There are some who love India and there are others who would never go near the subcontinent. Although known for high levels of poverty, pollution, and overpopulation, we decided to brave these risks to explore one of the most fascinating countries on the planet. Here are our picks for 17 top attractions in India.
1. Taj Mahal
Some people may say it’s overrated but from personal experience, the Taj Mahal in Agra, Uttar Pradesh, is simply stunning. If you take away the touts, cameramen, and crowds, this is a truly unique piece of architecture. There are is so much detail here no wonder it took Shah Jahan several years to complete this white marble colossus to honor his late wife, Mumtaz.
2. Hawa Mahal
This pink sandstone gem is definitely a knock out in person. It was built in 1799 by the maharaja to allow the palace women to view the city streets while remaining in purdah (the practice of keeping women hidden from public view). Peek through one of its many jharokhas (hanging balconies) to get tiny views of the action below.
3. Qutb Minar
Qutb Minar was one of our favorite tourist destinations in New Delhi. The main attraction is a sandstone structure, the highest tower in the whole of the country, at 72.5 meters. It was built in the early 13th century for the muezzin to deliver the call to prayer. The grounds also include the famous rust-resistant iron pillar, two mosques, tombs, and ornate gateways. The complex is also a UNESCO-protected World Heritage site.
4. Toorji Ka Jhalara
Although there’s a much more famous stepwell on the outskirts of Jaipur, don’t discount this very accessible one on the fringes of Jodhpur city. This stepwell was built for the people of Jodhpur in the 1740s by a famous Jodhpurite queen. If you do decide to go down the well, be careful because the stairs can get very slippery and disorienting!
5. Jantar Mantar
The Indians of yore definitely knew how to study the skies above. Jantar Mantar bears testament to this; a huge collection of astronomical instruments built in the 18th century. Twenty instruments track the stars and other celestial bodies on a daily basis. This site is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
6. Amba Vilas Palace
Located in Mysuru in South India, Amba Vilas was one of the most impressive palaces we visited on the subcontinent. In fact, it’s India’s second most popular tourist attraction, after the Taj Mahal. However, we were only allowed to capture the superb external architecture as cameras are forbidden inside the palace. Note that this did not stop locals from taking sneaky shots of turquoise columns and pretty pavilions.
7. Jama Masjid
Although the staff wasn’t the nicest we met in India, we certainly appreciated the beauty of Jama Masjid, Delhi’s oldest and most imposing mosques. This marble and red sandstone structure was built by Shah Jahan (who also commissioned the Taj Mahal) in the 17th century. Do note that this is one of the few places in India that you have to pay a separate camera fee.
8. Mehrangarh Fort
Hands down, this was one of our favorite places in India and not just because it was featured in The Dark Knight Rises! If you’re looking for real atmosphere and imposing gateways, Mehrangarh Fort does not disappoint. The fort features several palaces so take your time and enjoy the journey!
9. Jaisalmer Fort
Also known as the golden fort, Jaisalmer Fort is different to any other fort in the world because people still live in it! Meander through its alleys, have a coffee or a curry, check out its Jain temples, and go window shopping for Indian arts and crafts. You can also get great views of the city from the fort.
10. Amer Fort
This is definitely one of the more popular forts in India’s Golden Triangle (the tourist route between New Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur) and is worth your while. The fort itself is located on a hill some distance from the city. The sprawling grounds feature several courtyards, temples, entertainment rooms, and balconies.
11. Bada Bagh
Even though it’s technically a mausoleum, don’t let this freak you out. Bada Bagh is a series of cenotaphs dedicated to Jaisalmer’s rich and famous. It’s located on the outskirts of the city and is the perfect spot to catch the sunset. The yellow sandstone of the structures glows like gold in the light so don’t forget your camera!
12. Lodi Gardens
This is literally a breath of fresh air in the always noisy and chaotic Delhi. Pack a picnic or have an ice cream or a fresh coconut while strolling through the garden’s pathways. There are lots of lakes, canoodling Indian couples, and tombs to keep it interesting.
13. St. Philomena’s Cathedral
Although the church itself is over 200 years old, this twin-spired structure was built in 1956. Inspired by Germany’s Cologne Cathedral, this impressive Roman Catholic church dedicated to a Greek saint is also one of Mysuru’s most famous landmarks. In fact, this neo-Gothic masterpiece is one of the largest in India and attracts hoards of local visitors every day.
14. Havelis of Jaisalmer
The business folk definitely knew how to live in style in Jaisalmer. Their stately homes, known as havelis, have become tourist attractions in their own right. Visitors can marvel at the intricate sandstone architecture, balconies, and mirror rooms. The most famous havelis in Jaisalmer are Patwon ki Haveli, Salim Singh ki Haveli, and Nathmal ki Haveli.
15. The Blue City
Move over Chefchaouen! There’s another equally beautiful blue city in town. Jodhpur’s Blue City is a maze of narrow alleyways, houses, and shops. Watch your step because there’s a lot of garbage and poop in some corners. In spite of this, the blue city certainly makes up with friendly locals, including over-excited dogs relaxing in porches.
16. Bishnoi village safari
If you’re looking for an authentic local experience, then try a Bishnoi village safari. Hop into an open-air jeep and ride into the deserts of Rajasthan to see wild peacocks, deer, and other animals. Visit the Bishnoi people, the original tree huggers who lead very unique lives in the Thar Desert.
17. Jaisalmer camel safari
If you’re in Jaisalmer for more than a couple days, be sure to sign up for a camel safari. Although it can be intimidating at first to be that high off the ground on the back of a sometimes cantankerous creature, the journey and views of the Thar Desert are worth it. Prepare to camp overnight with the stars above. Remember to wear lots of sunscreen and comfortable clothes while you’re aboard.
Photos: © Live Lyfe Photography