From the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas in the North, to the sun-soaked beaches of the South, there are many reasons to visit India. When I think about my first visit to India in 2016, I can still smell the drool-inducing aromas of the exotic street food, I can hear the constant beeping of horns and lively chatter of bustling crowds, and I can almost feel the hairs standing up on the back of my neck as I stood inside various temples and fortresses, picturing the history that lay within their walls. Most of all, however, I remember how curious the whole experience made me, eager to discover more about rituals and traditions, and how the locals seemed just as interested in me at times, asking me to stop for selfies in the streets and marvelling at my blonde hair.
It’s been just over a year since I visited India for the first time, and I’m already itching to go back and explore more of the country. There are lots of great reasons to visit India, but after catching up with Incredible India and India’s Ministry of Tourism at this year’s World Travel Market to talk about the changing face of India’s tourism strategy, I’m convinced 2018 is the ultimate year to visit India.
Here are the top reasons to visit India in 2018:
1) Find yourself through spiritual tourism
It’s no secret that India is one of the most spiritually rich and diverse countries in the whole world. The highlight of my trip to India was visiting Varanasi; widely regarded as the spiritual capital of India, one of the seven holiest sites in Hinduism and Jainism, and believed by many to be the birthplace of Buddhism. Hindus believe that if they die in Varanasi and their body is cremated on the banks of the River Ganges, they will achieve instant ‘moksha’ (release) from the cycle of rebirth.
Attending the evening Ganga Aarti ceremony on the banks of the River Ganges was the most moving experience of my life. I stood among hundreds, if not thousands, of people and the River Ganges was filled with boats carrying more observers. We watched a group of priests perform a dedication to Lord Shiva, River Ganga, Surya (Sun), Agni (Fire) and the entire universe featuring flickering flames, ringing bells and saecred hymns.
In 2018, Incredible India is seeing to developing wellness tourism outside of the main spiritual centres of Varanasi, Pune and Ajmer by focusing on new destinations off the beaten path, including monasteries in Lahaul Spiti, Araku and Ananthagiri villages, Gorakhpur (the hometown of Yogi Adityanath) and Ayodhya, birthplace of Rama and the location of the Babri Masjid mosque. In my humble opinion, spiritual tourism is one of the best reasons to visit India in 2018 and these destinations will be top of my bucket list on my next visit to India.
2) Increased focus on North-Eastern states
As part of the new tourism strategy, Incredible India 2.0, India’s Ministry of Tourism is seeking to develop and promote the North-Eastern states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Tripura, Mizoram, Sikkim and Nagaland.
These regions represent a side to India that you may not have imagined before, with lush green landscapes, blue mountains, glistening rivers and untouched natural beauty. Expect hill stations, wildlife, pilgrimages, cruises, adventure sports and more.
So, if you’ve always fancied visiting India but you’ve been put off by the thought of having to queue up to visit famous tourist attractions like the Taj Mahal or Amber Fort, or the thought of getting lost among the crowds in Delhi, consider visiting India’s lesser known North-Eastern states in 2018.
3) Year of Adventure
This leads us on nicely to one of the other top reasons to visit India in 2018. Incredible India and the Ministry of Tourism have dubbed 2018 the ‘Year of Adventure Travel’ in a bid to drive tourism to India all year-round and encourage repeat visits, as many states are perfect for adventure travel throughout all seasons.
In preparation for the Year of Adventure Travel, the Ministry has enforced safety standards and guidelines for adventure travel across India, and has worked closely with the adventure travel industry to create an appealing range of programmes throughout the year.
Go paragliding above the Himalayas in Himachal Pradesh, trekking in Kerala, surfing in Odisha, scuba diving in Goa or mountaineering in Sikkim, just to highlight a few possibilities.
4) It’s safer and easier than ever to visit India
With the e-tourist Visa (e-TV) programme now extended to cover 162 countries, it’s become easier than ever to travel to India.
Furthermore, with the safety and security of both domestic and international tourists in mind, the Ministry of Tourism has introduced a 24-hour toll-free tourist hotline in 12 international languages, including major European languages. The helpline can be reached on 1800-111-363 or on short code 1363 if dialling from within India.
5) India is becoming cleaner
Many people are put off travelling to India because the country has somewhat of a reputation for being dirty and polluted. Admittedly, when I went to India I often found that if I blew my nose in the evening, the tissue would often be black because of the amount of pollution I’d inhaled throughout the day. To limit the pollution, heavy goods vehicles weren’t even allowed to travel on the roads during day time hours.
This is why I’m delighted to hear about the Clean India campaign, otherwise known as the Swachh Bharat Mission. Launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modri back in 2014, this campaign gained momentum in 2017 and efforts are expected to be ramped up even further this year as, the campaign deadline of 2 October 2019 approaches. So, if you visit India in 2018, you can expect to see it looking a lot cleaner than it would’ve done in the past.
For further reasons to visit India in 2018, take a look at the Incredible India website.