Exploring India during the summer can be a richly rewarding and life-affirming experience. Sure there may be some challenges like the midday heat, monsoon rains and muddy roads, but if you plan ahead, it can be a memorable cultural adventure.
I traveled with my husband and teenage son in the hot months of June and July. We stuck to the ‘Golden Triangle’ – the area found between the famous cities of New Delhi, Jaipur and Agra. Many stay away during these months, but we found that with very few travelers around, you are welcomed by the locals and treated well. Accommodation is cheap and restaurants are empty. You also have some incredible sights all to yourself – it’s a photographer’s paradise.
Here are some tips to make your trip to India during summer a winner.
Get up early with the birds
Our first day in New Delhi reached 42 degrees C (108 degrees F). Here we were, traipsing around the ruins of a deserted fort in the blaring midday sun. Apart from a couple of donkeys and some poor squirrels trying to find some shade, there were no other signs of life. Feeling dehydrated and sunburnt, we learnt our lesson – get up early!
The best advice is to get up when the first light of day is appearing faintly on the horizon. In the cool of dawn, the birdsong is beautiful and the wildlife prolific.
Wildlife safaris can be arranged in the Aravalli Hills behind Alwal, in the desert country north of Jaipur and at Keoladeo Ghana National Park, a famous wetland between Jaipur and Agra. Expect to see some exotic animals including the jackal, samba deer, antelope, mongoose, monkey, peacock, woodpecker and giant turtle.
Rising early means you can get to the popular sights in time for the golden glow of sunrise. Must see locations include the Qutb Minar and Tughlaqabad Fort in New Delhi, Amber Fort in Jaipur, Fatephur Sikri, Agra Fort and of course the majestic Taj Mahal.
The locals are also up at the break of dawn to sell their produce at the fresh food markets. Bursting with colour, noise and tantalising smells, markets capture the essence of India.
Retreat to a cool abode
After the morning’s exertion, it is a good idea to sit out the heat of midday at your cool abode. It is a perfect excuse to wallow in a pool, sip iced tea, doze under a cooling fan, write up your journal or indulge in an Ayurvedic massage.
Our favourite hotel was Dadhikhar Fort near Alwal where we had the whole fort to ourselves and were treated like royalty. Magnificent stone rooms furnished with luxurious drapes, vibrant rugs, and views over the isolated desert; little walled gardens with lush green grass and flowering roses; mouth-watering meals cooked by a personal chef. Amazing!
Other cool accommodation options include the eco-friendly Tree House resort north of Jaipur and the Laxmi Vilas Palace at Bharatphur with its exquisite, heritage rooms that reminded us of the Marigold Hotel.
Chill out with the locals
With your energy revived, the cooler afternoon is ideal for more exploration. Many locals head outside to collect water, wash their vivid saris or chill out at the nearest river, lake or waterhole. This is a wonderful opportunity to meet people and join in the fun.
On the outskirts of Jaipur you can spend an afternoon feeding and washing the rescue elephants at Elefantastic. The elephants reciprocate by spraying you with water from their trunks. Just like a scene from the Jungle Book!
If it’s raining then catch up on some shopping at the local bazaars, see a Bollywood film, explore a Royal palace or enjoy a sundowner at a roadside bar.
Cover up well
Dressing conservatively in long pants (or a skirt) with a sleeved shirt and hat will make your trip comfortable. Apart from keeping the hot sun off your skin, it is less likely to cause offence amongst locals.
If you are traveling in the summer monsoon which normally hits in late June then be prepared with good rain gear and waterproof shoes. Normally, showers are sporadic but heavy.
Get yourself a good guide
Many towns in India can be a bit overwhelming with chaotic traffic, honking horns and lots of people and cows wandering around. Having an insider to guide you to cool secret spots, sacred temples and local food jaunts can make your trip a lot easier
In Jaipur we were blessed to meet Janu – the best superstar guide we’ve ever met. As well as having a car with air-conditioning, WiFi, funky music and a selection of sweets and water, he also knew the best authentic places to buy silver jewelry, marble carvings and printed fabrics.
In Agra you can sign up for dawn yoga on a little grassy hill overlooking the Taj Mahal. As the sun rises, the white marble of the Taj Mahal glistens whilst you breathe in the peace and serenity of this special spot.
A walking tour in Old Delhi is a must. Exploring the dark alleyways, the old spice market and the atmospheric temples are a highlight. Feasting on a lunch of aromatic curries, pappadams, yoghurt lassi and delectable Indian sweets is unforgettable.
Traveling to India during the summer has its challenges, but if you plan ahead and take precautions, it is worth it. Your reward will be intoxicating memories of friendly people, vibrant street scenes, dramatic landscapes and culinary treasures.
This is a guest post by Liz Noble.
Liz Noble is a Sydneysider with a passion for photography and a love of nature, dogs and adventure. Her favourite trips include exploring Africa, caravanning around Europe, backpacking in India, sailing the Aegean and immersing herself in Asia. Despite travelling to more than 50 countries, Liz is always planning her next escape – usually somewhere hot and exotic!
She runs a blog, TheEntranceTravel.com which showcases the beautiful coast north of Sydney, Australia.