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India

Overview

India has a rich history and the palaces, temples and great cities of its ancient cultures cannot fail to grip the imagination of travelers worldwide. The vastness of India challenges the imagination: 3200km (2000 miles) from the mountain fastness of the Himalayas in the north to the tropical lushness of Kerala in the south. The sub-continent is home to one sixth of the world's population, a diverse culture and an intoxicatingly rich history.

The most frequently visited part of India is the Golden Triangle - Delhi and the magnificent monuments of Agra and Jaipur - a legacy of centuries of Muslim rule, but there are more. For the adventurous, nothing beats journeying up far north to the extensive mountain region of Kashmir, formerly a popular summer resort (visitors are now advised to consult government advice before visiting this area), and the more exotic but less accessible region of Ladakh, a mountainous land on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau which is still largely Tibetan in character. Here the opportunities for treks into the remote valleys and over high passes are practically limitless.

Rajasthan
Rajasthan, India's western-most state, is one of India's prime tourist destinations. This is the land of the Rajput Kings, a group of warrior clans who have controlled this part of India for 1000 years. Its strong adherence to the traditions of the past is precisely what makes Rajasthan a compelling place to travel. Rajasthan is India at its exotic and colourful best with its battle-scarred forts, its elegant palaces of breathtaking grandeur and medieval charm, its barren desert and drifting sand dunes that changes its hue with the hour of the day, and its riotous colours as reflected in both the bright colorful costumes as well as charming murals of its buildings. Alongside the harsh, scorched savage summer heat of this land are also sparkling lakes of sublime beauty, wonderful wildlife sanctuaries and captivating ancient temples. It is a land with a lot of soul, as reflected in its many festival and fairs such as the popular Pushkar Camel and Cattle fair held annually in November, the Camel Festival in Bikaner held annually in January, and Desert Festival in Jaisalmer held annually between end January to mid February etc.

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The Taj Mahal

The Indian Himalaya
Not as well known as the Nepal Himalaya, this western section of the great Himalaya chain of mountain ranges which span 2500km long from Pakistan to Bhutan is nevertheless one of the most spectacular and impressive mountain ranges in the world. Within this region, there lies some of the most beautiful alpine territory in the Indian sub-continent ideal for a trekking holiday from short and easy excursions to the long expedition challenges of the snowy peaks.

The Indian Himalaya is divided into 2 different geographic regions: The West Himalaya (Himachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir) and The East Himalaya (see Sikkim).

HIMACHAL PRADESH ( Kullu, Lahaul & Spiti valleys )
Himachal Pradesh is one of the most beautiful states of India with a pleasant climate and cool mountain streams. Incidentally, it supplies India with all its temperate fruit.

LAHAUL & SPITI
Tucked away in the far northern corner, Lahaul and Spiti - the largest district of Himachal Pradesh - is a beautiful place surrounded by high mountains and narrow valleys. Lahaul is often regarded as a midway point enroute to Leh and the Indus valley. To its south are the apple orchards and green pastures of the Kullu Valley; to the north is the vast alpine desert of Ladakh. Sandwiched between these two extremes of terrain and vegetation is the Lahaul Valley - a region of harsh terrain with massive glaciers, barren high mountains, gushing rivers and the idyllic Chandratal (Moon) Lake. Spiti has only recently been opened to foreign tourists and is attractive for its isolated Buddhist gompas and villages. Predominantly Buddhist, Lahaul & Spiti is a land of fascinating Buddhist art and culture, with a friendly people and scenic mountains which make for some memorable treks.

LADAKH
Ladakh means "land of high passes". Until the coming of the aircraft, the only access into this remote, high Trans-Himalayan kingdom, was across several high and dangerous pass crossings. Being in a complete rain shadow region, cut off from the monsoon clouds by the Himalaya and a host of subsidiary ranges, Ladakh and Zanskar is a cold high altitude desert where the elements have carved a fantastic, sometimes grotesque, landscape.

Known also as "Little Tibet", Ladakh is an area of medieval Buddhist monasteries; of vivid red prayer wheels; of millions of prayer flags fluttering from every pole and every bridge. Leh, the capital of Ladakh, is itself a fascinating town to visit with its many quaint places and monasteries and the base for spectacular treks across this remarkable landscape. Further, there are splendid sights of 1000-year old Buddhist monasteries sculpted onto the rocky limestone cliffs of the Indus Valley and within side valleys hidden among saw-toothed ridges throughout. This is a land with a blend of mysticism, traditions, natural beauty - definitely worth a visit.

ZANSKAR
Zanskar ("Copper Star") is another arid beautiful high-altitude valley in the northwest Indian region of Ladakh, where the culture is more Tibetan than Tibet's. The local people, devout Buddhists, manage to coax a simple, comfortable, and joyous way of life from the hardscrabble earth. Although some western-style development has taken place in surrounding Ladakh, Zanskar is still an utterly remote area without airports or roads that is literally cut off from the rest of the world by snow for six-eight months a year.

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