A passage through India

Visiting the subcontinent? These are the top 10 ways to make the most of your trip, says Rhiannon Batten
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The Independent Travel

DO THE HERITAGE HAT TRICK

You can take in all three of the big Indian sights - Delhi, Agra and Jaipur - on an eight-day trip with Tribes Travel. Starting with a guided tour through the Indian capital, the trip continues on to Jaipur, dubbed the "pink city" because of the colour of its buildings, and the Taj Mahal at Agra, as well as nearby Fatehpur Sikri, a deserted Moghul city that sits serenely on the top of a ridge. Prices start from £790 per person including luxury accommodation (bed and breakfast only), transport, local guides and entrance fees but not flights from the UK (01728 685971, www.tribes.co.uk).

GO ON SAFARI

Africa may be better known as a safari destination, but India has great wildlife too. Tigers, leopards, swamp deer, chinkara and wild elephants are all to be seen. Explore Worldwide runs 17-day safari tours to two of the country's best wildlife reserves, via Delhi, the erotically-carved temples at Khajuraho and the holy city of Varanasi, from £1,235 per person. The price includes flights to the Indian capital, accommodation, transport and most meals (01252 760 000, www.exploreworldwide.com).

MAKE LIFE A BEACH

If your idea of the perfect break involves sun, sand and samosas, Goa is the obvious destination. There are lots of other good beaches in India, but none that are so set up for straightforward holidaying. Buy a cheap package deal, idle for a few days on the sand and then spend the money you've saved on setting out to explore the state's other attractions: 16th-century churches, crumbling Portuguese mansions and upmarket fish restaurants. One-week packages to Goa start from around £425 including flights from the UK, transfers andbed and breakfast accommodation,with First Choice (0870 850 3999, www.firstchoice.co.uk).

FIND HAPPINESS

See if the recent survey that suggested Buddhism is the key to happiness is true with a trek through the Buddhist region of Ladakh. Taking in dramatic landscapes, cliff-top monasteries, remote villages and the peaceful city of Leh along the way, the Himalayas are a constant backdrop to Travelbag Adventures' trip. July to September is the optimum (or in some places, only) time to visit Ladakh and with snowmelt at its peak, it's also the ideal time for white-water rafting. Prices start from £1,359 per person, including transport, guides, 14 nights accommodation, most meals and flights from the UK (01420 541007, www.travelbag-adventures.com).

MAKE A MASALA OF IT

Enjoying local food can be one of the delights of travel, but withEssential India's help you can learn how to make those authentic curry dishes, too. Its 14-day cookery workshops, run by vegetarian cookery writer Rachel Demuth, take place in the stunning Kangra Valley, in northern India and cover everything from traditional village cuisine to Tibetan, Punjabi and South Indian food. Courses run in spring and autumn and start at £835 per person including full-board accommodation, transport and excursions but not flights (01225 868544, www.essential-india.co.uk).

TAKE THE SCENIC ROUTE

If the hippie trail passed you by and you want to try to recreate the experience in a more modern-day way, make India your final destination on a whirlwind 11-week journey from Tashkent to New Delhi, via Kyrgyzstan, Turkestan, Tibet, Nepal and the Baratpur Bird Sanctuary with Dragoman (01728 861133, www.dragoman.com). The next trip leaves in July 2004 and costs £2,600 per person, including transport, some unusual yurt homestays and more conventional accommodation, and most food but not flights from the UK.

TRAVEL LIKE A PRINCE (OR PRINCESS)

For a glimpse of India at its most colourful, the state of Rajasthan is hard to beat, with rose-hued forts, glitzy palaces, harsh deserts, bustling markets and bumpy camel safaris all on offer. If you want to do it in a bit of style, Trans Indus (020-8566 2729, www.transindus.co.uk) runs a comprehensive 17-day tour from Delhi through Samode, Mandawa, Bikaner, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Udaipur, Deogarh, Jaipur and Agra from £1,569, including flights from the UK, transport and luxury bed and breakfast accommodation. In October there are two special tours; a Diwali trip that takes in the festival of lights, and another that visits the Pushkar Camel Fair.

GET BLISSED OUT

To spend a week being pampered, make your way north to the luxury spa of Ananda in the Himalayas. The spa was once the residence of the Maharaja of Tehri-Garhwal. Around 80 different treatments on offer (a combination of Ayurvedic and Western styles), as well as an outdoor pool, hi-tech gym, squash court, golf course and the chance to go rafting or trekking. If all the exercise doesn't do you good, the peaceful green hillsides and fresh mountain air that surround it will. Abercrombie & Kent can arrange packages that include international flights, two nights at the Taj Mahal hotel in Delhi and five nights bed and breakfast at Ananda from £1,325 (0845 0700 615, www.abercrombiekent.co.uk).

FOLLOW THE SPICE TRAIL

The south-western Indian state of Kerala has been fought over for centuries by those seeking control over its lucrative spice trade. These days, the only fighting being done is for space on a tour of the region - taking in the historic city of Cochin, the hill stations and tea plantations of the lofty Western Ghats and a cruise by kettuvallam, or houseboat, on Kerala's palm-filled backwaters. Greaves Travel runs just such a trip, which also includes visits to Periyar wildlife sanctuary and cardamom, coffee, ginger and pepper-growing estates. The price of £1,489 includes flights, accommodation and most meals (020-7487 9111, www.greavesindia.com).

SPLASH OUT ON THE GANGES

Taking pride of place on the holy river Ganges, the historic city of Varanasi is one of the historical - and spiritual - highlights of India. Most people spend a few days here, getting lost among the backstreets or just wandering along the riverside ghats. The most spectacular way to see it, though, is on sunrise boat trip. Such a voyage is included on Audley Travel's Ganges-tracing trip which runs from Rishikesh, where the Ganges leaves the mountains, all the way to Varanasi, via temples and hill stations. The 15-day trip costs from £1,600, including international flights (01869 276 200, www.audleytravel.com).

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