Considered one of the world’s most iconic landmarks, and elected as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, the Taj Mahal is a living testament to grandeur, romance, and historical significance. As India’s most recognizable structure, the Taj Mahal was built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in memory to his favorite wife. Its interior is complete with blossoming and vibrant exotic gardens, reflecting pools, and an impressive mosque.
Although the Taj Mahal has been photographed time and time again, photography does no justice to the majesty of this awe-inspiring tomb. The wells of unfathomable emotion are drawn from its exterior, as the sun from dusk until dawn radiates an exquisite reflection upon its white marble composite, proudly coating itself in divine shades of red, orange, gold and pink.
Jaipur is known for its spectacular architectural sites and the Hawa Mahal, or Palace of Winds, is perhaps the city’s most recognizable and photogenic building. The five floors of delicately-worked pink sandstone is only one room wide with rows of perforated screens and more than 900 windows to allow the breeze to pass through and cool the interior.
The honeycombed Hawa Mahal was constructed in 1799 by poet-king Sawai Pratap Singh, and, according to legend, was originally where the female members of the royal family could look down on the people in the streets below without being observed. Visitors can do some people watching of their own from this vantage point or can climb to the rooftop for an overhead view of the City Palace to one side and Siredeori Bazaar to the other.
The Mubarak Mahal was built as a part of Jaipur’s City Palace to welcome foreign dignitaries of the Maharaja. Built on a raised platform, the white palace is an example of Mughal, Rajput, and European style architecture. Its colonnaded and carved exterior now leads to the Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II Museum, which houses mostly historic textiles.
The Textile and Costume Museum on the first floor exhibits many of the clothing worn by royalty: formal costumes, traditional block prints, and a variety of embroidered textiles in precious fabrics, including silk and Kashmiri pashmina. Visitors can see the local history of both male and female attire, including uniquely shaped and sized items. Perhaps some of the most beautiful items are the brightly colored saris, many covered in golden embroidery. Royal carpets and antiquities can also been seen inside.
Walking through the grounds of Jantar Mantar may feel more like visiting a sculpture garden than an astronomical observatory. The eighteen devices, built by Jai Singh II, each serve a different function, such as predicting eclipses, telling time and tracking astrological bodies./p>
Jai Singh II built Jatar Mantar in 1726 and it remains the best preserved of the five observatories he built within his lifetime. Armed with knowledge of European astronomical advances, Jai Singh II invented many of the instruments himself, the most impressive of which is the massive Samrat Yantra sundial with a shadow that moves up to 13 feet (4 meters) per hour, or a hands-width every minute.
Guides onsite can explain how the devices work, and several are still used to make astrological and weather predictions. Try to come on a sunny day, since none of the devices will work under cloud cover, but avoid the middle of the day when the sun is particularly hot and shade is harder to come by.
It used to be that the Jal Mahal (Water Palace) was merely another fortress worthy of a quick photo op on the way to or from Amber Fort. After undergoing a dramatic restoration, however, the palace perched in the middle of Man Sagar Lake is worthy of a visit in its own right.
Sawai Pratap Singh built the five-story red sandstone palace in 1799 using Rajput and Mughal stylistic elements. After 200 years of neglect, water damage and general disrepair, the palace was restored to its original splendor. The rooftop gardens, Jal Mahal’s most stunning features, have been carved, painted and gilded by dozens of artists and designers, and the resulting details are exquisite.
During the monsoon season from June through September, the bottom four floors of the palace become submerged, but the boat trip across the glassy waters makes this the best time for a visit. Come at dusk when the setting sun lights up the water and marble alike.
The superb buildings in this complex date from the onset of Islamic rule in India. The Qutub Minar (Qutb Minar or Qutab Minar) itself is a soaring 240 foot (73 meter) high tower of victory that was started in 1193, immediately after the defeat of the last Hindu kingdom in Delhi. At its base is Quwwat ul-Islam Masjid (Might of Islam Mosque), India's first mosque.
The tower has 5 distinct stories, each marked by a projecting balcony, and it tapers, like something out of a fairytale, from a 50 ft (15 m) diameter at the base to just 8 ft (2.5 m) at the top. The first 3 stories are made of red sandstone, the fourth and fifth of marble and sandstone. The stairs inside the tower coil so steeply that they're enough to make the hardiest climber dizzy and claustrophobic, and it was no surprise when a stampede during a school trip in 1979 resulted in a number of deaths. The inside of the tower has since been closed to visitors.
Designed by British architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, India Gate sits at the center of New Delhi in the middle of a traffic circle at one end of Rajpath. Built in 1931, the Arc-de-Triomphe-like gate commemorates the 90,000 members of the British Indian Army killed during World War I and the Third Afghan War.
Another memorial, the Amar Jawan Jyoti or eternal flame, was added to India Gate in the early 1970s as a memorial to India’s unknown soldiers, particularly those who died in the Indo-Pakistan War in 1971.
The Bahá'í Temple in Delhi is one of the most visited buildings in the world, attracting over 50 million people since it opened in 1986. Also known as the Lotus Temple for its distinct half-open lotus design, the belief behind the Bahá'í house of worship is that it should be open for all, regardless of denomination. There are however certain rules: no sermons can be delivered, no ritualistic ceremonies and no musical instruments can be played. There are also no religious images displayed.
Bahá'í temples must all be a nine-sided circular shape as set out in their scriptures, hence the solution of a lotus shape. Bahá'í is an independent religion founded around 1844. Their belief is in a mystic feeling with unites man with God and they do not dictate how that be done, hence their openness to other forms of worship within their temples.
The heart of New Delhi -- and one of its top attractions -- is the palatial Presidential Palace known as Rashtrapati Bhavan. British architect Sir Edwin Lutyens helped design the grand estate as part of a larger plan for Delhi’s new city after it was decided to move the capital from Kolkata to Delhi in 1911. Lutyens designed the palace as a symbol of British colonial power, and it remains one of the most impressive colonial-era monuments in Delhi today.
The former viceroy’s residence, now the home of the president of India, contains 340 rooms, well over twice as many as the White House. The entire estate covers an area of 320 acres (130 hectares), including the sizable Mughal Gardens, open to the public on only a few select days each year.
Located at the end of Sansad Marg in New Delhi, the Parliament House (or Sansad Bhavan) is one of the most architecturally impressive buildings in the city. It was designed by British architects Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker, with construction beginning in 1921.
Having been modelled on the Great Stupa of Sanchi, Parliament House is a huge circular building, surrounded by gardens and fenced off by sandstone railings. Inside, the Central Hall holds particular significance, since this is where the Indian Constitution was drafted. The building also houses the Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha, and a giant library hall. The Parliament Museum stands next to Parliament House and offers information on the democratic heritage of India. This is conveyed in an interactive way, with sound and light videos plus oversized computer screens used to depict the significant events of India’s democratic history.
Built in 1570, Humayun’s Tomb was the first garden tomb on the Indian subcontinent, earning it a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage list. The construction of the tomb, ordered by the widow of Mughal emperor Humayun over a decade after his death, marked the beginning of an era of Mughal architecture, a style characterized by symmetry, scale and intricate decoration. This sixteenth century tomb went on to inspire the design of the Taj Mahal more than 100 years later.
The red sandstone and marble structure sits within a symmetrical square garden divided into four parts. The garden, dotted with small pools joined by channels, also contains several other tombs of important figures, including Haji Begum -- the wife who built the tomb and mother of Emperor Akbar -- and Isa Khan Niazi, an Afghan noble. While it’s possible to visit Humayun’s Tomb on your own, you’ll do yourself a great service by bringing along a guide who can tell you more about the history behind each structure.
The massive Red Fort (or Lal Qila) stands rather forlornly, a sandstone carcass of its former self. In ages past, when Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan paraded out of the fort atop an elephant into the streets of Old Delhi, he and the fort that he built were a grandiose display of pomp and power. The walls of the fort extend for 1.25 miles (2 kilometers) and vary in height from 60 ft (18 m) on the river side to 110 ft (33 m) on the city side. Shah Jahan began construction of the massive fort in 1638 and it was completed in 1648. Shah Jahan never completely moved his capital from Agra to his new city of Shahjahanabad in Delhi because he was deposed and imprisoned in Agra Fort by his sly son Aurangzeb.
The Red Fort dates from the very peak of Mughal power. Their reign from Delhi was a short one, however; Aurangzeb was the first and last great Mughal emperor to rule from here. The 33 ft (10 m) deep moat, which has been bone-dry since 1857.
The stunning Jama Masjid mosque is the largest in India and the final architectural magnum opus of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. Construction of the mosque began in 1644, but it wasn't completed until 1658. It has 3 gateways, 4 angle towers and 2 minarets standing 130 feet (40 meters) high, and is constructed of alternating vertical strips of red sandstone and white marble. The main entry point is Gate No 3. The mosque's courtyard can hold a mind-blowing 25,000 people.
For Rs20 it's possible to climb the southern minaret (women must be accompanied by a male; sometimes unaccompanied men may also not be permitted), where the views are superb. From the top of the minaret, you can see one of the features that architect Edwin Lutyens incorporated into his design of New Delhi - the Jama Masjid, Connaught Place and Sansad Bhavan (Parliament House) are in a direct line.
Chandni Chowk is one of Delhi's busiest and oldest marketplaces. Located in the walled city of Old Delhi, which is now central northern modern Delhi, it got its name from the canal which used to run down the middle reflecting the moonlight; 'chaandni' in Hindi means 'moonlight.' The street was a wide boulevard running between houses from the Lahore Gate of the Red Fort to Fatehpuri Masjid. The walled city was laid out in 1650 by the Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan and includes the Red Fort of Delhi.
These days the area seems like a congested traffic nightmare and quite challenging in its chaos and crowds. But you can find food, saris, jewelery, books, shoes, electronics and who knows what else in the surrounding narrow streets. The buildings along Chandni Chowk are interesting - there are many different religious buildings co-existing harmoniously in the area including famous Jama Masjid mosque of 1644, a Hindu temple and a Christian church.
According to local Sikh belief, a boy prophet by the name of Sri Guru Hari Krishan Sahib moved among poor Hindu and Muslim communities during a time of small pox and cholera in New Delhi in the seventeenth century, distributing sanctified water to the sick which was believed to cause miraculous healing. Gurudwara Bangla Sahib his dedicated to his memory.
The most important place of worship for Sikhs in New Delhi, this golden-domed gurudwara still distributes sanctified water to devotees who come from around the world seeking its healing properties. Unlike many Hindu temples, non-Sikhs are welcome into the gurudwara, where it’s possible to listen while hymns are sung from the Granth Sahib (the Sikh scriptures) or take prasad, the Sikh equivalent to Communion.
The heart of New Delhi is the vast traffic circle of Connaught Place and the seven streets that radiate from it, which are divided into blocks. It has an architecturally uniform series of colonnaded buildings devoted to shops, banks, restaurants, hotels and offices. Named after the Duke of Connaught, it was constructed between 1929 and 1933.
Often creating confusion, the outer circle is technically called 'Connaught Circus' (divided into blocks from G to N) and the inner circle 'Connaught Place' (divided into blocks from A to F). There's also a 'Middle Circle'. In 1995 the inner and outer circles were renamed Rajiv Chowk and Indira Chowk respectively, after the late Prime Minister of India Rajiv Ghandi and his wife, but these names are rarely used.
The Gandhi Smriti in New Delhi is the location where Mahatma Gandhi spent his last 144 days before he was assassinated on Jan. 30, 1948. The site was originally the house of Indian business tycoons, the Birla family, but is now home to the Eternal Gandhi Multimedia Museum, which opened in 2005.
Concrete steps lead to the spot where Gandhi was killed, which is marked by a small pavilion. The adjacent house, where he spent his last days, contains rooms preserved just as Gandhi left them; in the room where he slept are his meagre possessions – just a walking stick, a spinning wheel, a pair of sandals and his glasses. Upstairs is where the Eternal Gandhi Multimedia Museum is located, which presents abstract sculptures, video displays, and sound installations about Gandhi.
Facing the glistening Taj Mahal across the Yamuna River, Mehtab Bagh is where travelers in the know go for picture-perfect views of the mausoleum without the crowds. In perfect alignment with the Taj, the best time to visit Mehtab Bagh is in the early evening when its white marble and minarets turn pink under the setting sun.
The 25-acre garden was commissioned by Emperor Babur in 1530 and was designed to be a “moonlit pleasure garden,” an oasis of fragrant flowers, fruit trees, pavilions and fountains. In the late 19th century, the gardens were even thought to hold the foundations of the fabled Black Taj. While Mehtab Bagh has been turned into a more modern garden today, its symmetry with the Taj Mahal and garden walls along the riverbank continue to make this a popular viewing spot among those looking for peace and quiet.
At the site of Mahatma Ghandi's cremation in 1948 is a memorial. In black marble, surrounded by lawn and with an eternal flame burning, Raj Ghat remembers the man who is known as the Father of India for his tireless and pacifist work to reclaim India's independence from Britain. The memorial has the words 'He Ram,' which translates as 'O, God,' said to be the last words spoken by Ghandi after his assassination. Every Friday, the day of his death, a memorial ceremony is held.
'Raj Ghat' loosely translates as 'Kings Bank' and Ghandi's memorial is not the only one here. There are also many others to India's Prime Ministers since independence, including Indira Ghandi, similarly assassinated, and Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of independent India.
Mehrangarh Fort is a huge ancient fort located in Jodhpur in the state of Rajasthan. It's one of the largest forts in India and was built in the mid-15th century by Rao Jodha. The fort sits on a rocky hill presiding some 125 meters above the city, with the structure merging with the rock on which it stands. Still run by the Jodhpur royal family to this day, Mehrangarh Fort is filled with a strong sense of history and legend.
Enclosed by thick, imposing walls, the fort complex contains a museum, courthouses, gardens, and several magnificent palaces with vast courtyards and elaborate architecture. Among the royal residences are the Phool Mahal (Flower Palace), which was used for dance performances and features beguiling stained-glass windows, and Jhanki Mahal (Queen’s Palace), where there’s a colorful display of the cradles of former rulers.
Opened in 2005, Delhi’s Swaminarayan Akshardham was built in only five years with the help of army of some 11,000 volunteers and artisans. The resulting temple is considered one of the most beautiful in Delhi and a must if you plan to do any temple visits during your stay in the capital.
Quite unlike most modern temples in India, Swaminarayan Akshardham is equal parts working temple, interactive museum and theme park. The Hall of Values depicts the values of Swaminarayan through a series of animatronic dioramas, while a giant IMAX-style screen shows a short film of the life of Swaminarayan from when he was an 11-year-old boy. The temple even has a 12-minute boat ride recounting India’s 10,000 years of history.