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Things to Do in India

Deeply spiritual, highly majestic, and overwhelmingly frenetic, India is a country that has no comparison. Home to a whopping 32 World Heritage sites, India weaves Himalayan hikes, stunning architecture, colonial heritage, religious harmony, and culinary diversity into one unique destination. Unsurprisingly, the iconic Taj Mahal tops nearly all India itineraries, as do the ancient forts and palaces of Jaipur, Agra, and Delhi—the cities that comprise the Golden Triangle. Stray from the beaten path, and you’ll see that India offers a wealth of wonders: Varanasi, split by the revered Ganges River, is considered one of the most fascinating places on earth; the white-sand beaches of Goa continue to allure free-spirited travellers; in Kerala, glistening backwaters and emerald tea plantations abound; and in Rajasthan, fairy-tale palaces are juxtaposed with rare wildlife. Multiday tours are a safe and smooth-flowing way to travel around India, with almost all covering the highlights of the Golden Triangle; while full-day sightseeing tours of Mumbai mean you can experience the madness and magic of the city even if you're short on time. Time your visit to India with one of the country’s numerous Hindu celebrations for an unforgettable cultural experience—top picks include Holi festival, known as the Festival of Colors; and Diwali, when the country erupts into fireworks and candlelight.
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Taj Mahal
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Widely considered to be one of the most beautiful buildings in the world and certainly one of India’s most famous landmarks, the Taj Mahal is a living testament to the grandiose and the romantic. Lovingly built from white marble by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favorite wife, the structure is decorated with carvings of flowers and inlays of precious stone arranged into intricate patterns that can be admired both from its impressive exterior and interior. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a must-see for every traveler to northern India.

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Charminar
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Situated in the heart of the old city, the Charminar is the most famous building in Hyderabad and a symbol of the city around the world. This monument was built at the close of the 16th century to celebrate the end of a plague—possibly cholera—that had devastated the region. A small mosque sits on the top floor of the building.

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Gateway of India
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One of Mumbai's most recognizable attractions, the triple-arched Gateway of India was built during the early 20th century in honor of the 1911 visit of King George V. Built of basalt and concrete, this monument was designed in the Indo-Saracenic style, which blends traditional Indian, Victorian, and Mughal architectural elements.

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Elephanta Caves
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The Elephanta Caves are among the most beautiful, historically significant attractions in Mumbai. Situated on an island off the coast, this UNESCO World Heritage Site features multiple rock-hewn cave temples and statues dating back to around the 7th century AD, including a celebrated statue of Shiva in his three-faced form.

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Jal Mahal (Water Palace)
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Situated smack in the middle of Man Sagar Lake, on the road that runs between Jaipur and Amber Fort (Amer Fort), the 18th-century Jal Mahal (Water Palace) is a gorgeous red sandstone palace that’s accessible only by boat. Though currently closed to visitors, the dreamlike structure is still an incredible sight to behold from shore.

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Mehrangarh (Mehran Fort)
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A huge, 15th-century fortress overlooking the “blue city” of Jodhpur 410 feet (125 meters) below, Mehrangarh (Mehran Fort) is owned by the Jodhpur royal family to this day. The citadel is enclosed by thick, imposing walls and contains a museum, courthouses, gardens, and several magnificent palaces with vast courtyards and elaborate architecture.

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Devaraja Market
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Devaraja Market is a bustling open-air shopping area full of colorful stalls that are loaded to the brim with fruits, vegetables, and flowers, along with incense, coffee beans, and heaping piles of spices. Though it's a great place to shop, Devaraja Market is equally worth visiting just to take photos and people watch.

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Howrah Bridge
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More than 2 million people cross the Howrah Bridge each day, earning it the title of the busiest cantilever bridge in the world. The 2,313 foot (705 meter) expanse of steel girders hanging over the water connect Howrah and Kolkata with eight lanes of chaotic auto rickshaws, scooters, bikes, cars, animals and pedestrian traffic.

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Palace of Wind (Hawa Mahal)
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Palace of Wind (Hawa Mahal) is easily one of Jaipur’s most iconic attractions. This stunning red and pink sandstone structure in the heart of the Pink City features rows of carved screens and more than 900 lattice-worked windows that allow in just the right amount of breeze to keep the 5-story complex cool.

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Agra Fort
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Within a stone’s throw of the Taj Mahal, the 16th-century Agra Fort serves as another testament to the immense wealth and power of the Mughal Empire. Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983, the Agra Fort was initially built by Akbar in 1565 on the same site as a previous fort on the banks of the Yamuna River. A succession of a half-dozen other emperors, including Humayun and Shah Jahan, has lived within the red sandstone walls.

While called a fort, the structures enclosed within 1.6 miles (2.5 km) of thick sandstone walls are more akin to a complex of exquisite palaces. Evidence of Shah Jahan’s time spent in the fort can be seen in the white marble structures he erected during his reign, and according to legend, he drew his last breaths on a marble balcony overlooking the Taj Mahal, the monument he built for his late wife.

As you pass through Amar Singh Gate into Agra Fort, you’ll see that the interior houses several smaller palaces, including the Jahangiri Mahal where the royal women lived, and Khas Mahal, where Shah Jahan made his residence. The beautifully worked Mussaman Burj tower was where Shah Jahan was imprisoned by his son for the last seven years of his life.

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More Things to Do in India

Udaipur City Palace

Udaipur City Palace

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On the banks of Lake Pichola, Udaipur City Palace showcases centuries of traditional architecture, starting from when the foundations were laid in the middle of the 16th century. Successive rulers added on to the original, resulting in what today is an enormous complex with 11 palaces connected by mazelike passageways.

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Golden Temple (Harmandir Sahib)

Golden Temple (Harmandir Sahib)

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Harmandir Sahib, popularly known as the Golden Temple, is among the most sacred of Sikh gurdwaras. It’s surrounded by a large complex with a marble walkway and a pool, known as the amrit sarovar, which holds holy water. As at all Sikh temples, everyone is welcome here, regardless of their background or religion.

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Jantar Mantar

Jantar Mantar

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Dating back to 1726, the Jantar Mantar is an observatory with 19 fixed astronomical instruments. The tools in this UNESCO World Heritage site can be used for everything from tracking astronomical movements to predicting eclipses. It's one of five such north Indian observatories, all of which were built by Jai Singh II.

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Mubarak Mahal (Welcome Palace)

Mubarak Mahal (Welcome Palace)

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The Mubarak Mahal (Welcome Palace), was originally constructed in the late 19th century as a reception hall for foreign dignitaries. Today, this part of Jaipur’s City Palace houses the Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II Museum, which showcases royal family artifacts including weaponry and regal garments.

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Jai Vilas Mahal (Jai Vilas Palace)

Jai Vilas Mahal (Jai Vilas Palace)

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This 19th century palace was built in the late 1800s and served as a home to members of the Maratha Scindia dynasty. Travelers who venture to this regal destination will find plenty of Indian history and European architecture that’s worth exploring.

Forty of Jai Vilas Mahal's 400 rooms have been transformed into a remarkable museum that showcases the history, culture and daily lifestyle of old-school India’s royal elite. History-loving travelers will enjoy wandering the gilded halls filled with fine furniture, stunning chandeliers and photographs.

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British Residency Lucknow

British Residency Lucknow

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The famed British Residency Lucknow is an ideal place for history-loving travelers who want to experience the haunting beauty of historic ruins. Located in the heart of Lucknow, this former home of a British war general was built in the late 1700s. Travelers can wander the crumbling structures tucked amid lush greenery and explore the decrepit walls destroyed by cannon fire. A nearby cemetery is the final resting place of some 2,000 people who died during India’s war for independence. While travelers will certainly learn much about the history of this site while exploring the grounds on their own, an evening light show brings the British Residency’s history to life each night and it not to be missed.

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Mansa Devi Temple

Mansa Devi Temple

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Mansa Devi Temple is a Hindu temple dedicated to the wish­granting goddess Mansa Devi. It’s located on the top of a hill in Haridwar, which is one of seven holy pilgrimage centers in India known as Sapta Puri.

Mansa Devi Temple is a hugely popular site, with hundreds of pilgrims flocking to it daily with their prasad (food offerings) for the goddess in the hopes of getting their wishes granted.

Visitors can either walk the one and a half kilometers up the hill to the temple, or take a cable car ride up instead. Along the way there’s always a large number of people selling everything from food and flowers to music and jewelry.

Once inside the temple, devotees offer some of their prasad to the Hindu priests and receive a blessing in return. Visitors are then encouraged into the inner sanctum where the idol of the Mansa Devi resides. It is here that the rest of the prasad is offered, pieces of coconut are received, and wishes are finally uttered.

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Kashi Vishwanath Temple (Golden Temple)

Kashi Vishwanath Temple (Golden Temple)

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Varanasi’s Kashi Vishwanath Temple is also called the Golden Temple, thanks to its pure gold spire and dome. The current building dates from 1780, but temples stood in the same place for centuries. Dedicated to the Hindu Lord Shiva—one of the most significant deities in the Hindu pantheon—Kashi Vishwanath is a major pilgrimage site.

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St. Francis Church

St. Francis Church

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St. Francis Church is the oldest church in India, built in 1516 by Portuguese settlers to replace an older wooden church constructed in 1503 on the same site. It was once the burial site of Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama, who died in Kochi, and though his gravestone is still in place here, his remains have since been moved to Lisbon.

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Bagore Ki Haveli

Bagore Ki Haveli

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Bagore Ki Haveli is an 18th-century mansion (or haveli), situated by the water’s edge of Lake Pichola at Gangori Ghat in Udaipur. It was built by Amir Chand Badwa, the Prime Minister of Mewar and served the royalty of Mewar before being left vacant for 50 years. The building has since been restored to its original architectural style and now features a museum.

This grand haveli features more than 100 rooms situated around pleasant courtyards. Some of the rooms have been set up to evoke the period in which the house was inhabited, including the private quarters of the royal ladies; their dressing rooms, bedrooms, living quarters, worship rooms, and recreation areas. Others serve as galleries, displaying an intriguing collection of photographs, royal costumes, unusual monuments, and even the world’s biggest turban.

Bagore Ki Haveli features intricate carvings and colorful glass and mirror work, with peacocks in the Queen’s Chamber created with small pieces of colored glass to dazzling effect.

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Mecca Masjid (Makkah Masjid)

Mecca Masjid (Makkah Masjid)

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Dating back to the 17th century, the landmark Mecca Masjid (also spelled Makkah Masjid) is one of the oldest mosques in Hyderabad, not to mention one of the largest mosques in the world. It’s made of granite and features exquisite interiors, including a large prayer hall that can accommodate more than 10,000 people.

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Adalaj Stepwell (Adalaj ni Vav)

Adalaj Stepwell (Adalaj ni Vav)

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This striking Hindu water building located in the quiet village of Adjalaj was constructed in 1499 and stretches five stories deep. Built by a Muslim king for Queen Rani Roopba, this top religious attraction was once the site of holy rituals and brightly colored festivals, and served as not only relief from droughts, but a destination for saints and holy pilgrims.

Travelers who visit the Adalaj Stepwell (Adalaj ni Vav) will get not only an up-close look at Gujarat culture and tradition, but also a taste of iconic Indo-Islamic architecture, complete with ornate carvings, detailed decorations and nods to religious gods and deities.

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Amber Fort (Amer Fort)

Amber Fort (Amer Fort)

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High on a hilltop, towering majestically over the village of Amber on the outskirts of Jaipur, this 16th-century fort palace is worth visiting for its grand architecture that blends Muslim Mughal and Indian Hindu (Rajput) elements. Here, you’ll find labyrinthine passageways, elegant royal halls, and fabulous views of desert landscape.

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Victoria Memorial Hall

Victoria Memorial Hall

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The Victoria Memorial Hall in Kolkata is a symbol of both the city and of the entire British Raj. A tribute to Queen Victoria by the viceroy of India, the giant, white-marble building was erected over a 15-year period, starting in 1906. Today it houses a museum covering the history of the Raj and is surrounded by English-style gardens.

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