India

Visit India: Top 30 things to do and see

What are the top things to do in India? You want to go on a trip to India and do not know which places to visit?

And yes, difficult to summarize India in a few words, as this vast country offers different facets to explore! Arid landscapes of the far north, carved by the cold Himalayas to the paradisiacal beaches of the Andaman Islands , or the lush jungle of Kerala , you will really have the choice during your tour in India.

India is also a country of great historical and cultural richness . The architectural wonders of the Golden Triangle of Rajasthan coexist with Maharajas palaces , Buddhist and Hindu temples and ancient ruins.

In order to help you see a little more clearly, I have prepared this top 30 places of interest and things to do in India.

And at the end of the article, I propose in addition 3 suggestions of itineraries to visit India. Perfect to organize your stay!

On the way!

Visit India: the must-sees

1. Ladakh, the Indian Himalayas

Land of extremes and contrasts, Ladakh is nestled in the Upper Indus Valley. Protected by the Himalayan range, the “Great Country” spared by the monsoon, is surprisingly arid.

Treks in high mountains (about 5000m high), are one of the essential activities of the region. Most departures are from Leh, the capital of the province , located at 3500m above sea level.

A former stage of the Silk Road, Leh has a population mainly composed of Tibetans of origin as attested by the superb monasteries found there . I recommend you to visit the most famous, that of Lamayuru.

Ladakh

2. Shimla

At 2200 meters above sea level , it’s hard not to feel very small compared to the grandeur of the Himalayas. The state capital of Himachal Pradesh , Shimla, offers you a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of cities. It is for this reason that the British Empire chooses it as the summer capital. 

Even today, Shimla’s buildings bear the imprint of both styles.

Victorian architecture and churches rub shoulders with Hindu temples . Combining English charm with the beauty of the Roofs of the World, we understand why everyone calls Shimla ”  the queen of mountain resorts”.

To see in Shimla:

  •  The Road Mall , a long avenue lined with shops
  • The Jakhu temple to admire the famous statue at the top
  • The Shimla State Museum and its jewelry collection, costumes of the region

As you can see, summer is the perfect time to visit this part of India.

3. Traveling aboard the “Kalka-Shimla Toy Train”

Inaugurated in 1903, the Kalka-Shimla line is composed of 103 tunnels and 700 bridges for only 96 km of track!

As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s a journey to the breathtaking landscapes of the Himalayan mountains . All aboard the most vintage train: a steam train!

With a cruising speed of 30 kilometers per hour , you will take about 5:30 to reach Shimla. You will have plenty of time to enjoy the scenery. By cons I prefer to warn you, the nickname “Toy Train” is not usurped, the cars are really small!

The toy train

4. Dharamsala

Dharamsala gained fame by becoming the exile of the fourteenth Dalai Lama in 1959. Many Tibetans joined him and settled in McLeod Ganj in the upper part of the city, giving Dharamsala the nickname ” Little Lhasa  “- name of the capital of Tibet.

Here, the Tibetan government in exile founded many monasteries and rebuilt the Tibetan Institute of Medicine and Astrology to perpetuate and preserve their ancestral culture.

As a major pilgrimage site , many tourists flock to discover the praying monks in traditional togas in this city in the heart of the Himalayas.

If you feel in a spiritual mood, you can also walk the path of Kora for a meditative walk. You will see many flags and prayer wheels. The place is very popular with Tibetans who come there to recite their mantras.

In Dharamsala, book a cooking class at Lhamo’s Kitchen to learn how to make momos, the famous little Tibetan steam ravioli! You can contact them directly on Facebook
Dharamshala

5. Rishikesh

In the foothills of the Himalayas stands a city well known to lovers of Eastern spirituality: Rishikesh .

The yoga capital of the world is home to many Westerners who come to learn this discipline within Âshrams, hermitages serving as places of formation and pilgrimage.

You can observe the meditating monks on the Ghats on the banks of the Ganges , the sacred river that rises a stone’s throw from Rishikesh.

In March, the city also organizes the International Yoga Festival, which attracts a crowd of visitors who come to discover the principles of yoga under the aegis of the greatest yogis around the world.

The city is known worldwide since the passage of the Beatles in 1968 who came to learn yoga and whose practice has even inspired an album.
Rishikesh

6. The Golden Temple of Amritsar

The Golden Temple of Amritsar is the most sacred building of the Sikhs. It attracts many faithful who come to pray, sing and purify themselves in the sacred waters.

As the name suggests, it is completely covered with gold and I must admit that the effect is rather successful.

To visit it, you must imperatively clean your feet in the water before entering and cover your head.

The temple is quite unknown to Western tourists because it is not located on the usual routes of an itinerary in India. If you want to visit it, you will have at least 10 hours by train from Delhi.

The Golden Temple shines brightly at night, be sure to take a picture.
The golden temple of Amritsar

7. Fatehpur Sikri

The ancient capital of the Mughal Empire , a UNESCO World Heritage Site , is only 40 km from Agra. The so-called ”  City of Victory” was built by Akbar, one of the greatest Mughal rulers.

Only 1 hour drive from Agra, it is a must for a trip to India.

Fatehpur Sikri is a city with cosmopolitan influences , from Jain, Mughal, Persian, Hindu and Turkish cultures. The result is superb red sandstone and white marble buildings, such as the Jama Masjid Mosque or the Emperor’s concubines.

I also recommend visiting the Panch Mahal, a 5-storey palace  and the Skikri Bazaar   for the typical Indian ambiance.

Fatehpur Sikri

 8. Admire the Taj Mahal at sunrise

Located in the city of Agra, the Taj Mahal is the most famous monument of India. He is one of the 7 new wonders of the world.

Built by Emperor Shah Jahan in honor of his favorite third wife, the monument is simply grandiose.

Dawn is the perfect time to admire this sublime white marble mausoleum. The sun rises on Esplanade Est , a famous spot for photographers. The crowd is more sparse, the place is quieter and the play of light on the basin and the chiseled stone allow to make the perfect photo.

Avoid going there in December, when the fog is quite dense.
The Taj Mahal

9. Jaipur

Capital of Rajasthan , Jaipur is distinguished by its pink sandstone architecture which earned it the nickname of “pink city”. The city is part of the golden triangle of India .

You can start the visit by the old fortified city, a pleasant maze where to walk with its craft stalls.

Very beautiful monuments are also to see:

  • the City Palace consisting of 2 palaces and a museum
  • Royal Observatory: This is the largest stone observatory in the world. It is also home to the largest sundial. Built by a maharajah wishing to know the most suitable dates for certain events such as weddings or trips
  • the magnificent Palace of the Winds with its 953 windows from which the women watched the street while avoiding the sight of all.

Nestled on a hill in the Rose City, Amber Fort is also worth a visit.

From Jaipur and to reach Amber Fort , I advise you to stop in front of the Water Palace , a palace surrounded by water. You will not be able to visit it but the photo stop is worth the detour.
Jaipur

10. Take a rickshaw in Old Delhi

It is quite an experience during your stay in India, that of taking a rickshaw in the chaotic Old Delhi .

Your chauffeur makes its way through the winding alleys bordered on both sides by stalls filled with food,vendors chaï and unsuspected temples, all in a cacophony of colors and sounds.

In addition to the Chandni Chowk Bazaar , one of the main attractions of Old Delhi is the Red Fort, Taj Mahal’s little brother. This huge fortress with Mogul architecture is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The bazaar of Old Delhi

11. Attend the Pushkar Camel Fair

Between October and November, the ground of the city of Pushkar vibrates with the passage of more than 10 000 animals and thousands of pilgrims .

The camel fair celebrates the creator god of Hinduism, Brahma.

While worshipers bathe in the sacred waters of Pushkar Lake, camel drivers sell and trade livestock, compete in camel races or beauty contests . This is an opportunity for you to see the spectacle of camels with colorful ornaments very worked!

If you are in India at this time, it is truly a unique and local experience to live.

Pushkar and his camel fair (Well, this one is a little player!)

 12. Jaisalmer

Old stage on the Silk Road, the city of Jaisalmer is well worth a 3-day break. Between discovery of the city, camel ride and night in the dunes , you will have something to do!

Located at the gateway to the Thar desert, the city is nicknamed “The Golden City”  thanks to its ocher walls with a golden color. The city is famous for the magnificent fortress overlooking it. It shelters several temples and its ramparts allow to observe a panorama on Jaisalmer.

The old town, located inside the fortress, is particularly pleasant because one circulates there only on foot.

Most tourists come to Jaisalmer for its desert where it is possible to ride camels . Attention to the choice of your agency, all are not equal, take the time to go around and compare quotes and services. You can also sleep in the desert under the stars .

A camel expedition in the desert is preparing. Plan comfortable clothes and especially a hat and cream.
Jaisalmer

13. Udaipur

Nicknamed the Venice of the Orient, Udaipur , with  its palaces and romanticism , is an emblematic city of Rajasthan

Here is a little overview of the places of interest of Udaipur :.

  • The Jagdhish Temple,  with multiple sculptures
  • The City Palace, a complex of palaces with breathtaking views of the city
  • The Sahelion Ki Bari , a garden with fountains and lush vegetation
  • The Lake Pichola
  • The Fateh Sagar Lake

On Lake Pichola, there is also a superb hotel that should not be missed (if only for the moment photo!): The Lake Palace Hotel , showcase luxury maharajas.

Shot in the James Bond Octopussy , this 18th century palace offers a princely service with gourmet restaurants, luxurious suites and amenities to suit all your dreams.

If you can, I recommend you spend at least one night. It’s not every day that one can feel like a Maharaja!

As the hotel is in great demand, I advise you to book your night at the Lake Palace Hotel by clicking here!

Lake Palace Hotel

14. Jodhpur

Jodhpur is nicknamed the blue city. The blue facades once symbolized the noble caste of the Brahmans.

With a very popular atmosphere , it is in the neighborhoods of Jodhpur that you will find all the typical scenes of a trip to India : children playing in the street, cows ruminating, neighbors chatting …

Here are the places not to miss in Jodhpur:

  • Fort Mehrangarth for the unique panorama it offers on the city
  • Jaswant Thada, a royal cenotaph in white marble surrounded by quiet garden
  • Ghanta Ghar or the clock tower located in the middle of the market
  • The market of Jodhpur
  • The old town district , a real labyrinth to walk on foot

It is also in Jodhpur that is the best hotel in the world (2016 year Trip Advisor ranking). The Umaid Bhawan Palace , a palace , part of which has been converted into a luxury hotel . The other part still houses the private residence of a grandson of Maharadja.

In the palace, you can enjoy the botanical garden, the swimming pools, the spa but also a collector car rideor play squash in a marble room!

Want a Luxury Stay in Jodhpur? To book now your night at Umaid Bhawan Palace, it’s here.

Jodhpur, the blue city

15. Navigate the Ganges

In India, the Ganges is more than a river . He is a god but also a companion in every stage of Hindu life. We pray for the soul, we bathe the body, we find the eternal rest …

You can choose to borrow graceful steamers descending the Ganges for a few hours or days.

On the shores you will see a succession of temples erected in fertile plains and fields cultivated by peasants. The opportunity to admire the beauty of India from another angle.

More surprising and a little more bizarre as Westerners, you can also attend cremation ceremonies . Indians from all over come here to burn the bodies of their dead.

Navigating the Ganges is a must on a route in India.

If you choose a short excursion, the 2 best moments for the boat ride on the Ganges are:

  • At sunrise to enjoy the colors of the morning
  • At sunset , time of ritual prayer on the banks of the Ganges.
16. Attend Aarti ceremony in Varanasi

I told you about it just above, at sunset the Aarti ceremony, the ritual of prayer on the banks of the Ganges.

Attending this ceremony, especially in Varanasi, is an amazing experience that will leave a memorable memory of your trip to India.

Candles and torches ignite the Ganges, the drums fill the sacred silence, the incense fog the air and the spirits … Every evening , it is an eternal ritual which is set up on the Dasaswamedh Ghât .

Called Ganga Aarti, this ceremony pays tribute to the deities and the Universe. To attend, I recommend that you arrive at least one hour in advance . The surroundings of the Ganges are indeed very quickly stormed.

Aarti ceremony

17. Fort Chittorgarh

Fort Chitttorgarh is located in western India , in the state of Rajasthan, 115 km from Udaipur.

The largest fort in India, Fort Chittogarh alone symbolizes the strength of character and heroism of the Rajputs. Rather than give in to the invader, the population has preferred to commit suicide collectively. The men fought to death while the women chose to set themselves on fire.

Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it was erected in the 8th century on a 10km long hill. Its imposing wall dominates all the banks of the river Berach and protects beautiful ruins, in which we can still see many deities carved in stone.

The Victory Tower is the most emblematic monument of the fort. 9 floors high, it is entirely covered with sculptures. The view at the top is breathtaking.

Fort Chittorgarh

18. The temples of Khajuraho

The temples of Khajuraho are world famous for their erotic frescoes. If you want to improve in Kamasutra, this is the place. Some scenes can have up to 9 participants, but not that you can put it into practice so easily!:-P

Khajuraho was one of the largest religious centers in India more than a millennium ago. Originally there were 85 Hindu temples. It remains today only 25, in a beautiful state of conservation .

Most importantly, the temple of Kandariya-Mahadev alone is over 30m long. Its facades are adorned with more than 872 statues including many surasundari, the erotic “celestial nymphs”.

The temples are located in a Delhi night train or Varanasi and to 5 hours of Orccha road. 

The statues of Khajuraho

19. Orccha

Many kings and princes of the Bundela dynasty succeeded one another in the so-called ”  Hidden City  “.

Lost in time, Orccha has kept all its medieval charm. Its sumptuous ruins make it one of the jewels of Madhya Pradesh, not far from Khajuraho.

A pure product of Mogul architecture, the Jahangir Mahal impresses with its two stone elephants framing Persian-inspired doors. Built by the emperor, this one will have stayed there only one night! From the palace you will have a beautiful view of the surrounding countryside.

Also not to be missed in Orccha:

  • The Raja Mahal with its beautifully ornate paintings
  • The bright Chaturbhuj temple , with a superb Sikhara , with Hindu and Arabic intertwined influences.
Orccha

20. Go on a safari in Madhya Pradesh

Equip yourself with binoculars and a camera before entering Bandhavgarh Park .

Incredible reserve of Bengal tigers , the park allows you to go by jeep in search of these majestic felines , whose population is estimated at about fifty tigers today.

With an area of ​​453 km², the park was declared a national park in 1968 to protect the richness of its fauna and flora. At the heart of the jungle lies plains, valleys, hills, and swamps in which more than 37 species of mammals such as the deer, leopard, langur, etc. live.

To be able to do a safari in the park, it is imperative to book your tour in advance, especially for the Tala area, the most popular. Know that the best time to try to see a tiger is from April to June when the vegetation is less dense.
Safari in Madhya Pradesh

21. Explore the Ajanta and Ellora Caves

Registered at UNESCO , the troglodyte sites of Ajanta and Ellora are incredibly preserved groups of 29 and 36 caves.

These temples and monasteries, lost in the middle of the mountains , cut in the cliffs, formerly welcomed Buddhist, Hindu and Jain monks. They are decorated with engravings illustrating the life of Buddha.

The site of Ellora is distinguished by its cavities and its titanic architecture like the temple of Kailasa, a cave dedicated to God Shiva.

For its part, Ajanta is distinguished by his paintings drawn in 200 BC

To visit the Ajanta and Ellora caves , I advise you to stay in Aurangabad, the nearest town (30 km from Ellora and 100 km from Ajanta).I highly recommend the hotel Green Olive or the hotel Vivanta By Taj (a bit more upscale). To book very early!

 

The caves of Ajanta

22. Turn in a Bollywood movie in Mumbai

Yes, you read correctly !!!

Bollywood is a unique film industry in the world. A follower of very colorful and lively musicals (see kitsh!), More than 800 to 900 films are shot each year in his studios.

If you want to discover Bollywood from the inside , become a one-day appearant in a movie. Nothing more simple: the agents are always looking for westerners to make the figuration, so do not hesitate to stroll the streets of the district of Colaba or ask directly to your hotel to be spotted .

A little song or dance later, you’ll become a Bollywood star!

Bollywood

23. Mysore Palace

The Mysore Palace is located in South India, in the city of Mysore.

An architectural monument of granite and pink marble, the Mysore Palace is considered one of the most beautiful palaces in India. 

Easy to understand when you discover the interior richly decorated with stained glass , carved doors and floral frescoes. In the center of Dunbar Hall dominates its majesty a throne of gold and diamonds , symbol of the Wodeyars dynasty.

The heir of the maharajas of Mysore still lives in the palace, so you can only visit part of it.

But the house has not revealed its centerpiece: more than 100,000 lights on the facade of the buildingilluminating every night at 7 pm Mysore Palace. The duration is variable, do not hesitate to be present from 19h battery!

The illuminated Mysore Palace

24. The Mînakshi Temple

Inside one of the oldest cities of India, Madurai, stands an important place of Hindu pilgrimage: the Mînakshi Temple .

A monument of colossal proportions, the temple complex covers more than 18 hectares and is surrounded by a dozen entrance towers named gopurams , the highest of which is the famous south tower, which rises to 52 meters.

More than 33,000 colorful statues representing animals, deities and folk creatures adorn the walls of the temple dedicated to the goddess Mînâkshî and her husband Shiva. Formerly in unpainted granite, the addition of colors was done late, and these are repainted every 12 years to keep their rainbow luster.

A true jewel to discover during your tour in India.

The temple of Minakshi Madurai

25. Embark on a Houseboat on Kerala backwaters

The calm is perfect on the Backwaters, a huge canal area in Kerala.

I recommend you choose a houseboat cruise to explore. The houseboats travel quietly, offering their spectators the beauty of the jungles and lakes of this region in South India .

Former transport boats transformed into a floating house with air-conditioned rooms, the houseboats are the best way to discover the richness of the backwaters.

It is also an opportunity to see the lives of locals who use the channels to wash their clothes, or travel by canoe to the nearest school.

A relaxing way to discover the rich biodiversity and lifestyle of Kerala.

Houseboat in the backwaters

26. Do an ayurvedic cure in Kerala

The lush landscapes of southern India are home to the world’s oldest medicine:  Ayurveda .

A special approach of the human being, Ayurveda works to detoxify and rejuvenate the soul and the body, through various cares.

Between yoga sessions, meditations, oil massages and personalized follow-up with an experienced Ayurvedic doctor, the cure allows you to take stock of yourself and relax. All in an idyllic setting , Kerala offering beautiful sandy beaches and lush jungles.

Ayurveda in Kerala

27. Attend a Kathakali dance show in Cochin

Oil lamps illuminate a theater stage , on which actors with makeup and elaborate costumes evolve while dancing.

In the midst of all Indian performing arts, Kathakali has established itself, inspired by the oldest forms of theater in the world . Spectacular combination of dramatic narrative, dance, music and ancient rituals , Kathakali literally means ” storytelling “.

Telling the great Hindu epics such as the Mahabharata, the Rāmāyana or the life of Krishna, it is a true cultural and musical dive in the traditions of Kerala that will be offered to you during a performance.

Note that the show is only performed by men (even female roles) who are sometimes trained for 10 years!

If you wish to attend, it is in the city of Cochin in particular that take place performances of Kathakali.

A Kathakali show

28. Pondicherry

Coming in Pondicherry , is to discover the curious mixture of French and Indian culture.

Former trading post of the East India Company , the city is surprisingly calm and the beautiful European villas adjoin Hindu temples. Another curiosity of the White City: a still present practice of petanque . It would only miss the southern accent and a good glass of Pastis to believe on the old port of Marseille! (Well I exaggerate can be a little!)

This unique blend of flavors is a delight for Indian and European tourists, looking for another face of India, mixed with European influences.

In Pondicherry, the smells of pastries and spices float in the air , while the sun sets on the Bay of Bengal.

Pondichery

29. Party on the beaches of Goa

Goa is unlike any other state in India. White churches and European villas bear witness to its past as a Portuguese colony.

Since 1961, Goa has become Indian again and has become a paradise for tourists who enjoy yoga, veganism and gentle therapies.

The legislation on alcohol being more flexible than in the rest of India, the place was quickly prized as a festive place . Many tourists come here to party on the beaches or in the many clubs of Anjuna, although the government has recently hardened the laws.

The beaches of Goa

30. Diving in the Andaman Islands

A secret paradise in the heart of the Indian Ocean, the Andaman Islands are more secretive than the Maldives while matching their beauty.

Mangrove landscapes, kilometers of fine sand, turquoise waters with perfect limpidity … the 204 islands that make up this archipelago are an invitation to calm and romance .

For underwater explorers , the Andaman Islands are an exceptional spot for diving and snorkeling. In the middle of the corals evolve hammerhead sharks, manta rays, barracudas, dugongs and multicolored fishes, for the divers’ pleasure.

Visit India: Our 3 suggested itineraries

To help you prepare for your stay in India , we have prepared 3 suggestions of itineraries according to the region you wish to visit.

Visit Rajasthan in 10 days

  • Days 1 & 2: Discover the historic heart, Old Delhi , and the beautiful Red Fort as well as New Delhi.
  • Day 3  : En route to Agra, do not miss Fatehpur Sikri , the ghost town, treasure of the Mughal empire.
  • Day 4  : Agra , cradle of one of the seven wonders of the world, finally reveals itself to you. Enjoy the sunrise to admire the Taj Mahal.
  • Day 5  : Then leave for the capital of Rajasthan, Jaipur. Stroll through the medieval town before visiting the famous Palace of the Winds.
  • Day 6  : Pushkar is an important passage if you want to discover Hinduism: it is one of the most important places of pilgrimage in India. Feel free to stop by one of its many religious celebrations.
  • Day 7  : Drive to Fort Chittorgarh , overlooking the Berach River.
  • Day 8  : Udaipur offers a glimpse of the life of Maharadja through its many princely palaces such as the City Palace.
  • Day 9  :  Jodhpur, the blue city , is perfect for immersing yourself in the lively atmosphere of a typical Indian city.
  • Day 10  : Finish your trip to Jaisalmer, at the gateway to the Thar Desert.

Visit North India in 10 days

  • Day 1  : Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan , is the first leg of your trip to North India.
  • Days 2 & 3 : You continue to Agra to admire the Taj Mahal enjoying a day in Fatehpur Sikri, the former capital of Mughal.
  • Day 4  : Delhi opens its doors. Take a rickshaw to discover the old town and cosmopolitan and colorful bazaar.
  • Day 5  : Direction Rishikesh, capital of yoga , whose calm and the serenity of the temples contrast with the noisy Delhi.
  • Day 6  : The “Toy Train” Kalka – Shimla offers a journey back in time, at the time of the steam in the heart of the Himalayan mountains.
  • Day 7  : Enjoy being in Shimla to discover the streets and churches of the former summer capital of the British Empire.
  • Days 8 & 9  : Dharamsala, the “Little Lhasa”, allows you to discover Tibetan culture. Feel free to venture into the foothills of the Himalayas the second day.
  • Day 10: Your trip ends in Amritsar , the Sikh sanctuary city, and its magnificent Golden Temple.

Visit South India in 10 days

  • Days 1 & 2  : You start your trip to Bombay , cosmopolitan city housing Bollywood.
  • Day 3  : Destination Kerala, with a flight to Cochin.
  • Day 4 : In Cochin, do not miss the Kathakali dance performances .
  • Day 5 : You then travel to Pondicherry , city witness of the French presence in India.
  • Day 6  : Around Pondicherry, do not hesitate to enjoy the many temples to visit.
  • Days 7 & 8  : Destination Madurai and its magnificent Mînakshi Temple.
  • Days 9 & 10  : You conclude this trip by relaxing in the heart of the Kerala Backwaters, housed in a Houseboat.

So, what did you plan to do during your trip to India? Let me know in the comments!

Visit India: Top 30 things to do and see
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Steve Batides

I am passionate about travel, writing and music. I like writing books, landing in an unknown country, brassens, beer, cats, jazz and shells. I put a point of honor to seek for you the best information to sublimate your travels. A question about a destination, a visit, a good plan? I'll answer in the comments.

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