India is a vibrant land of stark contrasts where the modern and traditional worlds meet. Seventh largest nation in the world by area and second largest in terms of population, India has a rich heritage which is the result of centuries of different cultures and religions that have left their mark. It include the chance to experience an array of sacred sites and spiritual encounters, while nature lovers will enjoy exciting wildlife sanctuaries, lush national parks, and sunny beaches.
Visitors to this exotic country will discover a wealth of cultural, historical and spiritual treasures from the magnificent Taj Mahal in Agra to the holy sites of Harmandir Sahib in Amritsar and the Mecca Masjid Mosque in Hyderabad.
To help you make the most of your time in this amazing country, check our list of the best things to do in India often.
1. The Taj Mahal, Agra
The Taj Mahal is the world’s most famous testimony to the power of love and India’s most recognizable building. Named after Mumtaz Mahal, Emperor Shah Jahan’s favorite wife, this finest of mausoleums was started on her death in 1631 and required 20,000 workers until 1648.
There are many elements of Islamic design including arches, an onion-shaped dome, minarets, and black calligraphy inlaid around the entrance incorporated in it. The Taj Mahal is largely constructed of white marble decorated with delicate inlaid floral designs. and precious and semi-precious stones such as diamonds, jade, lapis lazuli and mother of pearl.
The best time to visit is at dawn or dusk when the atmosphere is brilliantly altered by the change in lighting. If possible, try to see the reflection of the Taj Mahal from across the Yamuna River.
Address: 64 Taj Road, Agra-282001
2. The holy city of Varanasi
An important pilgrimage center for Hindus, the holy city of Varanasi has long been associated with the mighty Ganges River, one of the most important religious symbols of the faith. Varanasi is still one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world.
It offers many reasons to visit, including the old quarter adjacent to the Ganges where you will find the Kashi Vishwanath temple, built in 1780.
Bathing in the Ganges is of great importance to Hindus, and many places known as “ghats” feature stairs leading to the water where worshipers bathe before prayers.
In total, Varanasi has more than 100 ghats, the largest being Assi Ghat and Dasashvamedh Ghat. Also worth seeing is the Banaras Hindu University, created in 1917 which is renowned for its massive library with more than a million books, and the superb Bharat Kala Bhavan museum with beautiful collections of local history exhibits, manuscripts on sheets palm tree, miniature paintings, and sculptures.
3. Harmandir Sahib: the golden temple of Amritsar
Amritsar is an important center of Sikh history and culture and was founded in 1577 by Ram Das. The main attraction here is Harmandir Sahib often called the Golden Temple, opened in 1604 and for its beautiful gold decoration. The holiest of India’s many Sikh shrines (it also attracts many Hindus and other faiths), the temple was built in a mix of Hindu and Islamic styles, with its marble lower part featuring flourishes such as ornate inlaid floral and animal motifs, while the large golden dome represents a lotus flower, a symbol of purity for Sikhs.
In addition to its splendid design, visitors are also impressed by the spiritual atmosphere of the temple, an effect enhanced by the prayers continuously sung from the Sikh holy book and broadcast throughout the complex. Part of the overall experience – and visitors are welcome to participate – is the chance to enjoy one of the 50,000 free meals the attraction serves visitors each day.
Address: Golden Temple Road, Amritsar, Punjab 143006
4. The city of gold: Jaisalmer
So named for the yellow sandstone used in most of its buildings, the golden city of Jaisalmer is an oasis of splendid ancient architecture rising from the sand dunes of the Thar Desert. Today the city is filled with magnificent gateways, splendid old mansions, and the enormous Jaisalmer Fort – also known as the Golden Fort – a formidable 12th-century structure that rises above the city.
In addition to its beautiful old houses, palaces,and temples, the fortress has 99 bastions as well as massive gates leading to its main courtyard where the seven-story Maharaja’s Palace is located. Begun in the early 1500s and completed by successive rulers until the 19th century, the palace offers sections open to the public, including areas beautifully decorated with tiles from Italy and China, and intricately carved stone doors , as well as a number of Jain temples dating from the 12th to 16th centuries, each decorated with images of fine marble and sandstone, palm leaf manuscripts, and brightly colored ceilings.
Don’t forget to also visit the well-preserved 1,000-year-old Gyan Bhandar library with its many 16th century manuscripts and antiques.
5. The Red Fort, New Delhi
Built by Shah Jahan in 1648 as the seat of Mughal power – a role he maintained until 1857 – the magnificent crescent-shaped Red Fort in New Delhi, named after the magnificent red sandstone used in its construction, covers a large area of over two square kilometers, all surrounded by a large moat. Highlights include its two largest gates: the impressive Lahore Gate (the main entrance to the fort) and the richly decorated Delhi Gate, once used by the Emperor for ceremonial processions.
A fun part of the tour is exploring Chatta Chowk, a 17th-century covered bazaar selling everything from jewelry to silk clothing, as well as souvenirs and food items. Although you can explore the fort on your own, guided tours are offered and provide a fascinating insight into the life and times of the Shah, including a glimpse of the magnificent white marble audience hall (Diwan-i- Am) where he received his subjects. .
Tip: Try to stay for the sound and light show held each evening with important events in the history of the fort.
Address: Netaji Subhash Marg, Chandni Chowk, New Delhi, Delhi 110006