India is more than snake charmers, though you may want to take in a performance during your visit. It is a country where temples glow gold in the sun, and where spectacular marble and sandstone palaces overlook lakes. Its ancient history has created many famous landmarks in India though there are plenty of beautiful natural landmarks too. Though predominantly Hindu, India welcomes people all faiths to tour – and worship – in ancient temples. To many, it is an alien culture, but India is definitely a culture that’s worth getting to know.
1. Amer Fort
Everything about Amer Fort is stunning, from the hill position overlooking Maota Lake to the spectacular architecture and interior design of the palace itself. No wonder it’s a top tourist destination in the Jaipur region. The limestone and red sandstone palace is a massive structure that reeks of opulence inside and out. The 16th century fort combines the best of Hindu and Rajput architectural styles, with large ramparts, huge gates, and intricately designed ceilings, columns, winnows and walls. The palace and the fort are considered one complex, with a temple to an Indian goddess at one gate.
2. Lake Palace in Udaipur
If you’re looking for luxury digs in a unique setting, you might want to stay at Lake Palace in Udaipur. Built in the 18th century, the hotel features 83 rooms on an island in Lake Pichola. The stunning palace, accented with semi-precious, was originally built as a winter palace for a king. Tons of black and white marble were used in its construction. Courtyards are filled with fountains and gardens to create a relaxing atmosphere. A speedboat ferries guests between the mainland and the island. This wasn’t always the case. During the 1857 Sepoy mutiny, European families took refuge here, and the king had all boats destroyed.
3. Kerala Backwaters
Cruising down the river takes on new meaning when it’s the Kerala Backwaters. Kerala Backwaters, located on the Arabian Sea, is a system of lakes, canals and rivers formed when ocean currents created small islands. The system, which has been compared to the Louisiana bayous, involves 560 miles of water ways. A boat trip allows you to see fish farms, house boats and lush vegetation in a tranquil setting. If it’s not on your bucket list for India, visitors say put the Kerala Backwaters on it as it’s an experience you don’t want to miss.
4. Golden Temple
The Golden Temple, also known as Sri Harimandir Sahib Amritsar, is the most important religious place for Sikhs. The Golden Temple is a symbol of equality and brotherhood for them; people offal faiths, or even no faith, are welcome here. It’s built below ground level to signify humility; the four entrances, one on each side of the temple, signify that worshippers from all walks of life are welcome here. The temple is but a small, though most impressive, part of the gurdwara, or religious place. Construction on the Golden Temple began in the 16th century, but the extensive gilding with gold and intricate marble date to the 19th century.
5. Ellora Caves
The Ellora Caves is an ecumenical religious site in Maharashira that brings together elements of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism of more than a thousand years ago. The site has 106 caves dedicated to one of the faiths, but only 34 are open to the public. Ellora Caves is the largest temple cave complex in the world. Of note is Cave 16, known as Kailasha Temple. Dedicated to Shiva but also honoring other gods and goddesses, the cave showcases the largest monolithic excavation in the world. Now one of the region’s top tourist destinations, Ellora Caves was made up of monasteries, pilgrims’ rest stops and temples in earlier centuries.
6. Fatehpur Sikri
Persian influences in India may seem farfetched, but that’s exactly what you’ll find at Fatehpur Sikri. Even the name bears hints of Arabic since “fatah” means “victorious” in Arabic. The name is apropos since King Akbar built it following a victory over other Indian forces in the 16th century. The planned city is filled with courts, royal palaces, harem quarters and even a mosque. The complex today is considered a prime example of well-preserved example of Mughal architecture. Fatehpur Sikri was abandoned soon after it was completed because its water supply dried up. The abandonment didn’t last long and Fatehpur Sikri was used by other rulers almost continuously.
7. Taj Mahal
The Taj Mahal, located along the Yamuna River, is considered one of the most romantic spots on earth, especially at moonlight. Indeed, it was built as a labor of love by Shah Jahan as the final resting place of his favorite wife. But there is nothing macabre about this beautiful 17th century complex. Workers, including artisans, took 16 years to construct the Taj Mahal, which features gardens and a long reflecting pool, with the tomb and four minarets at one end. The end result is one of the prettiest structures in the world.
8. Qutb Minar
Due to a tragic accident in 1981, travelers are no longer allowed inside the Qutb Minar, but you can admire this stunning structure from outside. The Qutb Minaret reaches 250 feet into the sky near Delhi, displaying gorgeous carvings along the way. Built in the late 12th century, the Qutb Minar shows Persian influences. It has five stories, all tapering the higher it is. The first three stories are made of red sandstone, and the fourth is marble. The upper story is made of marble and red sandstone. A spiral staircase is inside the minaret.