India is a mystical land of seductive images. Hinduism and its religious rites and red-letter days are woven into the fabric of everyday life. It is also India's vastness that challenges the imagination, being home to one sixth of the world's population. There was an influx of Moghuls in the 1520s from Central Asia, who maintained effective control of the north until the mid 18th century. At the end of that century, as the Moghul Empire declined, the British took control of the whole subcontinent, and the whole of India was administered by a single alien power.
The Indian National Congress was formed in 1885, but made little progress on independence until Mahatma Gandhi began the policy of non-cooperation with the British. But the congress itself was split on the issue of Hindus and Muslims. The Muslims, under Muhammad Ali Jinnah, claimed a separate homeland and in August 1947 the independent states of India and Pakistan came into being. Since this time, India has been a democratic republic.
Such a rich history has spawned palaces, temples and monuments. The most frequently visited part of India is the Golden Triangle. The unfairly maligned great cities of Mumbai and Kolkata have a bustling, colourful charm, while the holy city of Varanasi or the awe-inspiring temples of Tamil Nadu are worthy objects of pilgrimage. For those who prefer more sybaritic pleasures, tackle the palm-fringed beaches of Goa. And for solitude, India ripples with mountains and hills, from the towering beauty of the Himalayas to pine forests, lakes and babbling streams.