India has long been known as the mystical land, packed with beautiful architecture, rich history and a great diversity of cultural heritage. Here are the 18 best places to visit in India that should definitely be on your bucket list, when looking to explore this exciting land…
1. Taj Mahal, Agra
Commissioned by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in 1632 in the memory of his late wife, the Taj Mahal was constructed over a span of 20 years by 20,000 artisans. Regarded as one of the finest examples of Mughal Architecture in India, the Taj Mahal is the most visited attraction in India.
Traveller Tip: Go early in the morning when the marble is not too hot and the monument is not too crowded to enjoy. Perfect time: around 5:30 in the morning.
Things to do nearby: Visit the Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri which also showcase beautiful Mughal architecture.
2. Qutub Minar, New Delhi
Known as the tallest brick minaret in the world, the Qutub Minar is housed in the Qutub Complex. Standing at over 70 meters, it takes 379 steps to reach the top. The tower showcases detailed marble inlays, stunning latticed stone screens, and beautiful Kufic calligraphy in its Arabic inscriptions. Do take some time out to see the miraculous Iron Pillar which was created in the 4th century, and still has scientists puzzled over its resistance to corrosion.
Traveller Tip: Plan your visit during the three-day Qutub Festival held every year, to enjoy some great Sufi music and interesting dance performances. This year it will take place from November 15th to 19th. Entry is free.
Things to do nearby: Check out some great food at Olive Bar & Kitchen, Thai High, Qla and Café 79, all of which are within a kilometre of the Qutub Minar. Or sit on the terrace of Dramz The Whisky Bar and sip on a fine glass of Scotch, while enjoying the sight of a lit-up Qutub Minar.
3. Golden Temple, Amritsar
Harmandir Sahib, popularly known as Golden Temple, is known as the holiest shrine for Sikhs and is open to men and women from all religions and walks of life. The community kitchen offers free wholesome food to over 100,000 people every day, making sure no one in the city goes to sleep hungry. A spectacle in itself, the temple is covered with over 100 kilograms of gold, giving it its popular English name.
Traveller Tip: Spend a few hours praying at the temple, take a dip in the holy lake surrounding the temple and eat at the community kitchen.
Things to do nearby: Just a few minutes’ walk from Golden Temple is the Jallianwala Bagh, a much-famed landmark of the Indian Freedom Movement.
4. Khardung La Pass, Ladakh
A treacherous, yet beautiful mountain pass in the Ladakh region of Jammu Kashmir, Khardung La lies north of Leh at a height of 17,582 ft. A gateway to Shyok and Nubra valleys, this pass is famous for being one of the highest motorable roads in the world. Once there, you can opt for paragliding over Ladakh or try your luck with the Ladakh Marathon, a gruelling 4-part race in the mountains.
Traveller Tip: Biking to Khardungla? Plan a longer trip with an overnight stay in the picturesque Nubra Valley.
Things to do nearby: Visit the 3 most beautiful lakes of Ladakh- Pangong, Tso Moriri, and Tso Kar.
5. Sundarbans, West Bengal
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, comprising of three wildlife sanctuaries, the Sundarbans are the largest mangrove forests in the world. Spread over 10,000 square kilometres, the forest is intersected with a complex network of tidal waterways, small islands and mudflats. The area is home to a wide range of flora and fauna with over 260 bird species, the Royal Bengal Tiger, the Estuarine Crocodile and the Indian Python.
Traveller Tip: Navigate the water ways for a glimpse of the elusive Bengal tiger and go bird watching to spot over 260 different species of birds.
Things to do nearby: Check out nearby resorts for plays enacted by locals about the history of the Sundarbans.
6. Sri Venkateswara Swamy Vaari Temple, Tirupati
Millions of devotees visit the Sri Venkateswara Swamy Vaari Temple every year to get a glimpse of the eight-foot tall idol of Lord Venkateswara adorned with gold, diamonds and flowers. The Shri Venkateshwara temple is the wealthiest temple in India due to the sheer number of generous donations by the devotees. Truly a divine experience!
Traveller Tip: Book your Tirupati temple darshan at least a month in advance as about 60,000 pilgrims visit it every day.
Things to do nearby: Tirupati is a foodie’s delight. Some popular eateries are Andhra Spice, Hyderabad House and Maurya Restaurant.
7. Tsomgo lake, Sikkim
Gangtok’s most famous tourist place, Tsomgo Lake is a photographer’s dream. Also known as the Changu Lake, this glacial lake is a kilometre long and about fifty metres deep and changes colour. Surprised? The lake surface reflects different colours with the change of seasons and stays mostly frozen through winter. Its resplendent beauty makes up for the 40 km long journey from Gangtok.
Traveller tip: The lake is located in a restricted area and it is essential for all visiting Indians to obtain permits. In case of foreign nationals, special permits are required.
Things to do nearby: After exploring Tsomgo Lake, your next stop should be Nathula Pass.
8. Radhanagar Beach, Andamans
Radhanagar Beach is proclaimed to be the best beach in Asia and the seventh best beach in the world, as listed by Time Magazine. There is white sand spread out under your feet, a lush green forest on one end and clear aqua green water as far as you can see. Due to its popularity, one would expect it to be a crowded beach, but if you walk a hundred metres to the left or right, you will be able to enjoy a peaceful time.
Traveller tip: Though a perfectly safe beach for swimming in the day, exercise caution after sunset as the waves get intense.
Things to do nearby: There are also a number of other beaches nearby like the Elephant Beach, where you can engage in snorkelling and other water sports.
9. Tea Gardens, Munnar
Situated at the confluence of three mountain streams, Munnar is a picture-perfect town with winding lanes and sprawling tea plantations. The air is fragrant with a mild scent of spice and the views are breath-taking. When here, take a trekking trip to Eravikulam National Park and climb the summit of Anamudi Peak, visit the beautiful lakes of Mattupetty or head to Chinnakanal to witness the beauty of a 2000 meter high waterfall.
Traveller tip: The best things to buy in Munnar are tea, coffee, spices and home-made chocolates.
Things to do nearby: Even if you are not a tea lover, a visit to the Tea Museum at the Nallathanni Estate will be a fun experience.
10. Auroville, Puducherry
Known as the ‘City of Dawn’, Auroville was started in 1968 with the mission of being a universal town, where men and women for all countries could live in harmony, removed from all barriers of creed, politics and nationality; and that is exactly what it is. Auroville is a haven of peace along the beautiful Coromandel coast. Visit the mesmerising Matrimandir and the Auroville beach, sample a mix of local and international food in one of Auroville’s many different eateries and do visit the Auroville bakery for a global taste of baked goodies. Most importantly, mingle with the residents and let the positive energy of this global hamlet enter you.
Traveller Tip: The closest airport is in Chennai from where you can call an Auroville Taxi
Things to do nearby: Explore some unique boutique restaurants in Puducherry (a former French colony) to savour some of the best French cuisine served in India.
11. Rann of Kutch, Gujarat
A part of the Thar Desert in Gujarat, the Rann of Kutch is one of the largest salt deserts in the world. If you are planning a visit, the ideal time is the 3 month long Rann Utsav organised by the Government of Gujarat, starting on 1st of November 16 and ending on 20th February 2017. Not only do you get to sightsee, but also sample the local culture, cuisine and craftsmanship too.
Traveller tip: Make sure you witness a sunset when visiting the Rann of Kutch.
Things to do nearby: A place for some amazing shopping, Kutch is known for its exquisite variety of weaving, patchwork, block-printing, tie-and-dye and rogan-art.
12. Ellora Caves, Aurangabad
The Ellora Caves are the largest rock-cut monastery-temple caves in the world. A UNESCO world heritage site, the caves represent the artwork of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. The Kailasha temple in Cave 16, which is shaped like a chariot, is the largest monolithic rock excavation in the world.
Traveller tip: There are over a 100 caves at the site, of which 34 are open to public viewing.
Things to do nearby: From here you can also visit the Grishneshwar Jyotirlinga Temple which is just a kilometre away.
13. Pangong Tso, Ladakh
A beautiful vision of crystal clear blue, Pangong Tso is situated at a height of 4,250 meters. Spread over 120 km, the lake lies across the borders of India and China. During winters, when the lake freezes completely, an ice staking festival is organised on the frozen lake which gets participation from skaters from all over the world. There are also a number of local cultural performances during this time.
Traveller tip: The lake falls under disputed territory and visitors require a pass from the deputy commissioner of Leh.
Things to do nearby: You can visit the monastery nearby called Tangtse Gompa.
14. Konark Sun Temple, Odisha
Built in the 13th century, the Sun temple of Konark is designed as a chariot of the Sun God and is mounted on 24 wheels, drawn by 7 horses. There are three images of the Sun God at three different sides of the temple which catch the rays of the sun, morning, noon and evening. This temple was also called the ‘Black Pagoda’ by European sailors due to its dark colour.
Traveller tip: The Konark Dance festival, being held in February 2017, is a good time to visit the temple.
Things to do nearby: Take a stroll on Chandrabhaga beach which is just 3 km from Konark temple.
15. Valley of Flowers, Uttrakhand
High in the lofty Himalayas, the Valley of Flowers is a vibrant national park, known for its charming meadows of alpine flowers. The valley is snow clad for most of the year and is opened for visitors from June till September. Visitors need to trek 17 kms from Gobindghat to get to the valley. As the park is open from 8 am to 5 pm only, the return trek needs to be completed on the same day. There is no camping allowed.
Traveller tip: August is the best time to go, as the flowers are in full bloom.
Things to do nearby: If you are an avid trekker, go for a trek to Hemkund Sahib which is close by.
16. Hawa Mahal, Jaipur
Constructed in 1799 by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh, the Hawa Mahal, built with red and pink sandstone, is an iconic landmark of Jaipur. Known as the ‘Palace of Winds’, the Hawa Mahal is a pyramid shaped façade made of 953 windows and decorated with intricate designs, meant to provide the women of the royal family a view of everyday life; without appearing in public.
Traveller tip: Take pictures of the monument in the evenings when the beautiful multicolour glass windows reflect the light.
Things to do nearby: Visit the Jantar Mantar and the City Palace, which are within walking distance.
17. Dasaswamedh Ghat, Varanasi
Dasaswamedh Ghat is the heart of the action in Varanasi. This is the place where the Ganga aarti takes place every evening. One of the oldest and holiest ghats in Varanasi, there is a constant melee of pilgrims, visitors, priests and vendors here and you can watch this energetic carnival for hours without getting bored.
Traveller tip: This is a great place to capture the many colourful facets of India.
Things to do nearby: Take a trip to Darbhanga Ghat which has an imposing palace built by the royal family of Bihar in the early 1900s.
18. Living Root Bridges, Cherrapunjee
Take a walk along the villages of Cherrapunjee, and you’ll spot more than a hundred root bridges. Each of these bridges have been fashioned by locals and can hold up to 50 adults. Root bridges take about 10-15 years to grow, and become stronger with the passage of time. There are some which maybe well over 500 years old! The most notable amongst these is the ‘Umshiang Double-Decker Root Bridge’, probably the only one of its kind in the world.
Traveller tip: Make sure you carry boots and raincoats as this is the wettest region in India.
Things to do nearby: Do visit the Nohkalikai Falls, one of the most striking waterfalls in the region and the Mawsmai Cave.