To see all the places worth seeing in India, even a 6-month visit is probably insufficient. There are more tourist destinations in India than can be mentioned in a full-length book, let alone in a summary. Almost every state in India has more than ten major tourist destinations, and there are cities that can hardly be explored in a whole week. Several Indian states alone are larger and more populous than most countries in the world, and there are 29 states and 7 Union Territories in India, including two island chains outside the mainland.
Historical monuments and fortresses in India
Probably India’s most famous single attraction is the Taj Mahal, widely regarded as the jewel of Islamic art in India and one of the world’s most admired heritage masterpieces.
The Qutb Minar and the impressive Red Fort are the two most famous historical monuments in Delhi.
Jaipur, the capital of the western state of Rajasthan, is incredibly rich in forts and palaces, including the mighty Amber Fort, the beautiful Jal Mahal (Water Palace) and the unique Hawa Mahal.
Nalanda in Bihar has the remains of a Buddhist university founded in 450 CE.
A slightly different and more modern kind of historical monument is the Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad, which was founded by the Mahatma himself and is all about Gandhi.
Houses of Worship in India
No visit to India would be complete without a trip to some of the country’s fantastic temples. All regions of the country are full of temples. The city of Jammu, the winter capital of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, has so many temples that it is called the “City of Temples” and is a major attraction for Hindu pilgrims. Bishnupur in West Bengal is the location of the well-known terracotta temples.The Sri Venkateswara Temple in Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh, is dedicated to Vishnu and is also a major attraction for pilgrims. The tantric temple complexes of Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh are very popular for their thousand-year-old sacred erotic wall carvings, considered by some art historians to be the pinnacle of erotic art. The Meenakshi Amman temple in Madurai, Tamil Nadu, is a centre of worship for Parvati, the consort of Shiva. The city of Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu is known for its magnificent temples from the Chola period.
Hinduism is not the only religion represented in the great temples of India. The world headquarters of the Sikh religion is located in the Golden Temple in Amritsar in Punjab. Leh and its environs in the Kashmir region of Ladakh are one of several areas that have magnificent Buddhist temples or monasteries. Located in the small town of Ranakpur, Rajasthan, the Ranakpur Temple is an impressively historic Jain temple.
India’s second largest religion in followers after Hinduism is Islam, and many parts of India have been ruled by Muslim dynasties for hundreds of years, so it is not surprising that India is also home to many magnificent mosques. Some of them, like the mosque at the Taj, are part of historical monuments. One impressive mosque that is still in use today is the beautiful 17th century Jama Masjid in Old Delhi. Hyderabad in the south has several historic mosques, including the Charminar Masjid and the Mecca Masjid.
There are also notable churches in various Indian cities, and the dwindling old Jewish community of Kochi, Kerala, continues to use its famous synagogue, which is now a tourist attraction.
India is a geographically very diverse country. In the north of the country you can see the Himalayas, the highest mountain range on earth. There are also hilly areas in many non-Himalayan states. In India, hill stations – towns in the cooler areas in foothills or high valleys surrounded by mountains, favoured by the Rajas, then the British and now by Indian tourists in the hot summer months – are sights and experiences in themselves. The biggest of these is the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir, Srinagar, but Darjeeling, overlooking Mount Kangchenjunga in the northern part of West Bengal, is very famous for its tea. Other famous hill stations are Shimla, Ooty and Gangtok, and there are many others – most states have some.
India is also a land of numerous rivers. Several of them are traditionally considered sacred, but especially the Ganges, known locally as Ganga, which fills the Indian plains, the breadbasket of India, with life and is not only an impressive body of water, but also a centre for ritual ablutions, prayers and cremations. There are several holy cities along the river that have many temples, but they are often less pilgrimage sites to specific temples than holy cities whose temples have grown because of the ghats (steps leading down to the holy river) and are the most interesting to visit for the overall experience of observing or participating in the journey of life and death along the river. Foremost among these holy cities is Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, where some 5,000-year-old rituals are still practised; other cities worth visiting to experience the Ganges are Rishikesh and Haridwar, much further upstream.
India also has a long coastline. The beaches of Goa, also an interesting former Portuguese colony; Kochi; and the Andaman Islands are among the most prized by domestic and foreign visitors.
Finally, India has a huge desert, the Thar Desert in Rajasthan. Several cities in Rajasthan, including Jaisalmer, are good starting points for camel safaris.
Wildlife in India
India is famous for its wildlife, including Bengal tigers, Asiatic lions and elephants. The Bandhavgarh National Park in Madhya Pradesh and the Ranthambhore National Park in Rajasthan are the most likely places where you can see an Indian tiger in the wild, although you will need some luck and perseverance to do so. Gir Forest National Park in Gujarat is dedicated to the conservation of Asiatic lions. The Sundarbans National Park is the largest mangrove forest and delta in the world, home to the famous Royal Bengal tigers and estuarine crocodiles, but also a fascinating overall ecosystem.