It’s no joke when I say that India has the power to change your life.
That’s why if you have the chance to go to India, do not let it slip through your fingers. In the land of the divine Ganges River and the amorous Taj Mahal, your eyes will be fixated on, rather, the myriad of children who approach travelers for money while locals of all ages shelter on public streets littered with trash. India is a powerful statement. Even the most jetset of jetsetters cannot escape its undeniable extremity in a society rich with religion yet drenched in evident poverty.
Yogis visit India for the merge of serenity and enlightenment. Adventurists dream of the almighty Himalayas, while most traveler set foot in India prepared to cross it off bucket lists yet unprepared for the impact of a memorable journey.
If you’ve never been to India and need a place to start, here are five essential cities I highly recommend for any first-timer. Afterwards, you’ll want to return and venture in other cities like Goa, Chennai or Udaipur. On your first trip, however, to this country, at least start with one of cities listed below. Each one is considerably touristic, but they’re not labeled essential for nothing!
As the capital of India, you’ll probably be flying in and out of Delhi’s international airport/ Hence, spending a few days in Delhi is almost unavoidable for most first-timers to India. Located in the north, Delhi is one of the three city that form the famous Golden Triangle (along with Jaipur and Agra.)
Delhi contains numerous UNESCO World Heritage Sites, such as: Humayun’s Tomb from 1560 as the first of Mughal tomb complexes, the Qutub Minar (the world’s tallest free-standing brick minaret,) and Red fort where the Prime Minister of India delivers his speech on India’s national day.
As another city forming the Golden Triangle, Agra is extremely touristic and is probably a good one to follow after Delhi since they’re only 4 hours apart by car. Once arrived in Agra, you’ll probably spend half a day at the Taj Mahal, then walk over to see its sister building: Agra Fort which is a walled city first held by the king in 1475. You’ll indulge in many fantastic photo spots from the fort to capture various angles of the Taj Mahal from afar.
Other notable hotspots include: Kinari Bazar for local crafts and goods at the market and Mehtab Bagh (The Moonlight Garden). Korai Village, located 10 kilometers away from Taj Mahal, is a fascinating tribal village for those who are curious and want to learn more about a different way of living.
Also known as the Pink City of India, Jaipur is the third city which completes the Golden Triangle and where travelers can reach other destinations in Rajasthan such as Udaipur, Jodhpur or Jaisalmer.
As one of the most touristic cities in Asia, Jaipur offers luxury, history and the rise of modernization. Most visitors spend time at Amer Fort (this is where you’ll most likely be riding on elephants,) the garden and the Ganesh Pol at Amer Fort are just as incredible. Other remarkable sites include: Jantar Mantar observatory, the gorgeous Hawa Mahal (Palace of Winds), Nahargarh Fort, the ancient Hindu pilgrimage site Galtaji…and much more.
Besides the Taj Mahal, a trip to India wouldn’t be complete without the sight of Ganges River: holy water that symbolizes the birth, living and death of the human cycle. Varanasi is not to be missed, even if many who have visited complain about the number of beggars surrounding tourist areas. Heading to Varanasi for the view of sunrise on the river is highly recommended. Then observe the ghats – stone steps along the river – to catch a glimpse of Hindus performing and following spiritual rituals.
In addition to the Ganges River, there are approximately 23,000 temples in the city. You obviously can’t visit them all, but don’t miss: Kashi Vishwanath Temple, Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple, Durga Mandir (Monkey Temple,) Jantar Mantar observatory, and the Ramnagar Fort.
Mumbai is not only one of the most populous cities in India, but in the world! If you don’t mind traffic jams or constant noise of cars honking, you’ve got to check out this fascinating city. Located in the west of India, Mumbai is essential for first-time travelers because it showcases a different side of India: modernism, entertainment (hello, Bollywood!) and financial centers.
Since Mumbai has the highest number of billionaires and millionaires in India, you bet the city boasts delicious restaurants, luxury hotels and exquisite shops. Must-sees include: Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, Gateway of India, the UNESCO World Heritage Site Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (former Victoria Terminus,) and the Bandra–Worli Sea Link.