The beautiful and fabled land of India is known for its extremes, history and enormous diversity. The country is still one of the most popular travel destinations in the world and attracts backpackers, cultural and spiritual seekers and just those in search of a good party. As it is also the birthplace of yoga, it comes to no surprise that many travellers travel across the globe experience a yoga retreat in India. Love it or hate it, your trip to India is guaranteed to be one of the most memorable experiences of your life. I’ve been privileged to have spent many years in this incredible country and from my time here, these are my personal recommendations for the Top 10 of the most beautiful places to visit in India…
1. Agra and Taj Mahal
Agra is an unmissable stop on your tour of India. There are many places of interest to a visitor in Agra, the most famous of course being the iconic and very beautiful Taj Mahal. A UNESCO World Heritage site and an eternal symbol of love (it was built by an emperor in memory of his third wife). The white-domed structure boasts delicately detailed interiors, tranquil gardens and a collection of other impressive buildings.
The Agra Fort is the sister monument of the Taj Mahal and also holds UNESCO heritage site status. The striking fort dates from the year 1000 but was later remodelled in the 1500s to be used as a palace. Thirteen kilometres from the Agra Fort you will find Akbar’s Tomb, a stunning red-ochre sandstone tomb and another architectural masterpiece.
A popular tourist destination located in the north-west Himalayas, gorgeous Shimla is also sometimes referred to as the ‘Queen of Hills.’ Its colourful colonial past is still evident today and the town is characterised by unusual neo-gothic buildings surrounded by thick forest and outstanding views, offering a very different feel to the rest of India. ‘The Mall’ is the main shopping street and the hub of the city where tourists and locals like to meet, shop and eat. This area also has a good number of clubs and bars great for those looking to step it up a gear.
The Christ Church is also worth a visit – it’s the second oldest church in northern India and its stained glass windows are designed in a distinctive style that you won’t find anywhere else. Also don’t leave Shimla without visiting Jakhu Hill – the highest peak which is also home to many playful monkeys who hang out waiting to be fed. From Shimla, you can also visit a comparatively offbeat destination called Chai. Read this Shimla to Chail Guide for more information.
The famous idyllic party place should not be missed and it’s still one of the most popular places to visit in India as well as the most beautiful. If you decide to take a trip, I recommend not leaving the island’s coastal areas. Goa is the smallest state in India and has the most beautiful beaches by far – when you’re here you’ll want to make the most of them. Many refer to Goa as a tropical paradise and when you’re here enjoying the warm temperatures, clear turquoise water and palm trees you’ll also probably agree. If you time your visit around the Goa Carnival held every February you’ll be treated to three days and nights of music, lights, dancers and awesome food. This is when the legendary King Momo takes over the state and the island becomes party central. Originally celebrated in the 1800s by locals only, now both tourists and locals come here to have a good time.
This place has a kind of beauty all of its own. Formally known as Bombay, Mumbai is the most populated city in India. Noisy, frantic and polluted, Mumbai is a melting pot of different cultures, religions and wealth extremes. Even though the city is developing at a fast rate, unfortunately, you’ll still see many scenes of poverty. The city is also the birthplace of Indian cinema and there are many theatres to watch movies from all over the world (including the worlds largest IMAX dome theatre). A visually impressive city Mumbai has a large metropolitan area comparable to the size of New York’s skyline and a fine but eclectic mix of colonial buildings, stylish bars, colourful bazaars and shiny new malls. Finding something to do here would not be a problem.
Auroville is an amazing place. It’s an experimental township of an international community. Here people from all over the world come to live in peace, and “progressive harmony, above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities.” The sole purpose of Auroville is to realise human unity. In the centre of this town is ‘The Matrimandir’ a huge gold sphere accompanied by ramps. It was put there by the town’s founder as “a symbol of the Divine’s answer to man’s inspiration for perfection.” It even has its own solar power plant and inside is a spiral ramp that leads to a marble room where you can “find consciousness.” Surrounded by pristine beautiful gardens and peacefulness you won’t find in many other places, in my opinion, this is one of the most interesting and beautiful places to visit in India.
Near Auroville, you’ll find its neighbour Pondicherry, one of the most famous and beautiful places in southern India for tourists. The city is full of colonial buildings, statues, churches and temples. I personally think the best areas here are Paradise Beach, The Auroville Beach, Serenity Beach and Promenade Beach. It has the same purpose as Auroville which again gives the place a very peaceful vibe. You’ll also find here many large interesting and spectacular churches dating from the early 1900s and Pondicherry should definitely be on your list of places to visit in India.
7. The backwaters of Kerala
The backwaters are a beautiful chain of lakes and lagoons along the Arabian sea coast and are a place in India that definitely shouldn’t be missed – they are considered to be the number one tourist destination in India. Ferries here will take you anywhere and you can even hire a houseboat to stay in. In the Kuttanad region of Alappuzha you’ll also be treated to boat races, where you will also find snake boats that can hold up to a hundred oarsmen. Thousands of fans line the riverbanks and cheer on their favourite teams which makes for a great atmosphere. There are dozens of villages and communities throughout this area which you can visit and get a real sense of everyday life and culture in this interesting place.
In the Ghat mountains lies this beautiful and atmospheric town, which translated means “the gift of the forest.” Easily one of the most beautiful places to visit in India, Kodaikanal has many places of interest for travelers and tourists. One of which is the Kodaikanal lake which is a star-shaped man-made lake. Here you can rent bicycles to ride around the shore. Just east of the lake is a 20-acre botanical garden, from here you can reach Coaker’s Walk, a 1-kilometre long pedestrian path that follows along the south of Kodai. Expect wooded slopes, rocky scenery and beautiful waterfalls.
Near the larger city area of Tiruvanamalai, you can find the village of Gingee. Although the village itself is pretty standard, it is home to the amazing Gingee Fort. The fort, which is comprised of three astonishing and massive stone hills, offers some breath-taking views from the top of each hill. The fort dates back to the 13th century and makes a great subject for anthropology and history buffs. If you want to see the best views, prepare for at least a 900-foot climb. Although rest assured, once you reach the top you won’t be disappointed.
Darjeeling is a popular and stunning tourist town in the Indian State of West Bengal. Famous for its tea production and outstanding scenery, it’s often thought to be one of the most beautiful valleys in the world. The lush green environment, cooling breeze and amazing views make an atmospheric and photogenic destination. In fact, Darjeeling is the only location in eastern India that attracts large numbers of tourists. The more adventurous visitors come here for trekking and river rafting and many others just enjoy leisurely scenic walks taking in the extraordinary views.
It’s hard to mention all of India’s best places in a Top 10 list so I’ll also give a special mention to the gorgeous Lake Palace of Udaipur, Kanha National Park (which was inspiration for Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book), the beautiful and mystical city of Varanasi and the surrounding River Ganges, the incredible Ajanta Caves, bustling Delhi, the rich artistic culture of Jaipur, the scenic beauty of Kashmir and Bangalore which is otherwise known as the ‘Garden City.’ Enjoy this unique and beautiful country!