My top 10 Incredible India moments

Incredible India tourism and travel

India really does offer visitors incredible moments

SOMETIMES, THERE REALLY is truth in advertising. The Incredible India ad campaign is one of the most successful in the history of tourism. It put India on the tourism map and garnered more prizes than you shake a joss stick at. Using bold imagery that captured both the beauty and essence of the India experience, the campaign captivated travellers and re-awakened their desire for international travel in the wake of the 9/11 crisis.

Incredible India was conceptualized in 2002 by V Sunil while he was Creative Director, Ogilvy and Mather, Delhi, and Amitabh Kant, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Tourism. It resulted in a 16% increase in tourism in its first year, and has been re-worked several times over the last decade or so to acclaim and a steady rise in inbound tourism.

“CNN recently did a survey. Across Asia-Pacific, Europe and America, India emerged as the richest in terms of culture and heritage. India’s strength lies in what is unique about her, that is what Westerners want to discover,” Amitabh Kant said in an interview following the publication of his book Branding India : an incredible story.

I consistently cite the ‘Incredible India’ campaign as a masterstroke of international branding,” wrote Keith Bellows, Editor in Chief, National Geographic Traveler.

While some may criticize the campaign for painting an idealized picture of India that is bound to disappoint tourists who are not prepared for the lack of infrastructure, proliferation of garbage, economic disparity, aggressive and untrained hospitality workers and other challenges to travel (and life!) on the subcontinent, there are those travellers who do indeed have Incredible India experiences — in spite of, or perhaps because of, the unique challenges.

I give you some of the most classic images from the Incredible India campaign accompanied by some of my top Incredible India experiences starting with the Taj Mahal, below.

Read:

Top 5 myths of India

My Story: Why I write about travel in India

Top 5 things I’ve learned after travelling a year in India

Incredible India video

1. The Taj Mahal

Incredible India tourism and travel, Taj Mahal

THE TAJ MAHAL is considered the world’s most beautiful building and the number 1 tourist attraction in India. “A teardrop on the face of eternity.” No matter how many times you’ve seen it in photo and video, no matter how often or how extravagantly it is praised, nothing prepares you for the first time you walk through the red sandstone outer gate and behold it in real life. Seeing the Taj Mahal for the first time restored my faith in man’s ability to create something divine. I went on a very hot day in late March 2006, and for some reason there were few people there that day. I literally walked into the mausoleum almost alone. I had my photo taken with families and groups of women several times. And yes, I can say without hesitation, it was an Incredible India day.

Read:

The Taj Mahal: An Arabian Fantasy in India

2. The Mighty Himalayas

Incredible India tourism and travel, Himalaya

THE HIMALAYAS is the world’s greatest mountain range at 2,400 kilometres long and with most of the planet’s highest peaks. From the foothills, called the Shivaliks (literally Shiva’s tresses), to mighty Kangchenjunga in Sikkim, I have had many incredible experiences in the Himalayas. But one of my first Himalayan experiences will forever be imprinted on my mind as this was when I chanced upon my spiritual home at the Aurovalley Ashram near Rishikesh, at the edge of the Shivaliks. I arrived tired after an early morning train journey from Delhi and immediately went to take a nap in my airy white room. I woke up half-an-hour later feeling more refreshed than I ever have before from a short sleep. I felt as if I had been embraced by the incredible energy of that special place.

Read:

Favourite Places: Rishikesh

Aurovalley Ashram: A haven of peace and conscious living

 3. The Rajasthan desert

Incredible India tourism and travel, Rajasthan, Desert

RAJASTHAN is the biggest state in India, home to one of the world’s largest deserts and a vibrant, traditional culture. It is also one of the most touristed states in the country. There’s a reason. Imagine majestic forts and palaces, exuberant festivals, time-honoured rituals and scenes of aching beauty featuring camels, peacocks, bright sarees and huge turbans. It’s the picture postcard version of India and I can never get enough. But the night I spent camping out on the sand dunes near Jaisalmer on camel safari was truly a real life Incredible India experience.

Read:

1,001 tales of the Jaisalmer desert

The Best Exotic photos of Rajasthan

4. The Bengal Tiger

Incredible India tourism and travel, Ranthambore, tiger, national park, Rajasthan

TIGERS and India are ubiquitous. About 60% of the world’s (diminishing) wild tiger population is in India and there has been a movement in place since 1973 to try and protect them from extinction. At one time numbering about 100,000, there are now less than 2,000 tigers in the wild in India. Project Tiger was launched to try and preserve the tiger’s natural habitat. Dozens of tiger reserves were set up across the country, many of them also offering tourists a chance to glimpse this magnificent creature in the wild. The day I awoke at dawn to drive by open jeep through the sparse, dry forests of Ranthambore National Park in search of the elusive beast was one of the best days I have spent in India.

Read:

Looking for India’s tigers in Ranthambore

The terrible thing about tigers

5. The yoga capital of the world

Incredible India tourism and travel, Rishikesh, yoga

YOGA is a worldwide phenomenon. There’s a yoga studio on just about every corner in my hometown, Toronto. But when I started more than 20 years ago, there were only a few teachers and a few places to take it. Like many, I started doing yoga for largely physical reasons (back pain!) but over time, my interest in yoga and my interest in the birthplace of yoga deepened. Yoga was one of the main reasons I went to India in the first place, and on every trip I spend a good deal of time at yoga ashrams and centres. I have been to many, from one end of the country to the other. But as mentioned above, my spiritual home is Aurovalley Ashram near Rishikesh. I also like and recommend Anand Prakash Yoga Ashram in Rishikesh. There is no greater Incredible India experience for me than meditating quietly by the banks of Ganga (Ganges) and listening to the great river’s lilting song.

Read:

One day at a yoga ashram in India

What life is like at a yoga ashram in India 

6. Huge, colourful festivals

Incredible India tourism and travel, festivals, Diwali, Holi

FESTIVALS in India are unlike anything you have seen or experienced. There is simply no country on earth that can match India for the frequency, exuberance, size, colour and grandeur of the spectacular festivals. I have had the good fortune to celebrate Diwali once and Holi three times in India, but the most incredible festival experience of my life was attending the biggest of them all, the Kumbh Mela. The Maha Kumbh Mela, which happens every 12 years, is the largest gathering humanity on earth (30 million in 2013 at Allahabad). I went to the Ardh Kumbh Mela in Haridwar in 2010, which attracted about 10 million pilgrims, and faced my deepest fears. It was truly one of the peak moments of life. I have never been the same since.

Read:

Alone and at home at the Kumbh Mela

What you need to know about Holi

How to celebrate Diwali in India

7. The women of India

Incredible India tourism and travel, women

THE WOMEN OF INDIA are strong, beautiful and proud. They carry themselves with a grace I have rarely seen elsewhere. Though women’s rights and freedoms in India are not what they should be — India is ranked the fourth-worst place to be a woman on earth — their spirit is undiminished. In fact, many of the most popular deities in India are goddesses such as Lakshmi, Saraswati and Durga / Kali and many of the most country’s powerful politicians are women. The hugging saint, Amma; the distinguished environmentalist Dr Vandana Shiva; and the writer and activist Arundhati Roy are all examples of Indian women who have not let anything hold them back. I love being a woman in India because I can access the world of women, barred to male travellers. Many of these moments are quiet and peaceful, a group of women shopping together, holding a baby, going out for lunch. But the bonds I feel among the women are incredible indeed.

Read:

Celebrating the women of India

8. The sacred and the spiritual

Incredible India tourism and travel, spirituality

THE TEMPLES AND HOLY PLACES of India are faith-filled, vibrant centres. And oftentimes, a river or mountain or animal — e.g. the cow — is just as sacred as any building. The religions and spiritual fervour of India is part of the country’s special character. It has been said that god is more present in India than anywhere on earth. My teacher, Swami Brahmdev of Aurovalley Ashram, says that India is the soul of the world. Throughout India, I have never hesitated to visit temples and take part in Hindu rituals, given the chance. The most powerful spiritual experience I have ever had in India was probably on sacred Mount Arunachala in South India, meditating in Sri Ramana Maharishi’s cave. Like many before me, I felt his presence, though he passed on in 1950. I have also had many spiritual experiences on the banks of the sacred Ganga.

Read:

In the shadow of the sacred mountain

The River

9. Colour!

Incredible India tourism and travel, elephant

INDIA IS COLOURFUL. It has been said before and it will no doubt be said many times more. When people ask me, “Why India?” I often reply that to me India is the only technicolor country. All else are black-and-white in comparison. Things in India just seem so much more flamboyant than anywhere else. The highest mountains, largest festivals, most movies, wildest colour combinations. Like the national bird, the peacock, the women — and sometimes even the men — wear multi-hued, vibrant clothing and large, spectacular jewelry. India is a feast for the senses and a photographer’s paradise. When all else gets you down, just drink in the colour and rejoice.

Read:

Shopping in India: Top 10 things to buy

10. God’s Own Country: Kerala

Incredible India tourism and travel, kerala

KERALA is a South Indian state with a long Arabian Sea coastline and a mountainous interior. Like Rajasthan and Goa, it is one of the most popular tourist regions of India. Tropical beaches and a relaxed vibe are the main attractions. But Kerala has so much more to offer in terms of culture and geography, including the famous Backwaters, the old port town of Kochi, the tea plantations of Munnar, the Ayurvedic resorts and the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, just to name a few. I fell in love with Kerala on my first visit, back in 2006, when I spent a few weeks at the Shinshiva Ayurvedic Resort near Kovalam. It is a gentle place, and makes for a great place to begin your journeys in Incredible India.

Read:

Photo Essay: Kerala is India’s soft landing

Kerala Backwaters video

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53 Responses to My top 10 Incredible India moments

  1. Prasad Np May 22, 2014 at 4:18 am #

    What a beautiful list, and not an easy one to make considering India has so much to offer to those who wish to discover it. I think the sheer scale of every thing in India with its sea of humanity no matter where you go, from the deserts of Rajasthan to the beaches in Kerala combined with colors, customs, rituals, festivals etc. truly combine to make Incredible India… this post is worth bookmarking….
    Prasad Np recently posted..Evening Ganga Aarti at Varanasi Dashashwamedh GhatMy Profile

  2. Cat of Sunshine and Siestas May 22, 2014 at 4:34 am #

    There really is no better word to describe India but incredible (even when there’s a threat of heatstroke, of dengue fever or getting ripped off)! After 30-some countries, India quickly found its way under my skin like no other place has! Beautiful post – had me remembering my trip last month!
    Cat of Sunshine and Siestas recently posted..Learning by Watching and Doing in IndiaMy Profile

  3. Anna May 22, 2014 at 9:39 am #

    Oh Wow! India is indeed incredible and what an incredible list! I feel India pulling me back every day it just gets stronger and stronger and this post reminds me of all the amazing experiences and places in India that I still have on my to do list!
    Anna recently posted..The Melting Pot of PenangMy Profile

    • Mariellen Ward May 22, 2014 at 4:26 pm #

      Anna, India exerts a strange pull on some people. Others can’t stand the place. It’s very interesting! But for those of us who love it, the list of places to go is truly never ending. Every time I travel in India, I add MORE places to the list. The list gets longer, not shorter, ha!
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..The Dabbawallas and The LunchboxMy Profile

  4. Lisa - Wee Wanders May 22, 2014 at 11:28 am #

    What an incredible list – I particularly would love to visit Kerala at some point.
    Lisa – Wee Wanders recently posted..Glasgow’s Braw BurgersMy Profile

    • Mariellen Ward May 22, 2014 at 4:26 pm #

      Lisa, Kerala is very special. I am sure you will love it.
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..Will magic disappear tomorrow?My Profile

    • Chinmay June 4, 2014 at 5:00 am #

      One of the beautiful tourist attraction of Kerala is Magnificent Munnar,is a green paradise – A haven of peace and tranquility!

      Munnar is dotted with scenic lakes, and mountain streams, wooded valleys, misty meadows and spice laden hills.

      Local sightseeing of Munnar includes visit to Mattupetty Dam. Kundala Lake and Echo point, Marayur, Eravikulam National Park, Devikulam, Power house waterfalls.

      The tea leaf covered hillsides, lakes and wildlife of Munnar with its unending possibilities of fun including fishing, trekking, boating and visiting plantation which makes it more beautiful.

      To have a glance of this tour visit :- http://www.swostiindia.com/southindia-t5.php

  5. Bryan May 22, 2014 at 4:14 pm #

    You had me at Yoga… It is a dream to study Yoga in India, but I can’t convince my wife to go. I think I may have to fly solo to live that dream.
    Bryan recently posted..Blue Cheese Stuffed Filet Pairing Challenge – The VoteMy Profile

    • Mariellen Ward May 22, 2014 at 4:28 pm #

      Bryan, the truth is that yoga is a solo journey. And everything you discover on that journey can only strengthen the relationships you already have. If India draws you, then you should go. And if it doesn’t draw your wife, then she probably shouldn’t. It’s not an easy place to travel unless you truly are meant to be there.
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..Getting India wrongMy Profile

  6. Srimanta Ghosh May 23, 2014 at 2:42 am #

    Hi,

    What a beautiful and informative article on India. Yes, I appreciated with your opinion that India is great county to spend some ineradicable moments. The first point Taj Mahal every traveler should have this place in their places to visit in India’s list. Its a wonderful place. Hope everyone would like it to visit.

    Thank you for sharing such a wonderful list of India.
    Srimanta Ghosh recently posted..10 Safety tips for women traveling in IndiaMy Profile

    • Mariellen Ward July 8, 2014 at 8:19 pm #

      Thanks for the comment Srimanta. Like many educated Indians, you speak English better than we do here in Canada, and I had to look up “ineradicable.” And you are right. India is the place for ineradicable experiences.
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..Missing the smells of DelhiMy Profile

  7. Shalu Sharma May 24, 2014 at 9:59 am #

    Great collection of memories of India. Taj Mahal and Rajasthan has to be the best ones. But all in all, India is a great place. That tiger in the canopy is quite a picture.
    Shalu Sharma recently posted..Bhangarh Fort: The most haunted place in IndiaMy Profile

  8. Penelope May 24, 2014 at 8:58 pm #

    Oh wow … this has got my sense of wanderlust going like crazy … when I get back to Asia in 2016, India is definitely topping the agenda!
    Penelope recently posted..Figuring Out The Best Time To Visit Porto SeguroMy Profile

  9. Drew | The Hungry Partier May 25, 2014 at 10:39 pm #

    Thanks for sharing this! I LOVE reading your posts about India. I really want to get there this summer, but flights are so expensive from my home in Korea. I am working on it !
    Drew | The Hungry Partier recently posted..10 Things to do in SingaporeMy Profile

    • Mariellen Ward July 8, 2014 at 8:22 pm #

      Hello Drew, I just KNOW you will make it happen — you have such a positive attitude and so much enthusiasm for travel. Maybe we will even cross paths …
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..The world is watching herMy Profile

  10. Alana - Paper Planes May 26, 2014 at 1:22 am #

    I feel this way when I see some of the ads or promotional videos for Thailand – they don’t have to work hard to make places seem fascinating and beautiful because they are so naturally!
    Alana – Paper Planes recently posted..Announcing the New Shop on Paper PlanesMy Profile

    • Mariellen Ward July 8, 2014 at 8:23 pm #

      India is fascinating, that’s for sure. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea — but no one could call India boring! Hope you find out for yourself one day 🙂
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..Missing the smells of DelhiMy Profile

  11. Shaun May 26, 2014 at 2:08 pm #

    Awesome list and pictures. India is high on my list and will most likely get there in 2015.

    Can’t. Wait.

    Till then I will be picking your brain here!

    Shaun
    http://www.thislifeintrips.com
    Shaun recently posted..How I Booked Flights to Kenya and Japan for under $500!!!My Profile

  12. ishavarma May 29, 2014 at 5:45 am #

    India is the only country which has different cultures in a single place. Your post shows perfectly about indian places and culture. all the best and keep posting this kind of useful information.

    • Mariellen Ward July 8, 2014 at 8:25 pm #

      Ishavarma, it’s true, India is a subcontinent in every sense. There is an astounding variety of cultures and landscapes, I could never get tired of visiting.
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..The world is watching herMy Profile

  13. manisa May 31, 2014 at 3:29 am #

    Really extraordinary work here you done, as a traveler I found really good information about indian tour places. thanks for it.

  14. Paul June 3, 2014 at 8:31 am #

    It looks amazing! I have also similar plans for India and I can´t wait till they coem true! I totally enjoy each article youpublish. But can I have one question please? Do you use any kind of navigation app during your trips, or not? Which one would you recommend, please? Thank you very much!
    Paul recently posted..BANGKOK – THAILANDMy Profile

    • Mariellen Ward July 8, 2014 at 8:26 pm #

      Navigation app? I’m not even sure I know what you’re talking about Paul. The navigation app I use is called talking to people. I find it leads to all kinds of adventures.
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..Will magic disappear tomorrow?My Profile

  15. avneet holiday June 6, 2014 at 4:02 am #

    India is truly an incredible land on this earth.A very informative guide about India, those who haven’t explored India they should visit India once in lifetime.Keep up the good work.
    avneet holiday recently posted..Mount Abu Summer FestivalMy Profile

  16. Ruksana June 10, 2014 at 3:47 pm #

    I’ve always wanted to travel to India..and want to travel even more now after reading this post!!

    http://www.mynostalgicmoments.com

  17. Jeanette Todd June 11, 2014 at 1:52 am #

    Wow! India is such an amazing place to travel. I wish I could go there at least once in a lifetime.

  18. Binoy July 1, 2014 at 1:17 am #

    Hello There ,

    It was nice to see your Blog and wonderful to know you . Have you visited the state called Kerala in india and watched the Festivals in Kerala . While going through your Blog i feel you have explored much of North Than south .

    SO Welcome to Kerala .

    The picture you have put up for festivals is from the Famous Thirssur Pooram .There are various Poorams (Festivals ) that happening in Kerala during Summer which are more diversified than the Thissur Pooram . I encourage you to watch youtube for Nenmara Vallangi Vela , Arattupuzha Pooram , Panchwadyam etc . For more info visti the kerala Govt Tusim site .

    Good luck to you and welcome back .

    Regards ,

    Binoy , Bangalore

    • Mariellen Ward July 8, 2014 at 8:29 pm #

      Hi Binoy, I have spent a lot of time in South India, but it was before I started blogging, I really need to go back and write some fresh stories!
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..Missing the smells of DelhiMy Profile

  19. runBus July 9, 2014 at 5:32 am #

    Super! India is an amazing place for travelling with family and friends. I wish I could go there at least once in a lifetime and enjoy. Keep it up….

    Thanks your so much for sharing valuable information.

  20. Milena Yordanova July 15, 2014 at 8:01 am #

    Awesome list! India is such a colorful, mystical and romantic place. I have always wanted to visit Taj Mahal. It is something divine, out of this world.
    Milena Yordanova recently posted..Musée d’OrsayMy Profile

  21. Vijay July 21, 2014 at 5:39 am #

    Awesome Mariellen
    Appreciable you write a great post about India Thanks a lot i have read it Top to bottom and feel proud on India

  22. Vivek Soni August 13, 2014 at 2:16 am #

    Hi Mariellen,

    Superbly written 10 incredible India moments!
    I’m an Indian but I’m away from India since last few months and reading your blog made me cry!
    Thank you so much. This is the best blog I’ve read about India ever. 🙂
    Vivek Soni recently posted..Longreads’ Best of WordPress, Vol. 3My Profile

  23. Naveen August 29, 2014 at 4:04 pm #

    Now some real facts about India and Women Tourists.

    http://youtu.be/GLStfQkWxPA

  24. Bejoy September 21, 2014 at 6:54 pm #

    Dear Mariellen
    Let me tell you that this is one of the best travel write up in its short and sweet version about India I saw , as we Indians say aditi Devo Bhava really touched in your writing.
    Love to see good writings about India away from usual media’s negative blow ups.
    We welcome you and everyone to our home sweet home

  25. alex December 18, 2014 at 4:22 pm #

    i’m so in love with india , it’s my first time in india , me and my fiancee are enjoying this incredible country , thanks to your list Mariellen we are now forced to add an other week to our journey so that we can cover all other places , i think you guys should also check the website Namasteheritagetravels or coxandking to have a customized tour planned ,namaste

  26. Paul March 2, 2015 at 9:27 am #

    Nice one 🙂 was thinking of making my next big trip to somewhere other than India but having read this I must go back for trip three in three years. It is rather an addictive part of the world 🙂 Nice multi month trip this time to see if it’s possible to get that plac3 out of my system.

  27. jincy March 26, 2015 at 7:31 am #

    Dear mariellene, love you for the blog.i am an indian residing in saudi arabia for work.i could not stop my tears while I was reading, I dont know why!

  28. Niharika April 8, 2015 at 5:15 am #

    Mariellen your post is amazing. I am an indian and this is very nice to read this. I enjoyed this very much. Your way of writing is very appreciable.

  29. Elenora June 1, 2015 at 9:48 am #

    Hi, Mariellen, This is a great summary.
    I am so happy to say, that I experienced 4 out of 10. This is not bad, I think. Soon , i will be half-way: In three weeks I am going to Hemis festival in Ladakh. I can’t wait.

    Thanks for your posts – they are very inspiring.

  30. Murray Feldman June 2, 2015 at 2:28 pm #

    As a Canadian who has spent about 18 or so years in India, I thought about your choices and you have done a great job. If you get to the Himalayas again, go further up to places like Badrinath, Kedarnath and Gangotri. There are also some really great smaller pilgrimage places that few foreigners go to as they are a bit hard to get to and don’t have a lot for foreigners who want something to remind them of ‘home.’ Great job of synthesizing the best India has to offer. I also liked what you said about the Indian women.

  31. Prabal Hazarika June 29, 2015 at 3:56 am #

    Mariellen, Firstly, I’m a new reader of your blog. I’m amazing that you visited more places and know more about India than me although I’m an Indian. But, I think you’ve just missed one of the major part of incredible India i.e., our beautiful North-Eastern India. Kaziranga, Mazuli, (Assam), Tawang(Arunachal Pradesh), Sikkim and if you want to enjoy Westlife for a few days in India , come visit Shillong, (Known as Abode of Cloud). Also known as The Scotland of the east. I assure you , you’ll cherish every moment you’d spend here. Apart from this, this part of India is known for it’s cultural heritage, natural beauty. Best time for visit is Feb-March.

  32. Aysha Ahuja August 2, 2015 at 8:52 am #

    India is really amazing..I love my india.
    Aysha Ahuja recently posted..Robertsganj Sonbhadra Weather NewsMy Profile

  33. shahid October 15, 2015 at 7:03 am #

    HI Mariellen,

    I have visited Taj Mahal in last month. It’s such a beautiful experience. it’s my personal suggestion we should visit at least once in our life

    Regards
    Shahid
    shahid recently posted..10 INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT THE WONDER SUN TEMPLE, KONARK.UNESCO World Heritage SiteMy Profile

  34. John December 15, 2015 at 11:18 am #

    Mariellen,

    Kerala is indeed one of the most beautiful places to visit in India. The photo of the country boat you used in the Kerala section above shows the real beauty of the place. Some of the backwaters of Kumarakom will keep you calling back. The kind of shallow streams shown in the photo are very common here and the residents of the place usually don’t notice the beauty of the places. Only foreign visitors and Keralites who live abroad particularly enjoy such beuatiful places.

    Another beautiful place worth mentioning is Munnar, which is a hill station located in the weaster ghats. Everytime we visit this magnificent hill station, we don’t feel like going back. Usually I go with family and all of us enjoy trekking and watching the fog floating through the hillocks. I have blogged in detail about my backpacking trip to Munnar here – http://www.indiatravelblog.com/resources/3233-Backpacking-trip-to-Munnar.aspx

    Have you been to Munnar? I don’t think you have written about this beautiful hillstation, so I assume this place remains in your wish list. If you are ever coming back to Kerala, Wayanad and Wagamon are two other places worth considering.

  35. Happily Tanned September 14, 2016 at 2:48 am #

    Wowwww….Great list and stunning pictures!

    I have been to all the places you have mentioned and I must say you have captured the essence of India 🙂

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