25 Breathtaking Experiences You Must Have In India

The Nat Geo team share their favourite India memories.  
Carvings at ajanta
The carvings of Ajanta and Ellora date back to the 2nd century B.C. Photo: Leon Yaakov/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

Ajanta And Ellora In Aurangabad, Maharashtra

We scoured the rock-cut caves of Ajanta and Ellora one August, through light showers that drenched the valley in green. We stumbled around, awed by stunning sculptures and the luminous details of paintings that sprung to life under the guide’s torchlight. I hummed notes at every recess that promised to be a good echo chamber. Ajanta’s paintings revealed a bygone India we hadn’t dreamed of–the ladies sporting rather modern hairstyles and jewellery, with enchanting scenes of court and daily life. Ellora suggested religious harmony with its beautifully carved, adjacent Hindu, Buddhist and Jain shrines. Each year, Ajanta and Ellora crumbles a little more; we didn’t see the same sights that friends had mentioned from their visits years before, but there was a huge sense of walking through an elaborate treasure chest whose wonders could definitely not be examined in a weekend. –Saumya Ancheri, Assistant Web Editor

Ajanta is around 97km/2hr from Aurangabad. Ellora is around 30km/45min from Aurangabad.

Midnight Coracle Ride In Hampi, Karnataka

By day, coracles across the Tungabhadra river in Hampi, Karnataka, sail past ochre boulders dotted with little shrines. But my indelible memory of a coracle ride came from bad planning. Recently, a friend and I missed the last boat out from Hampi to Anegundi. He managed to call a boatman for help who soon arrived, a lone figure looming in the darkness of the night. Seated in that bobbing, bowl-shaped coracle, I could hear the oar rhythmically cutting through the Tungabhadra’s inky waters, and see a gopuram in Hampi, silhouetted in the distance. Suddenly, the boatman began rotating the coracle. It was both terrifying and intoxicating, looking up at the night sky swirling with stars. Dizzy, we silently acknowledged that we’d rather miss every last boat back just to feel that rush again. –Kareena Gianani, Associate Editor

Wagah Border Ceremony In Punjab

The Wagah Border Ceremony draws hundreds of visitors every evening. Photo: Giridhar Appaji Nag Y/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

The Wagah Border Ceremony draws hundreds of visitors every evening. Photo: Giridhar Appaji Nag Y/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

The atmosphere at the beating retreat ceremony at the Wagah border dividing India and Pakistan, is not unlike that at a cricket stadium. There’s passionate chanting, lots of whistling and singing, and tricoloured paraphernalia everywhere. The focus of attention is on the two massive gates painted in the colours of the respective national flags. Intimidating officers (Indians dressed in striking khaki-and-red uniforms, and Pakistanis in black) high-kick their way to their respective gates, indulge in a good-natured, albeit fierce, staring contest and finally lower their flags. Beyond the green-and-white gates, I could see Pakistanis cheering their guards along. I was struck by how similar we were—our clothes, our faces, our skin—and yet here we were on opposite sides of the border, nothing but a line drawn 69 years ago on a map. –Kamakshi Ayyar, Features Writer, Web

The Wagah border is around 31km/40min from Amritsar.

Sleep By The Roar Of A Himalayan River

Camping by a river bank in Kashmir guarantees a deep, restful sleep. Photo: Vahishta Mistry

Camping by a river bank in Kashmir guarantees a deep, restful sleep. Photo: Vahishta Mistry

There are two kinds of silence: the absence of noise and the presence of something so powerful, it mutes out even the most niggling thoughts. Such is the roar of Kashmir’s rivers, as they make their way down from their lofty Himalayan sources. My favourite way to soak in their glory is to camp on a riverbank, but there are a great many boutique hotels and homestays around Kashmir that are within proximity of icy, swirling beasts like the Sind, Indus, and Zanskar. Spend your days hiking along the river, picking pebbles and wild flowers from its bank, but tuck in early for the night: the deep, restful sleep that the sound of the river brings is something else. –Neha Sumitran, Web Editor

Ima Keithel In Imphal, Manipur

Visiting local markets is one of my favourite ways to forge a connection with a new place. On a recent visit to Manipur, I touched, smelled and tasted my way through the crowded aisles of Ima Keithel in Imphal. Also known as Mothers’ Market, because all the stalls are run by women, it was nothing short of a wonderland for me. I remember the smiling ima who sat surrounded by her pouches of the electric king chilli powder, looking like a purveyor of magical potions. And the young woman who gently sprinkled water on the mound of delicate lotus blossoms in front of her. When I spotted something I didn’t recognise, the imas invited me to taste it. I came away with a stash of ingredients that kept the memories of my visit alive long after. –Neha Dara, Deputy Editor

Read more here.

Camping With The Family In The Himayalas

Pitch a tent with the family in the midst of the gorgeous Himalayas. Photo: Neha Sumitran

Pitch a tent with the family in the midst of the gorgeous Himalayas. Photo: Neha Sumitran

It’s never too early to introduce children to the joy of camping in the Himalayas. We took our little girl at two. Skipping through grassy meadows laden with ladybirds, having both parents’ undivided attention—it was bliss. Besides learning to love the outdoors, camping beside India’s snowy peaks always generates a closetful of lasting and happy family memories for all of us. Adults too, even if they’ve never slept in a tent or trekked in the mountains, find that it is one of the best ways to unwind and focus on the things that matter: Starry skies, crisp air scented with pine, the warmth of the sun in the day, and a campfire and loved ones close by at night. –Niloufer Venkatraman, Editor-In-Chief

Night Hike In Periyar Tiger Reserve, Kerala

It was a rainy moonless night, with the glimmer of wet leaves and the expectant breath of a forest going about its business in the dark. In the cool air, nutty and floral scents shifted every few steps we took. For three hours, my father and I picked our way through the buffer zone of the Periyar Tiger Reserve between two armed forest guards on their night patrol. We saw the black blur of a Malabar giant squirrel, herds of barking deer with their shining eyes and high-pitched call, fireflies, and a huge owl whose wings silently sliced the air. Tigers, elephants and bison were spotted more in the summer, we were told, but I didn’t mind. The suspense and sense of the forbidden was exhilarating, particularly when, at my request, the guards momentarily switched off their torches so we could experience the dark from the inside. –Saumya Ancheri, Assistant Web Editor

Periyar Tiger Reserve in Thekkady is around 157km/4.5hr from Kochi. For the Jungle Scouts hike, see here; slots from 7p.m.-4a.m.

Prehistoric Cave Art In Bhimbetka, Madhya Pradesh

India’s largest repository of prehistoric art lies in the open forest gallery of the Bhimbetka caves in Ratapani Wildlife Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh. Painted scenes of hunting, dancing, rituals and forest life are scattered across the fantastically shaped sandstone rock shelters, whittled by wind, sun and rain. The art holds clues to our food habits and beliefs 20,000 years ago, and images of giraffe and ostrich that are no longer found in the wild here. The emotion is often raw and palpable, whether it is a victorious horseback hunter or a swaying dancer. Located on one of the world’s oldest geological formations, Madhya Pradesh is a storehouse of weird and wonderful sights that are really hard to choose between. If you’re a culture buff, visiting Bhimbetka’s natural canvas of our oldest art is an experience so profound, it’s bound to leave you speechless. –Saumya Ancheri, Assistant Web Editor

Bhimbetka is around 45km/1.15hr from Bhopal. To read more, see here.

Morning Chanting In Tabo Monastery In Spiti, Himachal Pradesh

The Tabo Monastery is believed to be among the oldest operating Buddhist enclaves in the Himalayas. Photo: Nivedita Ravishankar/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

Tabo Monastery is among the oldest operating Buddhist enclaves in the Himalayas. Photo: Nivedita Ravishankar/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

Tabo is among the most beautiful—and spiritually potent—places I have visited in the world. The little town lies in the remote Spiti Valley of Himachal Pradesh, lined with apricot trees and guarded by the mighty Himalayas. Look closely at the rugged mountainsides and you might notice gouged-out hollows in the rock: caves where monks from the Tabo Monastery meditated, sometimes unto death. Visit the town for its gentle energy, stilling views, and for the morning ritual at the monastery, attended by over 100 robed monks. Their deep, synchronised chanting is loud, powerful and unforgettable. –Neha Sumitran, Web Editor

A Forest Of Fireflies In Purushwadi, Maharashtra

During mating season, in the weeks before the monsoon arrives, the fireflies of Purushwadi put on a spectacular show. The trees of this Maharashtrian village are filled with tiny fluorescent bugs that use their natural light to signal to the females. The hour or so that I spent sitting in that clump of trees, surrounded by these glow-in-the-dark insects under a moonlit sky, was nothing short of magical—like something out of a fairy tale. –Kamakshi Ayyar, Features Writer, Web

Purushwadi is around 225km/4hr from Mumbai. Read more here.


Releasing Baby Turtles In The Ocean At Velas, Maharashtra

Every year, hundreds of female olive ridley turtles make their way to the shores of Velas, an otherwise non-descript village in Maharashtra. Each mother lays about 100-150 eggs in holes she digs with her powerful flippers. And every year between end-Feb and April, clutches of these eggs hatch and tiny baby turtles emerge to make their way to the ocean. Watch them slowly drag themselves across the sand at the turtle festival organised by Chiplun-based NGO Sahyadri Nisarga Mitra. The festival aims to educate travellers about these delicate creatures and allows them watch the babies slowly making their way to the ocean. Even more awe-inspiring, is knowing that each of these little females will come back to this very beach many years from now to hatch their own eggs—no matter where in the world they live. –Neha Sumitran, Web Editor

Velas is around 218km/5hr from Mumbai. Read more here.

Sunset And Sunrise At The Great Rann Of Kutch, Gujarat

The Great Rann of Kutch in Gujarat is an endless sweep of salt marsh, stark and mesmerising. A few years ago, I visited the stretch, which is spread over Kutch, and Sindh in Pakistan. I was a tad emotional to be so close to my Sindhi roots, to a place I had heard childhood tales about but had never seen. With salt squelching under my feet, I walked across the Rann around sunset, watching birds flying homeward. It was transcendental: streaks of fierce oranges and blushing pinks splashed across the skies, the tangerine sun dipping below the horizon. I returned early the next morning. On that biting December morning, I shivered and squirmed, waiting, for several long minutes. But finally, dawn broke and the skies came alive again. –Kareena Gianani, Associate Editor

The Great Rann of Kutch is best approached via Dhordo, around 86km/1.45hr from Bhuj

The Sacred Groves Of Mawphlang, Meghalaya

The forest grove of Mawphlang village thrums with life. Endangered orchids hang from its trees; crimson spiders scurry through its moss-covered rocks; from scars in its ancient trees, soft, velvety mushrooms sprout. The roar of the cicadas changes every few steps. It’s a spectacular setting to hear Meghalaya’s fantastical myths. Each forest guide tells his own version but they all begin with the same disclaimer: Do not pluck a single leaf or pick up anything from the forest, not even a pebble, or your wrist will twist the wrong way around 30 minutes after you leave. A number of forest communities across India have these sacred groves, patches of jungle that are mired in superstition. But really, these are ancient sustainability practices, meant to ensure that parcels of our planet remain free of human interference. The jungle has a deep elegance, a dignity that demands whispered conversation—and a reminder than we share our planet with creatures great and small. –Neha Sumitran, Web Editor

Mawphlang is around 26km/40min from Shillong.

Gyara-Pani-Wala Pani Puri In Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh

Eating in Lucknow is a glorious affair. Even now, my most favourite memories of the Nawabi city are culinary experiences. There were melt-in-your-mouth galouti kebabs and the creamiest hand-churned malai kulfi, but the most ingenious creation was the gyara-pani-wala pani puri (pani puri with 11 different flavours). The servers at Ravi’s, a tiny stall behind Gol Darwaza at Chowk, dole out puris non-stop, in perfect synchronization. There’s an order to the flavours: the regular pani, followed by hing (asafoetida), aam (mango), hari mirch (green chilli), mixed aam, adrak (ginger), jeera (cumin), pudina (mint), kala namak (rock salt), nimbu (lime) and a “special” dry one bringing up the rear. –Fabiola Monteiro, Features Writer, Web Behind Gol Darwaza in Chowk, Lucknow. Read more here.

Konark Sun Temple In Odisha

Growing up, I trained in the classical dance form of Odissi, whose movements and postures come from the tradition of temple dances, beautifully expressed in the carvings of the Konark Sun Temple in Odisha. The 13th-century UNESCO World Heritage site is built like a massive chariot. Figurines of dancers both men and women, with voluptuous yet lithe bodies, and often holding a musical instrument, cover every last centimetre of the outer stone walls. They are graceful, erotic, and jubilant. A gate in front of the temple has pillar which aids in directing the sunlight as it streams in at various angles through the day, illuminating a certain part of the temple to tell the time. And, twice a year, when the temple becomes the stage for the Konark Dance And Music Festival, it feels like history has come alive.  –Rumela Basu, Features Writer Konark Sun Temple is around 35km/45min from Puri. Festival details here.

River Rafting On The Teesta, Sikkim

I had my first river rafting experience on the mighty Teesta, while on a college trip to Sikkim. I’ll admit, I was nervous. We caught sight of roaring rapids as we drove to the starting point and while I can swim, those roiling waters looked unforgiving. Once in the raft, helmets and life jackets strapped on as tightly as possible, we began rowing towards the first rapids. In no time, my anxiety gave way to an adrenaline rush that took me by surprise. I thoroughly enjoyed the rise and fall of the river, the towering cliffs above us and the bone-chilling mountain waters. I couldn’t think of a better experience for a first-timer. –Kamakshi Ayyar, Features Writer, Web

Ganga Arti By Boat In Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh

The Ganga aarti at Dashashwamedh Ghat is one of Varanasi's must-have experiences. Photo: Bobinson KB/ Flickr/ Creative Commons (bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

The Ganga aarti at Dashashwamedh Ghat is one of Varanasi’s must-have experiences. Photo: Bobinson KB/ Flickr/ Creative Commons (bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

The Ganga arti is one of the most iconic sights in Varanasi, one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities. After sunset, in an awe-inspiring, choreographic spectacle, two separate groups of priests whirl humongous flaming lamps, billow streams of incense, clang cymbals, and blow conches on the city’s main Dashashwamedh Ghat (staircase to the river). Kashi—one of the city’s ancient names, meaning the Luminous, the City of Light—exists in an eternal paradox of the divine and the profane, the still and the chaotic, and this sacred worship ritual is no different. Beat the crowds by watching the arti from a boat on the Ganga—at once a river and a goddess, gently but powerfully absorbing the clangour as she serenely ripples on. Pick up a candle-lit offering bowl of flowers from the riverbank before setting out, so you can float it with a prayer down the Ganga. –Saumya Ancheri, Assistant Web Editor To read more, look up “DIY guide to illuminating experiences” here.

Diving In The Andaman And Nicobar Islands

The first time I went scuba diving, I felt like my world shifted a little. It was a gateway into a new realm, one that was simultaneously thrilling and spiritual. Plunging into the waters off Havelock Island, I was overwhelmed by the colours and patterns I saw, combinations that I had never conceived of as possible. At the same time, I found it meditative: It made me slow down, measure my breathing. I swam with schools of silvery barracuda, tried to follow a turtle that swam quickly away with its powerful flippers, and learned to observe the small details. I go back frequently, because the dive schools are good, the prices reasonable, and the underwater world a constant source of wonder. –Neha Dara, Deputy Editor Read more here.

Zip-lining In Jodhpur’s Mehrangarh Fort, Rajasthan


A video posted by Neha Sumitran (@nehasumitran) on

There are more than a few ways to get a different perspective on the majestic Mehrangarh Fort. It’s got a museum of princely exhibits, lavish music and dance festivals, even an uncannily accurate resident palmist. My favourite was the zip-lining tour run by Fire Fox, easy enough for most people to attempt and with just enough adventure to have you whoop aloud as you slide down the last of the six cable lines. You glide over lakes, ramparts and gardens, ignoring that your heart is in your mouth as you watch your shadow pass many feet beneath you, so that you can drink in the seconds-long stunning views. Best of all, you know you’re seeing the fort and the blue city unfold before you in a way that the royals never had. –Saumya Ancheri, Assistant Web Editor

Book online here; rates differ by season and time slot. Read more here.

Meditating At Matrimandir In Pondicherry

The loudest silence I have ever heard was at Matrimandir, a gigantic, gold-plated sphere designed for silent meditation in the experimental township of Auroville in Pondicherry (Puducherry). My aunt and I entered an ethereal world straight out of a sci-fi movie. Water streamed down glowing walls as we took the steps spiralling up to an all-white chamber. Inside, a 400kg crystal sphere harbouring concentrated sunlight was encircled by floor cushions for us to sit on. The silence burrowed deeply, like an exclamation mark. Ten minutes later, alerted by a blinking light, we exited to the marbled lotus pool below the sphere, and through smaller meditation rooms dedicated to virtues like gratitude, until we stopped, empty and yet full of a new experience, at the windswept banyan trees outside. If you can, take the km-long shaded path through the surrounding gardens on your way back to the Auroville Visitor’s Centre. –Saumya Ancheri, Assistant Web Editor

Registration details here. Read more here.

Beer Crawl In Bengaluru, Karnataka

Techies, start-ups, good weather, and beer seem to go hand in hand in Bengaluru. The young and restless in Bengaluru end an average day at work with a quart of beer. In 2011, the first microbrewery opened its doors in the city: Biere Club on Lavelle Road, which continues to make some of the best brews in the city, including the seasonal favourite mango beer. This started off a chain reaction, with others setting up their own units with master brewers and secret blends. From Indirangar’s Toit with its fresh and light Basmati Blonde to Arbor Brewing Company’s fruity Phat Abbot Belgian Tripel and Windmill Craftworks’ crisp and malty Hefeweizen, there is enough for a pub crawl that extends over a weekend or three! –Diya Kohli, Associate Editor

The Goa Beach Vacation

Goa is a quintessentially Indian travel experience. Photo: Abhishek/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

Goa is a quintessentially Indian travel experience. Photo: Abhishek/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

Everything they say is true: Goa is getting more crowded every year. Most beaches are overrun by hawkers peddling sarongs, anklets, foot massages and more potent stress-relievers. And yes, most of the food served at beach shacks is quite terrible. (But there’s almost always a great fish thali joint a short bike-ride away, for those inclined to make the trek.) Most don’t. Because Goa holidays are about staying immobile, unless it’s to take a dip in the ocean, or order another tall glass of watermelon juice, or chilled bottle of Kings Beer, or Malibu on the rocks. When the sun has set, shower off the sand and spend the evening drinking in candlelight at a beach shack with your toes in the sand. As a t-shirt I saw on Arambol Beach rightly proclaimed: Goa is a state of mind—and a quintessentially Indian travel experience.  –Neha Sumitran, Web Editor


Discovering Rajasaurus In Gujarat

Dinosaurs have always been fantastical beasts for me, creatures I never imagined I’d encounter in India. However, a recent trip to Gujarat changed that notion forever. At the Indroda Nature and Fossil Park in Gandhinagar, and a fossil excavation site located an hour away in Balasinor, I came across the preserved skeletal remains of numerous dinosaurs that once inhabited the lands of present-day India. The most fascinating fact I learned was that India was home to an indigenous species of dinosaur known as theRajasaurus narmadensis— the regal dinosaur of the Narmada, a name inspired by the bony, conical projection crowning its head. This Tyrannosaurus Rex-like dinosaur lived along the Narmada Valley, which was its only known home in the world. –Rumela Basu, Features Writer

Indroda Nature Park is 26km/40min from Ahmedabad. Read more here.

Classical Music In Delhi

The cusp between winter and spring in Delhi is the window of perfect weather in a city of extremes, a ripe moment for outdoor concerts and the Music in the Park series of performances by star classical music exponents. Spread over 85 acres, Nehru Park in Chankyapuri comprises walking trails, giant trees and sprawling lawns which have hosted star musicians like Ravi Shankar, Bismillah Khan, Kishori Amonkar and Amjad Ali Khan. The nip in the air, the scent of flowers, and an evening spent in the company of ragas under a canopy of trees is an unmatched experience in the city. –Diya Kohli, Associate Editor

Marine Drive In Mumbai, Maharashtra

Marine Drive, or Queen's Necklace as it is popularly known, is one of Mumbai's best people-watching spots. Photo: Gopal Vijayaraghavan/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

Marine Drive, or Queen’s Necklace as it is popularly known, is one of Mumbai’s best people-watching spots. Photo: Gopal Vijayaraghavan/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

Mumbai is a bit like a giant sea creature, washed up on shore and then left to adapt and survive. Many years later, even though it has grown appendages and land lungs, the sea remains its soul. Life in this metropolis gets some respite on its magnificent seaside promenades. Marine Drive with its art deco frontage and tetrapod rocks is an iconic Bombay image, captured in photographs by day or night and immortalised in cinema. It is a space for morning yoga, protests, coy lovers, noisy children playing hopscotch with the sea spray, basically life in all its myriad forms. In this city of narrow vertiginous skyscrapers and cramped living spaces, this endless expanse of water offers expensive real-estate views, and space for its 20-million-odd inhabitants to breathe and pause for a moment. –Diya Kohli, Associate Editor