India is an enormous country with approximately 1.2 billion citizens, a long and storied history and a plethora of fascinating landmarks to discover. Here we share our bucket list of top 10 sites you absolutely must see when you’re in India…
1. The Taj Mahal
First up is India's most iconic attraction: the Taj Mahal. This white marble mausoleum near Agra was created by the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan, in memory of his third and favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal.
The Taj Mahal exemplifies Mughal architecture and the Muslim influence in India. However, the architecture is not the only Islamic influence displayed in the Taj Mahal's design. Throughout the complex, passages from the Qur'an can be spotted in beautiful calligraphy. Other artwork found throughout the mausoleum shows both Hindu and Islamic inspirations via paint, stucco, stone inlays and carvings.
Each year, some four million people from all around the world visit the Taj Mahal, making it easily the most visited site in India. The Taj Mahal is considered a universally admired masterpiece of India's heritage. It is so prized worldwide that it is not only listed as a World Wonder, but also a as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Varanasi is a historical and spiritual city in northern India. It is a sacred place to Hindus, a place where visitors can truly get to experience traditional Hindu culture. There are really no tours of the various places around Varanasi – and part of the adventure is exploring the locale on your own. Whether it is stumbling across pilgrims performing their devotions in the River Ganga at sunrise, or witnessing the special ceremonies and festivities of Diwali, visitors are encouraged to explore the city for themselves.
Jaisalmer is nicknamed the ‘Golden City’ due to the yellow stone of the buildings. It is located in the westernmost part of India by Pakistan, and is in close proximity to the Thar Desert, which creates unique travel and tour opportunities. The crowning jewel in the city is the Jaisalmer Fort, which is a living and working fort to this day. The fort is full of shops, hotels and local old-style homes.
Many companies in the city offer tours out into the desert by jeep or on camel back for a nominal fee. With any desert town, there are also hundred of romantic points around the city to watch the glorious desert sunset.
4. Ajanta Caves
The Ajanta Caves in central India feature a series of 300 Buddhist monuments cut right into the stone of the mountainside. This feat of craftsmanship and artistic wonder is also counted among UNESCO's World Heritage Sites.
Many of India's older Buddhist relics have been lost or damaged over time, but because these caves were grown over by jungle until they were accidentally rediscovered in 1819 by a British hunting party, many of the original stone carving and wall paintings have been left almost perfectly intact.
5. Amritsar – The Golden Temple
The Golden Temple of Amritsar in central India is the central religious place of worship for the Sikhs. It also serves as a symbol of brotherhood and equality. Everyone, no matter what caste, creed or race can seek spiritual comfort and religious fulfillment in the golden temple without hindrance.
Built in the Sikh architectural style, this building sits several feet lower than the surrounding buildings in the city to symbolize equality. It has four large entrances to symbolize their acceptance of all people.
6. Bhandavgarh And Kanha National Parks
India has thousands of national parks. However, the Bhandavgarh and Kanha national parks are not mere parks – they are also tiger reserves. Both are great places to spot tigers, but because Bhandavgarh is smaller, the chances of seeing a tiger are higher. No matter which park you choose, they both offer guided safaris within the safety of a vehicle.
7. Lake Palace Of Udaipur
The Lake Palace of Udaipur is a magnificent 83-room luxury hotel off the coast of Udaipur. Visitors looking out over the coast will recognize it right away – it is that randomly beautiful white marble building that looks like it’s floating in the water. The hotel doesn't float though, it is in fact built on a small island.
The hotel operates a speed boat to ferry guest there and back. Due to its unique geography, the Lake Palace was voted the most romantic hotel in the whole of India. There is nothing more serene and romantic than watching the sun set over the water.
8. Kerala Backwaters
The Backwaters of Kerala are made up of a network of both manmade and natural canals that span 1500 kilometres and connect 38 rivers and five lakes.
These canals are not just essential for commerce and transportation, they are also a major attraction. The locals build house boats and live on them, and there are floating hotels available too. When it comes to cuisine, there are a number of floating restaurants that sail through the water as you dine. This is especially romantic at sunset. Because of the locals’ religious dietary restrictions, many of the dishes served are vegan or vegetarian, but some of the restaurants will prepare fish dishes with fish caught straight from the canals.
9. Khajuraho – 85 temples
The 85 magnificent temples of Khajuraho were carved from local stone over the course of 100 years with the generous patronage of the Chandela kings between 950 and 1050. Sadly, only 22 of the original temples remain.
The stone carvings found on the wall depict the traditional lifestyles of the people in medieval India. Since Khajuraho includes the largest collection of temples in a single complex, as some breathtaking stone work, it has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Ladakh is nestled in the Himalayas of northern India. The region is split between Buddhist communities to the east near China, and Muslim communities to the north and west. Much of the native population lives 2,700 to 4,500 metres above sea level, while the nomadic tribes live much higher.
The majority of travellers travel to Ladakh to learn about Tibetan Buddhism or to view the stunning landscape of the area. Much of what foreigners imagine about Tibetan Buddhism can be seen in this region – the secluded monastery high in the mountains and the monks who spend hours a day in meditation.