Quick take : India
Hot, absolutely totally unbelievably hot. Oh, and humid, did I mention that? No exaggeration, leave the air-conditioning of the airport, you walk through the door and WHAM! It’s like hitting a brick wall and walking into a sauna at the same time.
If it's the rainy season, you will also be soaked within a few seconds.
Welcome to India, one of my favorite countries in the world.
There are many travel guides, both on the web and in books, so for details about where to stay, what to see and when to go, pick one of them up. I recommend the Lonely Planet India guide.
This quick take outlines the places I always visit or try to visit when in India.
Usually, I head to Southern India, flying into Bombay or Madras. I then do a loop from one to the other going south.
If our starting point is Bombay, then the first thing I do is head out to the Island of Elephanta. A train from VT Station, a magnificent Victorian railway station ( if you can see past the grime and the sheer volume of humanity ), takes you overnight to Bangalore, the IT capital of India. You will find many Palaces and Government buildings, one with my favorite inscription “Governments work is Gods work”.
Bangalore to Mysore, for Maharajas’ palaces and temples, lit up at night. There are wonderful fabrics and gemstones to buy.
A bus takes you up to the Hill Station of Ooty, my absolute favorite place in India. This is what India would be like if it was where England is. It is high up so you escape the heat of the low lands. The local population can be seen wearing sweaters whilst going about their daily business or to the horse races or for a stroll up to the peak through the (now) stunning gardens.
Leaving Ooty is a highlight moment. You take the Swiss built, steam-powered train down. Winding through tea plantations and small villages. The occasional strop brings you the most breathtaking scenery. If you are lucky, you might be invited, for a few rupees, onto the footplate of the engine. There is something simply magical about steam travel and this is one of the great train journeys of the world.
At the end of the line from Ooty, change trains and head to Cochin in Kerela and to the Bolgaty Palace Hotel. Never the same place twice, but on an island and with great views. Stay a couple of nights and take in the different atmosphere. The Portuguese once controlled this area and you notice the different attitude of the people. Take a boat trip on the inland waterways and find Chinese fishing nets and hours of tranquility, with waterside villages and Kingfishers playing in the trees.
From Kerela, travel east to the city of Madurai. There are two things here which are fantastic, okay, three if you count the fact that you can actually get – its not just on the menu for show - macaroni cheese! The main temple and the tailors market are both sensational in their own way. The temple is enormous and the central point to the city. Head to the tailors market to get a break from the heat and have clothing made to your specifications. Take a shirt with you, find the fabric and a tailor will copy it for you. Everywhere you look, you will see men working away on their old Singer sewing machines.
Mamallapuram is a train ride away, on the west coast of India and home to the famous shore temple and the monolithic carvings. Chill-out and stay at Silver sands a small hotel out of town, but romantically set, with the whispering pines wood and a beach front that is idyllic. Perhaps you can negotiate with a local fisherman to take you out on his boat or just walk along the beach into the town to chill-out and see the amazing array of stone masonry the area is famous for.
Once you have relaxed enough and ready for city life again, Madras is just a few hours by bus and from there you can take trains all over India or catch a flight home.