Things to Do 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.
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.
Mehrangarh Fort is a huge ancient fort located in Jodhpur in the state of Rajasthan. It's one of the largest forts in India and was built in the mid-15th century by Rao Jodha. The fort sits on a rocky hill presiding some 125 meters above the city, with the structure merging with the rock on which it stands. Still run by the Jodhpur royal family to this day, Mehrangarh Fort is filled with a strong sense of history and legend.
Enclosed by thick, imposing walls, the fort complex contains a museum, courthouses, gardens, and several magnificent palaces with vast courtyards and elaborate architecture. Among the royal residences are the Phool Mahal (Flower Palace), which was used for dance performances and features beguiling stained-glass windows, and Jhanki Mahal (Queen’s Palace), where there’s a colorful display of the cradles of former rulers.
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.
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.
More Things to Do in India
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.
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.
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.
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.
Dasaswamedh Ghat is one of the busiest, oldest, and most important ghats in Varanasi. It's the site of a number of Hindu temples and shrines and a place where pilgrims come from all over the world to perform religious ceremonies and rituals. Many devotees visit the ghat at sunrise to pay homage to Lord Shiva and bath in the holy waters of the Ganges, while evening aarti, which see thousands of floating lamps immersed in the river, attracts huge crowds from far and wide.
Literally translated, Dasaswamedh means ‘the ghat of 10 sacrificed horses.’ According to Hindu mythology, ten horses were sacrificed by Lord Brahma to allow Shiva to return from a period of banishment. Despite its age, Dasaswamedh Ghat is attractive, colorful, and relatively clean, and even non-devotees are attracted by its atmosphere, daily rituals, and beautiful riverfront views.
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.
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 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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