By Eric Poole
Fall getaways don’t have to just be ski vacations. Or leaf peeping. Or last-ditch efforts to recapture summer by getting hammered at some all-inclusive resort. If you’re willing to travel a little farther, you can turn that fall getaway into one of the most memorable trips of your life.
India and Nepal (and its neighbor, Bhutan) are off-the-beaten-track destinations that feature incredible UNESCO World Heritage sites, amazing other-worldly cultures, and in the fall, some of their best weather of the year.
So what exactly is there to see?
Let’s start with India, where the Taj Mahal is just the tip of the iceberg. India has 35 UNESCO World Heritage sites. (The U.S., by comparison, only has 23.) And with British and French influences—Britain ruled India for nearly two centuries, and France had colonies there, as well—it’s a continent of extraordinary variety, both in architecture and customs.
Just a few of the incredible sites (beyond the Taj) include:
- The Red Fort (New Delhi): Considered the height of Islamic-influenced architecture, the massive 17th century Red Fort was home to emperors of the Mughal dynasty. Check out the marble pavilions encrusted in jewels.
- The Rajbari Temple Complex (Kalna): Home to 108 enchanting, slope-roofed temples, 74 in an outer circle and 34 in an inner.
- Hazaduari Palace (Murshidabad): A stunning Colonial Palace with more than a thousand real and false doors in its vast corridors. Mushidabad itself is an architectural gem on the Ganges, home to dramatic, whitewashed British colonial structures.
- Temple of the Vedic (Mayapur): A gorgeous new temple complex being constructed as the home of the Vedic spiritual tradition, it includes one of the world’s greatest planetariums.
- Agra Fort (Agra): A 94-acre fort built in the 15th century, it houses more than two dozen richly decorated monuments in the imposing Mughal dynasty style.
But, of course, India isn’t just about history and temples.
Huge street bazaars are popular and plentiful. Filled with incredible handmade Indian crafts, Kashmiri carpets, spices, textiles and art, these bazaars are a fabulous place to pick up souvenirs and special gifts for your home. Be sure to bargain—you can end up paying half the stated price.
And India is known for some of the most palatial hotels—some, literally, in palaces—in the world. Five-star doesn’t begin to describe the level of luxury, service, and over-the-top opulence, all of which you can get at prices comparable to three-star hotels in the U.S.! The Rambagh Palace in Jaipur, for example, is the former residence of the Maharaja of Jaipur. You’ll feel like you should be carrying a scepter.
And then there are the amazingly warm Indian people. These gracious, kind, unassuming citizens embrace visitors with the sort of welcome that will make you never want to leave.
Nepal and Bhutan are compact countries that run along India’s northern border. They feature a wealth of extravagant Hindu and Buddhist sites, which include:
- Pashupatinath Temple: The largest temple complex in Nepal, built in the 5th century, it stretches along both sides of the Bagmati river, and is considered one of the most important religious sites in all of Asia. Hindu cremations are performed here, and are fascinating rituals—but they’re not for the faint of heart!
- Kathmandu Durbar Square: One of three Royal Palace squares, it’s surrounded by the spectacular architecture of the royal palace and temples. It also holds the Kumari Chok, a gilded ceremonial cage in which a girl—chosen to become the human incarnation of the Hindu mother goddess—is worshipped by the Nepalese.
- Boudhanath: With countless monasteries surrounding it, it’s one of the largest Buddhist stupas in Nepal and indeed, in all of Asia. On each side of the stupa are a pair of the all-seeing eyes of Buddha, which could seem creepy but are meant to symbolize awareness. Light a butter lamp and send a prayer anywhere you wish.
- Swayambhunath: Also known as the “Monkey Temple,” it’s one of the holiest sites in Nepal. And because it sits atop a hill, it offers stunning views of Kathmandu below.
- Everest: If you want a heart-in-mouth moment, take a one-hour flight over the Himalayas. You’ll see Mt. Everest up close and personal, in a way almost no one except those insane trekkers ever do. An extraordinary experience.
- Paro Taktsang: Also known as the “Tiger’s Nest,” this 17th century monastic retreat in Bhutan clings to the side of a Himalayan mountain nearly 10,000 feet above sea level. The cultural icon of Bhutan, it features absolutely breathtaking views of the mountains and emerald green valleys below.
So, if you’re thinking about a fall getaway, why limit yourself to ski slopes, and leaves, and passing out by the pool?
Go farther-flung, and take a trip you’ll never forget.
Eric Poole is Director of Marketing for Brand g Vacations, the award-winning all-LGBT cruise and land tour company. More info here: www.brandgvacations.com