To help inspire or plan your trip to India, some of its major attractions
for travellers are shown below, including some of the best natural, historical, cultural and adventure sites in the country.
These include all of UNESCO World Heritage Sites for India which represent the best
of the world's cultural and natural heritage.
Click on the icons below to focus on specific types of features (click again to return to all).
The Taj Mahal is one of the most recognised, admired and magnificent buildings in the world. It was built between 1631 and 1648 by the orders of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as a mausoleum in memory of his third and favourite wife Mumtaz Mahal who died giving birth to his 14th child. It's estimated that 20,000 workers were employed in its construction, including masons, marble workers, mosaicists and decorators. The Taj Mahal stands before a vast Mughal garden, laid out in perfect symmetry, with the canals providing an exquisite reflection of the building. It is a study in architectural precision, combining elements and styles from Persian, Central Asian and Islamic architecture. The white marble exterior is inlaid with thousands of pieces of coloured and semi-precious stones, decorative bands and calligraphic inscriptions. The Taj Mahal is best visited at sunrise or sunset when the sun casts the building in different lights, but many hours should be spent here admiring one of the world's great sights.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Taj Mahal
|Red Fort of Agra|
The Red Fort of Agra was a centre of the Mughal Empire in the 16th and 17th centuries. Construction was begun by Emperor Akbar and continued by his successors Jahangir, Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb. Its red sandstone walls stretch for 2.5km and enclosed the imperial city of the Mughal rulers, comprising ornately decorated palaces such as the Jahangit Palace and Khas Mahal, the beautiful white marble Pearl Mosque and numerous audience halls, courtyards and fountains. The Fort reflects a fusion of Hindu and Islamic styles leading to a distinctive new Indo-Muslim art. There are great views of the nearby Taj Mahal from Agra Fort.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Agra Fort
India's bustling capital city comprises two main parts. Old Delhi was the capital of the Mughal Empire between the 12th and 18th centuries and is characterised by its narrow streets and alleyways, bazaars and historic monuments. The Jama Masjid (Great Mosque) is the largest and one of the most impressive in India while the Red Fort and Humayun's Tomb (separate features) are spectacular historic structures. New Delhi is a stark contrast, the imperial city of the British with wide, open boulevards and imposing buildings designed by architect Edward Luytens. Its attractions include the India Gate war memorial arch, Connaught Place, Lok Sabha or the Parliament Building, the Rashtrapati Bhavan, once the imperial palace of the British viceroy and now the residence of the President of India, and Raj Ghat, the memorial to Mahatma Gandhi.
|Red Fort of Delhi|
The Red Fort was built in the 17th century by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan as his palace fort and represents the zenith of Mughal creativity, a fusion of Islamic, Hindu, Persian and Central Asian influences. The red sandstone walls stretch for 2.5km and are 33 metres high, enclosing palaces, gardens and pavilions and remains a powerful symbol of India.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Red Fort Complex
The tomb of Humayun, second Mughal Emperor of India, was built in 1569-70 by his widow, 14 years after his death. Later used to bury various members of the ruling family, it has been called the necropolis of the Mughal dynasty. Located in the centre of a garden laid out in char baah style, it inspired several architectural innovations which would culminate in the construction of the Taj Mahal a century later.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Humayun's Tomb, Delhi
Qutb Minar is a red sandstone tower, 72 metres high, that was constructed in the 13th century. It is surrounded by funerary buildings, including the Alai-Darwaza Gate built in 1311, and two mosques including the Quwwatu'l-Islam (Might of Islam), the oldest in northern India.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Qutb Minar and its Monuments, Delhi
|Keoladeo National Park|
Keoladeo National Park, a former duck-hunting reserve of the Maharajas, is an important wintering area and breeding ground for large numbers of aquatic birds from Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, China and Siberia. Some 364 species of bird have been recorded in the park, including the rare Siberian crane.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Keoladeo National Park
Fatehpur Sikri was founded in 1571 as the capital of the Mughal Empire by Emperor Akbar but abandoned a mere 14 years later when he moved his capital to Lahore to fight against Afghan tribes. Today, the deserted city is a perfectly preserved example of a Mughal citadel and architecture. Its buildings include Jama Masjid, one of the largest mosques in India accommodating 10,000 worshippers, as well as palaces, public buildings and residences that served the entire population of the capital.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Fatehpur Sikri
The city of Varanasi, located on the banks of the Ganges River, is the holiest Hindu site in India. Hindu pilgrims flock here from all over India to bathe in the Ganges, along the 4km of ghats, or steps, that lead down to the river. A boat ride on the river, especially at dawn, to watch this religious ritual is an extraordinary experience. There are also a number of burning ghats where cremations take place. The city itself, supposedly one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, is a chaotic and crowded place, but fascinating to wander its winding streets amongst temples and bazaars, which specialise in selling silk.
Sarnath, located just 10km from Varanasi, is the site where Buddha preached his first sermon after attaining enlightenment 2,500 years ago and is therefore an important site of pilgrimage for Buddhists. The Dharmarajka and the Dhamekh Stupas lie on the spot where he first espoused the Buddhist teachings. The nearby Ashoka Pillar and monastery housed some 1,500 monks at its height before destruction by Muslim armies. Rediscovered by British archaeologists in the 19th century, it has been restored and is now one of Buddhism's holiest sites.
|Mahabodhi Temple Complex at Bodh Gaya|
Located in Bihar Province on the plains of the Ganges, Bodh Gaya is one of the most important Buddhist sites in the world as the place where the Buddha attained enlightenment in 531 BC. Thousands of Buddhist pilgrims flock to the Mahabodhi temple, built in the 6th century AD on the site of the original temple built in the 3rd century BC. One of the oldest Buddhist brick temples in India, Mahabodhi is topped by a 50 metre spire. Other items of interest here are 25 metre high statue of Buddha and the giant Bodhi tree which is supposed to be the direct descendant of the Bodhi tree under which the Buddha achieved supreme insight.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Mahabodhi Temple Complex at Bodh Gaya
|Nanda Devi and Valley of Flowers National Parks|
Located high in the Himalayas, the Valley of Flowers National Parks is renowned for its beauty with meadows of endemic alpine flowers and some rare and endangered animals including Asiatic black bear, snow leopard, brown bear and blue sheep. Nandi Devi National Park is a rugged mountain wilderness which includes India's second highest peak.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Nanda Devi and Valley of Flowers National Parks
|Corbett National Park|
Corbett National Park is located north of Delhi in the forest-covered slopes of the Himalayan foothills. With thick forests, open grasslands and a network of rivers and streams, Corbett has a wide variety of wildlife. These include tiger, Asian elephant, leopard, langur, wild boar and several species of antelope. Corbett is open between the months of October and June.
Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan and is known as the 'Pink City' since its buildings were painted for the visit of the Prince of Wales in 1876. Jaipur was designed as a planned city, though today it exhibits the colourful chaos and bustle of many Indian cities, with streets packed with pedestrians, bicycles, cars, buses, camels and cows. Inside its old city walls, the City Palace now contains a museum for royal garments, miniatures, carpets, manuscripts and armour. The 18th century observatory of the astronomer Jai Singh, known as Jantar Mantar, contains a series of immense astronomical instruments made of marble and brass that is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Elsewhere the pink sandstone facade of the Palace of the Winds (Hawa Mahal) is a famous Jaipur landmark. 11km north of Jaipur lies the spectacular Amber Fort, a hillside complex containing many courtyards and fine decorated palaces, halls, gardens and temples. The massive gateway can be reached by riding an elephant into the fort.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Jantar Mantar
Known variously as 'The Pearl of Rajasthan', the 'City of Sunrise' or 'Venice of the East', Udaipur is widely regarded as Rajasthan's most beautiful city and one of the most romantic in India. The city is set around the vast Lake Pichola and is renowned for its sumptuous palaces and the atmospheric narrow lanes of its Old City. On the east shore of the lake lies the spectacular City Palace, founded in the 16th century which is now both a museum and still the residence of the Maharaja. The views from the palace across the lake are stunning, including the two island palaces - Jag Mandir and Jag Nivas, the latter now being the luxurious Lake Palace Hotel. The Jagdish Temple was built in 1651 by Maharana Jagat Singh I and contains a huge black stone image of Jagannath, an aspect of Lord Vishnu. The whitewashed buildings and bazaars of the Old City are perfect for exploration in search of souvenirs like tie and dye fabrics and miniature paintings.
At the edge of the Thar desert lies Jodhpur, Rajasthan's second largest city. Jodhpur is known as the Blue City due to the large number of pale indigo painted houses in the Old City, which signify that they are the home of Jodhpuri Brahmins, the high caste Hindus. Founded in 1459 by the Rajput chief Rao Jodha, Jodhpur is dominated by the magnificent Meherangarh Fort, which sits on steep escarpment overlooking the city, with magnificent views of Jodhpur and the surrounding desert. Inside the walls and gateways of the Fort lie many palatial buildings and courtyards of classic Mughal style, once home to the Jodhpuri Maharajas but which now house one of Rajasthan's best museums. Elsewhere in the Old City, the narrow alleys around the famous Clock Tower are very atmospheric and renowned for their bazaars selling textiles, silver and handicrafts while the immense 16th century wall which still surrounds the city is almost 10km long.
The 15th century Kumbalgarh Fort is regarded as one of the finest defensive structures in Rajasthan, its vast fortified ramparts stretch for 36km and protect palaces, temples and farms.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Hill Forts of Rajasthan
Jaisalmer is one of the jewels of Rajasthan, a medieval walled city that is perched on a sand-coloured rocky hill in the middle of the Thar desert. Founded by Rawal Jaisal in 1156, Jaisalmer became a major trading post on the southern Silk Road routes from Central Asia. Merchants grew wealthy from the passing camel caravans and built many beautifully carved wooden and sandstone havelis which are still present in the city today, including the Patwon Ki and Salim Singh Ki Havelis. The narrow cobbled lanes of the old city also numerous packed Jain temples, forts and palaces built from sandstone, giving Jaisalmer a wonderful medieval atmosphere and earning it the name 'The Golden City'. The thick city walls are over 10 metres high and include 99 bastions, while the fort contains the palace of the Maharawal.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Hill Forts of Rajasthan
|Camel Safari in Thar Desert|
A camel safari through the Thar Desert in Rajasthan is a great opportunity to experience the traditional Rajasthani desert lifestyle and evoke the atmosphere of the ancient trading camel caravans. You'll pass small villages inhabited by nomadic and pastoral tribes, see herds of sheep and goats and other desert fauna and flora and camp out in the desert underneath the stars.
Bikaner was once a great trading centre on the ancient camel caravan trading routes from Central Asia. It is dominated by the Junagarh Fort, built in the 16th century by Raja Rai Singh and was the home of the famous Camel Corps. Its high defensive walls and huge towers ensured though it was frequently attacked, it was never captured. Inside the fort are many beautifully decorated palaces and temples. The bazaars of the old town and the Bhandasar Jain and Deshnoke (Rat) Temples are also worth exploring.
Ranakpur is home to the largest and most important Jain temple complex in India. Located in a secluded wooded valley, the temples date back to the 15th century when they were built by the Jains who served in the courts of the rulers of Udaipur. The Adinath Temple is the main temple in the complex, carved from marble and comprising 29 halls supported by 1444 columns, each intricately carved with different designs.
The lakeside oasis town of Pushkar is a quiet and peaceful place for most of the year, visited by pilgrims attracted to its sacred lake and the temple to the Hindu god Brahma, one of the few in India. The temples and bazaars on the lakeside are worthy of exploration and the views over the lake, with the temples reflected in the waters, are stunning. Every year during the November Full Moon, Pushkar comes alive when thousands of people visit for its famous Camel Fair.
Nawalgarh was founded in 1737 by Thakur Nawal Singh and is a typical town of the Shekhawati region. Home to many wealthy merchants, Nawalgarh is renowned for its finely built havelis (or mansions) which have been rich decorated with mural paintings both inside and out. The paintings depict floral designs of Mughal influence, scenes from Hindu mythology and modern inventions such as trains, bicycles and cars, providing a document of changing Indian life in the 19th century.
|Ranthambore National Park|
Ranthambore National Park is one of the premier national parks of India, covering over 400 km². The main attraction here is the Bengal tiger, a critically endangered species in India, with about 40 present in the park. Game drives in the park offer a good chance at spotting this magnificent creature, particularly between September and May when the dry season forces the animals to stay close to the lakes and rivers. Ranthambore is unusual in that amidst the wildlife lie the ruins of ancient forts and temples, making for a very picturesque setting. The 10th century Ranthambore Fort is one of the oldest in the country and offers spectacular views from its hilltop location. Other animals in the park include antelopes like the nilgai, sambar and chital, the sloth bear, cats such as the caracal, leopard and striped hyena as well as crocodiles and many bird species including crested hawk eagle, crested serpent eagle, jacana, parakeet and white-breasted kingfishers. Ranthambore is open between the months of October and June.
Leh is the capital of the Ladakh in the Indian Himalayas and is situated at an altitude of 3,500 metres on the banks of the Indus River. Leh is a small town inhabited mostly by Lamaistic Buddhists and the Buddhist monasteries, or gompas, are its main attraction. Hemis Gompa is located 48km south of Leh and is the largest and most important monastery in Ladakh, containing golden statues, gem-studded stupas, rare books and fine paintings of the Buddha. Tikse monastery is 12 stories high and perched on a hill, while Shey Gompa, previously the summer palace of the Ladakhi kings, has a magnificent 350 year old and 12 metre high gold-plated copper statue of Buddha. Further west lie Likir Gompa, a beautiful building reminiscent of the Potala Palace in Lhasa and guarded by a 10 metre statue of Buddha, and Alchi Gompa, the most important cultural site in Ladakh which dates to the 11th century and has magnificent Kashmiri Buddhist artwork, quite distinct from the Tibetan art found elsewhere in Ladakh.
|Leh to Manali Road|
The legendary road from Leh to Manali across the Great Himalayan Range is one of the great road journeys in the world. Passing through the spectacular mountain scenery of Ladakh and the Himalayas, it is a long and difficult journey, with the road closed for several months each year. From Leh, the road follows the Indus valley before turning to climb Taglang La Pass - at 5,328 metres the second highest road pass in the world. The high altitude Morey Plains are home to the hardy Changpa nomads with herds of yaks and kiang (Tibetan wild ass) likely to be seen. After the Nakli and Lachlang passes comes the Gata Loops, an amazing series of 22 hairpin bends, followed by the Baralacha Pass at 4,845 metres which offers stunning views of the Himalayas. After the final mountain pass, Rhotang La at 3,985 metres, the road descends to the green and fertile Kulu Valley before reaching Manali.
The old British hill station of Dharamsala was a quiet and anonymous town until 1959 when the Dalai Lama settled here after the Chinese invasion of Tibet. The town has a strong Tibetan influence, especially in its upper part of McLeodganj, located 500 metres above Lower Dharamsala. It's possible to catch a public audience of the Dalai Lama here while Tibetan buildings of note include the Namgyal Monastery with its Kalachakra Temple, the Thekchen Choling temple, the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, Nechung Monastery and the Tibetan Medical and Astrological Institute. The ridge of Triund above town at 2827 metres offers a pleasant trek and spectacular views of the town and the Dhaula Dhar Mountains to the north-east and the Kangra Valley to the south-west.
Amritsar in Punjab Province is Sikh's holiest city with its main attraction, the magnificent and serene Golden Temple, being their main shrine. The temple, which was built in 1803, is made from marble, copper and pure gold leaf and is surrounded by tanks of holy water in which the Sikh pilgrims bathe. The temple fuses Hindu and Islamic influences, with its main dome covered in over 700kg of pure gold. While there, you will hear the continuous recital from the holy book, Guru Granth Sahib, known as the Akhand Path. Close to Amritsar is the only land border crossing with Pakistan at Wagah where a ceremonial changing of the guards and lowering of the flags takes place each day at sunset, with the Indian and Pakistani guards trying to out-do each other.
The old hill station of Shimla still retains much of its British ambience, set amidst the backdrop of the Himalayas. Its attractions include Christ Church, the mock Tudor architecture of Scandal Point, Viceregal Lodge which hosted many of the negotiations that led to Indian independence and Jakhu temple, dedicated to the monkey Hanuman and home to many mischievous monkeys.
|Kakla-Shimla Toy Train|
The Kakla to Shimla Railway was opened at the turn of the 20th century to allow the colonial families of the Raj to escape the summer heat of Delhi and Calcutta for the cool mountain climate of the hill station at Shimla. The narrow gauge track takes a meandering route for 96km as it rises over 1,600 metres, passing through 103 tunnels amidst some stunning scenery.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Mountain Railways of India
Kolkata is India's second largest city and was capital of the British Raj. It is a chaotic, colourful and exciting city, a contrast of old Raj architecture with modern skyscrapers and elements of a European city in an Asian setting. Among the many sights to see in the city are the Victoria Memorial, St. Paul's Cathedral and St. John's Church, the historic Raj buildings around Dalhousie Square, the Dakshineswar Kali temple and the Howrah Flower Market.
|Sun Temple of Konârak|
The sun temple at Konârak is one of India's most famous Brahmin sanctuaries, constructed in the 13th century as a representation of the chariot of the Sun God Surya. The chariot has 24 wheels with symbolic designs referring to the cycle of seasons and the months and is led by seven horses. The temple is located on the Bay of Bengal to capture the rays of the rising sun.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Sun Temple, Konârak
A former hill station of the Bengal government during the British Raj, the town of Darjeeling is located at 2124 metres overlooked by Kanchenjunga, the world's third highest mountain at 8586 metres, with spectacular views of the Himalayas from Tiger Hill, just outside the town. The Himalayan Zoological Park attempts to breed snow leopard, Tibetan wolf and Red panda while the Botanical Gardens has a unique collection of Himalayan plants, flowers, and orchids. The Mountaineering Institute's Everest Museum is dedicated to climbers of the Himalayas. The Tibetan Refugee Centre was established in 1958 by Tibetans fleeing the Chinese invasion and sells Tibetan handicrafts. Other attractions include nearby Tibetan monasteries (particularly Ghoom Gompa), tea plantations and some colourful markets.
|Darjeeling Toy Train|
The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway was completed in 1881 and connects the hill station of Darjeeling with the low-lying plains of Bihar. Its tiny locomotive travels slowly along a narrow gauge rail, taking 8 hours to complete a mere 82km on a meandering route. The railway highlights the ingenious engineering required to lay track along the mountainous and jungle clad landscape. The scenery changes from paddy fields through hills filled with tea plantations and finally reaches the mountain slopes of Darjeeling, with stunning views of the Himalayas beyond.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Mountain Railways of India
Gangtok is the capital of Sikkim, located between Nepal and Bhutan, which was annexed by India in 1975. Steeped in Tibetan culture, the town offers spectacular views of the Himalayan peaks. Its attractions include the Drodul Chorten surrounded by 108 prayer wheels which commemorates the victory of good over evil, the Institute of Tibetology which contains numerous priceless religious paintings (thangkas), statues and Buddhist books and manuscripts and the Rumtek Monastery outside of town, the largest in Sikkim and the headquarters of the Kagyupa sect of Tibetan Buddhism.
Pemayangste Monastery is the principal monastery of Sikkim, founded in the 17th century, and the centre of the Nyingmapa sect. This is a mystical type of Tantric Buddhism derived from Tibetan Lamaism, whose monks are characterised by the red caps they wear. Nearby lies Kecheopelri or the Wishing Lake, the holiest lake in Sikkim and a place of pilgrimage for both Buddhists and Hindus.
|Kaziranga National Park|
Kaziranga National Park is situated in Assam and is one of the last areas in eastern India undisturbed by human activity. Located in the floodplains of the Brahmaputra River, it comprises dense grasslands, open forests and numerous streams and lakes. It has the world's largest populations of one-horned rhinoceroses and Indian elephants as well as numerous other mammals including tiger, panther, leopard, capped langur, buffalo, hoolock gibbon, swamp and hog deer and Indian muntjac. Over 100 species of birds, including migratory birds, are present, including grey pelican, black-necked stork, Pallas's fish eagle, Bengal florican, swamp partridge, grey peacock-pheasant, great pied hornbill and green imperial pigeon.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Kaziranga National Park
|Manas Wildlife Sanctuary|
Located in the foothills of the Himalayas, Manas Wildlife Sanctuary contains a huge variety of wildlife including many endangered species, including tiger, Indian rhinoceros and Indian elephant. It's the most important site for the survival of pygmy hog, hispid hare and golden langur while over 450 bird species have been recorded.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Manas Wildlife Sanctuary
|Sundarbans National Park|
Sundarbans National Park is located in the land and waters of the Ganges delta adjacent to the Bangladesh border. Including the Sundarbans forest in Bangladesh, it covers over 10,000 km² and forms the world's largest mangrove forest. The park is home to a number of rare and endangered species, including the Bengal tiger and birds, reptiles and aquatic mammals.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Sundarbans National Park
|Bandhavgarh National Park|
Bandhavgarh National Park lies in the hills and plains beneath the Vindhyan Mountains in central India, a former hunting ground of the Rewa kings which was donated to the state in 1968. Covering some 450 km², the park boasts the highest density of tigers of any of India's reserves, with an estimated 60-70 animals. An ancient fortress, believed to date back some 2,000 years, lies on a clifftop overlooking the park. Aside from tigers, the park boasts leopard, sloth bear, gaur, sambar, nilgai, chital, wild pig, muntjac, chinkara, barking deer and up to 150 bird species including green pigeon, crested serpent eagle, hornbills, drongoes, fly- catchers, barbets, bee-eaters and parakeets. Bandhavgarh also offers the chance to view game whilst riding an elephant. Bandhavgarh is open between the months of October and June.
|Kanha National Park|
Kanha National Park is one of India's greatest parks, covering almost 2,000 km² of undulating terrain including grasslands, forests, plateaus and dramatic rocky escarpments. Kanha is thought to be the inspiration for Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book and is a haven for wildlife with some 22 mammal and 230 bird species. In addition to about 200 resident tigers, you can spot leopard, porcupine, gaur, hyena, mongoose, sloth bear, the Indian pangolin and the rare swamp deer (barasingha), an animal unique to Khana. Bird species include hoopoes, warblers, woodpeckers, kingfishers, egrets, herons, ibis, peafowl, drongo, flycatcher, rollers and the grey hornbill. Kanha is open between the months of October and June.
|Pench National Park|
Pench National Park is located in the state of Madhya Pradesh and comprises undulating hilly terrain with forests over 275 km². The park is home to tiger, which inhabit the region around the Pench River, as well as leopard, jungle cat, Indian and palm civet, sambar, nilgai and chital. There are also more than 170 bird species in the park.
The Khajuraho Temples were built by the Chandela dynasty between 950 and 1050 and were lost in the forest for many centuries before being rediscovered by a British officer in the 19th century. Only about 20 of the original 85 temples remain but they are considered to be amongst the finest temples in India and masterpieces of Indian art. Belonging to both Hinduism and Jainism, each temple is dedicated to a specific god and are renowned for the eroticism of their intricate carvings. Temples of note include the Lakshmana Temple dedicated to Vishnu, the Shiva temple of Kandariya-Mahadev (both in the Western Complex) and the Jain Temple of Parsvanath in the Eastern Complex.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Khajuraho Group of Monuments
|Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka|
The Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka are located in the foothills of the Vindhyan Mountains, comprising five clusters that display rock painting dating from the Mesolithic to historic periods. The cultural traditions represented by the paintings are reflected by those of adjacent villages.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka
|Buddhist Monuments at Sanchi|
The Buddhist Monuments at Sanchi date back to the 1st and 2nd centuries BC and it is the oldest Buddhist sanctuary in existence. The complex comprises monuments, monolithic pillars, palaces, temples and a monastery. The principal monument, Stupa 1, is a 36 metre high mound of sandstone, surrounded by porticoes with stone railings and richly decorated gateways.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Buddhist Monuments at Sanchi
The ruins of Golconda Fort lie just outside the city of Hyderabad. Built by the Qutb Shahi dynasty in the 16th century, the impregnable fortress was used in battles against the Mughal dynasty and is noted for its hot and cold water system, natural air conditioning and Turkish Baths. Nearby lie 10 tombs of the Qutb Shah dynasty constructed from black granite or greenstone, including that of King Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah, the founder of Hyderabad.
The town of Bijapur is famous for the Gol Gumbaz, the vast mausoleum of its 17th century ruler Mohammed Adil Shah. The mausoleum has a vast dome 38 metres in diameter, second only to St. Peter's in Rome, which has a famous whispering gallery. The Jami Masjid Mosque with graceful, slender minarets is regarded as one of the most beautiful in India.
Mumbai is India's largest city, its commercial centre and centre of the Bollywood industry. One of Mumbai's most recognisable landmarks is the Gateway of India arch near the bay. The Ghandi Museum tells the story of India's independence hero while the Prince of Wales Museum has an impressive collection of Mughal and Rajasthani miniatures. The Towers of Silence on Malabor Hill were built by Zoroastrians fleeing persecution in Persia to serve as an open air mortuary for their dead. The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, formerly known as Victoria Terminus Station, is the main railway station in Mumbai. It is a superb example of Victorian Gothic Revival architecture in India and incorporates many aspects of traditional Indian palace architecture.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (formerly Victoria Terminus)
The Elephanta Caves are located on the island on Elephanta in the Arabian Sea close to Mumbai. There are seven caves, each with decorated temples and images from Hindu mythology, which date from the 5th to the 8th centuries AD.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Elephanta Caves
The Ajanta Caves are a series of 29 cave monuments which date from the 2nd century BC to the 7th century AD. Cut from hillside rock, there are 5 temples and 24 monasteries which contain carvings that depict the life of Buddha. In AD 650 they were abandoned in favour of the Ellora Caves 100km to the south-west but were rediscovered by a British tiger hunting party in 1819.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Ajanta Caves
The Ellora Caves comprise 34 monasteries and temples which were dug side by side in the wall of a high basalt cliff near Aurangabad in Maharashtra. Dating from 600-1000 AD, there are Buddhist, Jain and Brahmin temples, each peacefully co-existing side by side. The caves have remarkable reliefs and sculptures. The Kailasa Temple in particular is a rock-cut masterpiece - 3 million cubic metres of rock were removed to create the temple which is carved with intricate detail.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Ellora Caves
Much of the old city of Aurangabad was built by the last Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb in 1682. Its main draw is the majestic Fort Daulatabad, dating to the 12th century, which towers 250 metres above the Deccan plain on a volcanic lava rock. It is one of the best preserved medieval forts in the world with ingenious defences and excellent architecture. Close to Aurangabad lies Bibi-ka-Maqbara, built by Aurangzeb as a mausoleum for his wife, which is an imitation of the Taj Mahal.
|Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park|
Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park is a collection of largely unexcavated historic properties which includes prehistoric sites, a hill fortress of an early Hindu capital and the remains of the 16th-century capital of the state of Gujarat. The ruins of numerous buildings dating from the 8th to the 14th century are present while Kalikamata Temple on top of Pavagadh Hill remains an important site of pilgrimage.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park
Chennai is the capital of Tamil Nadu and is one of the more spacious and attractive cities in India. With a history stretching back 2,000 years, it has hosted the Portuguese, Dutch, French and British, all of whom have left their mark. Its attractions include the 17th century Fort St. George, St. Mary's Church (the oldest British church in India), Marina Beach and the 18th century Government Museum. George Town, to the north of Fort St George, is an area of small, crowded streets with numerous mosques and Hindu and Jain temples. To the south, Mylapore has many temples including the Kapalishvara temple.
|Mahabalipuram Rock Monuments|
Mahabalipuram is famous for rock-carved monuments created by the Pallava dynasty between the 6th and 8th centuries AD. These are located on a rocky outcrop along the Coromandel coast. They include the Shore Temple overlooking the beachfront with shrines dedicated to Shiva and Vishnu, the temple of Rivage with thousands of sculptures to the glory of Shiva, giant open-air reliefs such as Arjuna's Penance, the world's largest, which tell the story of the 'Descent of the Ganges', five ratha temples in the form of chariots and mandapa rock sanctuaries covered in bas-reliefs. Amidst the historic monuments, Mahabalipuram is a coastal retreat famed for its sandy beaches and delicious seafood.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram
Thanjavur was capital of the once great Chola Empire, which ruled southern India and Sri Lanka in the 11th and 12th centuries AD. The Brihadisvara Temple here is testament to this civilisation, built between 1003-10 by King Rajaraja I. The temple is richly endowed with carvings and sculptures of Shiva, Vishnu and Durga and its tower, at 76 metres, is one of the highest in India. The Rajaraja Museum has a collection of magnificent Chola bronzes.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Great Living Chola Temples
Dedicated to the 'fish-eyed goddess' and consort of Shiva, Meenakshi Temple is an extraordinary complex at the heart of the city of Madurai. Built between the 16th and 18th centuries, the temple is one of the finest examples of Dravidian architecture and is a constant hive of activity. The temple has nine towering gopurams (monumental gates) with colourful stucco images of gods, goddesses and animals. Inside are numerous temple halls and 12 huge sikaras or towers surrounding the Golden Lotus Tank where worshippers bathe before entering the shrines. The 16th century Thousand Pillared Hall has exquisitely carved columns and a sculptured ceiling which depicts a wheel showing the 60 Tamil years. Each evening there is a closing ceremony which returns an image of Shiva to his resting place and comprises chanting priests, drummers and torch-bearers.
|Periyar National Park|
Periyar National Park in Kerala is one of the largest parks in India at 777 km², centred around an artificial lake created by the British in the 19th century. One of the main wildlife sanctuaries of southern India, Periyar is home to a variety of mammal and bird species including sambar, chital, langur, wild boar, otter, buffalo, gaur, elephant and the elusive leopard and tiger, of which there are about 40 in the park. The park can be explored by boat rides on the lake or guided walks through the forests.
A cruise along the backwaters of Kerala is one of the quintessential travel experiences in southern India. The Malabar backwaters are a vast network of lagoons, lakes, rivers and canals between the Western Ghats and the Indian Ocean. Fringed by lush tropical vegetation, small traditional villages and rice paddies, a slow meandering cruise allows you to witness Keralan village life and appreciate the stunning landscapes. You'll pass pearl divers fishing for oysters, coconut workers on the shores, rice barges and other traditional vessels. There are two main options for exploring the backwaters. You can hire houseboats, converted from kettuvallam (or rice barges) and made from Anjili wood and bamboo, which are up to 25 metres long with full amenities and a crew of three of four and will cruise for several days between Kochi and Kollam. Alternatively a quicker and cheaper option is taking a modern vessel that sails for eight hours on the main Kollam to Allepey route.
Some of India's best beaches lie on the Keralan coast of south-west India, away from the package holiday hordes further north in Goa. Furthest south, Kovalam has become quite popular with stunning beaches in a protected bay. North of Trivandrum, Varkala has several beaches underneath red laterite cliffs from which you can watch the Arabian Sea sunset, see fisherman pulling their nets from the sea and taste the their produce in delicious Keralan style.
Kochi is set on a cluster of peninsulas and islands in the Indian Ocean, forming an excellent natural harbour. Fort Kochi is the historical part of the city, the site of the first European colonisation in 1500 and a mix of English, Dutch and Portuguese influences. The Mattancherry Palace was built by the Portuguese in the 16th century but later renovated by the Dutch - it has well preserved murals depicting scenes from the Ramayana. The Mattancherry Jewish synagogue, dating from the 16th century, is a reminder of the Jewish population which first arrived in the 6th century BC, with a small group remaining today. St Francis Church is the oldest Christian church in India, built by Portuguese Franciscans in 1503. Elsewhere, the famous cantilevered Chinese fishing nets, dating from the 14th century, line the entrance to the harbour and are a reminder of Kochi's trade links with the rest of the world. Kochi is also famous for its Kathakali dancers with their elaborately painted faces, who portray events from the Indian epics the Ramayana and Mahabharata.
|Nilgiri Mountain Railway|
The Nilgiri Mountain Railway is a narrow gauge railway built at the turn of the 20th century to connect the British hill station of Ootacamund to the plains below. The track scales an elevation from 326 metres to 2,203 metres through the scenic Nilgiri Hills. Ootacamund, known as Ooty, is the most famous of South India's hill stations - its attractions include the Botanical Gardens and the stunning views from Dodabetta Peak.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Mountain Railways of India
The city of Mysore has numerous historical and cultural attractions. The huge and opulent Maharaja’s Palace was originally built in the 14th century but has been rebuilt and restored since. Chaumundi Hill outside the city has an enormous monolithic sculpture of the sacred bull Nandi dating to the 17th century and a temple dedicated to Durga. Srirangapatnam Palace to the north-west of Mysore contains murals of Tipu Sultan's battles against the British and the French, along with the ruins of the fort and the family mausoleums. Mysore is famous for its sandalwood, rosewood and teak carvings and furniture which can be purchased in the city's many bazaars.
|Monuments of Pattadakal|
The monuments at Pattadakal date from the Chalukya dynasty of the 7th and 8th centuries and comprise a series of nine Hindu temples, notably the Temple of Virupaksha, as well as a Jain sanctuary.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Group of Monuments at Pattadakal
The city of Hampi was capital of the Hindu kingdom of Vijayanagar, which reigned between the 14th and 16th centuries, and was noted for its extraordinary temples and palaces that made Hampi one of the most beautiful cities of the medieval world with a population of half a million people. Buildings of note include the temples of Ramachandra and Hazara Rama, the elephant stables, Queen's Bath and Lotus Mahal, as well as the stone chariot pulled by two small elephants which is found in the courtyards of the temple of Vitthala. After the Battle of Talikota in 1565, Hampi was conquered by the Deccan Muslim confederacy, pillaged and abandoned.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Group of Monuments at Hampi
Goa was a Portuguese colony from 1510 until 1961 when India regained control. The Portuguese influence is still strongly felt however, particularly in the Catholic churches of Old Goa. The Church of Bom Jesus contains the tomb of the Catholic missionary St Francis Xavier. Other notable churches are the Church of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Anne's Church.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Churches and Convents of Goa
The Western Ghats mountain chain is older than the Himalaya mountains and moderates the tropical climate of the region by influencing the Indian monsoon weather pattern. It has an exceptionally high level of biological diversity and endemism and is recognized as one of the world’s eight ‘hottest hotspots’ of biological diversity, home to at least 325 globally threatened flora, fauna, bird, amphibian, reptile and fish species.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Western Ghats