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About India >> Attractions in India

Attractions in India

Delhi
Don't let your first impressions of Delhi stick like a sacred cow in a traffic jam: get behind the madcap facade and discover the inner peace of a city rich with culture, architecture and human diversity, deep with history and totally addictive to epicureans.

Mix four major religions, thousands of years of history and cultural development, significant movements of different populations, invasions and colonialisation and you get one of the most vibrant and profound cultures in the world. This civilisation is evident in the plentiful historical sites around Delhi.

Agra
The Taj Mahal, described as the most extravagant monument ever built for love, has become the de facto tourist emblem of India. This poignant Mughal mausoleum was constructed by Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his second wife Mumtaz Mahal, whose death in childbirth in 1631 left the emperor so heartbroken that his hair is said to have turned grey overnight. Construction of the Taj began in the same year and was not completed until 1653.

The emperor's heir may have given up but his eye for detail apparently remained acute - the near-perfection of the Taj's architecture does not diminish upon closer inspection; it merely comes into sharper focus. Semiprecious stones were laid into the marble in elaborate designs through a process called pietra dura. If you're planning to check out this marvel, don't forget that it's closed on Friday to all non-Muslims.

The city's other major attraction is the massive red sandstone Agra Fort, also on the bank of the Yamuna River. The auricular fort's colossal double walls rise over 20m (65ft) in height and measure 2.5km (1.55mi) in circumference. They are encircled by a fetid moat and contain a maze of superb halls, mosques, chambers and gardens which form a small city within a city. Unfortunately not all buildings are open to visitors, including the white marble Pearl Mosque, regarded by some as the most beautiful mosque in India.

Other worthwhile Mughal gems include the Itimad-ud-daulah, many of whose design elements were used in the construction of the Taj, and Akbar's Mausoleum at Sikandra which blends Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, Jain and Christian motifs, much like the syncretic religious philosophy developed by Akbar attempted to do.

Agra is near enough to Delhi - 200km (125mi) - to be visited on a day trip. It's on the major tourist circuit so you can take your pick of transport; plane, bus, or train.

Goa
It's a shame Goa comes burdened with a reputation for louche living, because there's so much more to it than sun, sand and psychedelia. The allure of Goa is that it remains quite distinct from the rest of India and is small enough to be grasped and explored in a way that other Indian states are not.

It's not just the familiar remnants of Portuguese colonialism or the picture-book exoticism that make it seem so accessible; it's the prevalence of Roman Catholicism and a form of social and political progressiveness that Westerners feel they can relate to.

Jaipur
The capital of Rajasthan is popularly known as the 'pink city' because of the ochre-pink hue of its old buildings and crenellated city walls. The Rajputs considered pink to be a colour associated with hospitality, and are reputed to have daubed the city in preparation for the visit of Britain's Prince Alfred in 1853. This tradition and Jaipur's welcoming, relaxed air continue to this day.

Jaipur owes its name, its foundation and its careful planning to the great warrior-astronomer Maharaja Jai Singh II (1699-1744), who took advantage of declining Mughul power to move his somewhat cramped hillside fortress at nearby Amber to a new site on the plains in 1727. He laid out the city's surrounding walls and its six rectangular blocks with the help of Shilpa-Shastra, an ancient Hindu treatise on architecture.

Today Jaipur is a city of broad avenues and remarkable architectural harmony, built on a dry lake bed surrounded by barren hills. It's an extremely colourful city and, in the evening light, it radiates a magical warm glow. The city has now sprawled beyond its original fortified confines, but most of its attractions are compactly located in the walled 'pink city' in the northeast of the city. All seven gates into the old city remain, one of which leads into Johari Bazaar - the famous jewellers' market.

The most obvious landmark in the old city is the Iswari Minar Swarga Sul (the Minaret Piercing Heaven) which was built to overlook the city, but the most striking sight is the stunning artistry of the five-storey facade of the Hawa Mahal, or Palace of the Winds. The palace was built in 1799 to enable ladies of the royal household to watch street life and processions, and is part of the City Palace complex which forms the heart of the old city.

Numerous international airlines are based in Jaipur Towers, while for domestic flights it's easier to book through any of the big travel agents. Daily flights to Delhi are available and most continue on to Mumbai via Jodhpur, Udaipur and Aurangabad. The Rajasthan State Transport System covers Rajasthan's major cities, as do the privately owned deluxe services. Most of these places can also be reached by train.

Kochi (Cochin)
The port city of Kochi is located on a cluster of islands and narrow peninsulas. The older parts of the city are an unlikely blend of medieval Portugal, Holland and an English country village grafted onto the tropical Malabar Coast. Down near the waterfront you can see St Francis Church, India's oldest; a 450-year-old Portuguese palace; Chinese fishing nets strung out past Fort Cochin; and a synagogue dating back to the mid-16th century. Ferries scuttle back and forth between the various parts of Kochi, and dolphins can often be seen in the harbour. Most of the historical sights are in Fort Cochin or Mattancherry. Budget accommodation can be found in mainland Ernakulam.

Indian Airlines has daily flights to Bangalore, Mumbai, Delhi, Goa, and Chennai. If flying is outside your budget, there's a whole bevy of buses that leave Kochi at regular intervals and fan out in every direction except seaward. You can easily get to any of the outlying regions either by state-owned or privately owned bus, but there are no advance reservations. Turn up, join the scrum, and hope for the best, which in this case would be a seat. Failing this, try the railway station, which has trains zipping up the coast to major destinations on a daily basis.

Kolkata
It may have changed its name, but for many Kolkata (formerly Calcutta and, more rarely, Kolcutta) still conjures up images of squalor, poverty and urban disaster. Too few bother to discover its enchanting colonial beauty, the energy and humour of its people and the charm of the city's distinctly Bengali soul.

Kolkota isn't an ancient city like Delhi - in fact it's largely a British creation that dates back a mere 300 years. As a crumbling snapshot of British colonialism, it is unrivalled. For such a smoggy, frantic city, it is also notable for its lovely green spaces.


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