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India amazes visitors in every season

THE ads call it incredible India, and incredible it is, an intoxicating cultural cocktail, a blaze of colors, sounds, smells and ideas that leaves many a traveler agape and wanting more.

Summer, autumn, spring, winter monsoon - in all seasons India offers fresh sides of itself.

In winter, the warm western state of Goa, founded by the Portuguese in the early 16th century, is welcoming for beach goers and a fascinating, historic place for the Christmas holidays and many Christian festivities.

Gulmarg, a fabled hill station 64 kilometers from Srinigar in Jammu and Kashmir, is a winter sports paradise. One of Asia's top ski resorts reported on by CNN, it attracts skiers with glistening white peaks, its off-piste, deep-powder, long run skiing. There are no manmade runs, it's all natural.

In Srinigar, also famous for its snowscapes, visitors can rent centrally heated houseboats on Lake Dal for a more picturesque option than one of the many hotels.

Want to see tigers? The Sunderbans National Park in West Bengal has a tiger reserve covering more than 2,585 square kilometers.

The month of March is drenched in the hues of Holi, the festival in which people playfully or roughly put, spray or smear colors on each other.

In April, May and June visitors can enjoy spring and summer in the magical mountains of Himachal Pradesh with half-melted snow and exceptionally fresh air. Travelers can trek and visit quaint villages. Mysticism in Lahaul and Spiti that melt into the barren expanses of Ladakh is worth tasting.

The Himalayan state of Sikkim has marvelous landscapes, romantic getaways and Buddhist art. In May, rhododendrons will color the landscape.

Chhattisgarh state is diverse and contains stunning landscapes, ancient sites and temples as well as sites such as Chitrakote waterfalls, Bango Dam, Tattapani and hot springs. There are many diverse tribal communities in the vast area. The roads are good.

In July when the monsoon rains fall, visit Kerala state and try ayurveda treatments, ancient alternative medicine. Ayurveda massage and various holistic treatments are offered in all tourist destinations. Massage lasts around an hour and a half and it's really soothing.

August is when myriad flowers start to blossom in the Valley of Flowers in Uttarakhand state. Visitors can trek from Govindghat to Ghangaria, around 13 kilometers along the Bhyndar river. The valley seems not to have physical limits, so trekkers can go as far as glaciers to enjoy the picturesque views that will last until September.

Or take an archeological trail in Gujarat on the west coast. Visitors fond of architecture and archaeology won't be disappointed. Gujarat had international trade links dating to 2400-1600 BC. Travelers can explore ancient relics, stairways, statuary, the Sun Temple, monuments and a great museum.

During autumn days, it's pleasant to explore frenetic bazaars and lanes of Old Delhi. Swarming streets and labyrinths of tiny lanes are lined with the remnants of 17th century havelis or old mansions. Shoppers can find real bargains or just eat their way along India's gastronomic highway.

In November, the weather is perfect for visiting Rajasthan's grand forts and palaces. The trip is like stepping into a treasure trove with a must-see list including Jodpur, Udaipur and Jaipur.

(Story compiled by Qu Zhi)

Golden triangle enchants tourists

THE Delhi-Agra-Jaipur tour circuit is also known as the Golden Triangle Tour India. You can get a glimpse of the whole of India by visiting these three important historical cities, which each boast rich cultural heritage.

Delhi: The Immortal City

Modern India's history is synonymous with Delhi. It was from the ramparts of its Red Fort that India's first prime minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, unfurled the national flag on August 15, 1947, signifying the end of British rule.

Today, as India's capital and the seat of its parliament, New Delhi hosts world leaders, diplomats, international missions, sports meetings, cultural festivals and conferences.

Delhi, a major point of entry for foreign travelers to India, boasts a tourism infrastructure which compares with the best in the world - international hotels with extensive facilities, gourmet restaurants, air-conditioned limousines, luxury coaches, bargain shopping, ethnic entertainment and convenient connections by rail and air.

Delhi presents a vast panorama of fascinating images. It is a city where forts, tombs and ruins share the skyline with high-rise buildings and stately homes.

The wide tree-lined avenues of New Delhi give way to the crowded narrow lanes of Old Delhi and along with this change comes a diametrically different culture and lifestyle. The presence of contrasts is a historical legacy of the city. Delhi is a marvellous mix of people and traditions, where museums and cultural centers offer the finest exhibits, art and the best performances from around the country. Delhi's fascinating bazaars and markets spill over with the finest that India has to offer - handicrafts, garments, fabrics and jewelry - making shopping a special delight.

A major gateway into India, Delhi is a metropolitan city in the true sense of the word. It has for centuries attracted rulers, invaders, businessmen, builders, poets, painters and intellectuals from many parts of the world. Today's Delhi encloses many older cities - its stone walls have seen many empires rise and fall.

Agra: Royal City of the Taj Mahal

Agra, in terms of ambience, is still associated with its Mughal period, as visitors walk down the narrow bustling streets. The majority of the buildings in the more modern areas of the town, such as the cantonment, date back over 100 years.

The Taj Mahal, which is essentially one man's monumental testimony to love, has become synonymous not only with this city but with India as a whole.

Agra, with its laid-back lifestyle and its immense wealth of architecture, handicrafts and jewelry, is among the most remarkable cities in the world.

Approaching Agra from Delhi, one passes through the religious cities of Mathura and Vrindava, celebrated in Indian lore and legends.

The road from Agra to Jaipur includes Bharatpur and Deeg in its circuit, while the one heading east offers Gwalior and the exquisite temples of Khajuraho as major tourist attractions.

Jaipur: The Pink City

The origins of the beautiful city of Jaipur can be traced back to the 18th century, during the reign of Jai Singh II who ascended the Amber Throne in 1699. He abandoned the rugged hills of Amber in 1727 and set about laying a perfect palace-city in the adjoining plains. It is this city that became the capital of the post-independence state of Rajasthan.

For long called the Pink City because of the extensive usage of the locally abundant pink stone, Jaipur has massive forts, magnificent palaces, exquisite temples and marvelous gardens.

All through, Jaipur has retained its strong Rajputana flavor tempered by several influences - the Mughal being the most prominent. The region's strong cultural heritage is distinctly evident even today.

The city is a visitor's delight. Jaipur's signature building is Hawa Mahal, a multi-layered palace with a profusion of windows and stone screens.

Jantar Mantar is a stone observatory raised in the 18th century by an astronomer-king. The City Palace was the principal residence of the former ruling family, and is known for its stunning architecture. It also houses a museum.

Jaipur is also home to exquisite handicrafts, beautiful textiles, delicate jewelry and precious gems and stones.

Busy streets and colorful markets showcase much of Jaipur's vibrancy and charm. Together, these images constitute a city of immense variety and interest for today's traveler.

Heading out of the city is Jal Mahal, a former hunting lodge. The experience of visiting Amer Palace is one that cannot be easily described.

You ride up on elephants to the former capital of the royals. Overlooking Amer are two fortresses, Jaigarh and Nahargarh, both full of history of the state's martial past.

The newly built Birla Mandir is a unique monument with exquisite marble carvings. For best effect, see it on a moonlit night.

The Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation and India Tourism Development Corporation operate half-day, full-day and evening tours at very reasonable prices.

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