#1 Jaipur, India
#2 New Delhi
Laid out by British architect Edwin Lutyens, the Indian capital is a striking modern metropolis. A gracious contrast to Old Delhi’s winding streets, the grand avenues and stately buildings of New Delhi are rich with history and culture, from Gandhi’s Delhi home (and the site of his assassination) to the tomb of Humayun, a complex of Mughal buildings reminiscent of the Taj Mahal. Chaotic traffic is best left to the locals. Negotiate a good price for taxis or travel on the new Delhi Metro.
Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay), India, is famous for its chaotic streets. For bargains and people-watching, outdoor bazaars top the list of attractions. Popular waterfront destinations are Marine Drive, where visitors go to watch the sun set over the Arabian Sea, and the carnival-like Juhu Beach. More sightseeing options are the Gandhi Museum, in the leader’s former home, and the cave temples of Elephanta Island. For tranquillity, Mumbai has many religious sites, lakes and parks.
The dramatic and romantic desert fortress of Jaisalmer is an exotic city in Rajasthan’s great Thar Desert. “The Golden City” rose to prominence as a result of its position on camel trade routes. It’s now most famous for the 12th-century fort and ornate “Havelis,” fine merchant-built houses and pavilions in the city’s mediaeval lanes. The surrounding Desert National Park offers opportunities to observe blackbucks, desert foxes and chinkaras amid the rolling dunes, rugged crags and waterholes.
Goa is a beloved spot for beachgoers from all over the world who also want to experience the rich culture of India. You could easily spend your entire trip to Bardez hanging out at a beach shack, sipping a beverage, gazing at the sea. But when you want to venture inland, there’s plenty to do. Tour a local spice farm, brave the climb to the top of Fort Aguada Lighthouse, or try your hand at haggling at Anjuna Market
Where better to go for a romantic holiday than to the great testament of love, the Taj Mahal? Built by the grieving Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his late wife Mumtaz Mahal, the Taj Mahal’s unrivaled beauty explains why it’s regarded as one of the eight wonders of the world. A visit to India wouldn’t be complete without it. Other must-experience destinations in Agra are two other UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the sandstone Red Fort and Fatehpur Sikri.
#8 Kochi (Cochin)
Look for spicy dishes flavoured with tamarind and coconut in Kochi, and don’t be surprised if your dinner is served up on a banana leaf. The region is a major banana-growing area, and traditional Kochi cuisine employs the fruit in many dishes, both sweet and savoury. Coconut water provides a refreshing and sweet contrast to the piquant food.
Known as both the “Garden City” and “The Silicon Valley of India,” Bangalore (officially “Bengaluru”) is a techie’s paradise, boasting the highest concentration of IT companies in the country. When you’re done geeking out, there are plenty of gardens, museums, natural features, palaces and temples to fill your dance card. Visit Vidhana Soudha, Cubbon Park and the Ulsoor Lake of Bangalore, well known for its beautiful locales and boating facilities. Bangalore is also a major centre of Indian classical music and dance, and of vivid, cutting-edge nightlife.
Canacona, located in South Goa, offers an extraordinary getaway for activity seekers and avid beach bums. It’s easy to relax on the popular Canacona beach with the majestic Sahyadri Hills as your backdrop. Feeling adventurous? Try one of the many water sports. Other bustling beaches are the Agonda and Palolem, both teeming with shops and eateries. There are also lesser-known, secluded beaches available for those seeking nothing more than peace and tranquility. Two fresh water springs, Puroner and Gogel offer a break from the saltwater experience.
Surrounded by a huge fortress wall with bastions, the striking blue buildings in Jodhpur contrast sharply and beautifully with the neighbouring Thar Desert. Exploring the palaces, forts and temples will keep you busy and in awe of the city’s historic grandeur. Bazaars offer a range of beautiful textiles, embroidered leather goods, lacquerware, antiques, carpets, puppets and figurines. Jodhpur is a popular tourist destination and a convenient base for travel in the region.
The people of Tamil Nadu consider providing food to others a service to humanity. Thus the service in the state capital, Chennai, is first-rate. Treat your senses to some of the richest South Indian flavours in traditional dishes like sambar, rasam, fish curry or kootu. And don’t forget to have a cup of full-bodied Tamil coffee, enhanced with chicory—no visit is complete without it.
Let the beautiful coastal town of Varkala melt your worries and tensions away. Varkala’s peaceful seaside cliffs adjoin the Arabian Sea, setting the scene for several water spouts and wellness spas. The waters lapping at Papanasam beach are considered to have holy, sin-cleansing properties, and the nearby Ayurveda treatment centre will cleanse what the ocean missed.
The holy city of Rishikesh, in the base of the Himalayas, holds deep cultural and spiritual significance for local Hindus. Sacred rivers and mountains set the scene for yoga and reflective hikes, and rafting here is an absolute must. The Beatles got in touch with their Eastern spiritual side here, writing several songs during a 1968 stint at a local ashram.
Want a taste of being royal? Eat in Hyderabad, where culinary traditions have been passed down from the Nizam monarchy. Arabic, Turkish and Mughlai influences are easily recognisable. The city is famous for its rich, aromatic biryani made with lamb, chicken or vegetables and served with fragrant basmati rice. Satisfy your sweet tooth with double-ka-meetha, a bread pudding.
Amritsar is a major commercial and cultural centre in the heart of Punjab. The city is the spiritual and cultural centre of the Sikh religion and is home to the Harmandir Sahib, also known as the Golden Temple. Respectfully marvel at the Indian and Pakistani soldiers who march-off nightly at the Wagha Border, and at the Jallian Wala Bagh the site of the 1919 Amritsar Massacre in 1919.
This former British colonial stronghold boasts evidence of over two millennia of habitation, with ornate, architecturally diverse buildings, ranging from crumbing ruins to Victorian treasures. Home to lively festivals and a vibrant artistic community, clamorous markets and packed temples, this city is crowded and polluted, but ultimately invigorating.
The Ladakh capital city of Leh lies near the eastern parts of Jammu and Kashmir, on the crossroads of the historic “Silk Route” from Sinkiang to West Asia and to the plains of India. The humbling monasteries of Shey, Hemis, Alchi, Thikse and Lamayuru will nurture your spiritual needs, and the landscape of Leh provides for a number of adventure activities including mountaineering, white-water rafting and trekking along the Markha Valley.
Love garlic? You’ll love the food in Pune. Unlike other cuisines of the subcontinent, Pune cuisine relies heavily on the aromatic bulb. Soothe your palate with sweets like bhakarwadi, a pastry rolled with coriander, tamarind and sesame seeds, or cool off with a thick milkshake made with dried fruit.
Situated by some of Goa’s most popular beaches, the village of Arpora is lovely and quiet. Ayurveda enthusiasts will love rejuvenating at the riverside Ayur Clinic. And once the sun slips below the Goa horizon, the Arpora Night Market is the place to be. Food stalls, spice vendors, local musicians – it’s a whirlwind of sights, sounds, smells, and tastes.
#23 Sawai Madhopur
Laidback Bundi is perfect for travellers who want to go a little off the beaten path to experience splendid Indian architecture, food, and hospitality. For photo ops, visit one of the city’s elegantly carved step wells, especially the 17th century Raniji ki Baori, or “Queen’s step well.” Wind your way past the colorful havelis and market stalls of Old Town before visiting Taragarh Fort and Bundi Palace.