India is an enormous and diverse destination. Bordered by seven different countries, the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal, it means that there are many different sides to the country. Over 20 official languages, multiple religions and a variety of cuisines exist within India’s borders. You just can’t experience the breadth of its culture and history without some extensive travelling. Let’s take a look at 10 must-visit places in India!
Agra is known for one thing – the iconic and ultimately impressive Taj Mahal. Set on the south bank of the Yamuna River, the Taj draws millions of tourists a year. Built by an emperor as an extravagant memorial to his wife, the mausoleum’s porcelain white marble is an emblem of romance and adventure. Agra itself sits in the shadow of its imposing monument, but is a small and welcoming city. The ancient Mughal-era Agra Fort is an attractive spot to visit – peer over the walls here and catch your first hypnotising glimpse of the Taj.
A city that may seem strange to many Westerners, Varanasi is of great religious importance. The holy city sits on the banks of the divine Ganges and is believed by Hindus to be a sacred place of pilgrimage. The city is known for the religious practises that take place on the ghats alongside the river. You can see pilgrims wash themselves in the waters and the bodies of Hindus being cremated. The sights of life and death along the riverside can be shocking, but a visit to Varanasi is also contemplative, and helps visitors to understand India’s deep cultural and spiritual practises.
In northernmost India within the heavily disputed Kashmir is the mountainous region of Ladakh. This region is large, but it has a low population and a number of nomadic residents. Breathtaking, pristine scenery is a major draw to the area, but virtually all travellers that make it here will also spend time in the town of Leh. The town is located at a very high elevation, and it is home to the 17th century Leh Palace. Buddhist culture is also prominent in Leh, and you may wish to explore some of the Buddhist monasteries and temples here.
The city of lakes, Udaipur glistens romantically on the edge of the desert in Rajasthan. The city is protected by lush hills and it’s where you can find the mesmerising Lake Palace, sitting in the middle of a tranquil lake. Another captivating sight is the imposing but graceful City Palace, and the Monsoon Palace with its gleaming white marble walls. Explore old temples, walk the winding streets of this fanciful corner of India, and slip into times past inside its ancient bazaars.
The Pink City of Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan and is where you can find the beautiful Amber Fort – a sprawling, stunning complex set in the hillside overlooking a lake. Located just outside of the city and built in 1592, the grandiose citadel was also a palace for some time but is now an impressive tourist attraction. Make sure to take a trip to the opulent city palace with its stunning courtyards and gardens, plus the amazingly intricate Palace of Winds. Jaipur forms one corner of the Golden Triangle, and it also makes a great gateway into the lesser-known destinations within Rajasthan.
On the western coast of India is Goa, a former Portuguese colony that blends Indian culture with colonial influences. Goa is popular with international travellers largely because of its spectacular beaches. The most famous of all is Candolim Beach, where travellers from around the world flock to soak up the sun. Anjuna Beach, by contrast, is far less crowded. It is also an amazing place where you can walk to Chapora Fort and admire the sandy coastline from a different perspective. Or check out Palolem, widely considered to be one of the most beautiful beaches in Goa with its natural bay and lofty headlands.
If you’re spending any time in Northern India, you most certainly visit the capital city of Delhi. The enormous sprawling city is one of the oldest in the world. One of the top sights here is the Red Fort, which history dates back to the 17th century. It is made from sandstone, and you can even walk through the Lahore Gate, into the bazaar, through the jewel palace and into the former residence of the Sultan. While in Delhi, you should also make time for the many museums and religious structures that make up the city!
8. Ellora and Ajanta Caves
In the state of Maharashtra, visitors come to explore the caves of Ellora and Ajanta. At Ellora, an enormous complex of shrines is carved from the rocky landscape. These 34 cave shrines are up to 1,500 years old, and they are from three distinct religions: Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism. Two hours away is Ajanta, home to 29 caves. They are full of murals and paintings, most of which reflect Buddhist stories. While the two cave complexes are two hours away, it is well worth making a day trip to visit both!
The Punjabi city of Amritsar lies on the border with Pakistan and is home to the holiest of Sikh sites. The Golden Temple is in the heart of the old city; this serene Sikh shrine provides a place for reflection and inspiration. You can tour the Golden Temple regardless of religion, but you will need to cover your head and remove your shoes. The streets surrounding the temple are a frenetic mix of people, markets and activity. Make sure to pick up some local goods, such as hand-embroidered fabrics and delicately ornate shoes!
The southwestern state of India, Kerala is a place of tropical beauty. Palm trees, white sand beaches and eco-tourism are all big reasons to visit. Besides its famous backwaters, elegant houseboats and temple festivals, Kerala is also home to the Periyar Tiger Reserve. The hub of Kerala is Kochi, where you can see the local fishing industry thriving alongside modern high-rises and colonial architecture.