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.
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.
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.
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.
Down a small, unsuspecting street in the Chandni Chowk area of Delhi, a throng of eateries selling the Indian fried bread classic, parantha, draws in locals and visitors in their droves. Gali Paranthe Wali is a bustling narrow lane lined with stalls and shops selling this flatbread street food favorite straight from the tawa (hotplate).
This is a place to surrender to the crowds as you indulge in a parantha smothered in ghee, choosing from an array of fillings ranging from the savory to the sweet, including paneer, mixed vegetables, and bananas – to name but a few. Wash it all down with a lassi before strolling along the shops, stopping off only to sample more classic Indian street foods along the way.
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 Bangalore Palace is one of the city’s best-known landmarks and one of the former homes of the royal family of Mysore. Five generations of the Wadiyar family had ruled over a large part of South India for over 500 years during the powerful Mysore kingdom. A visit to the palace offers a glimpse into the private world of one of India’s royal dynasties.
The palace is situated in enormous grounds of over 450 acres and is set in a large landscaped garden. Built in the Tudor style, construction of the palace began in 1862 and was completed in 1944. More recently, the current heir of the Wadiyars started an ambitious renovation project and opened part of the palace to the public in 2005. He still lives in a private wing of the palace.
The interiors of the palace feature different elements of the Gothic, Victorian, and neo-classical styles. There are over 35 rooms, most of them bedrooms, and a grand ballroom on the ground floor.
The most famous building in Hyderabad, Charminar is an iconic monument and mosque situated in the heart of the old city. This grand square structure was built at the end of the 16th century by Muhammad Quli Qutb Shahi to celebrate the end of a plague that had swept the region.
The Charminar is an example of Indo-Islamic architecture, with some other influences evident, such as its Persian inspired stucco elements. It features four grand arches that face out towards wide roads leading off in each direction. There are four fluted minarets built into each corner of the monument, which are crowned with a dome and feature intricate designs at their base. A small mosque sits on the western side of the top floor of the building, facing the holy Muslim city of Mecca.
The British East India Company constructed their first fortress in India in 1640 along a strip of sand on lease from the Raja, allowing them a foothold for expansion in India. The 20-foot (6-meter) thick outer walls surround a complex of white colonial structures, known historically as ‘White City,’ including St Mary’s, the oldest Anglican church in Asia.
Until recently, Fort St George housed the Tamil Nadu Secretariat & Legislative Assembly, and the Fort Museum remains open to the public and is now housed within an old East India Company exchange. The museum’s collection displays portraits, paintings, photographs, British governmental uniforms and East India Company porcelain, among other Raj relics.
Pay attention to the signage when visiting the compound, as several areas and buildings are closed to the public. If you want to avoid crowds at the security check, set aside a few hours on a Sunday morning for your visit.
Near the San Thome Cathedral in the Tamil Nadu capital of Chennai sits the Kapaleeshwar Temple (spelled Kapaleeshwarar or Kapaleshwar too). The most impressive temple in the city by far, Kapaleeshwar honors the god Shiva with shrines dedicated to many other deities in the South Indian pantheon.
The working temple offers a good example of classical Dravidian architecture, with a stepped pyramid design blanketed in colorful statues of gods, demons, warriors and royalty. The detailing makes the temple exterior busy to the point where you don't quite know where to rest your eyes, but the structure is quite photogenic.
You're likely to see many more devotees than tourists at the temple, so you'll get a realistic insight into what modern temple worship looks like, particularly during the weekly Friday worship services. To avoid the crowds, show up at 6 am when the temple first opens.
ISKCON, short for the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (a.k.a. the Hare Krishna movement), erected a flamboyant and eclectic temple in New Delhi in 1998 using a range of architectural styles, including Gupta, Mughal and Delhi’s own signature style, Punjabi Baroque.
One of the largest temple complexes in Delhi, ISKCON Temple of New Delhi features an inner sanctum with three idols, each a different incarnation of Vishnu in the form of Lord Krishna, as well as an art gallery and an upstairs “Vedic Expo” where visitors can learn about ISKCON scriptures, namely the Bhagavad Gita and the larger Mahabharata, through dioramas and audio-visual displays. Govinda, the temple’s onsite restaurant, serves buffet-style vegetarian fare.
Saint Thomas the Apostle, or ‘Doubting Thomas,’ as he was later called, came to India in 52 AD where he purportedly lived out the remainder of his days. The 16th century Sao Thome Cathedral, built by the Roman Catholic Portuguese and later rebuilt by the British, is said to house the bodily remains of St Thomas in a tomb below the white neo-Gothic structure.
A series of stained glass windows inside the basilica depict scenes from St Thomas’s life and carved wooden panels recount the last days of Jesus’s life from his last temptation to the crucifixion. As a working cathedral, visitors are welcome to stop in for mass (in both English and Tamil), though the church draws larger crowds for mass.
After visiting the main cathedral, view the tomb of St Thomas in the underground Tomb Chapel, accessible from outside the main church structure. Another structure on the grounds houses a small museum containing artifacts related to St Thomas and a theatre.
Recognized as the most expensive shopping district in Delhi, travelers in search of glitz and glam will find it inside the confines of Khan Market. What started as a complex of roughly 150 stores and half as many apartments eventually transitioned from a Mecca for the middle class to a costly commercial real estate locale.
Visitors can wander the storefronts of popular brands like Nike and Reebok, comb through silver shops, books stores, electronic depots and cloth houses. Afterwards, tuck into savory plates of upscale local cuisine at one of the well-known restaurants like Salim’s Kebabs.
Once a royal city filled with gilded structures and brightly painted buildings, Feroz Shah Kolta now lies mostly in ruins, and the towering fort erected to protect its people is no exception. Still, travelers say this historic site is worth a visit, since its crumbling remains are situated amid lush landscapes that provide a bit of respite from an otherwise crowded city.
Visitors can wander the grounds and examine the famed Ashoka Pillar, which still stands tall amid fallen buildings. An impressive baoli with cobblestone walls that once served as protection from violent introducers is a study in ancient architecture and the pyramid structures that house quiet shaded rooms, as well as the Jami Masjid mosque are equally interesting features to this historic site.
Delhi Zoo opened its gates in 1959, changing its name to the National Zoological Park of Delhi in 1982. Located near India Gate in the heart of New Delhi, the zoo is spread out across more than 170 acres and is home to almost 130 species of animals and birds from around the world.
The National Zoological Park aims to house animals in a similar way to which they would live in their natural environments. It houses a number of endangered species, which it helps to breed in captivity with the aim of eventually releasing them to thrive again in the wild.
The grounds can be explored either on foot or by using one of the zoo’s electric buggies. Just some of the larger mammals visitors can expect to encounter include chimpanzees, lions, hippopotamus, African buffalo, Indian elephants, giraffes, spider monkeys, and zebras. There are also a number of migratory bird species of note, along with water birds, crocodiles, hyenas, macaques, and jaguars.
Born in 1835, Shirdi Sai Baba was an Indian spiritual guru and saint who gained a following based on his teachings on the goodness of life, peace, forgiveness, charity and love for God in all his forms. Today, long after Sai Baba’s death in 1918, he remains a popular master worshiped by devotees around the world.
In New Delhi, Sai Baba Temple on Lodhi Road is the oldest and most popular of the city’s many temples dedicated to the spiritual guru. The temple began as a memorial for Shirdi Sai Baba, and its foundations were laid in 1972. Just as Sai Baba served as a leader for both Hindus and Muslims of all castes, everyone is welcome into the temple regardless of race, religion or social status.
The Ajanta and Ellora Caves are located in northern Maharashtra, around 400 kilometers from Mumbai. Carved into the hillside, there are 34 caves at Ellora dating from between the 6th and 11th centuries AD, and 29 caves at Ajanta dating back to between the 2nd century BC and 6th century AD.
The caves at Ajanta are all Buddhist, while the caves at Ellora are a mixture of Buddhist, Hindu and Jain. Perhaps the most astonishing thing about these cave structures is that they were created by hand, with only a hammer and chisel. While the Ajanta caves are adorned with art, including paintings and other sculptures, the Ellora caves are best-known for their fascinating architecture. Sweeping views of the Ellora Caves can be had by climbing up the hill around the Kailasa temple. It’s a good idea to bring a torch to the Ajanta caves as many of them are rather dark with poor lighting.
St James’ Church, also called Skinner’s Church after James Skinner, the British-Indian colonel who commissioned the church, is the oldest churches in Delhi and one of the few examples of a Palladian church in India. Colonel Skinner, while lying wounded on the battlefield of Uniara, vowed to build a church should he survive; he did so at his own expense. Construction on the church building, designed by Major Robert Smith, began in 1826, and the church was consecrated in November of 1836. The church, located near the Kashmiri Gate, features many design elements of the Renaissance Revival, including a cruciform floor plan, porticoed porches, interior stained glass windows and an octagonal dome at its center. The church cemetery houses several tombs of British officials as well as members of the Skinner clan.
The 1,017 foot (310 meter) tall Dudhsagar Falls is one of the tallest waterfalls in India, and making the trek to the falls is a great way to get away from the beaches for the day and experience a wilder side of Goa. Bring along snacks and a beach towel and make a day of it.
According to legend, Dudhsagar, meaning “Sea of Milk,” was created when a princess bathing beneath the falls poured a jug of sweet milk in front of her body to hide her nakedness from the eyes of a prince hiding in the trees. Today, the rushing waters of the fall appear milky white as they cascade down the four tiered cliffs into a pool below.
Those who weather the bumpy jeep ride and somewhat strenuous trek to the falls will be rewarded with a refreshing swim and some spectacular views. The best time to visit is between October and March when roads are less likely to be washed out from monsoon rains, and the falls are at their most impressive just after a late monsoon season rain.