India is all of these things, from best to worst. But it’s also much, much more. It’s intoxicating swirls of color, historic temples, palm-fringed harbors and a melting pot of cultures far and wide.
My time in India still comprises some of my most prominent memories. The lure of the country is ever-present – the splendor and intrigue fresh in my mind always. If you’ve been to India, you’ll know what I’m talking about. The beauty is so alive, and the sadness, too – but mostly the beauty.
If you’ve never been to India, go. It’s as simple as that- look I even have a list of places you can stay, no excuses now. If you are going, be sure to make these a part of your to-do list. The possibilities are endless, but here are a few of the most noteworthy things to do and see to experience for yourself what makes India so incredible.
Browse the bazaars in Delhi (northern India)
Nowhere do sights, smells, tastes and sounds blend so robustly than in Delhi. After checking out the palaces, temples and tombs of New Delhi, venture to Old Delhi, where you can spend hours wandering the maze of bazaars (markets). You’ll become immersed in a quintessential scene: open grills roasting ears of corn, rusty bicycles carrying passengers and cargo, clotheslines like power lines, women in saris sitting in front of their stalls, playful children crowding the walkways.
Pick out aromatic spices, fresh vegetables, vibrantly colored fabrics and eye-catching jewelry along the way. It’s a great place to practice your bargaining skills!
Visit the Taj Mahal in Agra at sunrise or sunset (northern India)
One look at the Taj Mahal and you’ll understand why it’s touted as one of the Wonders of the World. About three hours south of Delhi, this breathtaking palatial tomb in the city of Agra is a living symbol of romance and grandeur, built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his most beloved wife.
Stroll along the reflecting pool and marvel at the flawless marriage of elaborate marble work and intricate etchings. The Taj Mahal is made even more beautiful at dawn and dusk, when swaths of reds, oranges, yellows and pinks cast a radiant glow over the breathtaking structure.
Witness the Hindu riverside rituals in Varanasi (northern India)
One of the oldest and most scared cities on earth and a major pilgrimage in India for Hindus, Buddhists and Jains, Varanasi is beautifully situated on the banks of the Ganges River. Locals and pilgrims come to the “ghat” (river) to bathe, meditate and perform rituals alongside priests. Seeing these vivid images is a surreal experience. The best way to do it: on a boat ride at sunrise, when worshipers often gather. The views from the river in the dawn light are heavenly.
Ride a camel to the Amber Fort in Jaipur (northern India)
The capital of Rajasthan and India’s first planned city is known for its rugged landscape and pink-hued architecture, as best exemplified by Amber Fort. This must-see UNESCO World Heritage-listed palace sits on a hilltop overlooking Maota Lake. It’s a steep climb, so the best (and most fun) way to get there is an elephant ride – a uniquely Indian experience. Spend the next several hours appreciating the ornate marble, paintings, murals, and mirror work of the fort complex. Don’t miss the Shila Davi Temple and the glass mosaics of the Mirror Palace.
Sample street food (anywhere, but especially Kolkata)
All that touring will get you hungry, and luckily, the food in India is incredible – especially the street food. Whether you’re looking for a quick, healthy snack or an indulgent meal, the country-wide street food scene has you covered.
Enjoy fresh fruit such as mango or papaya, or sink your teeth into some savory specialties like fried potato patties, chicken masala, sizzling kababs and curry. Everything is baked, fried, rolled, sautéed, sliced and diced right in front of you, so it’s a fun spectacle to watch.
Soak up the spicy sauces with some crispy-on-the-outside, chewy-on-the-inside naan bread, and cool it all off with some raita, a creamy mint and yogurt dipping sauce. In Kolkata, the Kati roll is a favorite: it’s a paratha (flatbread) stuffed with meat or eggs and eaten like a burrito.
(My tip: Be adventurous, but also be careful – err on the side of caution when it comes to food handling conditions.)
Encounter wildlife in Goa (southwestern India)
Beyond Goa’s breathtaking beaches – for which the area is widely known – is a world of wildlife where nature lovers can find a wide range of adventures.
See Goa’s state animal, the gaur, at the Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary, and spot wild crocodiles basking in the sun along the Cambarjua Canal. The more adventurous types can go snorkeling off Monkey Island or hike to Dudhsagar Falls in Mollem National Park.
Cruise the Kerala Backwaters in Kochi (southwestern tip of India)
Kochi is the capital of the Kerala region, home to the Kerala Backwaters, a mesmerizing maze of canals, lagoons, lakes and rivers. Soak up the languid, relaxing atmosphere as you cruise the waterways past rice paddies, palm-fringed shores, and tucked-away backwater villages.
Whether you set sail for an hour or a week – in a traditional canoe or on a modern houseboat – a Kerala Backwater cruise is a must.
Visit Gandhi house in Mumbai (west-central India)
It’s hard to be bored in Mumbai (formerly Bombay) with the bustling mélange of opposites: street vendors and skyscrapers, art museums and ancient caves, open-air laundromats and opulent architecture.
One of Mumbai’s claims to fame: Mani Bhavan. Now a museum, this Gujarati-style mansion is where pacifist hero and Indian freedom fighter Mahatma Gandhi lived on his visits to Mumbai between 1917 and 1934. It was in this house that Gandhi developed his philosophy of nonviolent protest, launching his famous campaign of civil disobedience.
Visit the museum to witness Gandhi’s life through dioramas, documents, photos, letters, and memorabilia. Most poignant is the minimalist room where Gandhi slept, with its floor mattress, low tables and tiled floor. Puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?