India is a mystical land that presents the travel with a bamboozling array of unforgettable experiences. Hinduism, the prominent religion, is intimately woven into the fabric of everyday life, reflected in an extraordinary range of time-honoured traditions. Apart from its ancient spiritual framework, India’s vastness also challenges the imagination, being home to one sixth of the world’s population.
Its intoxicatingly rich history can be traced back to at least 2500BC when the first known civilisation settled along the Indus River. There was an influx of Mughal’s in the 1520s from Central Asia, who maintained effective control of the north until the mid-18th century. At the end of that century, as the Mughal Empire declined, the British took control of the whole subcontinent, and India was administered by a single alien power.
The Indian National Congress was formed in 1885, but made little progress on independence until Mahatma Gandhi began the policy of non-violent non-cooperation with the British. But the Congress itself was later split on the issue of Hindus and Muslims. The Muslims, under Mohammad Ali Jinnah, claimed a separate homeland and in August 1947 the independent states of India and Pakistan came into being. Since this time, India has been a democratic republic.
Such a rich history has spawned an incredible number of exquisite palaces, temples and monuments. The most frequently visited part of India is the Golden Triangle, comprised of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. Meanwhile, the people-packed cities of Mumbai (Bombay) and Kolkata (Calcutta) have a bustling, colourful charm, while the holy city of Varanasi and the awe-inspiring temples of Tamil Nadu are rewarding places of pilgrimage. For those in search of tropical bliss, there are the palm-fringed beaches of Goa and Kerala. And for fresh air and serenity, India ripples with pristine mountains and hills, from the towering beauty of the mighty Himalayas to a bevy of beautiful pine forests, orchards and babbling streams.
One of the greatest fascinations of India is the startling juxtaposition of old and new; centuries of history rubbing shoulders with the trappings of modern-day living, from slick Internet cafes and fancy fast-food eateries, to swanky bars and chichi boutiques.
The straw donkey and sombrero image of Spain is now largely consigned to the bin – along with the paella and chips. In its place comes a sheaf of sparkling and evocative new images, as the visitor trend turns from sun-and-fun package holidays to individually tailored, more sophisticated themes.
Spain is a country on the move, a place of rapid change. High-speed railways have conquered the country’s mountainous terrain and many cities now have modern metro and tram networks, testifying to a vibrant and growing economy. But here, too, you will find a country where time stands still, where Roman columns rise into a clear blue sky, where crumbling Arab watchtowers maintain a lonely vigil over vast and magnificent landscapes, and city plazas where the baroque jostles with the modern to strike a uniquely Spanish harmony.
The historic cities of Spain are drenched in the atmosphere of the past, but well equipped to meet modern needs as well. The countryside is infinitely varied, from the ‘Green Spain’ of the rugged Atlantic coast to the parched plains of Castile and La Mancha. The open roads across endless open spaces produce a steady stream of surprises, with hidden villages and unexpected castles, shepherds roaming with their flocks and hilltop windmills appearing unexpectedly. It is a great country for touring.
Rich in history and natural beauty and with more than a fair share of sunshine Spain is a year-round, natural choice for many different kinds of holiday, from outdoor adventures to world-class museums and art galleries to an infinite variety of popular beaches and secluded coves. Not least the people are warm and welcoming – and they know how to party. The Spanish experience would be incomplete without joining in at least one of its famous fiestas.