Tiger Safaris and Other India Tours
India is a fascinating and varied destination with a staggering selection of activities and highlights to offer the traveller. Thrilling tiger safaris explore the dense jungles of the interior, while a multitude of fascinating India tours uncover the beautiful landscapes, magnificent palaces and elaborate forts its major cities.
What to expect
With its incredible dazzle of sights, smells, flavours and sounds, India hits the first time traveller right between the eyes. While the impact may initially take your breath away, for many travellers this is the beginning of a great love affair. With its thronging cities, vast distances and remote natural hotspots, India can be a challenging destination, but its many diverse charms make it all the more rewarding to conquer.
India’s cities are filled with the raw energy of bustling streets and thronged bazaars, their roads choked with traffic that ranges from cars and bikes to the ubiquitous tuk-tuks, cows and sometimes even camels and elephants. Peddlers hawks their wares on every corner, beggars jostle in the streets and poverty is evident everywhere. However, this is also a land of intense contradictions, with elaborate palaces and monuments that literally take your breath away with their intense beauty and sumptuous hotels that cocoon their guests in every luxury.
It is possible to travel through India on your own, staying in budget accommodation and providing for your own transportation, but it is an intimidating destination. By far the best way to experience it is by using a reputable travel company to make all your arrangements and provide you with a guide.
India is a large and hugely varied country. The attractions, landscapes and even food vary dramatically from one place to another. Getting to see everything that you want may require a fair amount of travel, so prepare yourself to spend some time on the road. By far the best way to get around is to be chauffeured by a private guide. Traffic in India is chaotic and road conditions vary from perfectly acceptable to downright terrible. Only those with a steel disposition and extensive travel experience should even consider hiring a car but a chauffeured vehicle is an excellent and relatively affordable option. There is a fairly extensive network of flights that connects major centres but, if you are hoping to embark on a tiger safari, you will inevitably need to drive to one of India’s national parks.
Accommodation in India covers an incredibly wide range, from backpackers’ hostels to former maharajahs’ palaces. It should be possible to find something within your price range, although it is best to make your booking through a travel company that will be able to recommend the right options. While there are no doubt many shady operations, there is a number of excellent hotels that will provide every luxury that you can possibly think of.
Indian food is an adventure in itself and many travellers could be forgiven for citing that as their main reason to visit India. While a large proportion of the population may be vegetarian, meat-eaters need not despair, as chicken, lamb and mutton are available in most areas, particular in northern India, where the cuisine is dominated by meat dishes. Beef and pork are largely unavailable, as they are forbidden to Hindus and Muslims respectively for religious reasons. Seafood is also an important part of the Indian diet, particularly on the west coast. While Indian cuisine tends to be fiery, most restaurants will gladly prepare a milder variation of the meals on request. Restaurants offering western style food are found in most towns and cities, and large centres such as Delhi and Mumbai will offer a wide selection of cuisine, from Indian to Mediterranean, Chinese or even Mexican.
While large cities such as Delhi and Mumbai are largely modern and cosmopolitan, smaller cities and villages remain conservative. When travelling in deeply rural areas, conservative dress is recommended for both men and women. Indians are warmly receptive towards foreigners who adopt their traditional clothing, and it may be fun to have some made up to wear on your travels. While draping a sari may be too much of a challenge for daily wear, women can also try the comfortable tunic and trouser combination known as a salwar kameez. Bikinis are frequently seen on the trendy beaches of Goa, but, if you are visiting a more remote location, you may want to consider covering up with a T-shirt or a handy sarong on your way back from the beach.
Remember to dress more conservatively if you are visiting a religious site. It is generally a good idea to cover your head and shoulders, and refrain from wearing shorts. You may need to remove your shoes or other leather items before entering – shoe minders at the entrance will keep a sharp eye on your belongings. A few religious sites may not admit women or visitors who are not members of that faith.
Why choose India?
India tours are incredibly diverse and the country offers a multitude of fascinating things to do and see.
Strictly protected under Project Tiger, India remains one of the only countries where visitors can see the king of the jungle in the wild. While tiger sightings are never guaranteed, a number of India’s national parks are home to steady populations of this magnificent animal and provide good chances of an encounter. Whether from the back of a jeep or on a thrilling elephant-back safari, catching a glimpse of this magnificent predator in the depths of the jungle is a moment never to be forgotten.
While India is best known as the home of the tiger, the country is also home to a fascinating variety of other animal, bird and reptile species. With some of the richest biodiversity in the world, India has a staggering 397 species of mammals, 1 232 birds and 460 reptiles. Guests can enjoy the wide range of scenery and exceptional wildlife in no less than 97 national parks and 486 wildlife sanctuaries.
An Indian icon, the much-photographed and instantly recognisable Taj Mahal is known as the world’s most famous monument to love. The romantic story of this exceptional building is almost as beautiful as the palace itself. No matter how many photos you have seen of the Taj Mahal, nothing can prepare you for your first glimpse of this magnificent white marble building. The changing lights plays over the pale façade, touching it with rosy pink at dawn and setting it ablaze with a robust golden glow at sunset. From up close, the dazzling inlay of semi-precious stones and the elaborately carved flowers comes into focus, bringing the monument alive in all its spectacular glory.
A land where royal splendour mingles with everyday life, India is filled with magnificent reminders of its colourful past. From the invincible desert forts of Jodhpur and Jaisalmer to the magnificent palaces of Udaipur and Jaipur, and the grand colonial buildings of New Delhi, a thousand beautiful masterpieces are waiting to be explored. Breathtaking architecture, royal palaces, medieval ruins and historical sites take you back to a time filled with legend and romance.
Like the country itself, India’s cuisine is flamboyant, bursting with flavour, aroma and texture. As you travel throughout the country, your taste buds will be delighted with myriad different taste combinations, from the traditional vegetarian dishes of the south to meaty Mughal cuisine in the north, the glowing tandoor ovens of Punjab and the European influences of the former colonies.
With its rich artistic heritage and incredible range of handicrafts, India is a dream destination for shopaholics. From bustling bazaars to suburban shopping malls and upmarket boutiques, the country offers endless opportunities for retail therapy, with a wide variety of prices. No matter where you visit in India, the country is a shoppers’ paradise, where magnificent surprises lie in store. Haggling is an integral part of the Indian shopping experience, so, unless you are shopping in a department store or government emporium, expect to bargain hard for the best price.
With 7 500 km (4 660 miles) of coastline, India is the ideal location for a beach holiday. From pristine beaches lined by coconut palms to luxurious beach resorts dedicated to serious pampering, visitors are certain to find their own brand of relaxation. The rural state of Kerala boasts the additional attraction of its famed backwaters, a seemingly endless network of canals and waterways where the clamour and bustle of India fades to a relaxed and tranquil charm. Houseboat holidays on the vast backwaters offer a genuine rural Indian experience, drifting quietly on palm-lined canals and lagoons, interacting with villagers and enjoying authentic local cuisine.
Celebrated over the ages as a centre for religious philosophy and spiritualism, India is renowned for its alternative therapies. For those in search of spiritual meaning or simply looking to combine some revitalising treatments for body and soul with a sightseeing holiday, India is the ideal place to be. The holy Ganges River is of great significance in Hinduism and a number of great spiritual cities are found along its banks. From the yoga capital of Rishikesh to the famous ghats of Varanasi, pilgrims in search of spiritual awareness throng to the river’s water. In spite of the invariably present crowds, the holy sites of Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism often produce a profound and deeply moving effect on visitors. The daily prayers and rituals are often filled with colourful ceremony that creates an exceptional spectacle for onlookers.
With its range of religions and multitude of gods and goddesses, India has an incredible variety of festivals, many of them regional and all vying with each other in terms of colour, noise and sheer exuberance. Colourful, noisy and larger than life, India’s many festivals are a quintessential part of the jumble of experiences and sensations that makes up a visit to this vibrant destination.
With an incredible variety of terrain, from snowy mountain peaks and sun-baked deserts in the north to moist jungles and sandy beaches in the south, India offers an endless array of outdoor adventures. Trekking and mountaineering take in the beautiful mountain landscapes, while camel safaris explore the deserts and rafting trips follow the trail of India’s long rivers towards the coastline, where warm ocean waters beckon to scuba divers.
India’s enduring love affair with rail travel goes back to the time of the maharajas, who competed with each other for the most luxurious and beautiful carriages. Today, India’s luxury train journeys offer a glimpse into this bygone era. The trains themselves are an integral part of the experience, with plush accommodation, mouth-watering meals and informative guided sightseeing stops.
Where to visit
India’s tiger reserves and national parks
India is home to a number of beautiful nature reserves where guests can encounter the majestic tiger, as well as an array of exotic wildlife. One of India’s most popular nature reserves, Ranthambore National Park is known for its small population of friendly tigers, who do not seem to shy away from the approach of humans. Tucked between the rugged Aravalli and Vindhya hills, the reserve also boasts a spectacular landscape filled with border-strewn highland plateaus.
The central province of Madhya Pradesh boasts a number of exceptional natural reserves. An essential stop on any serious tiger safari, Bandhavgarh National Park is renowned for one of India’s highest concentrations of this magnificent animal. A relatively small park with a thriving tiger population, it offers guests a good chance of encountering the king of the jungle. Prime tiger wilderness, Kanha National Park was one of the first areas to be protected under Project Tiger, aimed at preserving this magnificent animal and remains a renowned conservation area. Kanha is one of India’s largest national parks and is renowned not only for its high tiger concentration, but as the last remaining habitat of the hard ground barasingha, or swamp deer, which was brought back from the brink of extinction thanks to the efforts of the park’s conservationists. A spectacular natural reserve set among typical Central Indian teak jungle, Pench National Park offers a quiet and secluded game viewing experience. Taking its name from the meandering Pench River which intersects the park, the reserve sprawls over a breathtaking landscape of hills, forests and valleys. Coupled with the feeling of having the entire forest to yourself, the gentle, undulating scenery of the Satpura Hills creates an unforgettable jungle experience.
Apart from the majestic tiger, India is also home to a number of other unique species. Famed as the last natural habitat of the Asiatic lion, Gir National Park is known as a rich biodiversity area that forms a haven for a number of endangered wildlife species. Formerly a hunting reserve of the Nawab of Junagadh, the reserve supports not only the Asiatic lions, but also India’s highest densities of leopard and marsh crocodile. Famous for its sightings of India’s one-horned rhino, Kaziranga National Park also offers exceptional elephant viewing opportunities. A World Heritage Site, it is recognised as a biodiversity hotspot thanks to its incredible range of bird and animal species, and diverse habitats.
The most popular port of entry for visitors to India, Delhi offers a fascinating mixture of old and new. A combination of bustling international metropolis, medieval chaos and regal splendour, the city is crammed to bursting point with tombs, temples, monuments and ruins, all of which exist side by side with modern suburbs and glass and chrome skyscrapers. In this quintessentially Indian city a surprise lies waiting around every corner – regal British architecture is combined with ancient Mughal ruins, modern suburban developments and even a touch of rural India. Reminders of long-ago empires co-exist with magnificent museums, temples and mosques, bustling bazaars and elegant shopping emporiums. European grandeur combines effortlessly with a strong Mughal legacy, as well as elements of practically every culture present in India.
Dating back to the seventeenth century, the region of the city known as Old Delhi boasts the magnificent architecture of the Mughal empire, most notably the impressive Red Fort and the Jama Masjid, India’s largest mosque. Filled with fascinating nooks and crannies, Old Delhi teems with life, from its vibrant bazaars to the crowded thoroughfare of the Chandni Chowk.
With its spacious, tree-lined avenues, the area of the city built during the British Raj, known as New Delhi, combines solid colonial architecture with historical tombs and temples. It is here that visitors will find most of the city’s museums, as well as the famed downtown shopping district. A central government complex designed in majestic sandstone is surrounded by wide, leafy avenues and roundabouts. The Rajpath, a straight, broad mall, cuts through the heart of Old Delhi. Striking remnants of the past are found among the modern restaurants, bars and cafes, particularly on the southern edge of the district. South Delhi is filled with a multitude of monuments and historical sites, from traditional Mughal garden tombs to the ruins of the ancient cities once built on this site.
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A jumble of captivating contradictions, Mumbai boasts grand colonial architecture that rubs shoulders with chaotic bazaars, trendy restaurants, exclusive boutiques, slums and shanty towns, all interspersed with beautiful, tropical palm trees. A shopper’s haven, this bustling cosmopolitan metropolis offers anything from pavement stalls and ancient markets to glitzy malls and designer outlets. A melting pot for cultures from every corner of the country, Mumbai embodies a little bit of all India’s diverse traditions rolled into one.
Set along the shores of the Arabian Sea, Mumbai sprawls from a series of islands onto the mainland. Its commercial and cultural centre is the southern end of the island, known as South Mumbai. Most of the city’s tourist attractions are located in Colaba, the southernmost tip of the peninsula. Stately Victorian Gothic buildings grace the central business district of Fort, where the old British fortress, demolished in the 1860s, once stood. Further to the north are the suburbs, home of an increasing number of trendy restaurants, boutiques and night spots.
In the middle of Mumbai Harbour lies Elephanta Island, with its labyrinth of ancient caves and temples cut into the basalt rock. Ferries to the Island depart from the famed landmark of the Gateway to India, a breathtaking ceremonial arch that combines elements of European, Hindu and Muslim architecture. Further north in the district of Fort is another intriguing east-west combination – the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (previously known as Victoria Terminus), a mass of buttresses, domes, turrets, spires and stained glass windows. Equally startling among Mumbai’s palm trees is the city’s university, a 15th century Gothic masterpiece. Known as much for its contents as for its design, the Prince of Wales Museum houses a collection of fine Indian sculpture, terracotta figurines from the Indus Valley, miniature paintings, porcelain, Nepali and Tibetan art, as well as a range of other exhibits.
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The gateway to Rajasthan and part of India’s famed Golden Triangle, Jaipur is a fascinating mix of ancient forts, royal palaces and vibrant bazaars with modern, shiny shopping malls and busy commercial centres.
Surrounded on three sides by the jagged Aravalli Hills, this remarkable city was founded in 1727 by Maharaja Sawai Jal Singh and was carefully laid out along ancient architectural ideals. At the heart of Jaipur is the historical old city, surrounded by huge fortification walls and entered through eight towering gates. Wide avenues packed with camel carts, cycle-rickshaws and wandering cows divide the old city into neat rectangles, each one specialising in a different type of Rajasthan’s renowned handicrafts. Timeless bazaars are crammed with colourful textiles, beautiful pottery and the region’s famed jewellery. Flamboyant and eye-catching, the old city is home to the City Palace, the residence of the maharajas, with its ornately decorated courtyards and pavilions. Another intriguing monument is the Jantar Mantar, one of the five largest stone observatories in the world. Be sure to skip the afternoon rush hour and stay in the old city until sunset, when the buildings take on a rosy glow and you can fully appreciate Jaipur’s nickname of the Pink City.
A thriving capital, Jaipur has long overflowed its old defensive walls and a breathtaking sequence of forts, palaces, cenotaphs and other relics of the maharajas can be found on the outskirts of the city, shoulder to shoulder with its modern additions. One of Rajasthan’s most dramatic buildings, the majestic Amber Fort watches over the city from its perch on a rugged hilltop overlooking the outskirts of Jaipur.
Jaipur is famous for the distinctive colour of its buildings, a reminder of the Brahmins, who used to paint their houses blue to deter insects and keep the dwellings cool during the summer.
Founded in 1459, the old city is encircled by an imposing wall and accessed through eight magnificent gates. A broad, open street connects Jodhpur’s modern centre with the bustling heart of the old city, the Sardar Market, where a hubbub of bustling bazaars is tucked beneath the landmark clock tower. Spreading out from the clock tower is a buzzing tangle of ancient alleys where traders barter for traditional handicrafts, from the baggy trousers named after the city to embroidered shoes, tie-dyed textiles and lacquerware. Puppet makers and traditional spice markets jostle for space with the excellent antique reproductions for which the city is famous.
Encircled within the massive city walls, the majestic Mehrangarh Fort keeps watch over a maze of rooftops from its perch on a rocky mountaintop. Bathed in yellow light at night, this imposing stronghold has the reputation of being the best maintained fort in Rajasthan, and the palace complex, with its network of courtyards, is well worth exploring.
Sprawled in the shadow of the mountaintop fort, the Blue City also boasts the Jaswant Thada, a beautiful marble crematorium constructed for the maharajahs in the 19th century. Part museum, part royal residence and part hotel, the Umaid Bhawan Palace, with its ornate, art deco design, offers fascinating insight into the lives of the royals, with visitors even given the possibility of an enticing glimpse of the current maharaja, who still maintains a home within the palace complex.
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Udaipur is known for its beautiful lakes, the largest of which is the serene Lake Pichola. Built along a series of gentle hills, the winding streets, full of abrupt twists and turns, are dominated by the immense City Palace. The largest in Rajasthan, the complex consists of eleven separate palaces, built of soft yellow sandstone and boasting breathtaking views over the lake. Decorated with octagonal towers, ornate cupolas and balconies, the Palace gazes out over Lake Pichola and its two islands, home of another two spectacular buildings. The famed Lake Palace, with its dazzling architecture, seems to float serenely above the surface of the water on its own island. Remote on its own island at the southern end of the lake, the 17th century Jag Mandir palace delights with its marble dome and arabesques of coloured stones.
Deep within the old city is the Jagdish Temple, whose towering walls and spires are covered with carvings of elaborate scenes and dancing nymphs. Udaipur’s main shopping area lies in the labyrinth of alleys around the palace and is famous for its silver jewellery, wooden folk toys and miniature paintings.
North of the vast Lake Pichola and connected to it by a canal lies another body of water, the Fateh Sagar. Fringed with rugged hills, the eastern side of this lake boasts the pleasant Moti Magri, a steep slope renowned for its picturesque woodland and ornamental gardens. Nearby is the Sahelion-ki-Bari or Garden of the Maids, site of Udaipur’s most striking fountain, which is surrounded by elephant statues, courtyards and formal gardens.
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Best known as the site of the legendary Taj Mahal, the city of Agra boasts a history that dates back to the 2nd century. Capital of the Mughal empire for more than a hundred years, the town is home to some of the finest architectural achievements of this remarkable dynasty. As such, it forms the third apex of the Golden Triangle, a popular tourist itinerary that takes in some of India’s famed architectural highlights.
Agra is situated along the banks of the Yamuna River and most of its historical monuments overlook this waterway. By far the best known of Agra’s attractions, the Taj Mahal is set high on a hill above the river. Further down the river’s banks is the renowned Agra Fort, as well as a selection of other fascinating tombs and mausoleums. Agra reached the peak of its magnificence during the 16th century and the ruins of its ancient city can be seen on the eastern banks of the Yamuna.
Rich in history and culture, Agra is now an industrial and commercial centre, as well as a popular tourist destination. Sprawling and overcrowded, the city provides an intense Indian experience, with busy forts, tombs and mausoleums, as well as bustling chowks or bazaars.
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The oldest continually inhabited city on earth and the religious capital of Hinduism, Varanasi pulsates with colour and vibrates with the sound of temple gongs and bells. Essentially a temple city dedicated to Shiva, Varanasi has a range of sights and experiences to offer the visitor, from crowded streets and alleys to tranquil boat cruises and ceremonial rituals celebrating every aspect of life and death.
Endlessly fascinating and exceptionally photogenic, the city’s most outstanding feature is its ghats, a seemingly endless succession of long flights of stone steps leading down to the river. Almost 80 of these ghats extend along the western bank of the Ganges, mostly used for bathing and ceremonial purposes, but also for cremations. The best time to visit is at dawn, when the river is bathed in a luminous yellow light as colourful throngs of pilgrims perform their morning devotions. A sunset boat ride on the river rewards with the magical sight of thousands of tiny candlelit lamps made of leaves and marigolds being set afloat as part of the ganga aarti ceremony.
Assi Ghat, with its Shiva lingam, is the furthest south of the main ghats, as well as one of the biggest. The Bachraj Ghat is remarkable for its three Jain temples, while Shivala Ghat boasts a small Shiva temple and a 19th century mansion in the Nepalese style. Munshi Ghat is renowned for being particularly photogenic, while Meer Ghat leads to a Nepali temple with erotic sculptures and Trilochan Ghat is notable for its two turrets emerging from the river. Manikarnika, the main burning ghat, is famed for the Manikarnika Well, said to have been dug at the dawn of creation, and a temple dedicated to Ganesh.
Varanasi’s liveliest and most colourful ghat is Dasaswamedh, and a narrow lane leads from here to the Vishwanath Gali (or alley) and the city’s main temple. Also called the Golden Temple, the shining tower and dome of the popular Vishwanath Temple shine out over the city with their more than 800 kg (1 750 lb) of gold plating. A welcome break from the hustle and bustle of Varanasi’s streets, the Benares Hindu University is home to the Bharat Kala Bhavan Museum, with its wonderful collection of miniature painting, as well as ancient manuscripts, sculptures and brocade textiles. Situated on the eastern bank of the Ganges is the impressive Ramnagar Fort and Museum, an odd little museum that houses a collection of vintage American cars, jewel-encrusted sedan chairs and a superb selection of weaponry.
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The highest mountain range in the world, the Himalaya are also one of the most mysterious and awe-inspiring. Isolated by the snow-capped peaks and sheer mountain passes, a unique set of mountain cultures has flourished among the rugged landscape. Stretching across four Indian states, the Himalaya are home to a variety of religions and traditions, as well as a striking diversity of scenery.
The Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim cultures all thrive in the Himalaya, resulting in an astonishing number of picturesque temples, monasteries and mosques, each with their own individual style of architecture, painting and sculpture. The scenery is just as varied, with the rolling hills, tranquil pine forests, vast apple orchards and beautiful valleys of the foothills giving way to dramatic canyons, soaring peaks and spectacular mountain passes. Landscapes range from arid and rocky to lush and forested. Tin-roofed villages huddle among terraced fields, while rushing rivers and serene lakes are dotted among pine, oak or fir forests.
The rugged landscape is not only breathtakingly beautiful, but also ideal for a range of adventure activities, from trekking and climbing to biking, fishing, skiing or even paragliding. Cities such as Darjeeling and Shimla are situated in the foothills of the Himalaya and delight visitors with their spectacular scenery.
One of India’s most beautiful regions, Kerala is a thin strip of land running between the western mountains and the azure waters of the Arabian Sea. The region is famed equally for its breathtaking backwaters, a region of sparkling inland waterways, as it is for its spectacular golden beaches.
Timelessly tranquil, the backwaters consist of a maze of rivers, lakes and canals that meander between a patchwork of green rice paddies, coconut groves and rustic villages. The relaxed backwater lifestyle is best experienced from the deck of a slowly drifting houseboat.
Equally as laid back and just as lovely are the palm-fringed beaches where Kerala’s lush interior meets the balmy waters of the Arabian Sea. Further inland, the mountainous interior is chequered with a network of tea and spice plantations.
With its tropical climate and wealth of medicinal plants, Kerala is also known for its practice of ayurveda, an ancient holistic wellness treatment.
How to get there and how long to stay
A number of international airlines fly directly to India’s major cities, with Delhi and Mumbai the most popular destinations. There is a fairly extensive network of domestic airlines that makes it easy to reach the smaller towns. India also has an excellent rail network and, while the normal trains provide a chaotic and crowded experience, luxury trains are an excellent option for getting around. By far the easiest way to travel in India is by chauffeur-driven vehicle.
India is a large and fascinating country, with enough to keep you busy for weeks on end. However, if you are really limited in terms of time or only have a very specific travel interest, you can explore selected highlights in a minimum of five days.
When to go
The best time to visit India depends on where you want to go and what you want to do. The southern regions are good destinations in the winter months (November to March), as temperatures are mild and game viewing in the national parks is at its best. Winter temperatures in the north can be harsh, but this is an excellent time for birdwatching, as migrant species arrive. Winter is also the breeding time for big cats. Summer weather (April to June) in the south is mild and this is the ideal time for beach holiday or cultural tours in this region. In the north, summers are an excellent time to visit the Himalayas. Although hot, summer is considered a good time for game viewing in the interior, as the jungle thickets dry out and game becomes concentrated at watering holes.
Where to stay
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How much does it cost?
Depending on the length of your visit, the time of year, where you would like to stay and what you would like to do, an India tour can cost anywhere between USD 3 500 and USD 9 000.