhere — a cheerful magic Ladakhi word that seems to mean everything from hello, to goodbye, to good to meet you, how are you and thank you. The best time to visit is during the summer when the weather is dry and sunny at this altitude; take a day or two to acclimatize to the thinner air and then head for the hills. Visitors are rare in some of the more remote monasteries, but the resident monks are usually happy to welcome them with a cup of Tibetan-style butter tea.
WHEN TO GO: Visit Ladkah from March to May, as its beauty is most richly seen and experienced when its peaks, ranges, and many rivers and channels are replete with lush green.
A journey by Indian Royal Enfield motorbike along the approximate 270-mile Srinagar-Leh Highway is one of the greatest drives on Earth. Make the trip during summer, when the road isnʼt closed due to snow, for a thrilling and satisfying engagement with the spectacular landscape. Begin in Leh, the Himalayan capital of Ladakh in the high-altitude desert landscape of the Tibetan Plateau. Continue on through the Indus Valley, home of ancient Buddhist monastic complexes called gompas that dot the hillsides en route to Nimoo, where the clear water of the Indus meets the silt-laden glacial melt of the Zanskar River. From here, the road climbs steadily westward past the crumbling Basgo fort and Alchi, Rizong and Likir monasteries to moonland, the surreal landscape around the quiet village of Lamayuru. After navigating the Buddhist prayer flag-festooned Fotu La and Namika La passes, descend past Mulbekh Monastery, featuring a magnificent rock-carved depiction of the “future Buddha.” Stop for the night in the nearby city of Kargil, where there are plenty of hotels, before the final dramatic ascent over the breathtaking Zoji La pass. Once descending into the lush forested valley of Sonamarg, the route draws to a close in Srinagar, on the tranquil shoreline of Dal Lake in the Vale of Kashmir.
WHEN TO GO: One of the most beautiful drives in all of India should be done when the road isn’t closed off due to snow. Take your trip in the months of April-June, after the snowfall melts and before monsoon season begins.
Until the 19th century, Coorg was ruled over by a clan of Kodagu rajas w...
Until the 19th century, Coorg was ruled over by a clan of Kodagu rajas who deliberately kept the hill country devoid of roads, successfully relying on narrow jungle trails between settlements to discourage invasion. Today, cyclists flock to the well-used trails for easy one-day rides from Madikeri, the region’s hill station capital, to the Indo-Saracenic-style Raja’s Tomb and Abbi Falls. Longer rides are easy to arrange and lead far up into the misty peaks, past mighty waterfalls and forest temples that offer visitors food, shelter and warm Kadava hospitality.
WHEN TO GO: Hit the bike trails from April to June, when the weather is warm and the forests provide welcoming green shade and a lush setting.
The flat plains of India’s deep south are perfect for a pedal-powered ...
The flat plains of India’s deep south are perfect for a pedal-powered adventure. A land of swaying coconut groves and glistening rice terraces, it also features ancient temple towns that date back to the great Chola and Pallava Dynasties of the first millennium. The vast temple complexes hold sacred halls, chambers and courtyards, all enclosed by gopuram towers that are decorated with three-dimensional collages of Hindu deities. Cyclists can stop for sweet, milky coffee at the many roadside stalls, and enjoy vegetarian feasts served thali style on generous platters near the temples.
WHEN TO GO: Take in the Hindu scenery as you bike through the temple towns in April through July. Go when the weather is delightful, before monsoon season.
Camel safaris depart from the sandcastle-like citadel of Jaisalmer risin...
Camel safaris depart from the sandcastle-like citadel of Jaisalmer rising from the Thar Desert. Some trips last several days, following ancient camel train routes to the distant city of Bikaner. Along the way are villages of candy-colored houses, where sari-clad women and Rajput men sporting turbans and sculpted moustaches herd cattle and goats into the dusty horizon. Overnight rides might lead to the cenotaphs of Mool Sagar and the Sam Sand Dunes, where a night out under the stars can include live music around a campfire.
WHEN TO GO: Head to the dunes in April to June, when the camels enjoy desert walks. Make sure to take advantage of trekking during the sunset hours and visiting the nearby villages.
Take a peaceful walk through Maharashtra’s lake district, situated in ...
Take a peaceful walk through Maharashtra’s lake district, situated in the Western Ghats between Pune and Mumbai. A panorama of mountain peaks, some topped with dramatic 17th-century Shivaji forts, surround Pawana Lake, as if protecting the valley and its fifth-century caves from the outside world. In traditional villages along the lakeshore, men wearing Ghandi caps and white dhotis tend to water buffalo, while women in vibrant saris harvest rice and wheat crops.
WHEN TO GO: For the best views of lush green plains, buffalo and other animals grazing in the grass, book your trip to Pune from August to November.
The ancient Himalayan Kingdom of Sikkim is home to some of the highest m...
The ancient Himalayan Kingdom of Sikkim is home to some of the highest mountains in the world. Tucked away in northeast India between Bhutan, Tibet and Nepal, this dramatic state is home to Kanchendzonga, the world’s third-highest peak at nearly 8600 meters, and is considered holy by the Sikkimese people. Treks among the foothills guarantee stunning views of the mountain, while lush valleys are dotted with distinctive traditional villages of indigenous Lepcha people, Bhutia communities originally from Tibet and more recent settlers from Nepal.
WHEN TO GO: The level and distance of trek you are looking for will determine the season you should travel to Sikkim. For a lush and green trek, travel in March to May. If you want snow-capped mountains, travel from September to November.
Adventures in Ladakh, near the world’s highest mountains, present some...
Adventures in Ladakh, near the world’s highest mountains, present some of the most dramatic scenery on earth. Adrenaline junkies can go white water rafting on the Indus and Zanskar rivers as they flow through the Tibetan Plateau. In between rapids ranging from grade two to five, rafters drift past towering Buddhist monasteries, isolated ancient settlements and oases of swaying poplar trees. The wider Indus River valley offers a gentler descent, while the Zanskar rushes down through a deep gorge. Many trips end where these two mighty rivers meet, at the village of Nimoo.
WHEN TO GO: The river water runs cool, so this is especially delightful as an escape from the heat in the summer months. Anytime between March-June, with April being the hottest.
Located about 840 miles off the coast of India, the Andaman Islands are ...
Located about 840 miles off the coast of India, the Andaman Islands are an archipelago between the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea. Scuba divers and snorkelers should head to Havelock Island, northeast of the capital Port Blair, for pristine white-sand beaches and clear turquoise waters. Dive sites like Minerva Ledge and Pilot Reef offer a wonderland of multicolored coral and fish. Don’t miss The Wall, a giant submerged rock with a near 55-meter fall, forests of soft coral and vast schools of tropical fish.
WHEN TO GO: Swimming in the pristine waters on Havelock Island is best suited during warmer times of year, from April to June. India is at its hottest in April, nearing 30C each day.
Riding a spirited but well-trained Marwari horse on a guided cross-count...
Riding a spirited but well-trained Marwari horse on a guided cross-country trek along ancient trails in the Aravalli Hills of Rajasthan: it’s not an everyday experience. Intimate encounters with local life and culture, sand dune seas, and historic remains are guaranteed, with stays in well-appointed tented camps and charming rural heritage properties along the way. When passing through villages or meeting nomadic herders en route, travelers can expect memorable moments of cultural exchange, as well as sightings of wildlife such as blackbuck, blue bull, and porcupine in a world far from mass tourism.
WHEN TO GO: For the best chance at wildlife sightings, and taking in the sand dune seas, take this scenic trek in the late springtime months, from October-November.
This far away area, filled with pristine forests and rolling hills, is o...
This far away area, filled with pristine forests and rolling hills, is one of the new frontiers of tourism in India. Tucked into the far northeastern corner of the country and bordering Burma, it is home to some 16 Tibeto-Burmese tribes. The annual Hornbill Festival joins the tribes in celebration of Naga Heritage, with live dance, local cuisine, archery competitions and traditional ceremonies. As a biodiversity hotspot with a wealth of exotic flora and fauna, Nagaland also offers adventures for wildlife enthusiasts.
WHEN TO GO: Book your trip specifically in the month of December. The Hornbill Festival takes place in the first two weeks of the month.
A trek through the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand offers impressive views ...
A trek through the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand offers impressive views of some of the tallest and most picturesque mountains in the Indian Himalayas, including India’s second-highest mountain, Nanda Devi. Start at the bustling Almora Hill Station for treks through the timeless land, where mountain hamlets and faming villages maintain a pre-industrial way of life. Walks through vast tracks of deep forest alive with birdsong reveal atmospheric hidden temples, thundering waterfalls and sunlit glades perfect for a picnic stop.
WHEN TO GO: The deep forest treks and gushing waterfalls make this a trip for April to June. Book early, as this is a trip that many adventure-seekers take.
The medieval walled city of Bhuj makes a perfect base for exploring the ...
The medieval walled city of Bhuj makes a perfect base for exploring the Great Rann of Kutch, a remote wildlife area of Gujarat in western India. Amidst the white desert salt flats, adventurous travelers can join drive-through safaris in search of herds of Indian wild ass and pink flamingos. In the surrounding countryside, nomadic tribal people travel by camel, and traditional villages are famous for their embroidered and mirror-festooned textiles.
WHEN TO GO: This is a remote area of India best visited from March to May, for experiences ranging from camel rides to safaris.
Fly at over 25 miles per hour harnessed to a 1300-foot cable, high above...
Fly at over 25 miles per hour harnessed to a 1300-foot cable, high above the picturesque Neemrana Fort-Palace in the Aravalli Hills. Just a couple of hours south of Delhi, this adventure begins with a 25-minute walk uphill from the Fort to an old lookout point. Then, soar across five zip lines to catch spectacular views of the Fort, the Aravallis and the Rajasthani countryside below. Similar zip line flights are available over the Ganges River in Rishikesh, the battlements and crenellations of Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur, and in the forest canopy of the Shivalik Hills near Chandigarh.
WHEN TO GO: The clear skies and still winds needed for a successful zipline make this adventurous trip best from April to June. Dress accordingly for the 25-minute uphill hike.