The 15 most spectacular places to visit in India

Joe Bindloss

Dec 11, 2023 • 14 min read

india tourist guide

Expect fairy-tale-like drama against a desert backdrop in magical Jaisalmer, Rajasthan © Andrii Lutsyk/ Getty Images

India’s astonishing variety of sights has to be seen to be believed. Travelers have devoted lifetimes to exploring the famous places and forgotten corners of this incredible country, driven onwards by the certainty that there’s always more to see.

Mughal palaces, towering Hindu temples, mountain monasteries, lost kingdoms, cultured cities, and genteel hill stations in the foothills of the Himalayas all jostle for attention in a country that is proudly shaking off the legacy of colonialism and repositioning itself as a global superpower. With such incredible diversity on offer, there’s just one question – where do you start?

Well, our advice is to not take on too much during a single visit. Pick an area – the tropical south perhaps, or the northern plains, or the mountain valleys of the Himalayas – and give yourself time to pause and soak up the atmosphere as you work through your must-see list .

Wherever you go, you’re guaranteed a mind-expanding and exhilarating blast of color, soul-soaring splendor, earth-shaking history and moments of pure serenity. Equal parts magic and mayhem, this mix is what makes traveling to India such an intense and addictive experience.

While this was no easy list to compile, we’re proud to present our pick of the ten best places to visit in India.

1. Agra, Uttar Pradesh

Best for romantics and fans of Mughal history

At the top of everyone’s bucket list, the Taj Mahal is as glorious as people imagine it would be – a magnificent monument to lost love, executed in pearl-white marble. Views of the world’s most beautiful building framed by a Mughal archway or floating above the misty Yamuna River will be one of the defining moments of any trip to India.

But there’s more to the former Mughal capital than the Taj. Add on a couple of days so you can visit the architecturally stunning tomb of  Emperor Akbar , his rose-red sandstone former capital at Fatehpur Sikri and sprawling Agra Fort , one of India’s most epic fortifications. Thronged by millions of visitors, Agra is not always relaxing, but it’s eternally fascinating.

Close-up of a boatman holding oars on the Ganga River at night, Varanasi, India

2. Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh

Best for intense spirituality

There are few places as beguiling and bewitching as the sacred Hindu city of Varanasi . Millennia-old death rituals play out daily at the cremation ghats that line the bank of the sacred River Ganges, while the maze-like alleyways of the nearby old town reveal dizzying surprises at every turn. We defy anyone to visit without experiencing some internal soul-searching about their place in the universe.

Be ready for some challenges. The hard-edged realities of life and death and the inequalities that continue to cause hardship for many in India are obvious on the streets of the world’s oldest living city. But there are also moments of gentleness – rise at dawn and wander the ghats (riverside steps) and you’ll see Varanasi at its most spiritual, with its attention focused on the sacred river, before the tourist bustle changes the mood.

Planning tip: The best way to appreciate Varanasi’s famous ghats is from a rowboat. Boatmen offer their services from first light at boat stations along the west bank of the Ganges, providing views of a riverfront that has changed only superficially in seven centuries.

3. Mumbai, Maharashtra

Best for urban explorers and Bollywood hopefuls

Mumbai is the perfect place to take the pulse of modern India. The most densely populated city in the subcontinent is home to Bollywood film stars, enterprising market vendors, bankers and executives rushing to work in offices, and fishing families who can trace their origins back to the days when this mighty metropolis was just a humble village.

To understand more about the disparities of life in contemporary Mumbai, take a socially responsible tour through the city’s huge and disadvantaged Dharavi district with Reality Tours & Travel ; 80% of the profits go back to social projects providing opportunities for those left behind by Mumbai’s push for success.

The city’s can’t-miss excursion is the boat trip to the 1500-year-old, UNESCO World Heritage-listed rock-cut temples of Elephanta Island , but fantastic street food is the city’s great leveler. Don’t leave without sampling Mumbai's signature snack, bhel poori – puffed rice and fried dough with lentils, onions, herbs and savory chutneys, best sampled on the beach at Chowpatty or Juhu.

Detour: With time to spare in Mumbai, head to the northern suburbs, where Sanjay Gandhi National Park protects a sprawl of dry forest, home to leopards, deer, monkeys and serene Buddhist cave temples.

View of Thikse Monastery and prayer rocks in Ladakh India

Best for an extraordinary taste of Tibet

In the far northwest of India, sheltered from the monsoon by the rain shadow of the Himalayas, the former Buddhist kingdom of Ladakh is culturally and geographically closer to western Tibet than anywhere in India. In this high-altitude moonscape, towering Tibetan monasteries melt into a landscape of barren rock and wind-sculpted hoodoos (don’t miss fabulous Hemis and Thiksey on the road linking Ladakh to Himachal Pradesh ). 

Most visitors start in the atmospheric capital, Leh , before roaming to neighboring valleys for homestay treks and trips to view turquoise salt lakes and colorful masked dances at ancient monasteries. Ladakh wasn't touched by China’s Cultural Revolution, so this is perhaps the closest independent travelers can come to experiencing the original culture of Tibet.

Planning tip: Getting to Ladakh is half the fun. Flights run to Leh even in the depths of winter, but the most enjoyable way in is overland, by road from either Srinagar in Kashmir or Manali in Himachal Pradesh. Buses and shared 4WDs run as long as the passes are open from June to the end of September, or you can tackle the route on a rented Enfield motorcycle.

5. Kolkata, West Bengal 

Best for culture vultures

The capital of colonial British India until 1911, Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) is India’s third-biggest metropolis and the country's intellectual and artistic capital. Spend a few days exploring the energetic bazaars, cultured museums and British-era landmarks, and you’ll soon fall in love with Kolkata’s irrepressible energy.

To really get to know Kolkata, sign up for a Bengali cooking course and visit the revered temple at Kalighat , where the goddess Kali is appeased with sacrifices. With more time to spare, book an overnight wildlife-watching tour to the nearby Sundarbans Tiger Reserve , a legendary stalking ground for royal Bengal tigers.

Planning tip: Try to time your visit to coincide with the festival of Durga Puja in September or October, when vividly colorful effigies of the goddess are displayed in pandals (ceremonial tents) all over the city.   

6. Jaisalmer, Rajasthan

Best for desert drama

The desert state of Rajasthan shows India at its most romantic and soft-filtered. Expect a mirage of camel caravans, ornate palaces, mighty forts, turbaned traders and intense colors, set against a backdrop of shifting desert sands. It’s unbelievably photogenic, but also firmly on the tourist map, so expect to share the experience with a crowd.

The pink-sandstone monuments of Jaipur , the ice-white lakeside palaces of Udaipur , and views of blue-hued Jodhpur from its lofty fort are all stunning experiences, but the city that delivers the biggest jolt to the senses is Jaisalmer , seeming sculpted from the living rock of the desert.

Its tangled lanes, towering fortress and beautifully ornate haveli (traditional houses) could have been plucked from the pages of One Thousand and One Nights , and the surrounding desert is the evocative setting for overnight camel safaris.

Planning tip: While it is possible to stay inside the fortified city, visitor numbers are having an impact on Jaisalmer’s historic heart. We recommend staying outside the walls instead – there are plenty of hotels and guesthouses within strolling distance of the fort.

A traditional rice barge on the backwaters of Kerala (between Alappuzha and Kollam)

7. The Kerala Backwaters

Best for lovers of slow travel

After the dusty, densely populated northern plains, tropical South India offers a lusher, more laid-back travel experience. The quintessential trip here is a slow-paced canal cruise through the emerald-green backwaters of Kerala , a 900-mile network of languid, coconut-fringed waterways, offering views of an ever-changing tableaux of South Indian life.

Hire a traditional houseboat in Alappuzha for a multiday trip, then settle in for a succulent Keralan seafood curry prepared by your personal chef as the sunset blushes over shimmering waters and silhouetted palm fronds. Post-cruise, it’s just a short hop up the coast to historic Kochi (Cochin) , with its cantilevered fishing nets and Kathakali dance theaters.

8. Bodhgaya, Bihar

Best for budding Buddhists

As the birthplace of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism (plus countless smaller faiths), India is defined by sacred geography. Even here, however, few places resonate more powerfully than the Bodhi tree where Prince Siddhartha Gautama achieved enlightenment to become the Buddha (Awakened One).

The town that has grown up around this sacred spot is home to dozens of Tibetan and Southeast Asian–style temples and monasteries, with a busy program of Buddhist teachings and courses. It’s the ideal destination for any spiritual explorer.

To get a feel for Bodhgaya ’s rhythms, come early to the Mahabodhi complex and settle in beside chanting Tibetan pilgrims to meditate on the nature of impermanence. Travel experiences don’t get much more profound than this.

Planning tip: Bodhgaya is just one stop on the so-called "Buddhist circuit," taking in key locations from the life of the historical Buddha. Local buses run to nearby Rajgir, the site of one of the first Buddhist monasteries, and Nalanda's ancient Buddhist university complex.  

9. Darjeeling, West Bengal

Best for a premium cup of tea with a view

Fanned by the cool breezes of the eastern Himalayas, surrounded by manicured tea estates and basking in front of epic Himalayan views, Darjeeling is easy to fall for.

For a perfect day, watch the dawn break over 8586m (20,169ft) Kangchenjunga, learn the difference between first-flush and white teas on a plantation tour, linger over an afternoon cuppa at the  Windamere Hotel , then learn about the Tibetan experience at the Tibetan Refugee Self-Help Centre .

The classiest way to arrive is via the nostalgic, narrow-gauge toy train ; book tickets in advance and check to see if the steam service is running (the diesel train follows the same route, but has less charm). Don’t miss the Buddhist gompas (monasteries) dotted around the city. Below Darjeeling on the fringes of Ghum, historic Yiga Choeling Gompa has a special magic.

Planning tip: Darjeeling isn’t the only interesting stop in the area. Shared 4WDs buzz from Darjeeling to Kalimpong , another historic township with colorful Buddhist monasteries, Himalayan views and pretty flower nurseries. 

Virupaksha temple view from Hemakuta hill at sunset in Hampi, Karnataka

10. Hampi, Karnataka

Best for a full immersion in history

Between the 14th and 16th centuries CE, the capital of the Vijayanagar empire at Hampi was home to half a million people, but this ancient metropolis was almost completely abandoned, leaving 3700 stone monuments scattered across a surreal plain of boulders.

This is a place to linger, strolling between the boulders to find carved masonry, forgotten shrines and the handsome remains of some of South India’s most dramatic stone temples.

Glance up as you wander and you’ll see rock climbers tackling bouldering routes using chisel marks made by ancient masons. Rent a motorcycle or scooter and you can roam further afield, taking in the hilltop temple marking the spot where the monkey god Hanuman first met Lord Rama.

Planning tip: Hampi is a short bus ride from the town of Hosapete – get here by overnight train from Goa’s beaches, historic Hyderabad or the cosmopolitan southern city of Bengaluru .

11. Arunachal Pradesh

Best for stepping off the map

Tucked away near Bangladesh, the eight Northeast States – Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Sikkim – are India’s wild frontier. Until the 1990s, this region of rugged mountain valleys was mostly off-limits to foreigners, and visitor numbers are still small – people who travel here earn the right to call themselves proper explorers. 

Sikkim is the most famous destination in the Northeast States, but we’d encourage you east towards the forested foothills and jagged mountains of Arunachal Pradesh , where tribal communities follow a diverse range of traditional belief systems, from the Buddhist Monpa people of Tawang to the animist Apatani people of the Ziro valley. 

Planning tip: Travel takes a bit of effort in Arunachal Pradesh; you’ll need to apply for a permit to enter the state, and local transport is patchy. By far the easiest way to explore is with a chartered 4WD and driver (easily arranged in Guwahati in Assam).  

Women sitting beside the sacred tank at Amritsar's Golden Temple

12. Amritsar, Punjab

Best for experiencing the power of devotion

India has pilgrimage destinations to spare, but few come close to the vibrant energy of the Golden Temple in Amritsar. The most sacred site for the Sikh religion is a gleaming jewel box, floating in a mirror-like sacred pool, thronged day and night by an unbelievable mass of pilgrims. You don’t have to be spiritually inclined to feel its powerful rhythms. 

Joining devotees at the Sri Harmandir Sahib – the gold-paneled shrine at the heart of the complex – is incredibly moving. Staying overnight in the pilgrims' hostels that flank the temple compound only adds to the intensity. A donation is much appreciated for accommodation if possible, though pilgrims of all means will be accommodated if space is available. You can also sit down for meals at the temple langar (kitchen), which provides cost-free nourishment to a staggering 100,000 people per day (again, a donation is appreciated if you have the means).

Planning tip: Don’t limit your explorations to the Golden Temple – the surrounding bazaars buzz with energy and atmosphere, with vendors selling everything from embroidered chappals (sliders) to brass and polished steel pots and pans.   

13. Mysuru (Mysore), Karnataka

Best for feeling like a Maharaja

The atmospheric South Indian city of Mysuru has multiple charms: towering temples, one of India’s most evocative marketplaces, and the almost impossibly extravagant crib that is Mysuru Palace , the ancestral home of the Wadiyar maharajas. No building conjures up the extravagant lives of India’s royal rulers quite so vividly – every room is a fantasy, every ornament an heirloom. 

Around the palace are busy bazaars, rewarding museums and a string of Hindu temples in the classic Dravidian (Southern Indian) architectural style. Devote several days to wandering the streets, hiking up to the Sri Chamundeshwari Temple on Chamundi Hill and feasting on fiery vegetarian  thalis (plate meals) in Mysuru’s restaurants.  

A large tiger walking over rocks in Bandhavgarh National Park

14. Bandhavgarh National Park, Madhya Pradesh

Best for tiger encounters

The national parks of Madhya Pradesh are some of the best places on the planet to get close to royal Bengal tigers. Seeing one of these striped superstars loping out of the jungle will stay with you for a lifetime – as well as leaving you heartbroken at the thought of how few tigers still survive in the wild.

Everyone has their favorite tiger reserve, but we rate Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve near Jabalpur for the density of wildlife in its central Tala range. Around 70 tigers roam these dry forests, alongside leopards, monkeys, deer and gaur – India’s gigantic wild buffalo. There’s a high likelihood of sightings if you devote several days to 4WD safaris (elephant safaris should be avoided as riding can be harmful to these vulnerable animals). 

Planning tip: The best time to see tigers is first thing in the morning – safaris start at 5:30am to catch tigers before they stake out a shady spot in the undergrowth to sleep through the heat of the day. 

15. Madurai, Tamil Nadu

Best for religious splendor

South India's Hindu temples are a joyous celebration of the divine, decorated inside and out with vividly colorful depictions of deities and supernatural beings, both fearsome and sublime. In the southern city of Madurai , the towering gopurams (gateway towers) of the Meenakshi Amman Temple provide a three-dimensional guide to the main deities of the Hindu pantheon.

The current temple was constructed in the 17th century, but the site has been sacred to Meenakshi, the queen of the Pandya kingdom and an incarnation of the goddess Parvati, for at least 2000 years. Come early in the morning to watch sunrise bring the temple to life, then pop to the nearest branch of Murugan Idli Shop for some of the south’s best idli (steamed rice and lentil cakes).  

Detour: A short bus or train ride from Madurai, Tiruchirappalli – aka Trichy – is another top spot for temple enthusiasts. The looming Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple is one of the world’s largest Hindu shrines, covering 155 acres (63 hectares) and topped by 21 deity-encrusted towers. More temples crown the rocky outcrop at the heart of the city, offering epic views over the rooftops.  

This article was first published Mar 20, 2022 and updated Dec 11, 2023.

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India’s simply too vast and too complex to explore in a single trip. It makes more sense to focus on one, two or perhaps three regions, depending on your time frame. The following India itineraries showcase both the classic attractions and less well-known gems of six distinct areas, from the icy heights of the Himalayas to the sweltering tropical backwaters of Kerala.

Travel ideas for India, created by local experts

A Trek Through Ladakh's Markha Valley

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Trek through the Markha Valley, taking in the jaw-dropping Himalayan landscape, camp in traditional mountain villages, and discover hilltop monasteries. This unique journey combines the culture of the Buddhist faith with the natural beauty of the mountains and the hustle and bustle of Delhi.

Rajasthan: The Land of Kings

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Experience the Land of Kings in luxury.This trip around Rajasthan takes you to Jaipur's palaces, sacred pilgrimage sites and deep into the desert hills. Breathe in the excitement of Delhi and visit the Taj Mahal. Then come nightfall, lay your head to rest in former royal palaces and magical forts.

The Holy City of Varanasi

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Meet Bengals, birds, monkeys, leopards and more on an amazing wildlife extravaganza visiting India's famous national parks. Experience the countryside by rail, soak up some culture at the Taj Mahal and Rantahnbore Fort and finish with some shopping and sightseeing in the bustling capital, Dehli.

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Recommended India itineraries

India, a land of diverse cultures, landscapes, and histories, offers an array of experiences, from the majestic Himalayas in the north to the serene backwaters of Kerala in the south. 

Our local travel expert, Ravi, says, ' India is not just a destination; it's a vibrant tapestry of experiences waiting to be discovered. With our tailor-made trips, you get more than just a holiday; you embark on a journey curated just for you. '

If you are planning your travel to India, use these itineraries created by our travel experts as a starting point for inspiration.

Looking for an India itinerary by duration? 10 days - 14 days


India Itinerary 1 - The Golden Triangle - 1 week

No other region of India packs in as many awe-inspiring monuments as the so-called “Golden Triangle” connecting Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. Allow at least a week to complete the circuit, with a diversion south to the tiger reserve at Ranthambore if you’ve time to spare.

  • Delhi - Start out at Shah Jahan’s mighty Red Fort in the Mughal Old City, then work your way south through the medieval monuments of the southern suburbs.
  • Agra - Cross the Yamuna River by boat in the early morning for an unforgettable view of the Taj just after sunrise, then spend the rest of the day ticking off the city’s other Mughal splendours.
  • Fatehpur Sikri - Overnight at a guesthouse below the deserted capital of emperor Akbar to see its deep red sandstone architecture at its most ethereal, in the diffuse light of dusk and dawn.
  • Keoladeo National Park - Bicycle safaris along the dirt tracks and banks that crisscross this teeming bird reserve offer a perfect antidote to the noise and traffic of India’s northern cities.
  • Jaipur - Approach the ochre-walled palace of Amber Fort on elephant back, before spending a day in the textile and gemstone bazaars of the Rajasthani capital – a riot of quintessentially Indian colour.
  • Shekhawati - Set on the fringes of the Thar Desert, the painted havelis (walled mansions) in the market towns of this once rich area make the ideal stopover on the journey back to Delhi.

India Itinerary 2 - Around the "Land of Kings" - 1 month

You’ll need at least a month to really do justice to India’s dazzling desert state, Rajasthan, or three weeks at a pinch.

  • Jaipur - The Pink City, with its hectic streets and flamboyant Rajput architecture, is a real baptism of fire.
  • Ranthambore - If sighting a tiger is a priority, aim to spend at least a couple of nights at a camp near this world-famous reserve.
  • Pushkar - Ringed by the white domes and sacred ghats of Hindu shrines, Pushkar makes a perfect base for leisurely desert walks and souvenir hunts.
  • Udaipur - Dine by candlelight on a haveli rooftop for the ultimate view of the Sisodia maharanas’ fairytale palaces.
  • Jodhpur - Rajasthan’s most spectacular medieval fortress, Mehrangarh, towers above the warren-like old city painted a hundred shades of sky blue.
  • Jaisalmer - A long trip across the Thar is rewarded by the sublime vision of Jai Sigh’s yellow-stone citadel floating above the sand flats.
  • Bikaner - Quirky architecture and a temple where thousands of rats run free are two vestiges of this city’s former prominence on the trans-Thar caravan route.
  • Nawalgarh - After a succession of big cities, this small town on the fringes of the desert makes an enjoyable base for trips to nearby forts and havelis.

Taj Mahal and Agra © Shutterstock

Taj Mahal, India

India Itinerary 3 - The Deep South - 3 weeks

The Deep South offers dramatic landscapes and world-class monuments. You’ll need at least three weeks to cover this route comfortably, or two at a rushed pace with your own transport.

  • Chennai - The old colonial hub of Fort St George is the standout sight of the Tamil capital, but there’s also a wealth of succulent southern cuisine on offer.
  • Mamallapuram - Sculpted by the Pallava kings, Mamallapuram holds a tempting combination of ancient stonework and breezy tropical beaches.
  • Puducherry - Soak up the lingering Gallic ambience of France’s former colony on the Coromandel Coast, ideally from the confines of a heritage hotel.
  • Thanjavur - The mighty Brihadishwara Temple and collection of Chola bronzes in the town’s art gallery make Thanjavur the perfect springboard for the Kaveri Delta region.
  • Tiruchirapalli (Trichy) - Gaze from the summit of Trichy’s exotic rock fort across the Kaveri River to the largest temple complex in India.
  • Madurai - The shrine of the Fish-Eyed Goddess is Tamil Nadu’s greatest living monument, renowned for its multicoloured, deity-encrusted gateway towers.
  • Periyar - Scale the Western Ghat range to enter Kerala’s Cardamom Hills, where the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary offers the chance to sight elephants.
  • Alappuzha - This former colonial trading port provides the entry point for trips into the surrounding backwater region of Kuttanad – a watery world like no other in Asia.
  • Fort Cochin - The heritage hotels, arty cafés and funky boutiques of Kerala’s historic harbour town are the ideal end point for a tour of India’s far south.

India Itinerary 4 - Himalayan odyssey - 2-3 weeks

Experience the contrasting landscapes of the world’s greatest mountain range with this two- to three-week journey from the northern plains to the fringes of the Tibetan Plateau and idyllic Vale of Kashmir.

  • Shimla - Trundle on the toy train from Kalka through the foothills to this quintessentially Raj-era hill station.
  • Manali - Lush forests of deodar cedars, apple orchards and giant, ice-dusted summits flank the hill resort of Manali, in the Kullu Valley – starting point of the trans-Himalayan highway.
  • Leh - A breathless, two-day journey across a vast desert of scree and dizzying passes brings you to the capital of Ladakh, marooned in the high Indus Valley.
  • The Ladakhi lakes - Charter a jeep for the trip southeast to the hypnotically beautiful altitude lakes of Pangong Tso and Tso Moriri.
  • Kargil - Fairytale Buddhist monasteries and stupendous mountain scenery characterize the long haul to the mid-point on the journey to Kashmir.
  • Srinagar - Laze on the deck of a houseboat sipping spiced tea while the shadows lengthen on the surrounding mountainsides and shikara canoes filled with fruit and flowers paddle past.

India Itinerary 5 - Rhododendrons and red pandas - 10 days

Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal, is the launch pad for this classic trip through the tea estates around Darjeeling to Sikkim, a beautiful, predominantly Buddhist region in the lap of the Himalayas. You could cover the route in a fortnight; with an additional week, consider a multistage trek into the high country further north.

  • Kolkata - Join the flood of commuters crossing the Howrah Bridge, admire the spectacular monuments of the British Empire and discover one of India’s tastiest regional cuisines.
  • Darjeeling - Amazing views of distant Kanchenjunga, a quaint Raj-era vibe and the famous Toy Train ride up from the plains account for the perennial appeal of India’s principal tea hub.
  • Rumtek - A quiet alternative to nearby Gangtok (the Sikkimese capital), Rumtek is also the site of a spectacular Buddhist monastery.
  • Maenam Sanctuary - Tackle the lung-stretching, 1000m ascent of Maenam mountain from Ravangla town for a tantalizing panoramic view of the snow peaks to the north.
  • Pemayangtse - The poster boy for northeast Himalayan monasteries, Pemayangtse offers the added bonus of spectacular vistas of Kanchenjunga.
  • Varshey Rhododendron Sanctuary - Travellers with a botanical bent shouldn’t miss the chance to trek through this tract of pristine rhododendron forest, home to red pandas and black bears.

India Itinerary 6 - The Deccan Trail - 3 weeks

Despite its extraordinary wealth of historic monuments, the Deccan region of central India sees comparatively few visitors. The rewards for those who do make it are considerable: a succession of astonishing temple sites, crumbling tombs, mosques and deserted capitals spanning sixteen centuries of civilization. Allow at least three weeks for this unforgettable trip.

  • Hyderabad - The convoluted ruins of medieval Golconda, on the outskirts of the city, followed by a climb of the Charminar (“Four Minarets”) mosque and a slap-up Hyderabadi feast are the perfect preamble for what lies ahead.
  • Bidar - Resembling a town on the Central Asian Silk Route, Bidar’s rambling fort-palace, madrasa, tombs and metal workshops recall this region’s medieval Persian roots.
  • Vijayapura (Bijapur) - For three centuries, Bijapur served as the capital of the Deccan. An unparalleled crop of monuments survive from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, including India’s largest domed tomb, the mighty Gol Gumbaz.
  • Badami, Aihole and Pattadakal - The Deccan’s ancient Hindu heyday is represented by this trio of wonderful sites – a feast of enigmatic rock-cut caves, monkey-infested temples and tumbledown forts – in the middle of nowhere.
  • Hampi - Rent a bicycle to explore the expansive, beautifully carved remains of medieval India’s most splendid city, set amid a dreamy landscape of banana groves and boulder hills.
  • Gokarna - This compact pilgrimage town on the Konkan coast holds plenty of traditional atmosphere, and a crop of gorgeous beaches around the headland to the south.
  • Goa - For a self-indulgent spell soaking up the rays and surf of the Konkan, Goa’s hard to beat. Aim for one of the less-developed resorts such as Agonda or Patnem in the south of the state.
  • Travelling across central India from Mumbai on the Arabian Sea to Puri on the Bay of Bengal gives you the chance to see some of the country’s most compelling attractions, relax by the beach, and then fly out from Kolkata. Realistically, you’ll need a month for this route, though it could be done in three weeks at a canter.
  • Mumbai - Dynamic and exhilarating, this vast megalopolis bombards the senses with the extremes of urban India, and is an excellent place to sample some of the country’s finest dining.
  • Aurangabad - A superb base from which to visit the breathtaking cave sculptures and carvings at Ellora and Ajanta. Check out, too, the city’s own “false Taj”, the Bibi-ka-Maqbara.
  • Khajuraho - Hidden away in India’s very centre, this medieval temple complex is decorated with the most eye-popping array of erotica you’ll find on any religious building anywhere.
  • Lucknow - Visit the now-ruined Residency in the capital of Uttar Pradesh, where a besieged British contingent famously held out for five months during the 1857 uprising. Don’t leave without sampling the city’s succulent dum pukht cuisine.
  • Varanasi - The spiritual capital of India, and one of the oldest cities on earth, where you can see bathing and cremations by the sacred River Ganges, and watch the kids fly their kites from your terrace while monkeys scurry around the rooftops.
  • Bodhgaya - The Buddha achieved enlightenment while sitting under a bodhi tree at Bodhgaya, one of a trio of sacred Buddhist sites within easy striking distance of Varanasi.
  • Puri - Home of the famous annual Jagannath “Car Festival” (Rath Yatra), Puri is also a low-key beach resort, popular with Indian families and Western backpackers, and an excellent place to recharge your batteries.

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Woman at Taj Mahal, Agra, India © SasinTipchai/Shutterstock

written by Andy Turner

updated 15.12.2023


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