Why do I love India so much? From the rich historic culture to the huge geographical diversity - they have it all from the snow-capped Himalayan Mountains to the deserts in Gujarat and Rajasthan. It doesn't matter how many times you visit India, there is always something new to discover; each Indian state is like visiting a different country. India is one huge sensory overload from the smells (admittedly sometimes unpleasant) to the beautiful sights.
In recognition of India's 70th Anniversary of its independence, I reveal what my top seven things to do in India are, from tiger spotting in Central India to visiting the Darjeeling Tea Hills…
1. Tigers - Safari in Central India
There is nothing more exciting than seeing a tiger in the wild in India - they move so quietly through the jungle - part of the thrill is the waiting and listening for the alarm calls from the other animals.
One of my best experiences was in Kanha National Park, we had been sitting patiently listening to a sambar deer honking - their alarm call sounds like an old fashioned car horn. It was getting late and we needed to leave the park, so we started making our way out and suddenly came across this beautiful male tiger just ambling slowly down the track (photographed here). When he saw us he turned stared for a while and then started walking rather quickly towards us. He then slipped silently back into the jungle.
2. Delhi - Street Food Tour
Walk through Old Delhi learning about the famous street food, beloved of all Indians. In the narrow alleys, steeped in the culture of this area, are stalls with a history that goes back through many generations. Unravel history, traditions and cultures behind these "street specialties" ranging from the 200 year "Ghantewala" sweet shop, to the "Paratha Wallah Galli", the street that specializes in the flat bread, stuffed with every conceivable ingredient.
3. Jodhpur RIFF
A fantastic music festival held annually in the Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur - this festival brings together both local and foreign musicians to collaborate together. Most importantly, the festival creates a platform for some of these dying arts to be rediscovered, reinvented and rejuvenated. I have been 4 times since it started back in 2007 and this year marks the 10th Anniversary of the festival and will be held on 5th - 9th October 2017.
Visiting Ladakh is a must to add to every India bucket list. Get out of Leh and off the beaten track into untouched villages in the Indus valley, stay in beautifully converted village houses, enjoy bicycle rides, walk, white water raft, marvel at the incredible high altitude desert scenery dominated by rugged snow-capped mountains. Visit the monasteries - listen to the monks chanting - the sound reverberates through your body, it is really rather amazing. Sit with the Buddhist monks and learn all about Buddhism, if you are feeling more energetic you can trek too camping in very remote locations.
5. Visit the Tea Hills in Darjeeling
Step back in time staying in the wonderful Glenburn Tea Estate whilst in Darjeeling. Enjoy walking through the Tea Hills and revel in the amazing views of Kachenjunga (the highest of the Himalayan peaks in India). The surrounding tea gardens and a beautiful setting where you can enjoy fishing for Rainbow, Snow and Brown trout, or even the Golden Mahseer.
6. Cycling Tour of Cochin
Explore the area of Cochin on bikes - simply the best way to get around and discover the areas of Fort Cochin and Mattancherri. Start in Fort Cochin and cycle past the Chinese fishing nets, the dhobi ghats (open air laundries), temples, churches, mosques and the beach. Continue past spice warehouses, the air rich with the smell of dried ginger, cardamom and pepper. As you can probably tell, this area is extremely diverse in sights, and it is also home to a variety of communities. Your private guide will educate you on how these communitites formed in the area and will point out the differences of architecture, dress and language.
7. Staying in your own Private Tented Camp
We believe that Rajasthan is a great destination for children - there is plenty to see to keep the young entertained. The lovely Dera Amer Tented Camp provides a great escape away from the bustling cities and offers the chance for interaction with the Asian elephant - assisting with their daily bath and perhaps taking a walk to the nearby tribal settlements in the ancient Aravalli Mountains.