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.
Protected as a Unesco World Heritage Site, the Elephanta Caves are among Mumbai’s most astounding temple sites, home to one of India’s most precious collections of Hindu temple art.
In Elephanta Island’s labyrinthine network of subterranean caves, highly prized statues of Shiva and other deities, shrines, pillars, courtyards and halls are carved out of rock in high relief.
Elephanta’s collection of cave-temples date back to around AD 600, and were named for the elephant statue that once stood near the shore. The statue now stands in Mumbai’s Victoria Gardens.
Tours are essential to get the most from a visit to the island, revealing the stories and history of the island’s carvings and artworks. The highlight is the temple to Shiva with its towering statue of the three-faced deity, surrounding by latticework screens, carved pillars and winding corridors.
Ranthambore National Park is one of the largest national parks in north India. Situated in the Sawai Madhopur district of Rajasthan, historically it was the former hunting grounds of the Maharajas of Jaipur. Today the park is a major wildlife tourist attraction, where visitors come in particular to see the famous tigers that live here.
Those hoping to see the tigers in their natural habitat won’t be disappointed, with sightings of the big cats occurring at most times of the year, but particularly in November and May. Other wild animals that live here include leopards, wild boars, hyenas, and sloth bears. The park also features lush jungle and diverse plant and bird life, plus one of the largest banyan trees in India. Aside from its verdant jungle and wild animals, Ranthambore National Park is also known for being an important heritage site, with ancient ruins scattered across the lush landscape.
Within a stone’s throw of the Taj Mahal, the 16th-century Agra Fort serves as another testament to the immense wealth and power of the Mughal Empire. Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983, the Agra Fort was initially built by Akbar in 1565 on the same site as a previous fort on the banks of the Yamuna River. A succession of a half-dozen other emperors, including Humayun and Shah Jahan, has lived within the red sandstone walls.
While called a fort, the structures enclosed within 1.6 miles (2.5 km) of thick sandstone walls are more akin to a complex of exquisite palaces. Evidence of Shah Jahan’s time spent in the fort can be seen in the white marble structures he erected during his reign, and according to legend, he drew his last breaths on a marble balcony overlooking the Taj Mahal, the monument he built for his late wife.
More than 2 million people cross the Hooghly River by way of the Howrah Bridge each day, earning it the title of the busiest cantilever bridge in the world. The 2,313 foot (705 meter) expanse of steel girders hanging over the water connect the sister cities of Howrah and Kolkata (Calcutta) with eight lanes of chaotic auto rickshaws, scooters, bikes, cars, animals and pedestrian traffic.
A bridge linking the cities was originally proposed in 1862, but plans for the bridge didn’t come to fruition until 1943. Since its erection, the Howrah Bridge has become a cultural icon in Kolkata and West Bengal and has served as a setting and inspiration for the 1958 film Howrah Bridge by director Shakti Samanta.
Visit the bridge in the early morning to see early rising denizens washing along the ghats at the base of the bridge. Under the eastern side of the bridge, you’ll find the colorful Mullik Ghat Flower Market, a great place to people watch while sipping on tea.
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.
The Amber Fort, built in 1592, once served as the palace and capital of the Kachchawahs during their reign until 1727, when the capital was moved to Jaipur. While the fort was abandoned in the eighteenth century, the remaining palaces, temples and courtyards are surprisingly well preserved and have retained much of their original beauty and craftsmanship. In 2013 the Hill Forts of Rajasthan, including Amber Fort, were awarded UNESCO World Heritage status.
Located about 7 miles (11 kilometers) from Jaipur, the Amber Fort sits on a hill top and faces out over the Maota Lake. To enter the fort, you must make the steep climb by foot, jeep or elephant, passing beneath the Sun Gate and into the inner palaces. Plan to spend a minimum of half a day at the Amber Fort, taking care not to miss the Shila Davi Temple (dedicated to the goddess Kali) with its intricately worked silver doors, the glass mosaics of the Mirror Palace and the filigreed marble windows.
Located in the northern Kolkata (Calcutta) neighborhood of Dakshineswar along the Hoohley River is the Dakshineswar Kali Temple. The temple complex, dating back to the nineteenth century, consists of one large temple to Kali and 13 smaller temples dedicated to the worship of other deities in the Hindu pantheon.
The main temple, built in 1855, is an important pilgrimage spot for devotees of Kali, the patron goddess of Kolkata. It is also the temple where spiritual leader Ramakrishna had a vision that prompted him to turn against the caste system and preach religious unity instead. The small room where he lived much of his life is now a small museum celebrating his life.
The temple complex tends to get crowded on Sundays. Visit in the early morning hours to beat the heat and watch the locals feed the pigeons or browse the small flower market just outside the temple grounds.
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.
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.
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The Lalbagh Botanical Gardens provide a picturesque and peaceful respite from hectic city life. The 240 acres of green space are a paradise for the morning walkers and shy lovers who come here to stroll along paths lined with majestic trees, past lotus ponds and water fountains, and occupy the benches hidden under flowering creepers.
The many tropical plants and exotic flowers are a delight for nature lovers, and with over 50 species of birds, this is a popular spot for bird watchers. One of the best-known landmarks is the greenhouse, which was modeled after London’s former Crystal Palace. The Lalbagh Rock, a large hillock made of granite, is another popular attraction: visitors like to climb to the small temple at the top.
The Sunday morning heritage walk is popular with nature enthusiasts who would like to learn about the garden’s many exotic species of plants and trees. Join naturalist Vijay Thiruvady at 7am at the base of the Lalbagh Rock.
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 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.
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 Basilica of Bom Jesus, a church dedicated to the worship of baby Jesus, is also home to the remains of Francis Xavier, Goa’s patron saint and one of the original seven founders of the Jesuit order. The church was erected in Old Goa, the former Portuguese colonial capital, between 1594 and 1605 by Florentine sculptor Giovanni Batista Foggini out of red stone sourced from the area.
The withered remains of the saint, known throughout the Catholic world, are kept in a silver casket housed within an ornate three-tiered marble tomb to the right of the altar. Once every ten years, the church hosts an exhibition of the remains of the body - save for one arm on display in Rome – and they are made visible to the public.
This UNESCO World Heritage site is one of the oldest and most ornate churches in all of India, complete with gold gilded altars and white marble floors inlaid with precious stones.
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.
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 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 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.
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 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.
Nicknamed the Baby Taj, the Tomb of Itimad-ud-Daulah in Agra was built from 1622 to 1628 by the daughter of Mizra Ghiyas Beg, the Persian nobleman entombed within the marble structure. While not as jaw-dropping as the Taj Mahal, this smaller tomb has many connections to its more famous counterpart. As a forerunner to the Taj Mahal, the Tomb of Itimad-ud-Daulah was innovative for its time -- it was the first Mughal structure made entirely out of marble. The two structures also have a personal connection. Mizra Ghiyas Beg was the grandfather of Mumtaz Mahal, for whom the Taj Mahal was built.
While smaller than the Taj, this tomb is arguably more delicate and ornate. The inlays, mosaics and marble lattice screens likely served as inspiration to Shah Jahan, and it’s possible to see them up close without the crowds that often plague the Taj Mahal. It’s a place most travelers to Agra never see, but it’s well worth a visit.
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.
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.
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