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Explore Kerala’s lush backwaters and hill stations, kick up your heels at the beach, get a taste of the Himalayas by India’s unique old-fashioned toy trains and save time for spotting some of the country’s most elusive cats.

Stop 1: Kochi

Start your journey in one of India’s most eclectic cities, Kochi, where you can visit Paradesi Synagogue, once a central part of the Jewish community, and Mattancherry Palace, as well as enjoy a local Kathakali dance performance.

Head to Alleppey and hire a houseboat to take you down the coast through the backwaters, a famous setting for the locals’ laid-back way of life. Stay several nights on the boat and arrange to have local dishes prepared for you right on board.

Stop 2: Alleppey

Head to Alleppey and hire a houseboat to take you down the coast through the backwaters, a famous setting for the locals’ laid-back way of life. Stay several nights on the boat and arrange to have local dishes prepared for you right on board.

Stop 3: Ooty

Return to Kochi by car from Alleppey and take a train or hire a taxi for the 4.5-hour journey to Ooty, a hill station with vibrant botanical gardens and cool mountain air. Explore the Nilgiri hills on the Nilgiri Mountain Railway for a scenic tour by train, and dip your feet into the cooling water of one of the many lakes in the area.

Stop 4: Goa

Take a taxi from Ooty to Coimbatore airport and fly to Goa for time on the beach and to see colonial sites like the Baroque-period Basilica of Bom Jesus and the Se Cathedral. Chapora Beach offers a tranquil white sand beach dotted with coconut palms, and Baga Beach is home to water sports and nightlife.

Stop 5: Kalka

Fly from Goa to Delhi; from there, take a four-hour trip by car to Kalka. Be sure to hike on the Gilbert Trail to see migrating birds and sweeping views of the surrounding valleys, or visit nearby Sukhna Wildlife Sanctuary to see leopards and other local fauna.

Stop 6: Shimla

Board a train through the epically scenic Himalayas headed to Shimla, the capital of Himachal Pradesh in the Himalayas, where you can take in the quaint town and British-era architecture by walking on the pedestrians-only Mall Road and visiting buildings like Rashtrapati Niwas, the former home of British viceroys.

Stop 7: Leh

After your stay in Shimla, drive to Chandigarh airport and fly nonstop to Leh, in the Ladakh region, to explore the beauty of the Himalayas and Buddhist monuments. Visit Thikse Monastery for a beautiful view, and hear the monks-in-residence do their morning chanting. Don’t miss the intricate paintings in the sanctuary.

The region is also home to the few remaining snow leopards, which you might spot if you make the two-hour trip to Hemis National Park. Bundle up, hire a guide and stay in Rumbuk village, from where you’ll hike out with your guide to seek these elusive cats.