The land of spices (yes) and snake charmers (not anymore), India is richly vibrant and diverse. It has mountains and beaches, plateaus and plains, deserts and river basins, temples and palaces, festivals and celebrations and the list goes on. It’s culture is steeped in history and bent in modernity. So, after careful thinking, here’s a list of 12 experiences you must have when visiting India.
We have to visit a place to experience it in an absolute sense. To a certain extent, we can live through the experiences vicariously as I have (in the case of Antarctica, Moon, and Mt. Everest), but it is more meaningful and intimate to have our own bag-full of recollections, stories, and memories. By the way, Taj Mahal does not feature on the list, considering it already gets a lot of well-deserved attention for being one of the seven wonders of the world.
This is not a painting. It’s a picture from Uttarakhand, one of the mountain states of India. The Himalayas are spectacular, dreamy and awe-inspiring. Whether you go for a good trek ( there are several spellbinding trekking trails) or hike up a mountain or plan to chill and do nothing at McLeodganj, Kasol, Kheerganga or Tosh, you are certainly going to have an amazing and memorable time. You may plan to relax and absorb the beauty of nature in meadows of Bedni Bugyal and Deorital or do a good yoga session in Parashar amidst the distant yet formidable snow-peaks. You may even go for snow sports to give yourself an adrenaline rush or devour breathtaking locations in Leh Ladakh.
The states of Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Jammu & Kashmir will undoubtedly make you fall in love with the Himalayas. Moreover, people in the mountains are very simple, friendly and kind. This is definitely an experience one should have at least once in a lifetime. In case you are a mountain lover, you’ll feel at home. For those who are admirers of mountains but shaky about actually making a plan, reading why mountains are the best will really help.
2. Backwaters of Kerela
Kerela, rightly called The God’s Own Country, is magical. Visit to the city is incomplete without a mention of backwaters. A boat ride across the backwaters of Alleppey is one authentic experience. As your boat passes through the narrow passageways of water with sleek landmasses on both the sides lined with coconut trees and cozy little houses, you’d penetrate into a dream-like state. This paradise on Earth will morph your definition of beauty.
The surreal hills of Munnar with a perpetual fragrance of cinnamon in the air , the unique experiences of Thekkady whether a spice garden visit or an elephant ride, a visit to a tea factory or a good old oil massage, the Wildlife sanctuaries and tea gardens are all going to win you over in no time. The small romantic city of Kumarakom is going to make you want to forget the world and live there forever.
3. Desert of Jaisalmer and Jodhpur
The most fascinating thing about the state of Rajasthan apart from the beauty of Thar desert is the culture. It’s vivid dance forms (Ghoomar, Kalbeliya), delectable food (Dal Batti Churma, Laal Maas), vibrant clothes, upbeat music, colors and the bon-homeyness is a pleasure to all your senses. A night camp in the desert of Jaisalmer, a morning feast of sun rise and a camel ride to get a glimpse of the expanse of the desert will change your notions of entertainment and life.
Jodhpur, known as the gateway to Thar, is steeped in history with it’s forts and royalty. The Mehrangarh Fort in the blue city is bound to give you goosebumps.
4.Temples of Karnataka, Andhra And Tamil Nadu
Mahabaleshwar, Rameshwar, Madurai, Tirumala and many other towns are rich in architectural heritage that dates back to the time of Chola, Dravida, Pandya and Chera (the most powerful and historic kingdoms of the South India). These temples have been intricately built and delicately sculpted. Visiting these temples is a divine experience. No wonder every year millions throng to these temple complexes with utmost devotion and yet the proceedings take place systematically and are managed very well.
Apart from the architecture, the towns have a certain antiquated vibes. Gokarna which houses Mahabaleshwar Temple is famous for the beaches. Hampi, another town in Karnataka, is a Word Heritage Site and was once a flourishing capital of the mighty Vijay Nagar Empire. The temples complexes of Hampi dating back to 7th century are still capable of inspiring awe. Well, the temple hopping spread across the states of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu will be a hop to remember.
In case you are looking for a wild adventure and are into wildlife photography, this is the place to be. The largest river delta formed by two of the most massive Asian rivers namely Ganga and Brahmaputra, Sunderbans has the largest Mangrove forest in the world. This dense forest is home to endemic Bengal Tiger that lurks around in the forest like a king. Only a wild chase and great luck can help you spot one. Same goes for river dolphin, though their demeanor is quite contrary.
One-day boat ride or that stretched across multiple days will take you through depths of the forest interspersed a network of waterways and canals. The vivid tribal villages and the walk through the mangrove to watchtower will completely absorb you into the wildness of the landscape. It certainly will be an experience of a lifetime.
6. Rich Diversity of Western Ghats
The west coast of India is gifted with dense and perennial greenery and endemic and diverse fauna. It is an excellent place to unwind and experience pursuits like trekking, wildlife photography, rock climbing, bird watching, jungle walk, and mountaineering. The hill stations of Kodaikanal, Coonoor, and Ooty have pleasant weather and pristine air all year round and are beautiful. These hill cities have many natural as well as tastefully touched upon extraordinary landmarks like Botanical Garden, parks, hilltop viewpoints, waterfalls, and lakes. I guess I am going to plan a short trip to one of these beauties very soon.
7. Go Bohemian In Mumbai and Goa
Goa is an ultimate pass to an unending party. You will find the most chilled out beaches, blazing night life and epic trance parties over here. But Goa is not just about all that. It was once a territory of the Portuguese and hence is a good concoction of Indian and Portuguese cultures. For people who like to try out exotic cuisines and enjoy sun, sea and sand, well this is the place that shall assuage you.
A road trip from Mumbai to Goa takes about 10 hours, but the scenic route and stopovers keep you entertained. Anyway, there are enough reasons to do a road trip and not get deterred just be the distance.
Mumbai is the biggest metropolis of India and the financial capital of the country. As a matter of fact, it’s known as a city of dreams and city that never sleeps. There’s energy, glamour and fast-paced life. I guess you got an idea. Doesn’t that sound like about any other big city in the world? In addition to being a quintessential big city, Mumbai offers a lot more if you’d perceive closely. Apart from the unique blend of local and international cuisines, there’s a blend of diverse cultures, and myriad experiences (Sunset at Bandstand, Amble at Marine Drive, visit Haji Ali Dargah, Venture to Vasai Fort or Elephanta Caves, and this is me just starting off).
8. Andaman And Nicobar Islands
The stunning archipelago of Andaman and Nicobar Islands is located at the juncture of Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal. Of course, you can soak the sun, savor the extraordinary beauty or indulge in a plethora of water sports available ( scuba diving, parasailing, sea walking, snorkeling to name a few) like on most of the beaches around the world. The exceptionally gorgeous Radhanagar beach is an ideal place to spend your day reading or just even lying down. However, apart from relishing the beauty, there are museums and places of history to visit. There is a historical cellular jail that lets you take a glimpse into the tumultuous past of the country.
Fancy a trek? Well, you can hike up to Lalaji Bay. Looking for a boat ride? You can do one through mangrove forests and also experience the limestone caves. The white sandy beaches with pristine turquoise waters is a perfect destination for lovers of beaches, marine life, adventure activities, nature , peace and sea food and if you are none you’d still love this place.
9. Bangalore and Pondicherry
Pondicherry is a small, unique west coast town which was formerly a french colony (till 1954). The scenic Promenade beach along a boulevard is one of the most popular beach-fronts. While the Pondicherry beach is spectacular and offers a wide range of activities (sports and parties), the rock beach with an array of restaurants is a cool place to be at night. In the french quarters of the city, the villas and boutique shops, and tree-lined boulevards give you a glimpse of the french legacy. Pondicherry has its share of pop, glamorous and hipster culture. For those looking for spiritual growth, Sri Aurobindo Asram for meditation is one of the most popular destinations.
Road trip from Pondicherry to Bangalore is exciting. Bangalore is the silicon valley of India. Undoubtedly, it is considered to be one of the best metropolis to live in, in India. It has good climate all year round, and is one of the most bicycle friendly city of India. There’s no dearth of fancy cafes, vibrant dining venues and exuberant clubs and pubs.
10. North East India
I don’t want to admit, but I am taking a shortcut here (like I did in case of Himalayas). I am consolidating the extravagant beauty of entire northeast India into one header.
The enchanting states of Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Assam, Sikkim, Nagaland, Manipur, and Mizoram are the seven sisters of the northeast. I got the opportunity to live in Mizoram (where my dad was posted for more than 3 years) and travel to most of the states in north east India, about a decade ago. Apart from the cultural (each state is rich in distinct art forms, food, dance forms, and traditions) and geographical shift (juxtapose enchanting untouched beauty of the hills with a perpetually polluted metropolis) , I was amazed by the pristine and a sense of ease in the vibes.
The living root bridges of Meghalaya, mesmerizing waterfalls of Cherapunji, tea gardens of Darjeeling, antiquated and cozy hill town of Shillong, Majuli (the largest river island in Assam, and cultural forwardness (and bamboos) of Aizwal (it is more western than Indian) is exciting and thrilling. You’d get to taste distinct cuisines and savor the ethnic diversity in the region. To add to it, north east offers beautiful trek trails, monasteries and wildlife to checkout.
11. Golden Temple and Wagah Border
Golden Temple, surrounded by a lake, is stunning with it’s golden hue . It is undoubtedly a man made marvel and looks exuberant at night time. Though it is a religious place of Sikhs, people from all religions throng the temple. The aura of the place is such that it will calm you down and make you relaxed.
Wagah Border is the border between India and Pakistan, the countries which are counted among the top most border-disputed nations in the world. However, what happens at Wagah Border is incredible. The patriotism and bon-homyness is communicable. A little bit of history between India and Pakistan will give you a context on why this experience is unique and interesting.
12. Varanasi and Bodh Gaya
Varanasi is indeed the spiritual capital of India. The evening prayer of the holy river of the Ganges, flowing across the city, is a mesmerizing experience whether you are a devotee or not. The city has multitudinous temples scattered along the narrow alleyways. There is no shortage of delightful and spicy roadside food. Varanasi is certainly old (finds its root in the 12th century BC), colorful, crowded and yet an obscure uniqueness about the city sweeps you off your feet. An early morning boat ride, a late evening walk along the Ganges, the antiquated temples, plentiful “ghats” and Alamagir mosque (from where you can get a good view of the city) make your experience of the city and culture absolute.
Both Gaya, on the under hand, is a quiet town. It is where Gautam Buddha achieved a state of enlightenment sitting under a sacred Bodhi tree. It is a place of pilgrimage for the Buddhists. Obviously, the place is rich in Buddhist architecture (Stupas and Monasteries). If you are into meditation and spirituality, you’ve got to plan this trip. And even if you are not, why not try our something different in life? A new experience is much more valuable than a bunch of similar experiences (plus the law of diminishing marginal utility).
It’s pretty amazing how all of us and the preceding generations have molded a raw planet into ideas, structures, art and culture. However, it’s sad when we exploit nature which is the very basis of our existence.
Although, I’ve listed the best of India, still there’s much more to it than I could sum up in this post. Read well and explore other options and plan a trip soon enough. I hope you liked reading the post. If that’s the case please like, share and subscribe.
Happy Reading. Chao!