Kashmir is undoubtedly the most beautiful place in India, some people would say in the entire world. Kashmir definitely figures in the search for the top 10 places to see in India. This mystic valley is still replete with the remnants of the Muslim monarchy, the Afghani dominance and the Sikh influence. The blue mystic over-arching mountain ranges coupled with the sublime serenity of the placid Dal Lake creates a magic on earth that cannot be defined in words. The pristine gardens, the greenery of the valleys, and the whiteness of the winter snow all combine to create the essential magical beauty that is synonymous to the name of Kashmir, the crowning glory on North India.
The enchanting winter sports, trekking, golfing, skiing with the gondolas, mountain climbing, the pleasant Shikara boat rides, mountain cycling, paragliding, water rafting, angling, even bird watching – name any activity and Kashmir will lay out the opportunities and along with them a host of memories to last for a lifetime.
2. Leh Ladakh
Plan an Indian vacation, think of travelling to some place exotic, think of Leh Ladakh and that too al in one breath. People who love the pumping adrenalin rush in their veins often plan biking trips through the mesmerizing ranges of Karakoram and the Himalayas of Ladakh. These places are equally attractive to culture enthusiasts as they present the spectacular monasteries or the gompas. The ancient land that has been fashioned into modern day Ladakh by nature’s forces was once submerged in the waters of an extensive lake system.
Today, it has attained the status of a high-altitude desert and whatever water it receives come from the melting snows. The enchantment of land oozes out of the ancient traditions, culture, rituals, quaint little villages, the deafening silence, the mysteriousness of the rugged terrains, the jagged glaciers, and the happy ever-smiling faces of the local inhabitants.
The dreamland of Goa is a beach haven and undoubtedly charts the top in the list of the best places to visit in India. Sand, sunshine, sea, smile, serenity, seclusion, solitude, scenic beauty --- all meet at a place called Goa. Call it a beach paradise or a coastal paradise of the Western coast of India, Goa has an unending palm-fringed coastline washed by the sand and seas. The warm Arabian waters, the mouth-watering savory sea food cuisine, the vibrant beach parties, the influence of the Portuguese colonial rule in its ancient-style architecture conspire with luxurious boutique hotels and the exhilarating body massages to make every stay the most memorable vacation on earth.
Goa draws an overwhelming more than 2 million tourists from all over the world each year. Goa is famously known as “The Pearl of the Orient” or the “Tourist’s Paradise.” Goa is also the most favorite haunt among the newlyweds and the honeymooners. The liquid beaches, catching the first rays of the morning sun or the fading rays of the twilight, are enough to breathe in a fresh lease of life in a living soul.
Kerala, or the “Gods own Country” as it is called, is again a tourist’s favorite haunt. Among the many amazing places of South India, Kerala occupies a dominant place. It is exceptionally popular among the tourists from abroad. They find the beauty and serenity of Kerala over-powering.
The soul churning Ayurvedic massages, the rocking and swaying houseboats in the calm backwaters, the coconut-palmy greenery enveloping this part of the continent that is a feast for all the five senses, the mystic forts and palaces, the enchanting gyrating magic of kutiyattam dance form, the breathtaking hill resorts of Munnar, Rajamala, Ponmudi and Mattupatti, the glittery streams of nature fresh cool water, forty four rivers that crisscross the state, the smell of the cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla of the long-stretching spice gardens, the lure of backwaters starting from Allapuzha or Alleppey to Kumarakom and Punnamada, the wildlife of the Periyar Reserve Forest commingle to present an irresistible charm to the beauty-seeking ever searching souls of national and international globetrotters.
5. Rajasthan (Jaipur/Udaipur/Jaisalmer)
Rajasthan provides the much needed desert flavor that marks a stark contrast to the fertility and verdurous greenery created by the gigantic rivers and the fertile plains of India. A land of the valiant Rajputs who have created and recreated the glorious history for India time and again through time immemorial, Rajasthan harbors the cruel and inhospitable Great Thar desert of India. But the colorful culture, the tasty lip-smacking Rajasthani dishes, the soft-spoken noble and hospitable localites have created an aura that have not faded across the ages and Rajasthan is still the most favorite state for visiting by tourists of India and abroad.
The cities of Jaipur, Udaipur and Jaisalmer can be considered the jewels of the state of Rajasthan and count among the top ten places to visit in India. The majestic forts and exquisite palaces such as City Palace of Udaipur, City Palace of Jaipur, Jaisalmer Fort made of yellow sandstone, Hawa Mahal of Jaipur, Samode Palace of Jaipur, Nahargarh Fort of Jaipur, Lake Palace of Udaipur, Jaigarh Fort of Jaipur, Amber Fort of Jaipur are all unparallel masterpieces of art and are an integral part of the rich ancient heritage of India.
6. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands
The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are genuinely mystic and had been quite inaccessible for centuries. This group of emerald green approximately 572 islands is covered by thick tropical forests and palm groves. The warm blue waters of the Bay of Bengal are abode to innumerable species of marine plants and animals and provide the exclusive privilege of snorkeling and scuba diving to the tourist masses. The wide expansive and inviting crescent shaped beaches are true delight to the senses and along with the mystery that is created by the local inhabitants of the mystic races of tribes such as Jarawa, Jangil, Onge and Sentinelese are absolutely inescapable.
Andaman and Nicobar islands are a haven for dense growth of orchids and ferns, mixed with mangroves, evergreen and deciduous trees and woody climbers. It is also the home of about 270 species of birds, 225 species of butterflies and moths, ornamental shells and a plethora and diverse water animals such as corals, multi-colored fishes and sea turtles. The luxury yacht services, the journeys to the picturesque Havelock Island, Neil Island, Port Blair, Rangat, Mayabundar are all extremely attractive propositions to the nature lovers as they unfold an absolutely unspoiled and heavenly beauty of nature and an unforgettable holiday experience during your visit in India.
Love inevitably rules over all the other sentiments in earth. And Taj Mahal is considered to be the most exquisite and consummate symbol of love on the face of Earth. Agra is the home of Taj Mahal and it being one of the eight wonders of the world ever since history was written had attracted people form far and near through time immemorial. This architectural marvel built of pure white marble with its brilliant filigree work and unsurpassed carvings is Agra’s most prominent exhibit.
The Agra Fort also commands a lot of attention and these two brilliant pieces of historical remembrances have given a new meaning to Agra’s tourism and tourist attractions with each passing day. Agra features the top most position among the best places to visit in India. Agra has a glorious history associated with the Mughal emperors and culminated with the construction of Taj Mahal by Mughal Emperor Shahjahan as a symbol of love for his wife Mumtaz Mahal. Agra even finds a mention in the epic Mahabharata, centuries before the Mughals brought it into the lime light.
Darjeeling is a mountain paradise and summers are inevitably the best time to visit this fabulous Indian hill station, tucked in the folds of Himalayas. Darjeeling owes its name to the local dialect of Dorjeeling meaning “The Land of the Thunderbolt.” This place was discovered by the British officers C. A. Lloyd and J. W. Grant in 1828. You sip the original flavor of a cup of superior quality tea and be sure it is a cup of the world famous Darjeeling tea. Tea plantations form an inherent part of the agricultural activities of Darjeeling. Step into the surreal beauty of the land and watch the mesmerizing sunrise at Tiger Hill that extends its hue to the divine mountain ranges all around and spread the tint, or experience the fading hues of the setting sun beyond the Kangchenjunga, which is the third highest peak in the world.
The rare sighting of endangered Himalayan Red Panda or the nearly extinct Snow Leopard can be experienced in the breeding centers. The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway popularly known as the “Toy Train” is a special favorite among the tourists pouring in from far and near. As it climbs up the winding path carved around the picturesque hills, unfolds the wondrous beauty of the Himalayas with each passing moment.
The thrilling and sensational beauty of Kodaikanal oozes out of the thickly wooded Palani Hills nestling the splendid Berijam Lake at its heart. Kodaikanal has earned a lot of name and fame over the years for harboring some of the premium educational institutes of India. Enjoy the enchanting beauty of the lake while you leisurely pedal or row at the star-shaped Kodai Lake, experience a spiritual exhilaration at the Kodaikanal Yoga Center, put your agility and physical fitness to a test at the fun park with archery, knife throwing, trampoline, and other exciting carnival games, lamely wander about aimlessly, trek or horse ride, do all and much more in Kodaikanal.
Visit the thrilling Guna Caves, breathe in the fragrance of the pine forests, watch the silvery cascading waters for the Silver Cascade Waterfall, make an adventurous trip to the Devil’s Kitchen with deep intermittent ravines waiting to trap the unsuspecting visitors, or simply stare in awe at the Pillar Rocks or soak in the Silent Valley View. One of the most famous honeymoon destinations, Kodaikanal has a charm that entices people with its various moods that changes with seasons taking the shape of foggy misty surreal winters and bright luminescent summers.
Munnar, enveloped in the remnants of the colonial rule, spice-scented air, refreshing verdant hilly slopes, and the vast tea plantations is another gem of the South India and a special favorite for tourists, both indigenous and foreign. The divine Kunadal Lake situated about 20 kms away from Munnar with its lovely cherry blossoms and rare kurunji flowers that bloom once in twelve years, and the dam with lovely blue waters make it a place much sought after. Marayoor situated about 40 kms away is a treasure trove with naturally growing sandalwood trees.
The unearthly stone coffins of Marayoor with underground tunnels, locally called muniyaras, owe their origin to the Neolithic period and adds to the surrealism. These crude box-like structures rest on vertical rocks. From Munnar, you can visit the Indo-Swiss joint venture project of breeding high-yielding cattle at Mattupetty, or enjoy the unending plantations of spices, tea, and coffee on the undulating hills of Pothamedu, or even the velvety lawns and exotic flora and fauna of the sparsely populated Devikulum, or the tumbling gushing sparkling waters of the Nyayamakad waterfall, or the eerie, ancient feel of Chithipuram, or the long trek to the waterfall of Attukal, the Rajmala Hills or the Eravikulum National Park.
Manali is another famous hill station of the Northern India. Visit to India is incomplete without a view of the snow-clad majestic Himalayan ranges. Manali was named after the mythical figure of Manu as it was the place where Manu’s Ark came to rest after the subsiding of the great deluge that flooded the entire creation. The pagoda roofed Hadimba Temple, the Manu Temple that belonged to sage Manu, the Vashisht Temple with its surrounding hot water springs, the Tibetan monasteries, the unique skiing experience in the Solang Valley and the rides on the yaks, the adventurous drive to the Rohtang Pass with the sparkling spring waters and Rahalla Falls, the bird songs filling the air, the boulder strewn gorges, the list of attractions is endless that attract thousands of tourists all the year around.
Manali is also famous for white-water rafting. This place is widely known for its exquisite hilly beauty and the Gadhan Thekchoking Gompa built at the Mall area is another major attraction with its colorful frescos and Buddha statue. Very few other hill stations of the world can match up with the beauty of the sheer rocky Himalayan cliffs of Manali.
Amritsar, better known as the Land of the Golden Temple, dominates the list of religious places or places of pilgrimage. It is an embodiment of the culmination of the culture and spirits of the Sikh religion. A visit at the magnificent Golden Temple will wash away all your grief, pain, and worries and make you feel livelier in body and mind. The sweet melody of the devotional songs, the rich spicy and extremely delicious Punjabi cuisine, the smiling faces of the localites, the local markets presenting a shopping paradise to the shopaholics for woolens, embroidered fabrics, blankets, carpets and shawls, are too attractive to resist.
The soul catching Jalianwala Bagh brings tears to our eyes as it reminds us of the massacre of the hundreds of innocent civilians. The Wagah Border parade sets all hair on ends as the six feet something agile and spirited Indian jawans exhibit their skills. The primary attraction of the city is the Golden Temple with the Adi Granth scripture being recited continuously in the Harmandir Sahib that floats at the center of the Amrit Sarovar and gathering diligent worshippers devoutly moving about or resting in the precincts in bare feet and covered head as they offer their prayers and relish the food served at the langar to thousands of devotees each day.
13. Ajanta Ellora
The rock-cut caves of Ajanta and Ellora, situated in Aurangabad of Maharashtra is a sojourn for the enlightened soul. The workmanship and brilliance is indefinable and due to its distinguished workmanship has been ascribed a dominant position among the World Heritage sites. All the 29 Ajanta caves have been fashioned by hand dates back to as early as 200 B.C. The exquisite painting and sculptures that adorn the cave walls depict scenes from the Jataka tales.
These caves also serve as the retreats of the Buddhist monks. The 34 caves of Ellora are equally marvelous examples of ancient Indian sculpture. The caves present a commingling of the Hindu, Buddhist and Jain faiths and are living examples of how religions and true religious beliefs co-exist side by side. The facades are intricate and the interiors are detailed with sophisticated carvings. These caves rest in the belly of the Sahyadri Mountain ranges and beneath it flows the Waghora River. The shapes etched on the rocky walls with hammer and chisel is a continued inspiration to all generations and the superior artistry makes India proud of its glorious ancient heritage.
Dharamshala, as the name itself proclaims, is a rest house of the pilgrims. It shelters a huge Tibetan community that is recognized for the activities associated with Dalai Lama. Be it the Naam Art Gallery, the huge Tibetan Temple in Tsuglagkhang Complex, or the Tibet Museum or even the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts, the Bhagsunag waterfall, or the Kunal Pathari temple, each one is a unique place to visit and interesting enough to keep all your senses enthralled.
Seek the ultimate spiritual experience by meeting the Dalai Lama, refresh your spirits and inner soul by listening this spiritual guru preach his learnings, get soaked in the therapeutic yoga and meditation in the various yoga centers. Trek in the lonely valleys, meditate in nature’s lap, soak in the never-ending beauty of the Himalayas, the sparkling water bodies, the frosty white snow-covered peaks, tread into the innumerable churches, temples and monasteries or simply gape at the beauty of the Kangra or Nurpur Forts. Make a short trip down to McLeod Gang, a quaint little picture perfect village close to Dharamshala, steeped in the aura and romanticism of the colonial rule.
The Khajuraho Temples have also been listed in UNESCO World Heritage Site and the stupendous importance of the carvings is proven by the fact that it also finds a position in the Seven Wonders of the World. The temple art of Khajuraho has a different dimension in that it depicts passion, love, eroticism and the secrets of courtly love, and teaches the world the finesse of tantric mysticism and tantric forms of the art of lovemaking. The divine entities are symbols of brilliant craftsmanship and are believed to have been constructed to teach the human race the need to get back into worldly life as against the austerity preached by Buddhism and Jainism.
The weeklong Khajuraho Dance Festival that is held every year in the temple precincts create a surreal atmosphere and the superior performances live up to the greatness of the temple sculptures. Khajurajo is treasure trove of phantasmal eroticism. But it is solely not about eroticism, it has some of the most powerful Gods of Hindu scriptures depicted in the walls and is a place pure worship and religious reverence. These temples have catered to the lusting spirits of the human race and have also served as the altar of highest form of divinity. Paradoxical it is but therein lies the greatness of Khajuraho.