India is a beautiful yet chaotic country; a symphony of different beats that can overwhelm you and make you realise that you have stepped into another world entirely. It is a country in contrast, with faiths and cultures of all shapes and sizes living on balance that very often shifts sides, but always manages to correct itself at the end. Its borders house a landscape that is unmatched in its diversity, with the tropical backwaters of Kerala down south, the harsh yet pristine white peaks of the Himalayas in the north, the vast desert sands of the Thar in the west and the oft-forgotten wet-lands of the Northeast. It would take a lifetime to explore India in its entirety, and you may still be left lacking at the end. But you can still get a somewhat complete experience of India by visiting these places.Also Read - LIVE CSK vs MI Live Cricket Score Today, IPL 2021 Match Latest Updates: Gaikwad, Jadeja Revive Chennai's Innings After Top-Order Failure
Taj Mahal (Agra)
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It’s obvious and a cliché, but the Taj Mahal has reached that status for a reason. The white marble mausoleum, built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan for his favourite wife Mumtaz Mahal, has become a symbol of love that lasts through the ages. It is also a symbol of the deeply-rooted Muslim art and architecture of India. Across the world, the Taj Mahal is considered an architectural marvel. Situated on the banks of the Yamuna River, the mausoleum is open on all days except Friday, which is when only those attending the mosque for prayers are allowed entry. The Taj is accessed via east, west and south gates, with the former two being the most preferred for tour groups. Within the same day, you could also visit other beautiful location like Fatehpur Sikri, Akbar’s Tomb, Agra Fort and the Itimad-ud-Daulah. ALSO READ: 5 fascinating facts about the Taj Mahal you probably didnt know
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Tawang Monastery (Arunachal Pradesh)
The Gaden Namgyal Lhatse, colloquially known as Tawang Monastery, stands 10,000 feet above sea level in the Northeast Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. It is the second-largest Tibetan monastery in the world and the largest in India, with the massive Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet taking first place. Located 180 km from the town of Bomdilla, Tawang monastery gives a spectacular view of the Tawang-Chu valley, not to mention an unforgettable experience of India’s rich Buddhist heritage. Approaching from the north of ridge, the monastery is one of several in and around Tawang valley, but it is the more significant one. Inside, you can experience the incredible paintings and decorations, especially those in the prayer hall which adorns a massive Buddha statue. If you come early enough, you can find the monastery’s monks deep in prayer. The monastery also hosts the Losar and Torgya festivals, which are the best times to visit.
Amber Fort (Amer)
Amer Fort stands majestically along the banks of the Maota lake, around 11 km from the city of Jaipur, another culturally rich destination in India. The fort is famous for being the residence of Raja Man Singh, who built it in 1592 AD. Spread across 4 square kilometres, this fort includes a palace complex and boasts of rich, intricate architectural elements. The red sandstone building has four structural elements, each of which has a separate entrance. But most tourists and travellers would find themselves walking or riding an elephant up the hill to the main east-facing gate, called Suraj Pol (Sun Gate). Those arriving by car will enter the fort through the Chand Pol (Moon Gate) on the other side. The fort is massive in scale, with several alleyways and prominent buildings within, such as the Sheesh Mahal, Sukh Mahal and Diwan-e-Aam.
Mehrangarh Fort (Jodhpur)
If you are in Rajasthan to visit the Amber Fort, you cannot miss the Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur. The fort towers the 400-foot hill on which it is located. It is not only among Rajasthan’s largest forts, but also a beautiful palace that gives you a glimpse into India’s rich history. The museum housed within this fort is a must for anyone who calls themselves a history buff. The fort has been at the centre of some of India’s most historically significant moments. It was an important base for the Rajput kingdom, and a symbol of its power. The walls of this fort rise up to 120 metres in some places, with the battlements rising to 36 metres. Mehrangarh is still operated by the Jodhpur royal family, and can overwhelm you with its historical legacy. ALSO READ: 20 breathtaking pictures of Rajasthan that will leave you in awe
Pangong Tso (Leh)
So far, we’ve focused on man-made places know for their breathtaking beauty and wondrous heritage. But it’s time to move further north and discover the natural wonders that India can offer. Straddling the border of India and China, Pangong Tso Lake in Leh is a sight to behold. The long drive to the lake from the desert city of Leh, a wonder in itself, takes you through fresh streams, jagged peaks, high desert sands and a mountain pass at 5,369 metres above sea level. The lake itself stretches across 150 km, with tranquil blue waters that mark a vivid contrast to the rocky brown-and-white mountains. Drive past the initial stretch of restaurants and tourist spots, and you will also experience a surreal stillness and barrenness around you that can stir up some serious soul-searching.
Khajuraho Temples (Khajuraho)
From the rich heritage and vivid landscapes of the North, we move down to the heart-lands of India. Madhya Pradesh houses the Khajuraho temples, which are a controversial yet irrevocably important part of India’s historical and cultural heritage. The series of Jain and Hindu temples are a great representative of the Nagara temple architecture that was prevalent in North India for centuries. They are also famous, or infamous depending on who you ask, for their erotic statues. These statues, which make up just around one-tenth of the expansive sculptures in the Khajuraho temples, show intricate erotic positions carved into stone. Khajuraho has a total of 22 temples, with the Kandariya Mahadev being the best-kept and most famous among them. Most of these temples were built around 950-1050 AD, and they give a glimpse into the legacy of the Chandelas, one of the earliest and most important dynasties of ancient India. ALSO READ: 10 best holiday destinations in India to visit with family and kids
Meenakshi Amman Temple (Madurai)
The Sri Meenakshi Temple, also known as the Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple or simply the Meenakshi Amman Temple, stands apart in the aptly-named temple city of Madurai, Tamil Nadu. Built along the banks of the Vaigai river, the temple’s history can be traced back to an age of myths before being destroyed in the 14th century. It was rebuilt by the Nayak dynasty in the 16th century, and it remains the chaste, colourful and vibrant abode of Meenakshi, the fish-eye warrior goddess. It is also an incredible example of South India’s intricate Dravidian temple architecture. Spread across six hectares, this temple complex has 12 towering structures called Gopurams that are decorated with a multitude of mythical heroes, demons and gods. The south Gopuram alone has 1,511 sculptures. The Hall of Thousand Pillars within the complex also houses the Temple Art Museum that is worth a visit. Another iconic part of this temple is the Golden Lotus Tank with beautiful murals that show the wedding of Meenakshi and Lord Shiva.
Brihadeeshwara Temple (Thanjavur)
If there is one city that competes with Madurai as the temple city of Tamil Nadu, it is Thanjavur. Located just around 190 km away from Madurai, Thanjavur is known for being the home of several temples from the legendary Chola kingdom of South India. And if you have to choose just one temple, it has to be the Brihadeeshwara or RajaRajeswara temple. Built in 1003-1010 AD by Raja Raja I (King of Kings) of the Chola Empire, the temple also includes elements from the later Nayak dynasty, like the entrance itself. The temple has several small shrines around the main temple building, built from a single granite rock. The 61-metre high central tower that holds a 4-metre high Shiva lingam is a magnificent piece of architecture. The central shrine can be reached through an assembly hall held by a multitude of columns. The frescoes, images and panels of various deities are not to be missed either.
Ajanta & Ellora Caves (Aurangabad)
Photograph courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Carved into the hills of a river valley in Aurangabad, Maharashtra are the Ajanta and Ellora caves, which are among India’s oldest UNESCO World Heritage sites. The Ajanta caves pre-date the Ellora ones, with the oldest caves dating back to the 2nd century BC. The Ellora caves, meanwhile, were considered to have caused the decline of Ajanta. In any cases, both places are a testament to India’s earliest architectural heritage. Ellora itself houses the world’s largest monolithic structure that is the Kailasa Temple, built over a century and a half by thousands of labourers. The caves largely comprise of Hindu temples and structures, but they also have Buddhist stupas and paintings, left behind by Buddhist monks and travellers who took shelter within the caves or turned to the abandoned structures as a place to practice and spread their faith. ALSO READ: These 12 interesting facts about the Ajanta Caves will leave you stunned!
Humayun’s Tomb (New Delhi)
Built in 1570, Humayun’s Tomb in New Delhi should be added to the list of places that you must visit in India because of its cultural significance. It is, in many ways, the forgotten first of its kind. Built to be the resting place of the second king of India’s legendary Mughal Empire, the tomb is also the first garden tomb in India and the first of many grand mausoleums built to celebrate the dynastic magnificence of the Mughals. The Charbaugh style of the tomb was also a key element of the much more popular Taj Mahal. The tomb is also an incredible example of India’s Mughal and Muslim architecture, with its obsessive focus on symmetric and contrasting mix of red sandstone and white marble. The area is also the resting place of several other prominent Mughals, including Isa Khan and poet Khan-i-Khanan.
Bandhavgarh National Park (Madhya Pradesh)
We have explored India’s cultural heritage and vivid mountainous landscapes, but now it is time to delve deep into the wild forests of Bandhavgarh in Madhya Pradesh. The Bandhavgarh national park was formed in 1968, and is home to a diverse population of animals. Chief among its residents is the Bengal tiger, which can be spotted in great regularity across the rather small 453 square-kilometre expanse of the national park. Other common sights across this park are langurs, wild boars and deer, with the sightings of the odd leopard here and there. The months from February to March are when tiger sightings are most common and temperatures most pleasant. You can still find tigers on the prowl up until June, but the summer heat would also be in full force.
Palolem Beach (Goa)
From the deep dark jungles of Bandhavgarh, we move onto the bright open beaches of Palolem, Goa. This is among the best beaches of Goa, perfectly encapsulating the laid-back atmosphere, tourist-friendly nature, and picture-perfect settings that the state is known for. On off-seasons, the beach turns into a serene beach, with white sands bridging the gentle ocean to the palm trees that curve towards the blue horizon. During the peak months, the beach is abuzz with tourists and locals offering lip-smacking fresh seafood under their palm-thatched shacks. You can opt to munch on the local cuisine, talk a relaxing stroll along the 1.5 km-long beach, hit the waves for a swim or catch a boat to spot some dolphins. You also have trekking and other adventure activities in and around the area to satisfy your thirst for adventure. ALSO READ: Goa other than beaches: 19 Unique things to do in Goa
Ganges River (Varanasi)
Picture India in all its vibrance, excitement, commotion, colours and culture, and you would likely be picturing Varanasi. The city rests along the banks of the Ganges River, considered the most sacred in India and among the longest in the world. Varanasi is the oldest city in India, with winding city streets that get even more challenging to manoeuvre with the crowd. To experience the Ganges, however, you need to break through the crowd and enter the ghats that lie on the edges of the river. It is here that you will find the cultural significance of the river. Assi Ghat is famous for the entertainers and roadside vendors that flock the streets in the evenings, while Manikarnika Ghat is the more sombre cremation spot and among the holiest places in Hindu culture.
Tea Gardens (Munnar)
If you are looking for some peace, quiet and a fresh cup of tea, the estates down south in Munnar should be in your list of places to visit in India. The hills of Munnar have around 50 tea estates, and make for India’s largest region of tea growth. The endless hedges of tea plants have a unique sheen to them, making for a vista that is not seen in most other hill stations. The aroma of tea leaves also leave their mark, making for an interesting experience. It needs to be noted that tea has a strong place in the hearts of Indians. The beverage is intertwined with the culture and everyday life of Indians, which is what makes a visit to this hill station so much more special. The tea museum gives you a closer look into the growth and genesis of tea plantations in Munnar, and there are several spots a little away from the hustle and bustle of the main town that let you enjoy in peace the misty hills of Munnar and its different shades of green.
Mahabodhi Temple (Bodh Gaya)
Bodh Gaya in Bihar is the religious centre-point of Buddhism. It is, in effect, where it all began, when Siddhartha Gautama attained enlightenment under the Mahabodhi Tree. That tree is the central element of the Mahabodhi Temple. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, the temple was built in the 6th century over the site of a temple first built by Emperor Ashoka and destroyed later in the 11th century. The temperature is beautifully decorated with sculptures and images of Buddha, including a 2-metre tall image within the inner sanctum. An archaeological museum hosts the remnants of the older temple and takes you through the historical legacy of the site. The temple and its surroundings are pervaded by a sense of tranquility that is perfect for soul-searching.
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