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The misty hills, lush teakwood and sandalwood forests, and acres of tea and coffee plantations of Kodagu are, in a word, stunning. Also known as Coorg and dubbed "The Scotland of India," Kodagu is a postcard-perfect region of scattered villages and hamlets, which are the epitome of old-world charm. Kodagu is ideal for outdoor activities such as trekking, angling and white-water rafting, and major festivals like Keil Poldu (worship of weapons), Cauvery Shankaramana (return of the river goddess) and the Huttari (harvest) festival are a huge draw.
The kings of the Wodeyar dynasty set the bar high for the southern cultural capital of Mysore. Ornate palaces and the Gothic St. Philomena's Church with its 175-foot spires pack a visual punch; local institutions keep Carnatic classical music and dance in the public eye. A prominent 11th-century temple sits atop 1,000 steps on the city's outskirts. Dress to the nines and party like a rock star in celebration of Mysore heritage during the lively Dussehra festival, held for 10 days in October/November.
Popularly referred to as Ooty, this gem among southern hill resorts is covered in eucalyptus and pine trees and coffee and tea plantations. On a clear day, it's possible to see as far as the Mysore plateau from Dodabetta Peak, the district's most prominent viewpoint. The Stone House, a landmark 1822 bungalow, and St. Stephen's Church are remnants of the area's first British settlement. Also noteworthy: formal botanical gardens, a children's mini-garden and a contemporary art collection.
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.
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.
The people of Tamil Nadu consider providing food to others a service to humanity. Thus the service in the state capital, Chennai, is first-rate. Treat your senses to some of the richest South Indian flavours in traditional dishes like sambar, rasam, fish curry or kootu. And don't forget to have a cup of full-bodied Tamil coffee, enhanced with chicory—no visit is complete without it.
Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay), India, is famous for its chaotic streets. For bargains and people-watching, outdoor bazaars top the list of attractions. Popular waterfront destinations are Marine Drive, where visitors go to watch the sun set over the Arabian Sea, and the carnival-like Juhu Beach. More sightseeing options are the Gandhi Museum, in the leader's former home, and the cave temples of Elephanta Island. For tranquillity, Mumbai has many religious sites, lakes and parks.
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.
Sparsely-populated beaches that give way to an ocean brimming with interesting marine life and coral gardens are just one of the reasons to visit the beautiful Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Ghandi Park, Sippighat Farm and the century-old Cellular Jail (now a pilgrimage destination) provide glimpses into the past and present of these peaceful islands with a mysterious and multicultural past.
Darjeeling, nestled among rolling mountains, is a perfect destination for outdoor enthusiasts. Popular places to visit include Tiger Hill, Batasia Loop and the War Memorial, and the Himalayan Zoological Park and Snow Leopard Breeding Center. What should you bring home? Tea, tea, and more tea—and beautiful local handicrafts.
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.
Bali is a living postcard, an Indonesian paradise that feels like a fantasy. Soak up the sun on a stretch of fine white sand, or commune with the tropical creatures as you dive along coral ridges or the colorful wreck of a WWII war ship. On shore, the lush jungle shelters stone temples and mischievous monkeys. The “artistic capital” of Ubud is the perfect place to see a cultural dance performance, take a batik or silver-smithing workshop, or invigorate your mind and body in a yoga class.
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