Indian Ocean: 8 magical moments

Indian Ocean: 8 magical moments

Tourists can track tigers in several of India's national parks

1. Track tigers

Seeing these majestic creatures in the zoo can’t compare with the excitement of tracking them in their natural habitat. India is home to a range of national parks where tigers roam, including Ranthambore in Rajasthan, and Bandavgarh, Kanha and Pench in Madhya Pradesh.

By day, guests are driven around by rangers spotting tigers and other wildlife, before sleeping overnight in luxury tented camps and lodges. A tiger safari is a great India add-on, with the most popular option being a visit to Ranthambore after a Golden Triangle itinerary.

2. Dive with manta rays

With wingspans that stretch more than six metres, manta rays are huge, harmless and graceful – the perfect scuba diving companions. These rare creatures can be seen in the Maldives, home to some of the finest dive sites in the world.

Reefs surround these idyllic islands, offering interesting and usually easy diving and excellent snorkelling. The rays are there all year, but in the largest numbers between June and October.

There’s even a manta ray research project at the Marine Discovery Centre, an interactive research and education centre at Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru.

3. Sleep on a houseboat

The southwestern state of Kerala is one of the more peaceful corners of India, and there’s nothing more relaxing than floating around its pretty network of backwaters on a traditional houseboat, or kettuvallam.

Once used for transporting spices and rice, these converted vessels are luxurious affairs, with carved furniture and even bedrooms. Short excursions are available from a number of spots around Vembanad Lake, or visitors can book their own houseboat for overnight sailings.

A crew, including a cook, serve clients’ every whim, leaving guests free to eat and drink while watching the beautiful scenery.

4. Watch sunrise on the Ganges

On land, Varanasi is chaos: rickshaws charge headlong across crossroads, sacred cows wander into shops and street vendors drop fresh snacks into huge vats of boiling oil. But on water, it’s another matter.

A boat trip along the four-mile-long ghats (steps leading into the river) at sunrise is a curiously peaceful experience, despite the crowds on the banks. Pilgrims come to bathe in the Ganges, and brightly coloured saris and the saffron robes of monks glow in the early morning light.

5. Feed giant tortoises

With an average lifespan of more than 100 years, giant tortoises are the world’s longest living animals. These endangered creatures are found only in the Galapagos and the Seychelles, and at the latter clients can combine seeing them with a luxurious beach holiday.

On La Digue – probably the Seychelles’ most laid-back island, with almost no motorised transport – visitors can feed giant tortoises on their way to Anse Source D’Argent, regularly voted one of the world’s best beaches.

Darjeeling Himalayan Railway - the so-called Toy Train
The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

6. Ride the toy train

Winding through the foothills of the Himalayas, the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway – or the Toy Train, as it is often nicknamed – climbs a huge 2,100 metres over its 53-mile journey.

It’s a narrow-gauge railway that runs adjacent to the road, so the trains narrowly miss the front of shops and market stalls as they journey onwards.

Clients can use the train as a means of reaching Darjeeling, or take one of the short ‘joy rides’ from Darjeeling to Ghum, one of the most picturesque stretches of the route, which are operated with traditional steam locomotives.

7. Watch baby elephants bathing

If they weren’t enjoying themselves so much splashing around, the baby elephants might be disturbed – the sound of camera shutters clicking can get pretty loud when it’s bathing time at Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage.

The rescued animals range in size from adolescents to tiny babies, and every day at 10am and 2pm they flock to the river banks for their daily bath.

The orphanage is near Kandy, a city with a stunning temple in the centre of the island, which makes a great stop for a day or two before heading to the beach. Or operators such as Kuoni offer day tours to Pinnawela from south-coast hotels.

8. Cruise on a catamaran

Mauritius is famous for its luxurious accommodation options, but it’d be a shame if clients never ventured beyond the hotel gates. A catamaran cruise (main picture) is a great way to see more, and doesn’t require clients to do too much, fitting well with the relaxing tone that most visitors desire.

Full-day cruises typically head to hotspots for dolphin sightings, pause in secluded coves for snorkelling and swimming, and drop guests off on deserted islets for lunch. Most hotels can organise catamaran excursions.

Sample packages

Transindus offers a 12-day group tour called Tea Gardens & Eastern India which includes a Toy Train ride plus time in Kolkata, Kalimpong, Gangtok and Darjeeling. From £2,295 including flights, many meals, internal travel and scheduled sightseeing., 020 8566 3739

Seasons offers seven nights for the price of five at the Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru until October 23, saving £1,695. The package costs from £2,950 including flights., 01244 202082

Elite Vacations offers seven nights’ B&B in a garden villa at the four-star boutique Le Domaine de L’Orangeraie on La Digue, Seychelles, from £1,674 in September and October, including flights., 01707 371000


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