She is exhilarating, unpredictable, exciting, mysterious yet wide open to viewing; she is absorbing, unforgettable, challenging, really, really ancient but also science-fantasy-modern; she is simultaneously serene and also chaotically busy and noisy. She is beautiful and rugged at the same time. She can be warm and welcoming and also wild and daunting. She is an amazingly eclectic mix of food, people, colour, religion, culture, art, monuments, incredible scenery and terrain.
She is, in one word – India!
Reach out your hand and let TripAdvisor take you to and through some of India’s wondrous and distinctive destinations. These places have been chosen by TripAdvisor regulars as the most fascinating places they have visited.
New Delhi is the political heart of India and not without reason. Throughout its long, tumultuous and colourful history it has been the succulent apple to every invader, conqueror, would-be-emperor and ordinary traveller’s eye. Like an onion there is layer upon layer of wonders and treats to satisfy every sense including the stomach.
It is one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world and the most popular in India, according to TripAdvisor contributors. That past is one of glory, pomp, splendour and magnificence, which is still evident in the magnificent monuments, forts and palaces dotting the city of today. The narrow, winding lanes housing bazaars where products and goods are traded in the same unchanged manner as they have been for hundreds of years, are as much a part of its history as the more acclaimed parts of this city.
The Iron Pillar, the Qutub Complex housing the amazing brick Qutub Minar and Lodhi Gardens Complex hark back to a period before the Mughals. The Mughal period is amply represented in the massive Lal Qila (Red Fort), the vast Jama Masjid, the neighbouring bustling Chandni Chowk and the picturesque Humayun’s Tomb.
The British colonial legacy is called the New Delhi Districts area. Its iconic buildings comprise of the majestic Rashtrapathi Bhavan (President’s Palace), the India Gate and the lovely circular of Parliament House whose design is based on the ancient Ashoka Chakra. It is also epitomised by wide, tree-lined, arrow straight radiating avenues bounded by stately bungalows.
New Delhi is characterised by large, posh houses, glitzy, brightly lit malls and numerous entertainment outlets. Add now the ultra-modern Metro. The sprawling Swaminarayan Akshardham temple complex on the banks of the Yamuna River is a symbol of the new age city.
These are only a few of the layers that make up the city of Delhi. You are sure to stumble upon some of your own.
Goa is a state of grace as much as it is a location on the Konkan West Coast of India. The sun-blessed climate; the beauty of its long necklace of golden sand beaches fringed by swaying palm trees and lush tropical forests bordered by emerald green rice and paddy fields are enough to send the most jaded traveller into raptures.
The cuisine of Goa, like the rest of the place – a brilliant mix of Konkani and Portuguese – will electrify your palate. You cannot have enough of Goan food, especially the vindaloo. The easy-going, warm, friendly and welcoming locals are like Bebinca (a Goan layered dessert pudding made of flour, sugar, butter, egg yolk, coconut milk and almond flakes). In short, they are absolutely sweet and delightful.
The fusion of East and West in Goa is best seen in the Basilica of Bom Jesus, Fontainhas & Sao Tomé, the Sé Cathedral and Goa Chitra museum. The local markets in Margao and Mapusa (or in any village for that matter) will give you the flavour of Goa as the aroma of spices waft in the warm air and the sound of the sing-song voices of the shop owners and buyers bargaining over their wares.
On to the beaches! Yes, well they are literally innumerable, ranging from the world famous Calangute, Anjana, Candolim, Colva, Majorda and Baga to picturesque isolated Mobor, Patnem and Agonda beaches. This tiny state has many, many more quiet coves and bays where the only visitors are the seabirds gliding above.
If you are looking for a different water experience then head off to the stunning Dudh Sagar Falls (‘Sea of Milk’ in Konkani). Situated to the east of the beaches and on the border with Karnataka, Dudh Sagar Falls is in the superb Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary. Lest you forget, Goa’s wealth also stretches to its bird and animal wildlife – on land and in the sea.
If you never were, then Goa is the place that will turn you into a pure “epicurean”, Greek for pleasure-loving.
The “Pink City” of Jaipur is one of India’s most attractive and visited cities. Its vivid brilliance is frequently brightened up by numerous festivals and events that happen all year round.
Compared to most of India’s other major cities, it is a youngster. Founded in 1727 by Raja Jai Singh II, it more than compensates for its youthfulness. The city is absolutely packed with iconic buildings, any one of which could (and often does) symbolise it. The Jantar Mantar Observatory, City Palace, Hawa Mahal (Wind Palace) and the Lakshmi Temple are some of the outstanding buildings. There are also hundreds of really superb Rajasthani-style havelis (traditional mansions) all over the place. The massive Amber Fort (a World Heritage Site), sits on a hill outside the city, dominating it.
Now almost 300 years old, Jaipur is still an ideal example of town planning. Many of its features hold good today. Its wide geometric-straight avenues are lined by orange-pink stucco façades that give the Old City its ‘pink’ name. The city is arranged into rectangular segments that are organised into bazaars, each dealing exclusively in particular products, trades or businesses. Some of the better known ones are: Johari (jewellery) Bazaar, Tripolia (traditional textiles) Bazaar, Nehru (leather products and footwear) Bazaar, Bapu Bazaar and Chandpole (handicrafts and sculptures) Bazaar.
Jaipur gets really energized and even more colourful during festivals. The better known ones are the Elephant Festival (around February/March), the Kite Festival (14th January every year), Teej Festival, which celebrates Lord Shiva’s reunion with Parvati (July/August). Two others are the Gangaur and Dusshera festivals.
Jaipur is a marvellous and exquisite showcase for Rajasthani culture, heritage and art.
Manali is splendour, magnificence and jaw-dropping beauty at its scenic best. The two most dominant features of Manali are – the surrounding massive, majestic Himalayas and the mighty Beas River. The icing, literally, is when it is covered with snow in winter. These are just three reasons that Manali is one of the most popular destinations in India.
Manali nestles high up in the northern end of the picturesque Kullu Valley through which the Beas flows. It was not always a ‘hill station’, a get-away from the sweltering plains. Its ancient roots go back to when it was an important stop and kick-off post on the Leh/Ladakh/China trade route. Manali is also a convenient gateway to the ruggedly beautiful Rohtang Pass and Solang Valley, which are regularly draped in snow.
Manali’s attraction for visitors is startlingly diverse. They come to relax, soak in the idyllic scenery and serenity and wander through apple orchards and pine forests. The newly-weds and in-love visitors find Manali made-to-order for romance.
Then there are many, many ‘to-do’ pastimes and pursuits for the ‘activity’ oriented, adventure tourist. There is an abundance of things that will cause the adrenaline to start pumping including heart-stopping thrills like white-water rafting, rock climbing, paragliding, trekking and mountain-biking. Then there is skiing when snow falls.
Even the temples in Manali have a stand-out allure to them. They are uniquely Himalayan in architectural style that incorporates slate and layers of wood alternating with stones. The Hadimba and Vashisht Temples are remarkable examples. There is ample evidence of the colourful and eye-catching Tibetan style in the pagoda roofs, balconies and layout of many buildings.
According to TripAdvisor reviewers, Manali has everything that city dwellers want in a hill-station. Whether you want to unwind or ‘rev’ up, Manali is the ideal place for both.
‘The Gateway to India”, Mumbai is a challenge for anyone, especially so for the tourist. And that is what makes it such an exciting place to visit. Your first impression of Mumbai is its furious pace; everyone and everything is buzzing around like a honey bee on steroids. As the financial centre of India’s galloping economy, the city and the people reflect that with their competitiveness and zeal. It has a richly deserved nom de guerre – ‘The City That Never Sleeps.’ You cannot stand still (or afford to) in one place.
Mumbai is a wonderful window that reveals the brilliant, colourful, vibrant mosaic of India. People from all over this huge subcontinent have made their way here. Everybody has a friend or relative in Mumbai. It is India’s ‘City of Dreams’. The dreamers are extremely resourceful and industrious. I mean there is even a very popular walking tour through Asia’s largest shanty town – Dharavi Slum! In Dharavi you will see people engaged in every form of commercial activity, some you would never imagine or believe.
Mumbai may appear to be really crowded and congested with barely space even on the sidewalks because of shops and other activities going on them. It also has a, surprisingly. large number of open, green spaces and parks. The Sanjay Gandhi National Park in North Mumbai is the largest tropical forest within a metropolitan area. It extends for over 100 square kilometres! It also has large stretches of coastline (some rocky) that provide a cool outing and social hangout for its teeming masses. Marine Drive being the most famous is enhanced by the street lights at night that has earned it the term, ‘Queen’s Necklace.’
Mumbai has some of the most impressive, stately and best preserved colonial era buildings in the world. And they are not just museum pieces but living, breathing, hives of activity. Their Gothic/Victorian architecture is truly incredible. One, the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (aka Victoria Terminus), is a historic railway station and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Other notable buildings are the Majestic Hotel, Mumbai High Court, Gateway of India and the blue Knesset Eliyahoo Synagogue.
Mumbai has arguably one of the most vibrant, edgy, diverse, exciting and ever evolving night-life scenes in the country. One of its acquired pseudonyms – “Bollywood” (a cinematic industrial cousin of Hollywood) refers to the city being the most profusely productive film producer in India. There may be a close connection between these two entertainment worlds. Just saying!
Mumbai has incredible wealth sitting right next to deep poverty with neither averse to each other nor bothered. That is at the heart of the Mumbai experience – its entrepreneurial spirit and pulsing pace of life leaves no room or time for envy or antipathy. It’s all about living your life and dreams.
The Rajasthani city of Udaipur is the most beautiful on the Indian sub-continent. As a traveller, when you crest the Aravali hills, your eyes are filled with the sight, spreading out, before you that your mind may not fully appreciate at once. Snuggled amongst the bright ochre hills that surround the city, it is the star in the crown of Rajasthan’s many jewels.
Udaipur is known by several names – ‘Venice of the East’, ‘City of Lakes’ and ‘Jewel of Mewar’. Udaipur is the ‘the most romantic spot’, as rated by most TripAdvisor contributors. Whatever your choice of name, this is a magical place. The city has an elaborate water system that embraces five major lakes: Fateh Sagar Lake, Lake Pichola, Swaroop Sagar Lake, Rangsagar and Doodh Talai Lake. Each one, wondrous in their own right!
Surrounded as it is by the weather-beaten and rocky Aravali Hills and the harsh Thar Desert beyond, Udaipur’s water works are only some of its many wonders. It also houses enchanting architectural treasures. Udaipur has some of India’s (and Rajasthan) grandest and largest forts, palaces, havelis, museums, galleries, gardens and temples.
The Udaipur City Palace (covering nearly half a kilometre) is outstanding. Towering over Lake Pichola, it is a gigantic royal amalgamation of towers, domes, arches, courtyards, pavilions, mahals, corridors, terraces, rooms and hanging gardens. Originally built in 1559, it has been extended and enhanced by successive princes. The complex displays an eclectic mix of architecture that range from Chinese, to Medieval European and Indian influences yet seems homogenous and consistent.
There are other wonderful buildings such as Bagore Haveli with its fantastic glass work and the ethereal white Lake Palace in the centre of Lake Pichola. Udaipur’s temples are just as magnificent architectural marvels as the palaces. Their intricate craftsmanship and construction are reason enough to visit this city. The better known ones are the Jagdish, Sas-Bahu and Ambamata Temples.
Some of India’s most expensive, exclusive and luxurious hotels are located in Udaipur. They are The Taj Lake Palace, Leela Palace and The Oberoi Udaivilas (the world’s number one hotel in 2015).
Fantasy, romance, enchantment, glamour, history, grandeur, luxury, colour and beauty – name it, and Udaipur has it in humungous measure.
Agra and the Taj Mahal – you cannot think of one without the other. They are forever locked together in history like a lover’s embrace. That is fitting, considering what the white marble wonder, the Taj, represents.
The Taj was commissioned in 1632 by Emperor Shah Jahan. This ivory hued, marble, architectural phenomenon took 11 years to build. Other surrounding works took another 10 and was finally completed in 1653. Every aspect of the Taj Mahal and the complex around it are marvels of engineering, architecture, design, horticulture and above all aesthetics. The adjective ‘beautiful’ does not even begin to do justice to it.
The Taj Mahal, however, is not the be-all and end-all of Agra. Agra’s story goes way back to that grand Indian epic – the Mahabharata. Its geographical setting and other factors have ensured that it was always an important political, military and commercial location. Preceding the Mughals, the Afghans, particularly the Lodi dynasty, ruled from here. It was the great Sikander Lodi who founded present day Agra (1503) and the first to move his capital here from Delhi. There are still many existing reminders of that period as many visitors and TripAdvisor reviewers have found.
However, it was under the Mughals, that Agra really flowered. It was known by other names, of course, mainly Akbarabad. Only when the power of the Grand Mughals faded and the Marathas came along, was this city renamed Agra.
The Mughals were great builders and loved their gardens. The lovely Arãm Bãgh of Babur; the massive Red Fort, Fatehpur Sikhri, Tomb of Itimad-ud-Daulah (aka Baby Taj) and the Taj Mahal are just a small sample of their legacy. The Tāj Mahal, Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri are all UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Visit Agra to see the world’s greatest tribute to love and you will leave with the experiences and knowledge of having been to one of India’s greatest historical cities.