India houses the oldest civilization in history, and some believe it contains the oldest continually surviving city. But besides being ancient, India is the world's largest cultural melting pot. The country is home to innumerable subcultures that put a unique twist on Indian culture, cuisine, and traditions. Its rich colonial history and the blend of European influences also remain to this day. In all, India is an extremely popular travel destination for good reasons.
Delhi is one of the largest storied cities in the world. You can start your trip with a visit to New Delhi, the urban district that serves as the capital of India. Then, you can head to Humayun's Tomb, an important part of Indian cultural and architectural history. The four-centuries-old UNESCO heritage site is a stunning feat of design and the first major product of red sandstone construction. A short bus trip out of the urban center takes you to the National Zoological Park, India's national zoo. It boasts an incredible diversity of wildlife from across India, housed in spacious enclosures.
Mumbai occupies a cultural space similar to Chicago, Hollywood, and New York City rolled into one. It's an economic hub for the Indian finance industry, and it holds the most expansive film industry in India. It's an inevitable destination for dreamers, drifters, and would-be stars. Beyond that, it offers the starkest view of the stratification of Indian society. The most opulent millionaires live in the world's most expensive homes just a few hours drive from the largest slums in the nation. If you want to step away from the bustle of Mumbai life and into the tropical forest without leaving the city limits, take a trip to the beautiful Sanjay Gandhi National Park.
The capital of the state of Tamil Nadu is the flag bearer for South Indian culture, cuisine and history. Formerly known as Madras, the city has a rich history showcased in countless museums. The popular museum of Fort St. George once served as a trading post for the East India Company. Now, it offers a look back into the colonial history of India. The scents of South Indian cuisine and the warm, friendly people populating the city will be the first thing to hit you on a stroll through the streets of the city.
While everyone has heard of the Taj Mahal, fewer Westerners know the city where it rests. It's the main draw for visitors to the city of Agra, but it's far from the only one. The great rulers who made Agra their capital have left their mark in the form of innumerable fortresses, palaces, and other monuments that remain even as the power they symbolized has faded. The city invites travelers to learn of its rich history in the Mughal Museum and many others.
Jaipur is a vibrant, colorful city with architecture that's as diverse as it is bright and bold. Nicknamed "The Pink City," Jaipur started as a project of the Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II, who built the city to serve as his capital. The City Palace still houses his descendants, the former royal family, and stands as a principal tourist attraction of Jaipur. Beyond that, the streets of the pink city are always bustling and exciting, from the activity and life of bazaars to the markets where local farmers ply their produce.
While the British controlled most of India for centuries, the Portuguese maintained control over Goa until the 1960s. As a result, Goa blends Portuguese and Indian influences and offers a unique subculture compared to the rest of India. Additionally, Goa boasts a healthy nightlife and some of the most beautiful beaches found throughout India.
Srinagar is the capital of Kashmir and an incredibly important city in the history of India and Pakistan. You can still feel the presence of the old Mughal Empire there, particularly in the sprawling Shalimar Bagh Garden. For nature lovers, Srinagar is home to the Dal Lake, also known as "Srinagar's Jewel" or "The Crown Jewel of Kashmir." The crystal clear waters of Dal Lake draw tourists and locals alike for relaxation amidst the mountains. Near Dal Lake, you can find the beautiful Indira Gandhi memorial, which commemorates India's first female prime minister.
Orchha is a somewhat famous tourist destination for the more knowledgeable traveler. It almost appears to be insulated from the last millennia to such an extent you might see a prince or princess strolling down the cobbled streets. Orchha is home to many stunningly well-preserved artifacts and architectural works. The impressive Orchha Fort Complex is over five centuries old and marks the days that Orchha served as a stronghold of powerful kings. While those days are long gone, a walk through Orchha makes it feel much closer.
Unlike the ancient cities of India, Kolkata is relatively young. The East India Company founded it as a trading post. Later, it served as the administrative capital of the British Raj for over one hundred years. Kolkata is the single destination in India where English influence can be felt most strongly, and the city is famous for its wealth of colonial-era architecture. The city is one of India's most modern, with a thriving art scene and a strong allure among Indian intellectuals.
Varanasi is the very picture of what you think of when you think 'India.' It's a lively, mystical city, and one of the great holy places of Hinduism. Many pilgrims come to the sacred waters of Varanasi on the Ganges River to atone for sins or to welcome their passing to the next life. The riverside is constantly teaming with ghats, places for recreation and religious fulfillment among the locals. The supremely narrow streets often prohibit most forms of transportation, but the sights of Varanasi deserve a long walk.