India Travel Guide – Part 1
India is a nation with no full stops as suitably described by Mark Tully. It’s a holistic destination, where one can embark on journeys of spirituality, culture, history, adventure, and virtually everything. This country certainly has something for every kind of traveler which is why many never return back once they touch down India. If you are a traveler your journey is incomplete without ticking India on your travel map. India is among those destinations which one can travel with their personal Andaz (Style). You could be part of India’s royalty by spending a night in the actual palaces turned hotels or you can experience a truly remote location by staying with the locals in the most untouched places all across the country.This India travel guide features 20 cities of India that helps a traveler to cover the vastness of the country by just experiencing these main attractions.
Here are few reasons why India is a “must experience” destination
The destination for History Buffs– India doesn’t have a very primitive history at least not as old as of Romans hence the legends still exist in the architecture and lifestyle of people. The influence of famous historical ruling dynasties like Mughals, Mewar, Wodeyar, Maratha, Deccan and many others can be felt even today through the well-kept forts and palaces and few of the existing Royal families of these dynasties. Rajasthan, in particular, is one such state wherein the Mewar and Rajput culture is well preserved by the locals as well as the royal families who reside here.
The destination for Culture Buffs– Don’t wonder why? if a tuk-tuk driver doesn’t accept his fee from your left hand and requests you to dispense the same from your right. Most of the Indians are strict vegetarians on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Woman don’t enter any religious sites during their menstruation. There are many such things that constitute the culture of India, few good and few not believed by the younger generations today. India has a culture in everything,be the food, religious practices, ceremonies or day to day life.
The destination for food lovers-Just like India has diversity in religions, dialects, apparels, food also is very dynamic in every 500kms or less. The flavors, use of ingredients and numerous varieties makes Indian food a big reason to travel here. Each of the 29 states has their specialties and variations in cuisine.
The People of India – It’s difficult to speak about a nation with 1.32 billion people but Indians are known in the world for their hospitality.
Misconceptions you must have heard about India
It’s not a safe destination especially for single lady travelers– This holds true but not when you travel responsibly. Every destination has its pros & cons but that doesn’t stop explorers to explore. Trust me it’s not that bad as it seems to be even if you’re traveling alone as a woman. So traveling responsibly is key to travel India. Dress up conservatively, behave lesser like a tourist and very important respect the local culture and traditions.
It’s an expensive destination – Yes indeed but only when you stay at Palaces turned hotels or choose to travel by air over rail or road even for shorter distances. India is not an expensive affair if you go local :). India has world’s second largest rail network and has metro or local trains in most of the metro cities so might as well make use of the same to save some cash while you travel. India also has strong public road transportation network throughout the country which is one of the cheapest modes of transportation. Pre-plan your travel as much as you can. Last minute itineraries might sound adventurous but can cost a lot in terms of affecting your budget.
You get cheated as a tourist – Tell me a destination where tourism is not a money-making industry? Use your instincts and brains to avoid being cheated. When your travel experiences are not pre-booked I recommend you bargain for all ala minute arrangements or even while shopping. If you follow the correct sources to plan your travel you won’t end up being cheated. We have recommended many websites throughout the blog that would help you travel cheaper with our own first-hand experiences.
You need vaccination before traveling to India – Yes. Vaccination is mandatory. To understand why and how kindly refer this link: https://www.lonelyplanet.com/india/health
India has strong religious sentiments hence clothing is an issue – Dress up the way you feel comfortable except for few places where there are strict rules which need to be followed not just by tourists but also by locals. This especially holds important while visiting any religious sites.
Currency of India
India’s currency is Indian Rupee (INR) and we recommend keeping enough cash while traveling. Although India is on the way to be digitalized but still most of the shops, public transportation modes and eateries only accept cash.
There are close to 23 languages spoken in India. The language might become a hurdle while interacting with locals but major cities of India has major population speaking or at least understanding English.
Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism, Buddhism, Islam, Christianity
Websites you can trust for planning your travel
https://Irctc.co.in/ – The official website for Indian Railways, the only website you must trust for making railway bookings while traveling in India.
https://www.tripadvisor.in – This is a trusted website for booking hotels in India. The website comes with many filters to help one find hotels as per budget, guest reviews and rankings.
https://www.zoomcar.com/ – If you wish to hire your own car, Zoomcar is a great option available in cities like Bangalore, Pune, Delhi, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Chennai, Chandigarh, and Kolkatta.
Arriving in India
India has many international airports in different parts of the country. The airports with the maximum number of international flights connectivity are the Indira Gandhi International Airport of Delhi and Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport of Mumbai.
India Travel Guide – Northern India
High mountain peaks, chilly winters, flowing rivers, fried food, larger than life lifestyle of people and many colorful factors, North India is absolutely vibrant.
Experience Leh (Jammu & Kashmir)
Leh, a high-desert city in the Himalayas, in Jammu and Kashmir state. Originally a stop for trading caravans, Leh is now known for its Buddhist sites, remote cold desserts and scenic beauty.
How to Reach
There are direct flights from Delhi to Leh, a journey of 1.5 hours. If you wish to travel by road then take a bus from Delhi’s ISBT Bus station. Delhi to Leh by road via Leh-Manali Highway is around 1011 km and the total travel time is approximately 24 hours.
Please note: During winters, Manali -Leh highway is not functional and the only operational way is the Srinagar-Leh highway which also gets affected by occasional landslides.
Best time to Visit
With unruly weather conditions, the best time to visit this natures abode is during the summers (June-September) when the temperature is moderate and hospitable for travelers.
What to experience at Leh
Visit Nubra Valley via Khardungla Pass
Situated at an altitude of 3048 meters above the sea level, Nubra valley was originally known as “Ldumra” meaning valley of flowers. The places which are must visit at Nubra are Diskit, Hunder, Sumur and Panamik villages. These are small villages with no phone signals and very basic living facilities.
Khardungla Pass: While traveling from Leh to Nubra pitstop at Khardungla for a hot cup of tea, situated at 18,380ft, this is the highest motorable road in the world overlooking the town of Leh. Modelled on the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet, the palace was built by King Sengge Namgyal in the 17th century. It is nine levels high; the upper floors once accommodated the royal family, while the lower floors held stables and storerooms. Leh Palace is open for visitors from 07 am until 04 pm and levies an entry fee of INR 15 for Indians and INR 100 for foreigners.
Diskit, capital of Nubra: Perhaps a place wherein you would get phone signals, phone booths, maybe a cyber café to use the internet and a petrol pump. Located at an altitude of 10310 feet above sea level, Diskit is 350 years old and houses a 32 meters tall Maitreya Buddha Statue. This monastery is home to more than 100 monks.
Sumur: Sumur is a quiet and lesser-known village of Leh. It is frequently visited by backpackers and hikers from all over the world. Sumur is known for Samstanling Monastery which was founded 140 years back in 1841 by Lama Tsultim Nima.
Hunder: Located 7kms away from Diskit, Hunder is known for its sand dunes and Bactrian camel safaris.
Panamik: A beautiful scenic village in the Nubra valley famous for its hot springs enriched with a high amount of Sulphur. A dip in these Sulphur hot springs is believed to cure various health sicknesses. Apart from the hot water treatment, the snow-clad peaks and lush green valley make the visit to Panamik truly amazing. As the region lies on the Indo-Tibetan border, it serves as a base for the trek to Ensa Monastery, which is famous for Buddhist murals. The village of Panamik is also famous for its Kashmiri and Tibetan artifacts. Kashmiri carpet and Pashmina shawls are one of the most shopped items in the markets of Panamik
Explore Pangong Tso Lake
Pangong Tso is an endorheic lake in the Himalayas situated at a height of about 4,350 m (14,270 ft). It is 134 km long and extends from India to China. Approximately 60% of the length of the lake lies in China. During winter the lake freezes completely, despite being saline water. Pangong Tso can be reached in a five-hour drive from Leh, most of it on a rough and dramatic mountain road. The distance between Pangong lake and Leh is around 157 km and is a drive of 05 hours. You can hire your own car or a taxi from any local travel agent at Leh in case you don’t have a planned trip to the lake in your itinerary.
Permits required traveling at Leh:
- Due to its close location to the neighboring countries border, permits are required to visit certain places of Leh and one such place is Nubra valley
- Ladakh Inner Line Permits (ILP) are required for Indian Tourists / Nationals and Ladakh Protected Area Permits (PAP) are required for foreigners
- One needs to pay an environment fee of Rs 400 and inner line permit fee of Rs 20 per day per person to get these permits.
- Both the permits can be obtained online from the official website www.lahdclehpermit.in
Where to stay
Leh has varied options of accommodation for every kind of traveler.From five star hotels to budget-friendly homestays and camping tents to thrill your adventure vacation. For some recommended options click https://www.cntraveller.in/story/where-to-stay-in-ladakh/
How to travel in & around the city
Its recommend you hire a private taxi or hire a bike at Leh to experience the town. Don’t depend on the public transport buses as they generally take longer routes leading to waste of time. A license, either Indian or Foreign is a must if you wish to rent a bike.
Mcleodganj (Himachal Pradesh)
Also known as “Little Lhasa” and famous around the world for being home to the Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama, Mcleodganj is a beautiful town situated near upper Dharamshala. Nestled amidst majestic hills and lush greenery, this town is culturally blessed by a prominent Tibetan influence owing to the major settlement of Tibetans here.
How to reach
One can drive to Mcleod Ganj from Delhi via NH 1, a journey of about 10 hours. Pathankot Railway Station, situated approximately 90 km away, is the closest broad gauge railhead serving those headed to Mcleod Ganj.The Gaggal Airport of Dharamsala is the nearest airport available to Mcleodganj, however, has very restricted flight connectivity.
Best time to visit
Mcleodganj experiences extremely pleasant summers with the temperatures hovering around 25 degrees. The best time to visit Mcleodganj is during the months of September to June. It is best to avoid July and August due to the heavy rainfall Mcleodganj receives.
What to experience at Mcleodganj
Triund: Triund is a popular trek, about 9-km away from Mcleodganj. It is situated at a great height and provides a mesmerizing view of the Moon Peak-Indra Pass. It is also an ideal spot for picnics and the clean and pristine environment will surely rejuvenate your senses.
Namgyal Monastery: Overlooking the mountain ranges of Dhauladhar, the Namgyal Monastery is situated within the Tsuglagkhang complex. This complex also is the proud home to the residence of Dalai Lama, among various other shrines, temples, bookstores and souvenir shops.
Tsuglagkhang: Tsuglagkhang is the place where the Dalai Lama resides. It is one of the most significant places of worship which attracts devotees from all over the world and serves tourists as well. A Tibetan museum is located inside which displays a collection of brilliant forms of Tibetan art through historical documents, pottery, handicrafts, paintings etc.
Where to stay
Mcleodganj has plenty of pocket-friendly options like hostels, homestays and budget hotels. There are very few premium category hotels available here. Fortune Park Moksha is a recommended premium hotel.
How to travel in & around the city
The local tuk-tuks and buses are available readily to move around the city. (Please fix charges before you board the tuk-tuks)
Amritsar is a city in the northwestern Indian state of Punjab, 28 kilometers from the border with Pakistan.
How to reach
Amritsar has its own airport called the Sri Guru Ram Dass Jee International Airport. Amritsar Railway station has good connectivity with all other stations in India. The Amritsar Shatabdi (12013) is a recommended train from New Delhi station that covers the journey within a span of 6.5 hours.
Best time to Travel
Amritsar experiences extreme temperature just like rest of the northern India. It’s hot in the summer months from April – September and moderately cold in the month of October to March.
What to Experience at Amritsar
Golden Temple: Golden Temple is the holiest Gurdwara and the most important pilgrimage site of Sikhism.It is located in the city of Amritsar.The Golden Temple is so called because the entire upper half of the temple is inlaid with copper covered over by gold plate. The water that surrounds the Golden Temple is a sacred pool known as the Amrit Sarovar meaning, “Pool of Nectar”. Sikhs from across the globe come to pay their reverence to Guru Granth Sahib (the sacred book of Sikhs) and take a dip in this sacred pool. The Temple is visited by people of all religion in India which marks a sense of unity.
The most interesting fact about Golden Temple is the community kitchen here which is famously known as Guru Ka Langar. This community kitchen serves langar (Food) to an average of 75,000 devotees or tourists every day and the number becomes almost double on special occasions. On average 100 Kg Wheat Flour, 25 Kg Portions of cereal, 10 Kg Rice, 5000 Ltr Milk, 10 Kg Sugar, 5 Kg Pure Ghee (clarified butter) is used a day. Nearly 100 LPG Cylinders are used to prepare the meals. 100’s of employees and devotees render their services to the kitchen.
The institution of Guru ka Langar has served the community in many ways. It has ensured the participation of women and children in a task of service for mankind. Women play an important role in the preparation of meals, and the children help in serving food to the visitors. Langar also teaches the etiquette of sitting and eating in a community situation, which has played a great part in upholding the virtue of uniformity among all human beings.
Treat your taste buds with street food of Amritsar: Punjab is known for its food habits and Amritsar is a street food paradise. When at Amritsar do not miss to hit the streets for giving a spicy kick to your palate with the world known Amritsari Kulcha served with butter. Do try the butter chicken and chicken and mutton kebabs and tikkas. My personal favorite place to enjoy this is Pal Ka Dhabha located at Hathi Gate. The few other notably known places to experience the best of Amritsar street gourmet is the Hall Bazaar, Beera chicken house, Surjit food plaza and Kesar da Dhaba.
Where to stay
Amritsar offers accommodation suiting all budgets. From five star establishments like Hyatt and Marriott, there are also budget hotels and hostels available here.
How to travel in & around the city
The local tuk-tuks and taxis are available readily to move around the city. (Please fix charges before you board the tuk-tuks)
Jim Corbett National Park, Ramnagar(Uttarakhand)
How to reach
The Jim Corbett National Park is situated at an approximate distance of 260 Kms from the National Capital Delhi. Ramnagar is the only nearest railway station to Jim Corbett National Park. A direct train to Ramnagar runs from Delhi.The small city Ramnagar has a very good road network that connects the different cities of India. Uttarakhand state government buses ply at a short interval of time from Delhi, Moradabad, Haldwani that reaches directly Ramnagar. Corbett is only 15 Kms from Ramnagar town. The surface drive from Delhi to Corbett takes approximate five and half hours.
Best time to Travel
The months of November through June are the perfect time to visit Corbett National Park as the park remains open to tourists during these periods only. The park is kept closed as the monsoon season approaches. The main reason for the closure of the park during rest of the year is that the roads inside the park get washed away due to rain. The repair work starts after the monsoon and ends only by November till the roads are back in motorable condition.
Jim Corbett National Park is the oldest national park in India and was established in 1936 as Hailey National Park to protect the endangered Bengal tiger. It is located in Nainital district of Uttarakhand and was named after Jim Corbett who played a key role in its establishment. The park has sub-Himalayan belt geographical and ecological characteristics. An ecotourism destination, it contains 488 different species of plants and a diverse variety of fauna.The increase in tourist activities, among other problems, continues to present a serious challenge to the park’s ecological balance.
Click the links below for information on Safari at Jim Corbett
Where to stay
Jim Corbett offers a wide range of hotels and resorts to choose from. It’s also possible to stay inside the national park. For booking accommodation inside the park visit http://www.corbettnationalpark.in/dhikala-forest-lodge.htm
New Delhi – Capital of India
Delhi is the capital of India and is home to Indian Parliament, Political personalities, and many heritage sites, majorly constructed during the reign of Mughal or during the pre-Independence period by the then ruling British.
How to reach
Delhi has an International airport with major connectivity with countries all over the globe. Delhi has 05 railway stations connected with trains running to them from all over Indi
Best time to Travel
The best time to visit India is from October to March. The city experience cold and pleasant weather at this time of the year which otherwise is extremely hot and not suitable to travel.
What to Experience at Delhi
The northern part of Delhi, Old Delhi is a cultural delight, this place would give you enough space to learn the traditional way of life of northern India especially with their food habits. The food in certain parts of Delhi is as old as the monuments here and has been surviving successfully for many generations.
Old Delhi is one such place where you would find shops, kiosks by the road selling such items with the same recipes as used by their great-grandfathers. The people of Delhi and rest of northern India are very fond of eating, they appreciate food when it’s deep fried, extremely spicy or sweet basically anything moderate is average food for them.
Few items you must taste on your travel to Old Delhi 🙂
From top: Aloo Papri Chaat, Daulat ki Chaat, Golgappa, Japani Samosa at Manohar Dhabha, Jalebi and finally Chicken tikkas at Karim’s.
Places to experience once you are at Old Delhi:
Chandni Chowk is the heart of Old Delhi. Narrow lanes with old shops and houses surrounded at both sides, the smell of food, the traffic of tuk-tuk and the black crowded electricity wires on your head is what makes Chandni Chowk a place larger than life. Chandni Chowk which means Moonlight Square was built by Shah Jahan in the 17th Century and was designed by his daughter Jahanara.
This place still remains one of the important wholesale markets of India dealing in various goods like Spices, traditional couture and more. It’s frequently visited by woman all over India and abroad for their wedding shopping as it encompasses numerous shops selling heavy embellished dresses for both men and women primarily used in Hindu and Islamic weddings.
Once you are at Chandni Chowk you can cover the below places within a short distance by hiring a tuk-tuk or Rickshaw ( light two-wheeled passenger vehicle drawn by man)
Paratha Wali Gali
Paratha is Indian flatbread and Gali is a Hindi word for the lane. As the name literally suggests, this lane is bursting with shops selling flat Indian bread in different flavors including sweet and sour versions but strictly vegetarian. There are sixth generations of certain families having shops here selling these bread using the same old ingredients. Few of the notable versions of sour parathas are – Aloo paratha, gobi paratha, paneer paratha and few sweet ones like Rabri, Khoya and Kaju Badam paratha.
Strictly do not question one thing here: The Hygiene!
Khari Baoli Spice Market
Considered to be Asia’s largest wholesale spice market, this place is a dish of flavors. This market is being operated from 17th Century and has few traders procuring best of spices and nuts from as close as Kashmir (northernmost geographical region of the Indian subcontinent) to as far as Afghanistan. Apart from spices, one can find a display of nuts, herbs, and other food products of diverse colors and tastes being sold here. What makes it special are few of these items which you may not find anywhere outside Delhi or in the world. If you love spices in your food, don’t miss out on this place.
When more than 20000 devotees bend and pray together at one of the largest mosques in India it’s a sight. This mosque was built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in 1656 AD. The Mosque has three great gates all accessible for entry, four towers and two 40 m high minarets constructed of strips of red sandstone and white marble. The floor of the mosque is made of black and white marble to imitate the Muslim prayer mats. The holy book of “Quran” is kept inside the cabinet at the north gate of the mosque with prophet’s beard hair, sandals and his footprints implanted in a marble block.
The courtyard can accommodate more than 25,000 devotees. This mosque was referred as “Friday Mosque” during the Mughal as the word Jama means “Friday” a day considered auspicious in Islam.
There’s no charge to enter the mosque however you would have to pay a small fee for carrying cameras inside, it’s open from 07 am to 12 pm and 0130 pm to 0630 pm on all days of the week but closed for tourists during the prayer time. Women need to attire in a conservative manner and are not allowed at certain parts of the mosque as per the tradition.
Red Fort or Lal Quila
Built by the Emperor Shah Jahan, this colossal structure made of red sandstone was once the residence for Mughal Royal families for almost 200 years. This is also a UNESCO world heritage site. Most of the jewels and artworks of the Red Fort were looted and stolen by various invaders and again by British after the failed Indian Rebellion of 1857. They were eventually sold to private collectors or the British Museum, British Library and the Victoria and Albert Museum. For example, the Koh-I-Noor diamond, the jade wine cup of Shah Jahan and the crown of Bahadur Shah II are all currently located in London.
If you are visiting Red fort don’t miss to catch the evening light and sound show depicting the Mughal history. Red Fort timings to visit are from 0930am to 0430pm and remains closed on every Monday.The fee to enter the monument is 10 INR for Indians and 250 INR for foreign nationals.
Familiar among all, as the inspiration of Taj Mahal, Humayun tomb is the tomb of the Mughal Emperor Humayun, commissioned by his first wife and chief consort, Empress Bega Begum in 1569-70 and was designed by a Persian architect chosen by her. It was the first garden-tomb on the Indian subcontinent and was also the first structure to use red sandstone at such a scale.
The tomb was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993 and since then has undergone extensive restoration work. The complex encompasses the main tomb of the Emperor Humayun and other subsequent Mughal. The famous gardens called “Charbagh” amidst which the tomb is built is an example of typical Mughal garden designs.
Humayun Tomb timings to visit are from 0600am – 0600pm, open all days of the week. The fee to enter the monument is 10 INR for Indians and 250 INR for foreign nationals.
The Indian Parliament
The finest example of Sir Lutyen’s Delhi and known as a central legislative assembly before Indian Independence.The today Parliament of India was once the office of Lord Irwin, one of the viceroys of India in the pre-independence era. Sir Edwin Lutyens the famous British architect was appointed by the then ruling British government for designing the architecture of this building. It took six years for the building to be completed and was inaugurated in 1927. The building can only be explored from outside and is not open for tourists due to security reasons.
Another masterpiece by Lutyen’s, India gate with its architecture of a triumphal arch is often compared with the Arc de Triumph in Paris and Gateway of India Mumbai. A war memorial this masterpiece was constructed to pay respect to thousands of Indian Soldiers who died in world war –I.
India Gate timings to visit are from 0500am – 1200am, open all days of the week for no fee.
Rashtrapati Bhavan- President House
Formerly known as the Viceroy’s House, this is the official home of Indian President. Encompassing more than 300 rooms, hallways, and offices along with huge gardens known as Mughal gardens this is one of the world largest residences of a state of the head. The architecture is a mix of Indian and British style.
A request for a visit to Rashtrapati Bhavan can be made by On-line booking system through a link on the website http://presidentofindia.nic.in. The visiting days of Rashtrapati Bhavan and Mughal gardens are Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Rashtrapati Bhavan is not open for visitors from Monday to Thursday and on Govt. Gazette holidays. Timings of the visit are from 0900 am – 0400pm.
Travel Tips while visiting Delhi
- Keep the recommended weather in mind while visiting Delhi, if you happen to travel in summers then ensure that you carry a high SPF sunscreen, cotton clothes and keep yourself hydrated by drinking water at all times
- All parts of Delhi are well connected by the Metro trains and can be an ideal option to travel places here. Delhi also has Hop-on Hop-off bus option covering all major sites. Make sure you bargain hard on fare while boarding a tuk-tuk and in case of a doubt, use the widely used calculated fare cabs like Uber and Ola that can be booked by you through an app
- Single lady travelers must take precautions while traveling late nights in Delhi for their safety
Where to stay
Delhi has no dearth of options when it comes to accommodation. We recommend you to stay in areas closer to the Metro stations to save some money on traveling inside the city.
How to travel in & around the city
Delhi has a widespread network of Metro trains which connects ever part of the city with each other. This is a comfortable as well as the cheapest option to travel. Apart from Metro, the public transport buses are also widely available throughout Delhi along with Taxis and Tuk-Tuks.
Agra (Uttar Pradesh)
Agra a city located on the banks of river Yamuna in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh was the capital for many Indian rulers for years. Beginning from Sikander Lodhi, a ruler of India in 1488 AD till the Mughal who ruled India in the 1600 AD, Agra became their capital after Delhi. Agra unlike Delhi till date has kept its roots strong with its heritage and culture and that’s the beauty of this place.
How to reach Agra
Agra doesn’t have an airport. It has two major railway stations well connected to other cities of the country.
Best time to Travel
Best Time to visit Agra is from November to March. The weather during this time of the period is mostly pleasant. This also happens to be the peak travel season for Agra.
What to Experience at Agra
Taj Mahal is a monument needing no introduction. Consistently being among the seven wonders of world and UNESCO heritage site this monument is considered a symbol of love due to the story behind its making. Taj Mahal was built by Emperor Shah Jahan to house the tomb of his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal, one among his seven wives. Mumtaz Mahal was born in Persian nobility in Agra as Arjumand Banu Begum and was married to Emperor Shah Jahan when she was 19 in 1612, however, both were engaged when the princess was thirteen and Prince were fifteen. She gave birth to fourteen kids and died just after delivering her last daughter.
This wonder of the world is an architectural inspiration, constructed in a period of 22 years by 20,000 artisans. Legend has that Emperor gave orders to cut the hands of all 22,000 artisans so they could not replicate the design and techniques which were used in making of Taj.
For the first time instead of red sandstone unlike other Mughal monuments, marble was introduced by Emperor Shah Jahan for the construction of this monument. Calligraphy is an integral part of the stunning Taj and compliments other elements of the structure. It mainly consists of the verses and passages from the holy book of Quran.
Legends also have that Shah Jahan had abandoned plans to build a second palace across the Yamuna River. This mausoleum was supposedly meant to house the crypt to Shah Jahan himself and was envisioned as a black complement to the Taj Mahal’s white façade.
The timings to visit Taj Mahal are from 0630am – 0630pm closed on Fridays. The fee to enter the monument is 40 INR for Indians and 1000 INR for foreign nationals available on all three entry gates
A much-recommended experience which is absolutely high in romance is to view the white Taj Mahal in full moonlight. This is possible only five days of a month, the day of full moon and two days before and after the full moon. The tickets need to be pre-booked at the Archaeological survey of Agra office during the day. The office is located at 22, The Mall, Agra and open from 1000am – 0600am. The timings for night viewing are from 0830pm – 1230am. They generally take 04 batches of 50 people each hence tickets need to be booked well in advance.
Another enormous fort made of red sandstone, this monument was once the residence of many Mughal Emperors when Agra was their capital. Agra Fort is another World Heritage site. Architects laid the foundation and it was built with bricks in the inner core with sandstone on external surfaces. Some 4,000 builders worked on it daily for eight years, completing it in 1573.
It was Agra Fort where Emperor Shah Jahan was imprisoned by his son Aurangzeb (Considered to be a brutal ruler) for 08 years gazing the Taj Mahal from one of the windows of his room. The Diwan-i-Khas (Hall of Private Audience) was built in 1635 and was used to receive heads of state, ambassadors, and other diplomatic visitors to the Mughal court. Built during the reign of Shah Jahan, the Diwan-i-Am (Hall of Public Audience) was used for durbars, formal receptions in which the Emperor would conduct state business while ceremoniously enthroned.
Agra Fort timings to visit are from 0600am – 0600pm, open all days of the week. The fee to enter the monument is 20 INR for Indians and 300 INR for foreign nationals.
Situated in Sikandra, suburbs of Agra, The tomb of Akbar was built by his son Emperor Jahangir. Akbar planned the tomb and selected a suitable site for it. After his death, Akbar’s son Jahangir completed the construction in 1605–1613. Later the Mughal rebels ransacked the intricate tomb, plundered and looted all the beautiful gold, jewels, silver, and carpets, whilst destroying other things. They even dragged Akbar’s bones and burned them in retaliation.
About 1 km away from the tomb, lies Mariam’s Tomb, the tomb of Mariam-uz-Zamani (a Rajput wife of Akbar, famously known as Jodha Bai), wife of the Mughal Emperor Akbar and the mother of Emperor Jahangir.
Akbar Tomb timings to visit are from 0600am – 0600pm, open all days of the week. The fee to enter the monument is 5 INR for Indians and 100 INR for foreign nationals.
Lifetime experiences at Agra through the comfort food you would find here – If you are going to Agra do not miss the sweet lassi and spicy bedhai and aloo ki subzi at Taj Ganj area. Agra is also known for its Petha ( A sweet delicacy made of pumpkin and sugar syrup)
Where to stay
Agra has hotels that suit all budgets. There are hotels which are located in a proximity of 500 – 1000 meters from the Taj Mahal. In case you wish to admire Taj 24*7 then book yourself at The Oberoi Amarvilas a luxury hotel known to have a view of Taj from all rooms.
How to travel in & around the city
Tuk-Tuk is the only best option to travel all around the city, however, beware of their stupendous prices. Agra is a famous tourist destination because of the Taj Mahal the prices of all services. Ola cabs which is an app based cab services are also available at Agra now.
Banaras or Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh)
Sight for many Bollywood & Hollywood movies, Varanasi is the oldest and holy city of India also known as Kashi and Banaras. This city is located in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh and is considered to be the land of Lord Shiva.
How to reach?
Varanasi is well connected with all major airports in India and also has good train connectivity with almost all north Indian cities.
Best time to visit
The best time to visit Varanasi is during the winter months (November to February). Although it gets fairly cold during the winters, this is the best time when you can explore the holy city without getting tired. The average low temperature is around 5°C.
What to experience at Varanasi
Ghats in Varanasi are riverfront steps leading to the banks of the River Ganga. The city has 88 ghats. Most of the ghats are bathing and puja ceremony ghats, while two ghats are used exclusively as cremation sites.Most Varanasi ghats were rebuilt after 1700 AD when the city was part of Maratha Empire.Many ghats are associated with legends or mythologies while many ghats are privately owned. Morning boat ride on the Ganges across the ghats is a popular visitors attraction.
Harish Chandra Ghat
Harish Chandra Ghat is one of the oldest Ghats of Varanasi. Harish Chandra Ghat is named after a mythological King Harish Chandra, who once worked at the cremation ground here for the perseverance of truth and charity. It is believed that the Gods rewarded him for his resolve, charity, and truthfulness and restored his lost throne and his dead son to him. Harish Chandra Ghat is one of the two cremation Ghats (the other being Manikarnika Ghat). Hindus from distant places bring the dead bodies of their near and dear ones to the Harish Chandra Ghat for cremation. In Hindu mythology, it is believed that if a person is cremated at the Harish Chandra Ghat, that person gets salvation or “moksha”. The Harish Chandra Ghat was somewhat modernized in late 1980’s when an electric crematorium was opened here.
Ganga Aarti is a spectacular ceremony that takes place every day at the Dashashwamedh Ghat in Varanasi at the bank of the holy river Ganga. The Aarti starts every day at 0645pm after sunset and the takes place for 45 minutes. If you wish to see the ceremony from a closer distance, reach this ghat at least an hour before. There is no charge to attend this event.
Sarnath, 10km from Varanasi, is one of the most revered Buddhist pilgrimage centers. It is believed that after attaining the Enlightenment at Bodh Gaya, it was here that Lord Buddha preached his first sermon, sanctified as Maha Dharm Chakra Parivartan.The great Dhamekh Stupa and several other structures stand testimony to the importance the place enjoyed at that time.
Where to stay
Varanasi has hotels that suit all budgets. The hotels located at the ghats giving a view of Ganges are relatively expensive than the ones in the main city. Varanasi has plenty of options for hostels and home-stays to live locally.
How to travel in & around the city
Tuk-Tuk is the only best option to travel all around the city but ensures to fix the prices before you board one. Uber is also now available now in Varanasi.
India Travel Guide continues in Part 2…