Every old man on the bus was demanding “MOVE, you and your big ass backpacks are blocking the aisle!”. Or at least what we assumed they were saying. In reality, a half dozen agitated men plus another few women were all pointing at us and demanding something incomprehensible through broken teeth in a language which was probably one of India’s 22 official languages. It seemed that everyone wanted us to move somewhere other than where we were standing in our hard won spots in the bus aisle. The only thing between us and moving anywhere were the other 1.4 billion people standing in the aisle with us. But they weren’t the problem, just us. We had fought to get on this bus as it rattled past, barely slowing to allow the hordes of riders to enter. One of us had to dive into the back door while the other sprinted towards the front entrance where there was a just enough of an open step to hold a body braced against the doorway. It seemed that everyone in India was between the two of us as we rode the only bus with enough room, hoping it was going in the right direction. Even the family of five sharing the single seat moped to our left looked quite a bit more comfortable.
It was obvious to everyone else on the bus. We were in the way, and were too stupid to realize it. This was a common theme as we traveled around the country, in search of wonders which would be worth the misery we were enduring to get there.
We arrived in India following our treks on the Annapurna Circuit and Annapurna Sanctuary in Nepal, trading the open skies and crisp air of the Himalayan Mountains for what seemed like the most crowded and and smoggy place on the planet. We had decided to tackle a country which is on every travel bucket list, one that is required to earn your stripes as a serious traveler. India. Where we were going to spend 40 days visiting some of the most impressive and culturally significant sites on the planet.The country is notorious for being a difficult place to visit, with sights and smells that can sour the most hardened stomach. We recently wrote about some of the more difficult parts of traveling in the country in a previous post, Finding Ways to Like India. If you are prepared to handle the extreme, then this country has lots to offer. These are the 15 most amazing things to see while traveling in India, in chronological order of our visit.
Also make sure to read our India travel survival guide, Making Sense of the Madness, which shares everything we needed to know for our trip through the country.
We split our 40 days in India between the north and the south, following a path through the Golden Triangle and Rajasthan and into Punjab. We then flew from Amritsar to Kochi (Cochin) where we traveled cross country through Kerala and Tamil Nadu, ending our trip in Chennai before flying out.
1.) Lodi Gardens – Delhi
A 90 acre city park in the center of Delhi with numerous tombs and architectural wonders from the 15th century. The park is one of the only peaceful places in the city, insulated from the crowds and noise of the neighboring streets. The grounds are filled with yoga, dance, music practice and ornate engagement photography.
2.) Humayun’s Tomb – Delhi
This was the first garden tomb built on the Indian subcontinent. The property inspired the architecture of the Taj Mahal, and is one of the better preserved historic buildings in Delhi. This is a far better display of beautiful red sandstone architecture than the neglected Red Fort.
Entrance: 500 Rupees for foreigners
3.) Chandni Chowk Bazaar – Delhi
This outdoor market dates back more than three centuries and is buzzing with activity at any time during the day. It has a feeling of complete madness, although a method can be seen given enough observation. Rickshaws, merchants, animals and shoppers pack the streets and sidewalks. Amazing and incredibly cheap food can be found everywhere. There are subsections of the market where groups of vendors sell everything from tools, electronics and wedding dresses to a lung choking array of spices. Most shops have been in the family for generations with almost no change in atmosphere.
4.) Taj Mahal – Agra, Uttar Pradesh
No trip to India would be complete without a trip to the Taj. The grounds are open from sunrise to sunset with sunrise being the best time to visit inside. The West Gate is the only place open early, where people will begin to queue up about an hour before sunrise. Tickets are available 50 meters west of the gate at a separate window, which need to be obtained prior to entry. Be prepared with cash and card options as their computer systems are fickle. A sunset over the Taj can be seen from across the river at the Mehtab Bagh gardens (an additional 200 Rupees). If you jump the fence and run really fast you can avoid the guards and get a good picture from the river bank.
Entrance: 1000 Rupees for foreigners
5.) Agra Fort – Agra, Uttar Pradesh
The fort was the main residence of the emperors of the Mughal Dynasty until the 17th century when the capitol was moved to Delhi. It is a massive structure overlooking the city, although only a portion is available to the public with the remainder still used by the military. Despite the limits, the open portion can take up to two hours to view. On a rare clear day, the Taj Mahal can be seen from the ramparts in the distance.
Entrance: 500 Rupees for foreigners with proof of Taj Mahal ticket, 550 Rupees without
6.) Amer Fort – Jaipur, Rajasthan
Also called Amber Fort, it is an opulent sandstone and marble building constructed in the 16th century. The fort is 11 kilometers north of the city, where it is perched on the hilltop overlooking the arid surroundings. It is well preserved with impressive artistic elements and is alone well worth a visit to the Pink City of Jaipur.
Entrance: 500 Rupees for foreigners
7.) Camel Fair – Pushkar, Rajasthan
A yearly gem where festival meets desert culture. The two week fair is held around the time of the Kartik Purnima full moon in October/November. This is one of the world’s largest gatherings where camels and other livestock are bought and sold, and is a spectacle to behold. Pushkar is also a spiritual, yoga and meditation destination and has a wide variety of cheap international cuisine.
8.) City Palace – Udaipur, Rajasthan
Udaipur is known as the Lake City, or the Venice of India. The City Palace, a sprawling palace complex built over 400 years starting in the 16th century, sits on a hilltop with sweeping overlooking the lake. It is a massive and amazingly intact set of buildings with beautiful and intricate architectural touches. A boat tour is also a quite lovely way to see the palace, especially around sunset (additional cost).
Entrance: 300 Rupees for foreigners
9.) Jagdish Temple – Udaipur, Rajasthan
This is the largest temple in the city of Udaipur, and is located by the City Palace complex. A Hindu temple, it has pillars decorated with intricate carvings of elephants, dancers and horseman.
10.) Mehrangarh Fort – Jodhpur, Rajasthan
Built in the 15th century, the fort sits on a rocky outcrop overlooking the city. It is one of the largest forts in India, and was one of the most impressive sites of our visit. The colors of the Blue City can be seen from the ramparts, and the interior boasts stunning artifacts and decor.
Entrance: 600 Rupees for foreigners including audio guide
11.) Golden Temple – Amritsar, Punjab
The Golden Temple is in a league of its own. This is the most holy temple in the Sikh religion, and is a pilgrimage site for thousands of worshipers. As with most of India, the city of Amritsar is loud and busy, but the temple grounds remain serene, peaceful and startlingly clean. Unlike many temples in the country, there is no entry fee or pressure to donate, and we did not get hassled by hawkers, beggars or guides once while inside the walls. The temple is open and welcome to people from every religion, and offers free and delicious Punjabi food to anyone. This is the most impressive site in India and an absolute must visit for any trip. It is a requirement to remove your shoes, wash your hands and feet, and have your head covered for entry. There is free secure shoe storage and head scarves are available for use at the entrance.
12.) Wagah Post Ceremony at the Pakistan/India Border – near Amritsar, Punjab
A daily border showdown between Indian and Pakistan military guards, with a stadium arena filled with wildly cheering fans supporting their country. This event is absolute over the top madness, and feels more like a visit to the Super Bowl than a changing of the guards ceremony. It is complete with head busting high kicks, pompous displays of strength and military ceremonials. Purses or backpacks are NOT allowed inside the complex. Foreigners are required to show a passport, but get VIP service including expedited line and special seating.
Entrance: Free; 250 Rupees round trip for hop-on hop-off tourist bus
13.) Tea Plantations – Munnar, Kerala
Set above the heat and humidity, Munnar was used as a hill station by the British and sits in the mountains of South India. The rolling hills are covered by fields of tea bushes, making it a welcome change from the bustle in most of the country. While the streets are not immune to the honking and trash found elsewhere, it can certainly feel a world away from some of the more congested spots. Our recommendation is to skip Eravikulam National Park which is a waste of money. Instead hike along the road north (Route 17 / Munnar – Udumalpet Road) towards Thalayar View Point through the tea plantations. This is an easy gradual grade 10k round trip.
14.) Meenakshi Amman Temple – Madurai, Tamil Nadu
The temples in South India are from a different world than most of those found in the north. Meenakshi Amman is colorful and extensively decorated with shrines dedicated to Hindu deities. The roots of the temple go as far back as the 6th century, with millions of pilgrims and worshippers still visiting each year.
15.) Sri Ranganatha Swamy Temple – Tiruchirappalli (Trichy), Tamil Nadu
Sri Rangan is an enormous Hindu temple complex dedicated to Lord Vishnu, covering 156 acres and made up of seven concentric walled enclosures. There are twenty one ornate towers throughout the grounds with the center sanctum decorated in gold (although not accessible to non-Hindus). There is a semi-panoramic rooftop viewpoint available for 20 Rupees (ticket counter inside the fourth wall).
Can’t read enough about travel? Check out previous posts from our trek on the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal, our Camping Safari Through East Africa, or our stunning drive around Iceland’s Ring Road! You can also find helpful information to prepare for your own world trip on our planning page.
Make sure to stay tuned for upcoming posts from our road trip on the Great Ocean Road and camper van trip in Tasmania!