August 14, 2018
We often get asked these questions, by friends, family and our travellers:
“What are your favourite places in India?”
“What are the best places to visit in India?”
“What would you recommend as the must see places and sites in India?”
And several other variations of these questions. And they are great questions…but.
After more than two decades of travelling in India, including time spent living in Mumbai, plus leading group tours in India and arranging holidays to India for so many individual travellers over 20 years – it’s hard to know what to say?!
Quite honestly, there are so many places that we would put into our favourites list – or our top places to visit in India category. The question is how long can we make the list!?
So this morning we have woken up with a serious case of what we like to refer to as the India blues – when you wake up on a cold winter day in Melbourne, Australia and wish desperately to be waking up in India. So, we’ve made a pot of hot, milky chai and sat down to ponder the places we love in India. (And the places we want to revisit when we go to India again later in the year.)
So here are a few thoughts on places we love to travel to in India, in no particular order. They have been included for various reasons – some because we think they are one of the top cities in India to visit, others because they are some of the best hotels in India and that’s reason enough to travel for us!
And by no means is this list definitive. It’s the places that came to mind today, as we sat down with a cup of tea and dreamt of the places in India we want to see again.
We’ve tried to give you an idea of what you can expect at these places and some thoughts on why we love it. If you have any questions about any of the places on this list or want us to create a custom made holiday to India for you, which includes any of these places, you can email us or call our office.
So here goes – here are some of our favourite places to visit in India. (As it turned out we listed ten – so they are one of our Top 10 places to visit in India!)
This megacity of India will always make our list. Crowded on a tiny parcel of land, Mumbai’s population is close to that of all of Australia. For some, this may sound overwhelming. But it’s here is this heaving, bustling city you can glimpse the new India cohabitating with the old India. Mumbai, India’s commercial capital, is where you can see overt signs of a new India – a new India that has wealth (and in some cases lots of it!) you can see young, modern Indians embracing aspects of culture more common in the west, you can find bars, cafes and a contemporary dining scene and you can find development and a push to modernise. And all of that exists side-by-side with the old India – the heritage mansions, art deco buildings, the architectural masterpieces built during colonial rule, the old traditions and skills, and of course, those much less fortunate that others.
Mumbai is big, its bustling, its cosmopolitan and for years it was our home. If you want to see modern India this is where you will see it. A stop in Mumbai during a private tour of India will also provide a great juxtaposition if your trip includes small, or rural areas – it will highlight just how different this incredible country is from place to place.
In Mumbai there are many places to stay – you’ll find all the big hotels here and smaller ones. The challenge can sometimes be finding a good value place to stay in Mumbai that meets our standards. Land and space is a premium in Mumbai, given its small size, so staying in the city – and in a good location – can be expensive. The Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai is an icon of this city. This luxury hotel is centrally located in south Mumbai – opposite the Gateway of India. People from around the world and from across India, come to stay here, or at the very least, have their photos taken outside. If you can’t stretch your budget to a stay at the Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai then at least book in for high tea. The high tea is extensive and enjoyable, with sweets as well as savoury items of classic Indian snacks. There’s usually live music and if you can score yourself a booth at the window you can look out over the Gateway of India. A wonderful Mumbai experience and one of our favourite places to enjoy high tea in India.
Oh the pink city! Jaipur – the capital of Rajasthan – and known also as the pink city of India. Rajasthan is one of the most popular places to visit in India – many first time travellers visiting India from Australia will often start with a private tour of Rajasthan – including Jaipur and Udaipur (the white city) and Jodhpur (the blue city) plus see the Taj Mahal in Agra.
Jaipur makes our list of places you must see in India for a number of reasons. If you have the time, you can easily spend 3 or 4 days here and have plenty to see and do. Recently we spent 8 days here one December and still didn’t do all the things we wanted to do. Jaipur is one of the places in India we revisit most years.
There are a number of great sights to see in Jaipur, which are each worth spending some time at. Just outside the city you will find Amber Fort – a might and spectacular fort. Within the fort itself is the Palace of Mirrors and Elephant Gate. What are the some of the other best things to see in Jaipur? There’s the City Palace and Hawa Mahal (or Palace of the Winds). There’s also Jantar Mantar (a favourite of ours) – a collection of ancient astronomical instruments, which we visit every time we are there.
Away from the sites – Jaipur is home to one of the best local bazaars in India. Located inside the old city – surrounded by the painted pink walls that give the city its name – the central market is a vibrant market where you can shop like a local and bargain for souvenirs. Shop for bangles, Rajasthani leather slippers, dresses, wedding ornaments, copper pots and much more. You can easily spend a whole morning shopping and exploring the laneways and stalls of the central market. We also like to include a walking tour in Jaipur for our clients. Our resident guides will take you to some of the city’s old arts and craftsmen, introduce some of the cities best street snacks and ice cream and give you a sense of their city. We believe if you really want to discover a city, a walking tour with expert locals can show you that.
And on top of that – Jaipur is home to some fabulous places to shop and eat. Jaipur is renowned for its block printed textiles and indigo dyes and throughout the city there are many great places to find hand block printed fashion and home wares – both traditional and contemporary. We particularly like some of the more contemporary stores in Jaipur. (We provide a list of shopping and dining recommendations to our travellers for places like Jaipur.) It’s also here that you can find modern cafes serving great western options, excellent coffee and light fare – a good choice if you need a break from the Indian meals.
And if we haven’t convinced you yet to include a visit to Jaipur in your holidays in India – the city is home to some of the best hotels in India. In Jaipur you will find the stand out luxury hotels in Jaipur including:
If you are going to splurge on an extended stay and spend some time enjoying and discovering a city – then we highly recommend 3 or 4 days in Jaipur plus one of these great properties.
Away from the cities and into the countryside – Punjabiyat deserves to be on our list. This farm stay property is about 2 hours outside Amritsar in Punjab. Set among the golden wheat fields, sits these freestanding bungalows. Here you will discover a completely different side of India. Punjab is the wheat belt of India and depending on the time of the year you visit – you will see the miles and miles of wheat growing and farmers with tractors laden with cut crops. Here you can experience a quieter pace of life, explore a local village with a guide and visit one of the smaller, local Sikh temples. A great place to stop for a few days and slow down. We visited Punjabiyat this year as part of a longer tour we did in Punjab. Punjab in general we love to visit – and you can include Punjabiyat with other great places to see in India such as a visit to Amritsar and the magnificent Golden Temple, as well travelling to the Wagah Border to see the daily flag lowering ceremony and border closing. (The Wagah Border is the border with India and Pakistan). To find out more about this you can read our recent blog on things to see and do in Amritsar.
Into South India now, and no tour of South India is complete without visiting Fort Cochin. This gentle, laidback port city couldn’t be more different from the megacity of Mumbai, or the dry climates of places in Rajasthan like Jaipur. There are a number of things to see and do in Cochin. We like to start the day with a gentle bike riding tour – which will show you a little more than just the sights. There’s the Dutch Palace, the fishing nets and the Jewish Synagogue to see. You can also take the ferry over to the main local market at Broadway and take a local bus back – to see where locals shop, take in the fish market and fruit and vegetable sellers. Fort Cochin is also home to some wonderful cafes and restaurants where it’s easy to relax and hang out for a while.
Still in South India, Mysore definitely rates a mention in places we think are must see destinations in India. Mysore is a real South Indian city, and by that we mean, a place where you can get a sense of South India and come to know and see the things that make it unique, compared to say cities of the north. Mysore is best known for its incredible palace – and if you are lucky enough to be there on a Sunday night you can join the crowds who come to witness the tens of thousands of lights that are turned on every Sunday, brilliantly illuminating Mysore Palace. The city itself is small and manageable by Indian standards, and having travelled there with other families and children – it can be a good stop for family travel in India. It has a great, small city market where you can see the typical South Indian flower sellers – hawking their marigolds and roses – as well as the spice merchants selling sacks overflowing with chilli. You can also discover some of our other favourite South Indian things here – thali meals (head to RRR to eat of a banana leaf with your hands and other locals) and South Indian filter coffee.
10 great places to see and visit in India
Calcutta is one of the Indian cities that many travellers already have a connection with – and often we hear from our clients it’s because they were born there, or lived there at some stage. We’ve even had clients whom we have helped trace their family history and find their family home in Calcutta. For us, one of the reasons we love Calcutta is our friend and expert local guide Ifte. Ifte and his team provide some of the most interesting and varied walking tours of a city. We love to join these tours and discover Calcutta in depth from the perspective of locals, historians and true lovers all things Calcutta! Plus, Ifte shares our love of food so if you want to find some great local eats – he will take you!
Ahmedabad is probably not a city in India many have heard of or that tops lists of must see places in India. But it’s a place we have been back to several times and like to share with people. It’s here in Ahmedabad where you can find the real India, an India unchanged and unaffected. You can discover a city steeped in history and experience some of that. With its old city, its beautiful mosques, and its step wells – there’s much to see and explore in Ahmedabad. It’s here too that if you are a fan of textiles or crafts, you can discover some of India’s rich textile history and some of its intricate fabrics and designs. Ahmedabad sits in the state of Gujarat – a place where you can truly explore some of the unique and impressive textiles of India by heading further into Gujarat on a specific textiles tours.
In Ahmedabad there’s also the heritage hotel House of MG, which draws us back – with its beautifully furnished suites and pretty lotus pool. There’s also the unforgettable Gujarati thali served under the stars on the hotel’s rooftop restaurant. If you want to literally get a taste of India like nowhere else – Gujarati food is distinct from all other cuisines of India you will sample. Expect earthen breads and vegetarian dishes rich in ghee on your plate.
When we travel we also like to walk – walking holidays are some of our favourites. If you like to travel and walk also – then we’ll let you into a little secret. The foothills of the Himalayas – places like Uttarakhand – are great places to visit in India and spend a few days stretching the legs. We’ve done a number of walks in this region – we love the countryside, the cooler climate, the bird watching and the walking. There are high mountain views, small temples to visit along the way, and friendly locals greeting you as you pass through small villages. You can access this part of India with a comfortable fast train from Delhi, followed by a somewhat winding drive. Once you are there though, there are several great village walks to do. These guided walks will take you through the local area, with accommodation options along the way that range from staying in homes in the local villages to privately run lodges in the local area. The walking can be tailored to you to – so for example you can do longer walks or short walks depending on your fitness. Again, depending on the age of your children and whether or not they are used to walking – it can be something you can do with your children during family travel in India.
#9) Sarai at Toria
Still away from the cities, Sarai at Toria is a little piece of paradise in India. We are giving away all our secrets now, but we couldn’t have a list of some of our best places to visit in India without Sarai at Toria.
We often like to include at least one rural stop in our custom made India tours as we believe its a change of pace and scenery – a chance to see more than just sights and big destinations and an opportunity to discover rural India, which is such a big part of the heart of this country. Sarai at Toria is a beautiful, peaceful property located outside Khajuraho in North India. It’s run by two of the most friendly and gracious host – Joanna and Ragu – who will welcome you, invite you to experience their beautiful property with gentle local activities and safaris, and share their passion for conservation and the environment. It’s hard not to be impressed by the beautiful setting – the individual bungalows set among tall grasses, the view overlooking the River Ken and the peace and quiet all around. Some of our highlights from staying here are the delicious three-course lunches served each day outside under the shade of the neem tree, the gentle morning boat ride along the river, chatting with Joanna and Ragu, and just the time to sit and relax is such a beautiful place. Again, a must see place in India for us, but also a chance to see and experience more of India than just sights. You can visit the famous temples of Khajuraho from Sarai at Toria, and easily spend 2 or 3 nights at this outstanding property.
#10) Marari Beach
And for a completely different change of pace – to the other side of the country and India’s west coast. Coming from Australia where we are spoilt for beaches and beach stays, it’s hard to compare the coast and beaches of India to what we have at home. Needless to say though, we do often stop along the coast and spend a few days relaxing. When we do, we tend to shun the better-known spots like Goa and head to Marari Beach in Kerala.
We like Marari for a number of reasons. It can be added to the end of a tour of Kerala – giving you a chance to truly relax at the end of your tour before you have to return home and rounding out a tour of Kerala. And because of the building restrictions in this part of Kerala, all the hotels and properties are really spacious, low-level buildings set in lovely tropical gardens. Some of the best places to stay in Marari Beach are resorts that contain individual dwellings, surrounded by tropical plants, coconut trees and greenery. There’s no big developments, or high rises at Marari Beach (and lets hope it stays that way) and that also means because the hotels tend to be smaller you don’t get the crowds of other beach areas of India.
Some of the luxury hotels and resorts you can stay at in Marari include
* CGH Earth Marari Beach
* Xandari Pearl Marari Beach
* Carnoustie Ayurveda & Wellness Resort.
So that’s our top 10 places to visit in India. At least for today! We can include some or all of these into a tour of India especially designed for you, to suit your travel dates, budget and including the things you want to see and do in India. All of our custom made India itineraries include a private vehicle and driver throughout and private arrangements and sightseeing. Contact India Unbound today for more details. We look forward to sharing some of our favourite India travel experiences and destinations with you.