Why travel to India? It’s a country of startling diversity. With more than 1 billion inhabitants, 2,000 ethnicities, and 200 separate languages, the country is impossible to brand with a narrow label. From the crags and crevices of the Himalaya landscapes, to the emerald profusion of the Kerala backwaters, and blistering amber sands of the Thar Desert, India is a study in contrasts. It’s the birthplace of two of the world’s largest religions, with soaring temples and venerable mosques. India is truly a destination of diversity.
Unlike many large countries, India’s attractions are evenly spread out across the country. Choosing which areas to visit is a challenge, unless you have plenty of time in your itinerary. For most travellers, however, many of the most desirable sites cluster in the following cities you’ll want to include in your India travel. The best way to see these are on our 18-Day Splendours of India – Holidays of a Lifetime, offering a deluxe, small group touring experience.
Mumbai embodies the brio and chaos of modern India. This city of extremes brings Bollywood stars to rub elbows with billionaires of industry. The island city is famous for its seafood and succulent street food; don’t miss the Elco food stalls in Bandra. Mumbai’s markets and bazaars assault the senses, and a trip to Crawford Market is a must.
The municipal Dhobi Ghat, the world’s largest outdoor laundromat, never fails to amaze tourists. Cheeky Chowpatty Beach, with its carnival flair, is a favourite with Mumbaikars and visitors alike. Make a pilgrimage to Mani Bhavan, Mahatma Gandhi‘s home.
Udaipur sparkles in India’s state of Rajasthan, with fantastical palaces and lakes. Despite its population of half a million, Udaipur retains romantic small-town charm. Lake Palace and Lake Pichola are two attractions, and you should visit each one of the city’s five gates, especially the Sun Gate to the east, and Moon Gate to the west. The 15th-century Ranakpur Jain Temple is an architectural marvel of ancient India.
This medieval city, called the Blue City for its tall, blue-painted houses, is a festival for the eyes when viewed from the heights of the massive Mehrangarh Fort. For five centuries, Jodhpur was the Marwar Kingdom capital.
Jaipur is a merry meld of old and new, where camels pulling carts share the street with rickety buses and rattling cars. Don’t miss Bagru and Sanganer, the artisan village where you can buy delicate paper and hand-woven textiles. Jaipur is famous for its City Palace, a complex of royal buildings that still serves as the residence for the Maharaja, although several of the buildings are now museums. Plan a camel ride to see the striking ramparts and gates of Amber Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
India is home to half of the world’s endangered tigers. If you’re interested in catching sight of one, it’s worth the trip to nearby Ranthambore and the Ranthambore National Park. The park was once the private game preserve of Jaipur’s royal family. Today, its rolling hills and scrubby plains are the prowling grounds of 60 wild tigers. Bring your camera, even if you miss capturing a photo of a tiger, the palace ruins nestled in the grasslands make for dramatic photo subjects.
Agra invariably tops most first-timer’s itineraries for India travel. The city is home to the Taj Mahal, and the most impressive Mughal architecture in the country. The Mughal emperors, beginning with Babur, built Agra as an earthly “Garden of Paradise”, and the region’s glorious structures spring from his earliest visions. The Agra Fort, Itimad-ud-Daulah’s Tomb, known as the mini-Taj, and Fatehpur Sikri, built by Babur’s grandson, as well as the Taj itself, are all monuments to the triumphs of the Mughal Empire.
Varanasi, otherwise known as Benares, is a holy city whose name means “City of Light.” Religious life here centres around the Ganges River, and the best way to experience its rituals is with a dawn or sunset boat ride. In a city known for ghats, the most spectacular by far is the Dashashwamedh Ghat near the Vishwanath Temple, where each evening, a group of priests gather to perform Ganga Aarti and the Agni Pooja, or, “Worship of Fire”.
Varanasi is a stimulating mix of the sacred and profane. Throngs of pilgrims and herds of cows share close quarters with businessmen and beggars, and 60,000 begin their day with a body-baring dip in the Ganges.
Delhi is India’s cultural medley, with a history spanning five millennia. The city has been destroyed and rebuilt nearly a dozen times. Delhi’s five major districts are strikingly different: British New Delhi, India’s capital; glitzy South Delhi, the affluent core housing Qutab Minar; Old Delhi, with its wealth of Mughal glory; North Delhi, with its British architecture and University of Delhi; and the lavish Punjabi splendour of West Delhi.
Delhi’s Hindu shrines, Jain temples, and revered mosques are lovely to behold. Don’t miss Hanuman Mandir, Akshardham Temple, and Jama Masjid Mosque. Stroll through Chandni Chowk, the chaotic commercial district and teeming bazaar filled with rickshaws, tongas, and every type of shop. Gawk at the gold and gemstones in Kinari Bazaar and Dariba Kalan. Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s orphanage continues to serve the impoverished in Delhi.
Visiting India is a soul-stirring adventure, as it’s a country with cultural riches and natural beauty. Experiencing a part of it will hopefully inspire further India travel in the future, as you look to discover even more of what this amazing country offers.