The blog has been silent for a while and I apologize for that. A lot has been happening in between and unfortunately this little blog of mine was left neglected. Nevertheless, I’m back! And..Today I want to write about historic locations around India that are worth seeing. This list is not in any particular order, the only criteria is these are culturally rich places with tons of site seeing available. I am a traveler at heart, and even though I have not traveled as much as I would like to (..this is not an excuse) but still this list is as much a reference for my own pending travel ventures as for any other reader looking to visit India.
1. Rajasthan: Perhaps the most colorful and vibrant state in the entire country. Rajasthan, literally meaning place of the kings, is the home of the Rajputs, the erstwhile traditional ruling class. One can find the most beautiful and palatial forts and palaces. Truly grand and luxurious in every sense of the word. Even though geographically it is a desert , there’s never a dull moment here. One can enjoy good music, delicious (slightly spicy) food, shop for trinkets and colorful dresses, soak in the architectural beauty of the palaces and of course the rich history. Although it will be difficult to cover the length and breath of the best places to see here, it warrants a separate post altogether, but just to make broad itinerary one should cover 4 key places here- Jaipur, Jodhpur, Udaipur and Jaisalmer. This basically covers the whole state in a the broadest sense. Some of the top sites one can see in these cities-
Jaipur– Hawa Mahal, Amer Fort, Jantar Mantar, Jaigarh Fort, Jal Mahal
Jodhpur– Mehrangarh Fort, Umaid Bhawan Palace, Mandore Gardens, Jain Mahavira Temples.
Udaipur– City Palace, Lake Pichola, Jagdish Temple, Bagore ki Haveli (There’s Udai Vilas which is worth seeing but it’s a hotel now so perhaps dinner would be worthwhile there)
Jaisalmer– Jaiselmer Fort, Gadsisar Lake, Patwon ki Haveli, Desert Safari at Sam Sand Dunes
Aside from this one can visit the famous dargah of Moinuddin Chisti at Ajmer, the Dilwara temples at Mount Abu or wildlife and bird sanctuaries of Ranthambore and Bharatpur. You are simply spoilt for choice.
2. Madhya Pradesh: Madhya Pradesh literally falls in the central region of the Indian subcontinent also popularly known as the “heart of India” because of this geographical position. MP is one place rich in history and wonderful architecture, home of many royals such as Mauryas, Guptas, Rajputs, Chandelas, Bundela etc at different point in time. Each of these royals have left behind a mark making it one of the best heritage sites to visit in India.
Some of the best places to see in MP are-
Khajuraho Temples: You cannot talk about MP without mentioning the exotic Khajuraho temples. These are group of Hindu and Jain temples built around 1000AD by Chadela dynasty and is most famous for its erotic sculptures but that aside, the sheer beauty and creativity the place symbolizes is something which is worth admiring. In fact the proportion of such sculptures vs other is just 10% but this is the most over hyped aspect of the temples. Whatever the reason or motivation to visit, the architecture in itself is a visual treat. It’s an ode to the deities and denotes the four goals of Hindu life- Dharma (duty), Kama (pleasure) , Artha (work) and Moksha (salvation)
Ujjain: Another city of temples, Ujjain is most famous for Mahakaleshwar temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. It’s also one the ancient sites of India along other cities like Magadha, Vatsala, and Kosala. The city is also mentioned in Mahabharata as well where it was cited as a place where Sudama and Krishna got their education.
Gwalior: Is the home of the impenetrable hilltop fort called the Gwalior Fort. It’s a massive 3.2 Km stretch fort built approx 1000 years ago by King Surya Sen. One can also visit the tomb of Tansen (famous musician and one of Akbars 9 Jewels), Man Mandir Palace (built by Mughal emperor Babur), Gujari Mahal (built by Man Singh Tomar)
Few other notable places one can visit are Orrcha, Sanchi (oldest Buddhist stupa), Kanha National Park, Bhandavgarh National Park.
3. Delhi: The capital city of India, Delhi has been the seat of power for many dynasties since time immemorial. It is one city, which has been ruled by all who have come to this country- be it Hindus, Muslims or British. Delhi has always been a coveted prize for any conqueror and nobody knows exactly why? There’s some allure, some mystery attached to this city which has motivated many to establish their kingdoms from here. Conquering Delhi was like conquering entire India. Each ruler had a significant impact in the culture and being of this city, such is evident from multiple historic places that one can see here. In short, a trip to India is virtually incomplete without visiting Delhi, here are a few of the notable places to visit.
Qutub Minar– Was built by the Turkish ruler Qutubudin Aibak during the 13th century. The minaret was built as a watch tower and a place from where the azhan (call to worship) was issued. It’s made beautifully with red sandstone and marble with inscriptions from the Quran. The minaret itself was built over another construction called the “lal kot” which was built by the previous rulers- the Chauhans (Prithviraj Chauhan was the famous ruler from this dynasty). The minaret was built upto seven floors, the completion however was overseen by several subsequent rulers. The minar itself has undergone massive changes because of the damage caused by the earthquakes. Nevertheless, the sheer size, architecture and design is what is worth seeing here.
Old Fort-Built by the Afghan Ruler Sher Shah Suri who was the interim ruler between the Mughals- Babur and Humayun. This is again one of the oldest forts, also believed to have been built over the site of the ancient city of Indraprastha (city of the Pandavas from Mahabharat) . Today this falls in central Delhi and not exactly a very bustling tourist spot , in fact parts of it are in utter ruin but still one can visit just to soak in vibe of the place.
Red Fort-Was the seat of rule for the Mughal king- Shahjahan. It is a magnificent fort built with red sandstone, a truly grand venture by the most opulent of all Mughal rulers. Shahjahan had a penchant for arts and his greatest contribution to Mughal culture is seen from his architectural pursuits. Red fort is one such proof. It is a really a grand place to be at, although much of the fort has been defaced but it still has that feel to it. At one time it used to house the ostentatious Peacock throne and was decorated with luxurious fabrics and colors. The fort has two parts to it- One is the diwai-i-aam- the public chambers from where the king used to address the people and hold public meetings. The other is the diwai-i-khaas which was the kings private court where he used to entertain officials, diplomats etc. There is Moti Masjid the royal place of worship and the entire complex is laid with lush gardens, fountain and waterways. Just by walking around the fort you can sense the grandeur and what it must be like in its prime. There’s also the famous Meena Bazaar inside the fort where one can shop for trinkets and souvenirs.
Chandni Chowk- Once a hotspot of who’s who during Mughal times, Chandni Chowk till this day carries the old world charm. It’s one place which is frozen in time with it’s crowd, by lanes, small eating joints and what not. It’s the oldest shopping place of Delhi where one can virtually find anything from clothes, gadgets, jewellery, books to anything you want and at rock bottom prices. The place is also most famous for the typical Delhi street food, a haven for the die hard foodie. Visit this place for the lip smacking gol gappas, chaat, tikkis, jalebis and other such delights. There are a couple of famous joints such a Natraj chaat which is next to the Chandni Chowk metro station, Karims at Jama Masjid and ofcourse the Paranthey Wali Galli. But really one doesn’t have to visit these places to experience the food, all the unknown joints are equally amazing. Caution: It is not for the weak stomach, so please carry your pills with you.
Nizamuddin Dargah- Is a mausoleum built in the memory of the great Sufi saint- Nizamuddin Aulia. Sufism was a very mystic movement which fostered in India since the time of the Delhi Sultanate around 11th-12th century. A kind of spiritual Islam ,if I can say, which propagates the same principles but without being too dogmatic about it. Sufis is all about self realisation and finding the truth though love and devotion. Nizamuddin Aulia belong to this faith and was much revered by people and rulers a like. When you visit the dargah, you immediately feel a sense of calm , you can feel the energy which is so pure and uplifting for the soul. This is also one place that never sleeps, in fact the best time to visit here is at night when it’s brimming with energy, music and great food. It reminds of what night outs must be like in Mughal times.
Caution: Please do not visit this place alone especially women at night. Always go in groups and preferably with a trusted local companion. You will have great fun. Day time visits to the Dargah are completely safe and one must go fully clothed.
Apart from this there are several other places to visit like Humayun Tomb, Lotus Temple, Safdarjung Tomb, Bangala Sahib Gurudwara. Shopping places like Connaught Place, Hauz Khas, Khan Market etc which can explored if time permits.