Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in India
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.
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.
Fort Cochin’s Chinese Fishing Nets have been a beach installation for centuries, well before the coming of the Portuguese colonizers. It’s thought that the nets were introduced to this coastal area by the legendary Chinese explorer Zheng He, way back in the early 15th century.
The nets are permanent horizontal structures, lowered and raised by a network of cantilevered ropes, bamboo poles, and balancing weights and pulleys. Teams of up to six fishermen operate the nets, but the catch is usually quite modest. For the best views, come at dusk with your camera to capture that quintessential shot of Kerala’s fishing nets and calm seas backlit by the setting sun. If you’re feeling hungry, you can buy freshly netted fish and crabs, and have them cooked up for your dinner at a roadside stall.
Mattancherry Palace was built as a gesture of goodwill by the Portuguese in 1555, and presented to the Raja of Kochi to ensure ongoing trading privileges. Later alterations were made by the Dutch in 1663, giving the building its alternative name, the Dutch Palace. A visit to the two-storied whitewashed palace takes you into the royal bedchamber with its traditional floor of burnished coconut shells that gleams like black marble. Try not to blush when you take in the bedroom’s unique mythological murals from the Ramayana, with their erotic portrayals of Hindu deities at play. Other don’t miss highlights of Mattancherry Palace include more lovely murals upstairs, the regal Coronation and Dining halls with their decorated ceilings, various portraits of rajas and Hindu deities, and the central courtyard with its private royal temple. The laneways surrounding the Dutch Palace wind south to Jew Town, lined with fascinating curio shops and spice stores.
One of the world’s oldest active synagogues, and the oldest in the Commonwealth, can be found in the center of the port’s spice district, Jew Town. The district is a particularly historic reminder of Fort Cochin’s multicultural heritage. The synagogue sits at the center of the district once inhabited by Fort Cochin’s prosperous spice trading community of Malabari Jews, who traveled here from Holland and Spain. Today, apart from the synagogue and faded street signs, reminders of the district’s once-thriving Jewish community are few. There were once seven synagogues in this quarter of Old Cochin, but Paradesi Synagogue (also called Pardesi) is the sole survivor. It sometimes also known as the Mattancherry Synagogue, as it shares a temple wall with the neighboring Mattancherry Palace. The word ‘paradesi’ is an Indian term for foreigner.
The Dutch Cemetery in Kochi is believed to be the oldest in the country, dating back to the beginning of the 18th century. It houses the tombs of Dutch soldiers and traders who left their homeland in order to expand their colonial empires – and as a result changed the entire course of history in India.
The cemetery is distinctly Dutch in its architecture and is surrounded by concrete walls. The year 1724 is engraved on a pillar towering over the cemetery’s entrance. Many of the tombs are made of granite and the epitaphs on each show the authentic records of those of both Dutch and British origin etched out in old Dutch script. According to T W Venn, who published a book on the subject, the last person laid to rest in the Dutch Cemetery in Kochi was Captain Joseph Ethelbert Winckler in 1913.
Surrounded by the backwaters of the Arabian Sea, Mattancherry is an old port area of Kochi, not far from Ernakulam Town. The area was once the main trade port for spices such as pepper and turmeric, as well as tea. It was a time when many different nationalities and religious communities were welcomed to Mattancherry to trade and make it their home. Slowly the traders moved on to Ernakulam, but Mattancherry remains a bustling and cosmopolitan community that welcomes people from all walks of life.
Churches, mosques, and a synagogue happily coexist in Mattancherry, alongside buildings of the colonial era – another nod to the area’s fascinating past. Mattancherry Palace is one of the top attractions here. It was presented by the Portuguese as a gift to the Raja of Kochi in the mid-1500s as a gesture of goodwill (or more likely as a bribe to secure trading privileges). The Dutch then renovated it in the 1600s, hence its alternative name – the Dutch Palace.
More Things to Do in India
The Bombay High Court, one of Mumbai’s most beautiful examples of Gothic revival architecture, was built from 1871 to 1878, with the first sitting in early 1879. On the top of the black stone building’s two octagonal towers, you’ll notice statues representing Justice and Mercy, but some of the most interesting sculptures are found within.
Local lore tells of a dispute between the English contractors responsible for the construction of the Bombay High Court and a Parsi subcontractor. The Parsi lost his lawsuit in court, and in revenge, sculpted a monkey with a bandage over one eye and holding unbalanced scales of justice. This sculptural depiction of Aesop’s fable can be found in the western corridor.
Today, the Bombay High Court remains one of the oldest and most distinguished high courts in India. If you’re interested in India’s judicial system, it’s possible to enter the building and sit in on a hearing if one happens to be going on.
This fabulous market is Mumbai’s largest, and also goes by the name of Mahatma Jyobita Phule. With its turrets and gables, it looks more like a medieval fort than a municipal market, and for visitors it’s every bit as exotic.
The market buildings were built in the 1860s and named for the city’s first Municipal Commissioner. The exterior frieze was designed by the father of Rudyard Kipling, and the interior is lit by a lofty skylight.
Come here to people-watch as locals load up on household goods and everyday items like fresh produce and flowers.
Guided walks are the best way to visit the market, ideally avoiding the meat section and targeting the fruit, vegetables and pets.
You’re in the right place if you’re feeling peckish, as the market also hosts street stalls and food vendors. Rose-flavored milk drinks are a popular choice, along with fresh seasonal fruit like mangoes and apples.
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.
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.
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.
Things to do near India
- Things to do in New Delhi
- Things to do in Jaipur
- Things to do in Mumbai
- Things to do in Udaipur
- Things to do in Chennai
- Things to do in Agra
- Things to do in Jodhpur
- Things to do in Jaisalmer
- Things to do in Varanasi
- Things to do in Pune
- Things to do in Nepal
- Things to do in Bangladesh
- Things to do in Madhya Pradesh
- Things to do in Uttar Pradesh
- Things to do in Maharashtra