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East meets West in this sun-soaked state, where Indian culture intertwines with Portuguese influences left over from a 500-year occupation. The beaches have long served as a magnet for serene hedonists. To the north, the tourist-centric scene is prevalent, with an international flair that is now skewing more hip than hippie. Travel south for stretches of unspoiled sand and an escape from large resorts. Temples, mosques and wildlife sanctuaries provide diversions from the beach.
Known as both the "Garden City" and "The Silicon Valley of India," Bangalore (officially "Bengaluru") is a techie’s paradise, boasting the highest concentration of IT companies in the country. When you’re done geeking out, there are plenty of gardens, museums, natural features, palaces and temples to fill your dance card. Visit Vidhana Soudha, Cubbon Park and the Ulsoor Lake of Bangalore, well known for its beautiful locales and boating facilities. Bangalore is also a major centre of Indian classical music and dance, and of vivid, cutting-edge nightlife.
Blossoming bougainvilleas, crumbling cathedrals on leafy boulevards and 18th-century colonial buildings colour the former French colony of Pondy, which sits on the Bay of Bengal. But it's also unmistakably Indian, with colourful festivals throughout the year, several mosques and the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. Quiet beaches stretch north and south from town, good for swimming and sunrise strolls. Pondy is a popular weekend getaway destination from Chennai and is easy to navigate on foot or by bicycle.
Udaipur, known as the Venice of the East, boasts several sparkling lakes against a backdrop of the Aravail hills. Jag Niwas and Jag Mandir, islands in Fateh Sagar Lake, are the site of Udaipur Solar Observatory and Nehru Garden. Famous palaces include the magical Lake Palace, now a luxurious five-star hotel, and the massive City Palace on Pichola’s east bank, featuring epic courtyards and stunning paintings.
Want to make your co-workers insanely jealous? Just casually drop "I’m holiday making in the Maldives this year" into conversation, preferably in the dead of winter. Or better yet, go there without mentioning it to anyone—then send them a "Wish you were here!" postcard.
Laid out by British architect Edwin Lutyens, the Indian capital is a striking modern metropolis. A gracious contrast to Old Delhi's winding streets, the grand avenues and stately buildings of New Delhi are rich with history and culture, from Gandhi's Delhi home (and the site of his assassination) to the tomb of Humayun, a complex of Mughal buildings reminiscent of the Taj Mahal. Chaotic traffic is best left to the locals. Negotiate a good price for taxis or travel on the new Delhi Metro.
This former British colonial stronghold boasts evidence of over two millennia of habitation, with ornate, architecturally diverse buildings, ranging from crumbing ruins to Victorian treasures. Home to lively festivals and a vibrant artistic community, clamorous markets and packed temples, this city is crowded and polluted, but ultimately invigorating.
The holy city of Rishikesh, in the base of the Himalayas, holds deep cultural and spiritual significance for local Hindus. Sacred rivers and mountains set the scene for yoga and reflective hikes, and rafting here is an absolute must. The Beatles got in touch with their Eastern spiritual side here, writing several songs during a 1968 stint at a local ashram.
Established in the Himalaya foothills by a British Army officer in 1820, the "Queen of the Hills" stands above the rest with its deep woods, favorable climate and Doon Valley views. Its name is derived from the berry-covered Mansur shrub found in abundance around this trekker-friendly area. Vestiges of its colonial past are still reflected in the cuisine and architecture. For stunning natural sights, head to Gun Hill or Childer's Lodge, the two highest peaks, or the famous Kempty waterfall.
In Hinduism, Manu was said to have survived a great flood that destroyed the rest of the world. He then recreated mankind in this Kullu Valley town. What a rush, huh? No wonder the towering peaks and verdant terrain of Manali attracts adventure travellers, with heli-skiing, hiking, mountaineering and river rafting the favored active pursuits. Come down from your endorphin high by breathing deeply at the four-story, wooden Hidimba Devi Temple, which sits in the middle of a nearby deciduous forest, or take a medicinal soak in the hot springs burbling from the ground a 30-minute walk from town.
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