India has the second largest population of the world, with about 1.25 billion people living on the subcontinent. With almost three million square kilometres ahead of you, the first challenge is deciding where to go.
Many travellers coming to India for the first time choose to visit the ‘golden triangle’ – the capital Delhi, Agra with its world-famous Taj Mahal, and Jaipur, the 'pink city' with Hawa Mahal, the Palace of Winds. After a week on the move you'll start to understand why so many visitors to India end up staying for months - or years.
There are so many alternatives. Rajasthan in the northwest is the India many imagine: women dressed in brightly coloured saris, majestic palaces and forts and camels swaggering through the desert.
The capital of Maharashtra state, Mumbai, is India's fastest-moving city, home to Bollywood and a rising Indian middle class. Calcutta is widely regarded as India's spiritual centre, a seething, hypnotic cauldron of ceaseless toil.
Head south and the pace slows. Portuguese Goa, the most westernised state, with its beaches and resorts. Kerala, with rice-boats cruising idyllic backwaters and the fortified city of Cochin. Sprawling Karnataka, with the ruins of Hampi and Madurai's simmering Meneekshi Temple, packed with devotees offering sacrifice and holy elephants holding court. Tamil Nadu, vast and rural, that also includes Pondicherry, France's tiny toe-hold onto the Indian sub-continent. And if the heat gets too intense, flee to hill stations, built by the British as hot-season refuges and now happy playgrounds for India's growing middle class.
Push at the frontiers and there are more gems. Troubled Kashmir, with its houseboats and guns. Amritsar, with its 'Golden Temple' defended by pensioners armed with swords, at the heart of Sikkhism. The Himalayan foothills, where trekking routes evolved as ancient trade links to remote mountain settlements.