India in Fall
With temperatures cooling, but days still lazily long, autumn in India is primetime for tackling northern cities like those on the classic “Golden Triangle” circuit. Land in Delhi, home to famed Mughal monuments, mouth-watering delicacies, and a bustling Old City. From there, a short bus or train ride gets you to the picturesque, fort-and-palace-filled Rajasthani capital of Jaipur, as well as Agra (site of the unmissable Taj Mahal).
If you want to head further afield, hop a train (or plane) to the maddeningly frenetic spiritual hub of Varanasi. With its decaying waterfronts and spooky splendor, it’s India’s far trippier answer to Venice. Or take in the laid-back colonial grandeur of Kolkata, whose craftsmen whip into action each October, churning out spectacularly bling-covered goddess effigies in time for Durga Puja. Nearby Shantiniketan, an arty hippie haven, boasts the former stomping grounds of India’s most beloved poet, Rabindranath Tagore.
More interested in nature? An unforgettably bouncy bus ride up the mountains will get you to Himachal Pradesh just in time for apple season, with crystal clear skies and views of the snowcapped Himalaya. For an even bigger adventure, hit up Northeast India, a remote and bewitchingly unspoiled region famed for its natural splendor and tribal cultures.
India in Winter
If you’ve timed your trip to escape the cold back home, head down to India’s narrower end. Fog and noxious smog blanket northern India in winter, and temperatures can turn surprisingly glacial. But the south boasts an eternal summer - and the best beaches in India. In Goa and Kerala, which have large Christian populations, technicolor churches flash with disco lights in preparation for Christmas. Enjoy fresh seafood, coconut-infused cooking, and some of India’s most sparkling coastlines. Rent a houseboat and float down Keralan backwaters in Alleppey, or surf the waves of the Arabian Sea off the canyons of Varkala. Kanyakumari, where three bodies of water meet, marks the extreme tip of India’s triangular-shaped land mass. From there, head further inland into Tamil Nadu, and join throngs of worshippers offering coconuts to the gods in resplendent temple towns like Madurai or Kanchipuram.
On the opposite coast, the French-built city of Pondicherry combines Parisian chic with Indian cool. Hop a rented scooter to nearby Auroville, a sprawling ecological commune peddling everything from ballet to permaculture classes.
If you’re a glutton for icy climes and desperately seeking snowfall, then skip the south and head to the mountains. Track the elusive Grey Ghost on a snow leopard trek through wintry Ladakh, go skiing in the snow-covered valleys of Kashmir, or warm up with a piping hot milky tea in the scenic mountaintop retreats of Shimla or Shillong.
India in Spring
In the south and the northern plains, springtime welcomes rising but still bearable temperatures. With the country in full bloom, it’s only appropriate that the season plays host to India’s festival of colors— Holi— which sees revelers pummel each other with handfuls of colored powder and dye-filled water-guns. Load up your arsenal and make your way to Mathura and Vrindavan, two riverfront pilgrim towns in Uttar Pradesh sacred to Lord Krishna, to partake in some of the unruliest festivities.
To unwind from the crowds, head up to Kheerganga, a blissed-out Himalayan retreat with sky-high mountaintops and a fast-flowing river, believed to be the abode of the goddess Parvati who lends her name to the surrounding valley. Or take in the tea plantations and faded colonial elegance of lush, green Darjeeling. Spring is also the best season for lolling in a houseboat in the beautiful but troubled region of Kashmir, whose shimmering lakes and grassy peaks rival Switzerland in scope and grandeur—in April, you’ll find Srinagar’s famed tulips in bloom.
Spring is also the best season for tiger spotting - check out the wildlife reserves in under-explored, centrally-situated Madhya Pradesh. Or you could opt for star-gazing amid the sand dunes and sun-kissed palaces of Rajasthan, where nights will soon be heating up. Rest assured that the local cuisine, with mouth-scorching heaps of red chilis, will be even hotter.
India in Summer
India in summer belongs to the great outdoors, with the mountains of the north and the hills of the south gearing up for high season. If you can brave the heat, spend enough time at sea level to sample the mouth-watering varieties of mangoes stacked like gold at every fruit stand, including the bright yellow Alphonso, widely heralded as king of the mangoes. But monsoon season hits fast and hard, so make your way to higher (and drier) land as soon as you can.
The former Buddhist kingdom of Ladakh, with its stark, arid peaks and camera-ready, tottering monasteries, is a richly-deserved mecca for challenging treks and white-water rafting. Same goes for the comparatively untrodden region of Spiti and Lahaul, boasting otherworldly views and friendly, hospitable locals. In the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, the famed, sequestered Valley of Flowers— a national park in riotous seasonal bloom— is only reachable as a trek for a few months each summer.
And if you don’t mind sheets of water, you’ll reap discounts aplenty down in monsoon-drenched India, where the heavy pounding of rain on sizzling tin roofs has its own lazy, unforgettable charm.