As I’m preparing for my business trip to Delhi, India in two weeks, I couldn’t help thinking back to 2011 when I traveled all over India during one month. I was lucky enough to join a group of students from my former high school that were going with a former teacher of mine on this cultural trip.
Since it’s been a while, and memories start to fade after 8 years, I’m not going to share all of the details of the trip but I do want to highlight some of the amazing cities that I’ve visited while traveling through India. With India being one of the biggest countries in the world, it’s safe to say you come across a lot of different cultures and landscapes…
Known as the capital of India, Delhi is an enormous city in the north of India with quite some contrasts especially comparing Old Delhi to New Delhi. This is also the city where most of the people traveling to India start their journey. As there is so much to see and do in Delhi itself, it’s highly recommendable to stay at least 3 – 4 days. Some of the things that you should definitely have on your list when visiting Delhi are:
- Raj Ghat (memorial of Mahatma Gandhi)
- Old Delhi and Jama Masjid (one of the biggest mosques in India)
- Lotus Temple
- Humayun’s Tomb
- India Gate
- Sansad Bhavan (house of parliament)
- Rashtrapati Bhavan (presidential palace)
Agra is best known for the Taj Mahal which is one of the New 7 Wonders of the World and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The site is not only worth a visit just so that you can say you’ve seen the Taj, but it’s also worth reading into the history of the Taj a bit because it’s not only very impressive but also quite romantic. Besides the Taj Mahal, it’s also recommendable to visit the Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri. I found the visit to Fatehpur Sikri especially interesting because it’s one of the World Heritage Sites of India, but it’s also quite important from a historical standpoint (it was the capitol of the Mogol empire for 14 years).
3. Varanasi / Benares
Varanasi or Benares is a special city in India not only because the river Ganges flows through it, but also because of the historical and religious importance. There are quite some things to see in Varanasi, but I will only list a couple as these will occupy you for quite some time, but be warned that some places might be very shocking.
- Banaras Hindu University where you will find the archaeological museum and Vishwanath Temple
- Golden Temple which you cannot access if you’re not Hindu
- Manikarnika Ghat is the largest cremating place in Varanasi where bodies are wrapped in blankets before being burned and thrown in the Ganges river.
- Temple of Mother India where Buddha held his first lecture
- Bharat Matatemple which was opened by Mahatma Gandhi
- Silk Factories
4. Kolkata / Calcutta
When entering Calcutta, depending on which route you take, try to drive into the city via the Howrah Bridge which is the busiest bridge in the world with 8 driving lanes and 2 pedestrian lanes. Walking or driving through Calcutta is completely different than any of the other cities in India that I came across since you still notice a lot of British influences. Besides just walking through the city and discovering the small shops and streets, which I highly encourage, I would also recommend the following places:
- Victoria Memorial
- St Paul’s Cathedral
- Mother Theresa House
Mahabalipuram is not really known when talking to people from Europe or the United States, but this one should definitely be on your list. It will require a domestic flight if you do a complete trip through the country as the distance between Calcutta and Mahabalipuram (close to Chennai) is very long. This city with its long name is one of the oldest cities in India and the city itself is not that big, but it has plenty of small shops and local craftsmanship. Only downside of the city is that it’s not allowed to go into the water/sea as the currents are too strong. Only fishermen go with their floats and boats. Besides eating very good and fresh fish, there are some sites that you should definitely visit:
- Kanchipuram which is known as the city of thousand temples (126 in reality) and is one of the 7 sacred cities of Hindus in India. Here, I visited the Kailasanatha Temple, Ekambareshvara Temple, Varadaraj Temple and Kamakshi Temple. Just be aware that for some temples, you’re required to climb a lot of steps!
- Pancha Rathas Complex which means chariot of the gods. This site is part of the UNESCO World Heritage sites, and is famous for its rock-cut architecture.
6. Pondicherry & Auroville
Pondicherry or Puducherry is a former French colony in India, and you can still see some French influences especially in the French Quarter, but also in daily life and local atmosphere. My suggestion here is walking through the streets with it’s green lanes and walk along the promenade.
Besides the city of Pondicherry itself, it’s also worth visiting the Auroville community. This is a more spiritual community but open to all. The center of the community is called the Matrimandir and it looks like a big golden ball, but in fact is a temple covered in gold discs.
With Periyar, we’re reaching the south of India and you’ll immediately notice a change in temperature and climate in its whole. It’s more humid but that also has something to do with the national parks that are located and vast majority of the area is covered with forests / jungles. In Periyar, I visited the tiger reserve which is part of the Periyar National Park . The best way to visit this tiger reserve is by boat, so a guided tour takes you on the reserve and if you’re lucky you’ll be able to see some tigers or other wildlife living in this reserve. I wasn’t fortunate enough to see tigers, but did see plenty of elephants and deer.
8. Allepey (Kerala)
One of the most famous things to do in Kerala province is to stay overnight on a houseboat on the Kerala Backwaters as they are called. We couldn’t miss out on this experience, so we boarded a houseboat in Allepey. I have to say that this experience was one for the books, because it’s not only that you’re on the water all the time, but by passing through the canals you almost feel like you’re in Venice (Italy). We even came across some boats that looked more like gondolas than normal boats except way bigger (50-80 people).
Another interesting experience is something you will find when taking the Nilgiri Mountain Railway up to Coonoor. This railway is only used by the old steam trains that operate along this path. Taking the train up the Nilgiri Hills, you’ll come across plenty of tea bushes and grassy meadows but also panoramic views, deep ravines and imposing waterfalls. Coonoor is one of the biggest hill stations and is famous for it’s production of Nilgiri Tea, so a visit to a tea plantation or factory should be on your to-do list. I personally went to the Highfield Tea Factory where you can experience the end to end process of tea making but also taste some freshly made tea.
Mysore is known for it’s royal heritage and magnificent buildings, therefore, a visit to the Mysore Palace should be definitely on your list. But besides the palace, there is just so much to see in Mysore, like the Brindavan Gardens where the fountains light up when it’s dark and you have magical water shows. During the day, these gardens are perfect for a family picnic.
Shravanabelagola is located about 90 km north of Mysore and here you can find a Jain pilgrimage place which spreads over 2 hills. We climbed up Indragiri Hill to the main temple which has a statue of Gommata. Be warned that this climb involves 700 steps and little to no shade, so plenty of water is advisable. Also, no shoes are allowed to make sure to bring socks with you as the steps can be very hot in the sun. One would question why it’s worth to travel to this unknown place just to climb a lot of steps, well let me tell you that the view is amazing for one and second, the satisfaction that you get when reaching the top is nothing you’ll ever have experienced before.
Bangalore is known for it’s high-tech industry and is also referenced to as the city of gardens as there are quite some parks and gardens in the city. The thing that you will notice when comparing Bangalore to other places in India is that it’s indeed quite modern and more western-looking than the traditional Indian cities. You’ll also find a royal palace here and if you’re familiar with Windsor Castle in the UK, then this one will look similar. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to fully discover Bangalore, but they also have nice shopping centers and very busy streets.
This overview was still quite lengthy, so thank you very much for reading and I hope you found some interesting cities to add to your travel list when visiting India.