India has fascinated people through centuries. Settlements and thriving ports of the ancient Indus Valley Civilization testify that India was way ahead of its time. From the Greeks to Mughals to British have all tried to make India their home. And why not? India’s prosperity and cultural diversity attracted people to India from far off lands. It was not called “The Golden Sparrow” for nothing.
And had it not been for the curiosity of Christopher Columbus for India, America wouldn’t have been discovered either!
India is the seventh-largest country by area. There are far too many stunning places spread across the length and breadth of the country to not visit. If you are visiting India, one trip will never be enough. The country calls you back with love and compassion.
But if you are visiting the country for the first time, these are the places you absolutely must visit. And then come back for more.
1) Agra & Fatehpur Sikri
Agra is synonymous to the Taj Mahal, the timeless piece of love made out of white marble by a Mughal Emperor of India, Shah Jahan, in fond memory of his beautiful wife, Mumtaz Mahal. But, this erstwhile capital of India, situated on the banks of river Yamuna in Uttar Pradesh has a lot more to offer than the Taj. Visit the Agra fort, commissioned by the great Mughal Emperor Akbar or the Fatehpur Sikri or the breathtaking gardens in and around the city and travel back in time when the history of India was written. And while you’re there do not forget to devour the “petha“, a translucent sweet candy made from ash gourd vegetable and the super delicious savory snack, “dalmonth“.
Be sure to check the fees structure as well as rules and regulations for entry to various monuments. The Taj Mahal is closed every Friday. Its too obvious to state but Taj Mahal is one of the top-picks in must see places for first time vacationers in India.
An interconnected network of lakes, Canals & Rivers and inlets spread over 900 km lying parallel to the Arabian Sea coast in Kerala in South India; the Kerala backwaters form an interesting ecosystem of fresh water from lakes meeting the seawater from Arabian Sea. This unique tourist attraction was originally used as one of the main transportation alleys. Spend a few days on the house-boats in middle of a 200 sq km water body, away from laptops, mobile networks with a nice book to read while sipping fresh tender coconut water. Do indulge in the fresh seafood, made in flavors unique to Kerala.
Do take your mosquito repellants along, as it is a water-borne area and mosquitoes are common. Backwaters tend to be quite deep, and be careful while swimming. Make sure there the area is authorized by lifeguards and avoid swimming late nights and early mornings.
3) Varanasi (Banaras)
The holy city of Varanasi (also called Benaras and Kashi), situated on the banks of the holy river Ganga in Uttar Pradesh, is considered the holiest of the seven sacred cities. It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and Hindus believe that death at Varanasi brings salvation. Varanasi has nearly 100 ghats which lead to the river Ganga. Many legends and mythologies are associated with various ghats. Do not miss the evening “Agni Pooja” (Worship to Fire) at the spectacular Dashashwamedh Ghat, wherein dedication is made to Lord Shiva, River Ganga, Sun, Fire and whole universe. Special aartis are held every Tuesday and on religious festivals.
History, culture, art; Rajasthan has it all. How does the idea of being surrounded by silver sand dunes, absorbing the folk music of rural Rajasthan sound to you? What if I add taking the tour of the Thar Desert, which is the 18th largest subtropical desert in the world, on a camel back to it? Not too keen? What if I say that you can never run out of palaces to visit in Rajasthan? Rajasthan literally means “Land of Kings”. The brave land of Mewar which fought with great valour against the invasion of the Mughals. Rajasthan will truly make you feel royal for the few days you spend there. Jaipur, Udaipur, Jodhpur & Jaisalmer are some of the most popular destinations in the state.
Be sure to hydrate yourself well and drink lots of water.
There is something about this breathtaking city of ruins, which was once the capital of Vijaynagara Empire, the last great Hindu Empire in South India. The early settlements at Hampi date as back as 1 CE and hold a historical and architectural significance. With Tungabhadra River guarding it on one side and rocky hills on the other, Hampi was a natural fortress. Hampi boasts of magnificent temples, palaces and other monuments which tell you a tale of what a thriving city it once was. Do not miss the Hampi Utsav, which takes place in November for a celebration of music and dance.
Be careful of slippery rocks if visiting during monsoon. Winter would be ideal time to visit Hampi.
Sun, sand and a bottle of chilled beer. Welcome to Goa. Covering over 131 km of the Konkan coastline, Goa has over two dozen beaches to explore, with each beach being unique in itself. From peaceful Keri beach in the northern most extreme of Goan coast to the vibrant Wednesday flea market at Anjuna beach which offer loads of activities and adventure sports. From seamless sand at Baga beach, which also offers water sports, like paragliding and jet-skiing, to Colva beach in South Goa where you can also spot dolphins.
Anjuna beach is not considered very safe for swimming. Do take necessary precautions.
Exquisitely carved temples with erotic kamasutra sculptures and carvings engraved centuries ago, Khajuraho group of monuments are prime examples of finest art in the world. The city was the cultural capital of the Chandel Rajputs, a Hindu dynasty, who built the temples in span of over 200 years between 950 and 1150. Originally there were 85 temples, of which only 25 now remain preserved. Khajuraho temple complex offers an hour long light and sound show every evening which depicts history, philosophy and art of sculpting these temples. Khajuraho Dance Festival is also held every year in February, which should not be missed.
Come to Sikkim and get one step closer to knowing yourself. Exhilarating snow-capped mountains, serene monasteries, beautiful terraced fields: Sikkim has it all. Sikkim is also home to Kunchenjunga, world’s third highest peak, which forms part of the Himalaya mountain range, and also offers excellent trekking trails. The sustainable community-based village and ecotourism developed in the state with the help of Japanese and American experts makes Sikkim a must visit destination.
Ladakh is the mountainous region beyond the Himalayas in northwest Jammu and Kashmir in north India. Ladakh is home to some of the most beautiful Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and stunning landscapes. Meditate in any of these serene monasteries or volunteer to work in an NGO for a couple of months. Or challenge yourself to a trek
You may need an inner line permit to access some areas. It is not advisable to undertake treks independently as infrastructure is not well developed. Located above 3500 m, be careful with altitude sickness.
Sunderbans Mangroves form the world’s largest mangrove ecosystem, for the mangrove species Heritiera fomes, locally called sundari. It lies on the delta of the Ganga, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers on the Bay of Bengal. The area is known for its wide range of fauna, including 260 bird species, the Bengal tiger and other threatened species like estuarine crocodile and the Indian python. The Sunderbans is part of UNESCO World Heritage Site and covers Bangladesh and Indian state West Bengal.
This post was originally published on Trodly travel blog.
Featured image by Akshay Charegaonkar