The Unmissable Cities Of India – For A Truly Indian Travel Experience
India is a country of many faces – there are steel and cement cities and world-class malls as well as quaint villages, hill stations and forests. But what is it that gives it its particular flavor, its color, its vibrancy? What is it that makes it so unique, so different from any other country in the world? If you wish to capture even the slightest bit of the essence of India, immerse yourself in these Indian cities which you simply cannot miss. The food, the roads and the people are all die-hard Indian, resulting in an ambience that can only be described in a word as ‘Indian’.
#1 – Mumbai
Throbbing with the life force of thousands of ‘Mumbaikar’s, Mumbai, the city where Bollywood is based, can be a difficult city to get accustomed to – the sheer fierce energy of the city is overwhelming. From the most expensive home in the world to Asia’s biggest slums, Mumbai has it all. Watch a glorious sunset on the Arabian Sea at Marine Drive or eat at premier restaurants in the city. Visit the cave temples of Elephanta Island or join the carnival that is always on at Juhu Beach or mingle in the crowds for some satisfying haggling and shopping in the bazaar.
#2 – Hyderabad
Though the city is now a hub of IT sectors and malls, clubs, hotels and boutiques, the Old City of Hyderabad still retains every aspect of its history. Magnificent palaces, mosques and tombs dot the old city -visit the Golconda Fort, the ruins of the massive fortress built by the Qutb Shahs. The fort has amazing acoustics – the smallest sound at the entryway resonates throughout the fort complex! Also make sure to visit the Charminar, the iconic landmark with its four arches topped by minarets, facing four cardinal points.
#3 – Delhi
You really cannot travel through India, without poking around in Delhi first, the home of nearly 25 million Indians. Whereas New Delhi is the capital city with swanky hotels, malls and flyovers, it is the old winding streets of the old city of Delhi which resonate with real character, atmosphere and old world charm. Visit the great fort of Purana Quila, the Qutub Minar, Humayun’s tomb, the Jama Masjid, or sit for a soulful qawwali session at Nizamuddin Dargah, and stroll through the Lodi Gardens during sunset.
#4 – Chennai
For a taste of South India, visit the “capital of the south”, the busy and colorful Chennai (formerly known as Madras.) Though this city can feel incredibly hot and humid, it is not without charms! Take an early morning or late evening stroll down the Marina Beach and the true spirit of the warm and enthusiastic people will be revealed. However, the sea currents here are quite strong, so it is better not to swim here. You can also visit the Madras Lighthouse, the only lighthouse in India with an elevator! Visit the Kapaleeshwarar Temple or the old St. George Fort surrounded by narrow alleys and chaotic marketplaces.
#5 – Varanasi
Also known as Kashi and Benaras, this colorful city will first astound you with its sheer chaos, but you will assuredly fall in love with it soon enough. One of the seven holy Hindu cities, Varanasi is one of the world’s oldest continually inhabited places. The ghats here are always full of pilgrims taking a dip in the holy waters of the Ganga. Dubbed as one of the Indian cities with the most intoxicatingly spiritual atmosphere, Varanasi can be a bit tricky to navigate – but wherever you go, you will always end up at the ghats.
#6 – Jaipur
This iconic city, known as the Pink City of India, is an absolute essential in any Indian trip – you haven’t seen much of India, if you haven’t been to Jaipur. Visit the beautiful City Palace, the Jantar Mantar, the royal observatory, and the unspeakably beautiful Amber Fort. Let the historical details of the city wash over you, as you maneuver through twisting city lanes to reach the breathtaking Hawa Mahal, the streets around which are lined with shops where you can buy Rajasthani handicrafts. And in Jaipur always remember to haggle! Do not forget to indulge in delicious Rajasthani food while you are here!
#7 – Kochi
With an intriguing mix of cultures, Kochi in South India is a must visit city. From giant Chinese fishing nets to old colonial architecture, this city has it all. Get a glimpse of the South Indian art forms of Kathakali and Kalarippayattu or dig into delicious spicy food and wash it down with sweet and cooling coconut water. Visit the 400-year old synagogue in Jew Town, tour the magnificent Mattancherry Palace or go on bike tours in small groups. Watch the story of a colonial past unfold before your eyes as you see the influences of Holland, Britain and Portugal on this Indian city.
#8 – Agra
No visit to India can ever be complete without a tour of the enormous white marble monument erected by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan – the Taj Mahal in Agra. Whether you visit it during the day or have the excellent fortune to watch the moon rise above the gleaming white marble, Taj Mahal is, simply put, mind-blowing. There are many tombs and mausoleums worth visiting in this city apart from the lively marketplaces. Two other essential places to visit in this city are UNESCO World Heritage sites – the ruined city of Fatehpur Sikri and the great sandstone Red Fort. You can also go for a quick tour of Mathura, a Hindu pilgrimage center.
#9 – Manali
One of the prettiest hill stations in India, Manali is a popular vacation destination for people across the country, wanting to get away from the Indian heat, into the cool shades of the Kullu valley. Drawing both domestic and international tourists, Manali is full of picturesque sites to feast your eyes on, if you are tired of the pollution and hustle-bustle of the other major Indian cities. Visit the natural hot-water fountain of the Vashishtha Baths or visit the majestic forest-ringed Rehalla Falls and the legendary cave, Arjun Gufa, a little distance away from the city.
#10 – Haridwar
A city in Uttarakhand, Haridwar, located at the point where the holy river Ganga rises from the Himalayas, is the holiest of the cities in the Hindu religion. Hundreds of pilgrims visit this place every day to take a dip in the holy waters – the overwhelming crowds in the Har ki Pairi (The Footstep of God) ghat only adds to atmosphere of religious feeling. The ghats ARE a sight to behold in the evening, when the very waters seem to light up, as offerings are floated on the Ganges – this is an experience on must have on a trip to India.
These are not the only cities worth visiting in India – there are numerous others that are beyond the scope of this list, for example, Udaipur, Madurai, Bangalore, Jodhpur, etc. But these ten cities are definitely a starting point for unraveling the mystery that is India. The myriad of cultures, religions and languages of the country are captured by these must-see cities in no small way. Make sure you include these cities in your itinerary – any trip to India would be incomplete without at least a few of these in it!