The capital city of India, Delhi is where old meets new. There are eleven districts including the charming Shahjahanabad at the centre (also known as Old Delhi), full of bustling backstreet bazaars and dusty driveways, New Delhi, a modern metropolis of government headquarters interweaved with historic sites, and the futuristic Gurgaon with towering skyscrapers, hotels and designer shopping.
Visitors to Old Delhi can spend hours exploring the long winding streets. It is shaped like a quarter circle and its star attraction is the Red Fort (below). Founded by Emperor Shah Jahan, it was the main residence of Mughal dynasty emperors for 200 years. The walls of this historic fort stretch for 2.5km along the banks of the Yamuna River. Mahatma Gandhi’s Delhi home and place of assassination can also be found by the Yamuna River.
In New Delhi, you’ll also find the impressive buildings of parliament, glossy embassies and historic sites and museums. These include the National Museum featuring Indian and international works of art, and India Gate, a national monument commemorating soldiers who lost their lives during the First World War and the Third Anglo-Afghan War.
The Lodhi Gardens are a beautiful green space in New Delhi packed with Indian flora. It is the burial site for Delhi’s pre-Mughal Sayyid and Lodi rulers. Humayun’s Tomb is another must-visit site, located in Nizamuddin, East Delhi. It was the first garden tomb on the Indian subcontinent.
North of India is Varanasi, the sacred city of India – it is known as one of the holiest sites of Hinduism. Pilgrims come to the ghats (steps leading to the Ganges) to wash away their sins in the blessed waters or to cremate their loved ones.
The Manikarnika Ghat is the most auspicious place for a Hindu to be cremated, while other notable ghats include the historic Harishchandra Ghat and the colourful Dashashwamedh Ghat (below). Visitors can respectfully watch cremation ceremonies with flowers, fire and dancing taking place along the water, in scenes that are truly magical. Photos are usually prohibited during the ceremony.
There are temples dotted throughout the city, but if you only visit one, make it the Vishwanath Temple. Built in 1776, parts of it are plated with gold and the result is mesmerising.
In the western corner of India bordering Pakistan is vibrant Rajasthan. While known for epic forts and festivals, the Thar Desert (below) is what draws tourists from all over the world. The desert is one of the biggest in Asia, with high and low sand dunes, sandy plains and low barren hills. Take a day tour via jeep and enjoy a camel ride against the glorious golden sunset.
The Holi Festival is the most exciting festival in Rajasthan, where the people sure know how to party! Crowds gather the night before the full moon and celebrate with bursts of coloured water and powders in a merry song and dance.
In this state visitors can discover forts emerging from mountains and hilltops, bearing marks of historic events that changed Indian history. The Mehrangarh fort is a favourite due to its breathtaking architecture. It is located above Jodhpur city and once housed the royal Marwar family.
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Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) is India’s second biggest city. It is the hub of arts and culture, with emerging hipster neighbourhoods and businesses. As the former capital of British India, the city oozes British Raj-era gems that contrast against the urban slums. Kolkata is our favourite place to experience rich Bengali cuisine, as well as desserts such as laddu (flour and sugar balls).
Mullik Ghat Flower Market (below) is an oasis of colour. Situated near Howrah Bridge, the fun kicks off at the crack of dawn when wholesellers auction seas of flowers to retailers. Indians love a pretty petal, and the Kolkata Botanical Gardens offer 109ha of them too if the flower market doesn’t satisfy your appetite.
The Victoria Memorial is a British-Raj era architectural gem, built in marble between 1906 and 1921. It is dedicated to Queen Victoria and contains a museum and art galleries.
The Belur Math is a notable Kolkata landmark. It is the home of the religious organisation, the Ramakrishna Mission, and is set among palm trees and a stunning garden. Sightseeing aside, ride a yellow taxi through the chaos to Park Street for an evening of recreation. It is buzzing with bars, restaurants and street performers.
Rishikesh is located in the foothills of the Himalayas in northern India and is the birthplace of yoga, earning it its tagline ‘yoga capital of the world’.
Ashrams and studios can be found on every corner, and Yogasphere runs luxury yoga retreats to Rishikesh. Meditation and a dip in the holy waters of Rishikesh are said to bring one closer to attainment of moksha – release from the cycle of rebirth, in order to attain nirvana.
The town’s lanes and alleys are charming and spacious despite the growing tourist scene. This just gives Rishikesh a friendly international vibe, which is still laid-back and relaxing, post yoga sessions.