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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.
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.
Srinigar is a modern waterworld, dominated by Dal Lake and its twisting waterways, tree-lined Nagin Lake, and the Jhelum River. Engulf yourself in local culture by embracing your sea legs and renting one of the wooden boats called shikaras for a daytime or twilight cruise. On land, stroll through the terraced hillsides of the 400-year-old Mughal Gardens, created by Emperor Jehangir for his wife, and shop for indigenous crafts like hand-woven silks and embroidered shawls.
The dramatic and romantic desert fortress of Jaisalmer is an exotic city in Rajasthan’s great Thar Desert. "The Golden City" rose to prominence as a result of its position on camel trade routes. It's now most famous for the 12th-century fort and ornate "Havelis," fine merchant-built houses and pavilions in the city’s mediaeval lanes. The surrounding Desert National Park offers opportunities to observe blackbucks, desert foxes and chinkaras amid the rolling dunes, rugged crags and waterholes.
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.
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.
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.
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