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Iconic India is an extraordinary and diverse feast for the senses. From the grand forts and palaces of arid Rajasthan, to the tropical waterways and beaches of the South, it's difficult not to be enchanted by India's heady charms. Home to a rightfully proud and hospitable people exceeding one billion, it is the birthplace of numerous religions, the ancient science of Ayurveda, a fascinating history, and magnificent historical sights. The daily in-your-face tableau of juxtapositions never ceases to amaze: sacred cows have right of way in heaving traffic; painted elephants transport camera-laden sightseers to cliff top palaces, serene in their now-faded glory; and bejewelled women in emerald saris walk hot and dusty roadsides. Although they are the world's largest democracy, India's complex society is governed by an ancient caste system that allows it to thrive as a nation but also impedes its acceptability in the Western world.

Less is definitely more when travelling in India. In this bamboozling country, where nothing happens quickly, it is often best to explore and appreciate a single region than it is to race through many in an effort to 'see it all'.

Rajasthan is the jewel of India's arid and hectic north. It is an extraordinary state that boasts a blue city (Jodhpur), a pink city (Jaipur) and a golden city (Jaisalmer), splendid fortified palaces, ancient temples, stunning havelis and picturesque lakes.

India's South Coast is the complete opposite, with lush waterways and idyllic beaches offering visitors with a welcome change of pace. Sleek houseboat cruising along Kerala's palm-fringed rivers and canals provide snapshots of rural village life; Goa's tranquil resorts cater to hippies-at-heart seeking holistic rejuvenation; medieval Portuguese, Dutch and British Raj architecture decorate the vibrant streets of Kochi; and forest guides track herds of wild elephants at Periyar National Park.

Different again, are the Himalayas, translated in Sanskrit (the most ancient of all languages) to be 'abode of snow'. It is a vast and significant mountain range that extends far into neighbouring countries and is the source of many life-giving rivers within this region. Nestled in its foothills are the picturesque towns of Rishikesh, Leh and Srinagar, known for their Buddhist monasteries (Gompas) and some of the best hikes in the country. Within these regions are the sights and cities that cement India in the memories of all who experience her.

Delhi is a bustling mix of old and new that requires one to scratch below the gritty surface to uncover the wondrous jewels beneath, including the ancient monuments of the vast Red Fort and Jama Majid, and its many excellent museums.

Mumbai (also known as Bombay) is a chaotic marriage of grand colonial relics and glass towers dwarfing bustling slums. The home of Bollywood proves endlessly fascinating as affluence and abject poverty go hand in hand.

Agra is world famous for the once-sumptuous Agra Fort and the most romantic of tombs the luminous Taj Mahal (whose splendour is best appreciated at sunset and sunrise).

Varanasi, the holiest of cities in India, is renowned for its cremation ghats overlooking the mighty Ganges River. It is one of the most sacred pilgrimage places for Hindus and is the city where Buddhism was founded. Each year, millions of believers make pilgrimages to plunge themselves into the river's sacred waters.

India's true soul can be found aboard her unique train system; within hotels in fort ramparts and old havelis; among intricate and colourful handcrafts; and definitely within her dinner menu! India is a food lover's heaven with a heady obsession for fabulous sweets and a myriad of exotic spices. Travel and dine at the highest level you can afford but don't shy away from the authentic Indian experience it will make for a more memorable, and enjoyable trip.

Most of India is best visited in the cooler winter months from November to mid-February (mid-high 20s), with the exception of northern India which is best in March and June (20C average). The months of March through to May (summer) and September to November are good for Himalayan treks. Summer is also good for Tiger spotting in India's National parks.

Click here for our suggestions on events and places to go at various times of year

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