The west of India includes a marvelous expanse spreading over Gujarat and Maharashtra, the two Indian states that are centers of business and the textile hub of India. Gujarat offers breathtaking locations and a scenic landscape, considered a melting pot of several civilizations resulting in a vibrant culture and a rich heritage. Azure seas meet sparkling sands, and the jungles are verdant, lush and green, where lion prowl and flamingos preen. Marble temples, white and pure, reflect the glory of the days of yore.
Mumbai – ‘Commercial Capital of India’, ‘City that never sleeps’, ‘City of Dreams’ – is the capital of Maharashtra. The city is forever alive, pulsating, vivacious and always on the move. Maharashtra also offers a gateway to the age-old palaces of the Maratha kings, carvings at Ajanta and the Ellora Caves and a spiritual experience at the Osho’s ashram in Pune. To top it all Goa, “The land of Sun, Sand and Sea”, is blessed with splendid scenic beauty, golden beaches, beautiful rivers, natural lakes and an architectural splendor – undoubtedly a “Paradise”. Once a Portuguese territory it portrays multitude of exquisite architecture and is also known for its magical night life – abundant bars and restaurants can leave night birds and gastronomes in a state of bliss.
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North-Eastern India encompasses Assam, Nagaland, Tripura, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh, which are called the seven sisters. These states exemplify the joys of the simple life and the beauties of nature. Visit the tea estates in Assam, as well as the Kaziranga and Manas National Parks, where the Asian elephant lives in the wild. Learn about the work done in Assam to conserve the one-horned rhinoceros. Take a canoe down the rivers of Arunachal, which change their course and their moods in a moment. In Nagaland, visit the fourteen Naga tribes that coexist in harmony, some of whom have their own language. Meghalaya, literally means ‘The Abode of Clouds’ and is considered the ‘Scotland of the East’ because of its picturesque mountains and mesmerizing landscape.
The North East has its own unique culture, as seen in the folk dances of Assam, Nagaland and Arunachal, as well as the classical dance of Manipur, based on lord Krishna’s worship. There are many unusual and delectable cuisines to try, several tribes to acquaint with and plenty of unspoiled scenery to explore. You could get intoxicated here on fresh air alone.
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East India is associated with the rise of Buddhism and Jainism, and the foundation of India’s first empire, that of the Mauryas, as well as its last, that of the British. Begin with Kolkata, which was the capital of British India till 1911 and is today a city of glaring contrasts—known as the birthplace of the Bengal Renaissance, Rabindranath Tagore and Satyajit Ray, it also has a vast population that lives in slums, despite being one of three states in India where the Communist Party formed a democratically elected government that ruled for over thirty years.
Kolkata is also known for the Durga Puja, celebrated joyously in September-October each year, as the Goddess comes on her annual visit to her parents’ home, accompanied by her children. The puja is a community affair—pandals are lavishly decorated, and music & dance surrounds the air. Follow in the footsteps of the Buddha, on visits to Bodhgaya, Gaya, Rajgir and Vaishali in Bihar; enjoy the beauties of Orissa’s unspoilt beaches; delight in the Konark Sun Temple, which is designed in the shape of a chariot and participate in the Jaganath Rath Yatra in Puri, and marvel at the arts and crafts associated with this region. In Sikkim, trek through the Kanchenjunga and visit monasteries, as you gasp at the wonderful landscape and the biodiversity.
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South India encompasses states of Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, as well as the union territory of Pondicherry. These southern states are known for their fairs and festivals; tea, spice and coffee plantations; wildlife; ancient temples; beautiful hill stations; beaches and backwaters. On your visit, you can also avail of various alternate therapies to heal the body and rejuvenate the spirit—everything from Ayurvedic massages, hydro-therapies, naturopathy, to yoga and meditation retreats. South India also offers a variety of cuisines, from the courtly Hyderabadi cuisine of the Nizams to the mild Udupi cuisine of Karnataka, the seafood of Malabar and the Chettinad from Tamil Nadu.
Voted among the world’s best travel experiences, don’t miss a Kerala Houseboat Cruise. As the houseboat winds its way along spectacular waterways, witness a way of life that is beautiful, laid-back and where nature abounds – a tranquil blend. Experience the ancient temples, confluence of great oceans, pristine beaches, mesmerizing folklore and more, on a South India Sojourn.
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Northern India is a tourist’s delight. It has shaped the course of India’s historical and cultural evolution over the last 5000 years. It is the birthplace of many religions; several sacred rivers flow into the northern plains from the snow-capped Himalayas and India’s many conquerors, emperors and rulers have left behind the remains of forts, palaces and temples for us to marvel at.
Drown in the beauty of the Taj Mahal; visit Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India; explore ancient forts and remarkable palaces; appreciate the many and varied arts and crafts and meet the warmest people ever to welcome you.
Visit Rajasthan, home to legendary warriors and kings, where royalty is still held in reverence; travel through Kashmir and Himachal, where the cool climate provides much-needed relief to holidaymakers during India’s scorching summers; wander through the colorful bazaars of Rajasthan or Uttar Pradesh, looking for just the right artifact to present to loved ones and friends back home; go on camel safaris in the Thar desert or elephant safaris in a national park; marvel at the beauties of medieval Indian architecture and the liveliness of modern India in Delhi, Agra and Jaipur; enjoy dining with royalty; relax with the best spa therapies available; achieve a spiritual breakthrough on the banks of the Ganges or discover the essence of religion in the Golden Temple at Amritsar.
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Agra is the former capital of Hindustan (India). It is a city on the banks of the river Yamuna in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Though Agra’s history is largely recognized with Mughal Empire, the place was established much before that and has linkages since Mahabharata period and Maharishi Angira in 1000 BC. It is generally accepted that Sultan Sikandar Lodi, the Ruler of the Delhi Sultanate founded Agra in the year 1504. After the Sultan’s death, the city passed on to his son Sultan Ibrahim Lodi. He ruled his Sultanate from Agra until he fell fighting to Babar (who became the first Mughal Emperor) in the first battle of Panipat in 1526. The golden age of the city began with the Mughal rule. It was known then as Akbarabad (after the Mughal Emperor Akbar) and remained the capital of the Mughal Empire under the Emperors Akbar, Jahangir and Shah Jahan. Shah Jahan later shifted his capital to Shahjahanabad (now old Delhi) in the year 1649.
The famous Mughal emperor Akbar raised the towering ramparts of the Great Fort, besides making Agra a center for learning, arts, commerce and religion. Akbar also built a new city on the outskirts of Akbarabad called Fatehpur Sikri. This city was built in the form of a Mughal military camp in stone. His son Jahangir had a love of gardens and flora and fauna, and laid many gardens inside the Agra Fort. Shah Jahan, known for his keen interest in architecture, gave Akbarabad its most prized monument, the Taj Mahal. Built in loving memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal, the mausoleum was completed in totality in 1653. Shah Jahan later shifted the capital to Delhi during his reign, but his son Aurangzeb moved the capital back to Akbarabad, usurping his father and imprisoning him in the Fort there.
The sight of a white marble mausoleum, raised on a platform and graced by 4 minarets on each corner, reflected in the watercourse that runs through the ornamental gardens is an unrivaled tourist attraction in Agra. Taj Mahal, a symbol of undying love, has been summed up by Ghalib, the famous Urdu poet, as a rebuff of an ordinary man’s love for his beloved, in whose memory he cannot build a monument of such magnificence. Today, Taj Mahal is a major tourist attraction in Agra, and is open to all even on full moon nights, so that you can take your beloved by the hand and walk down the gardens as moon and its entourage of stars light your path on your tour to Agra. Besides Taj Mahal, there are plenty of tourist attractions in Agra that will keep your hands full while in Agra.
Sightseeing, Shopping and Eating in Agra — Suggestions and Options
Go sightseeing in Agra. Visit Fatehpur Sikri, which was the political capital of India’s Mughal Empire under Akbar’s reign from 1571 till 1585 and regarded as the crowning glory of his architectural legacy. Taj Mahal is a perfectly symmetrical monument that took 22 years (1631–1652) of labor and 20,000 workers, masons and jewelers to build, and is set amidst the landscaped gardens. Built by the Persian architect, the Taj Mahal is on the south bank of the Yamuna River. It can be observed from Agra Fort from where Emperor Shah Jahan gazed at it for the last eight years of his life, as a prisoner of his son Aurangzeb. It is an acknowledged masterpiece of symmetry. Verses of the Koran are inscribed on it and at the top of the gate are twenty-two small domes, signifying the number of years the monument took to build. Enjoy the Saga of the Taj at Kalakriti Cultural and Convention Centre, a series of play depicting the immortal love of Shajahan for Mumtaj Mahal- his beautiful wife, the lavish lifestyle of Mughal era and emaculate hardship of the artisans for 22 years that created the most precious specimen of craftsmanship.
Submerge in the majestic views of Agra fort, a UNESCO World Heritage site located in Agra, India. The fort is also known as Lal Qila, or Red Fort of Agra. It is about 2.5 km northwest of its much more famous sister monument, the Taj Mahal. The fort can be more accurately described as a walled palatial city. The fort contains splendid palaces both in red sandstone and white marble built by two generations of prolific builders Akbar and later Jehangir and Shahjahan. Some of the exquisite structures that deserve a mention are:
- Sheesh Mahal – Literally meaning ‘Glass Palace’, was the royal dressing room adorned by tiny mirror-like glass-mosaic decorations on the walls.
- Diwan-i-Am – It was used as a communications ground between the public and the aristocracy and once housed the Peacock Throne.
- Diwan-i-Khas – A hall of private audience, it was used to welcome kings and dignitaries.
- The Anguri Bagh – It houses 85 square, geometrically arranged lush gardens.
- Khas Mahal – An immaculate white marble palace.
- Mina Masjid – Literally meaning ‘Heavenly Mosque’, it is a tiny mosque closed to the public.
- Nagina Masjid – Literally meaning ‘Gem Mosque’, it was designed exclusively for the ladies of the court.
- Musamman Burj – A large, octagonal tower with a balcony facing the Taj Mahal.
Proceed on a tour of Sikandra. Akbar’s tomb in Sikandra is an exquisite example of different styles of architecture. This tomb signifies the characteristic flavor of the styles and architecture used in Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri. Visit Itmad-ud-Daulah’s tomb, which is a highly ornate structure, which is looked upon as a precursor of the Taj Mahal as far as intricate carvings and inlay work are concerned. Itmad-ud daulah contains cenotaphs of Mirza Ghiyas and Asmat Begum, parents of the powerful Mughal Empress Noor Jehan, Queen of Jahangir, an exceptional beauty and an astute administrator.
Coming to exploring the deeper parts of the Agra city; one can feel the lingering presence of the bygone years and charm of the rulers, emperors & kings who once adorned the city, to their own desires. The Mehtab Bagh or Moonlight Garden is on the opposite bank of the River Yamuna from the Taj Mahal.
Other sights worth seeing in the Agra include:
- Mariam’s Tomb
- Ram Bagh
- Dayal Bagh
- Soami Bagh
- Old Chungi, the library
- Mankameshwar Temple
- Jama Masjid
- Johri Bazar
- Kala Mahal (Mirza Ghalib’s birthplace)
Shopping experience in Agra is mostly remembered as visiting the lanes of different local bazaars filled with an array of handicraft & handloom articles, and spotting that mini Taj replica in various sizes at every corner of the bazaar. Leather items at Agra are famous for their quality. These include leather sandals, purses, bags and decorative items. There are lots of handicraft emporiums that offer a variety of sandalwood and rose wood items along with brass decorative pieces and stone carved images. The fine work done by the local artisans in the city is notable and the markets of Agra are the best place to explore exquisite pieces of fine Zari embroidery work, stone inlay work and precious gemstones. One can find most of the big emporiums concentrated in the area not far from Taj Mahal. Yet, those of you who can steer through the narrow lanes of the city markets of Kinari Bazaar, Raja Mandi, Fuhaara and Lohamandi can get their hands on the best bargains.
For an unforgettable shopping experience:
- Kohinoor – jewels and embroidery emporium
- Marble art palace – demonstration of marble inlay work
- Shilpagram, a craft village on the eastern side of Taj Mahal in Agra, is a popular open-air emporium
- Sadar Bazaar
- Kinari Bazaar
- Raja Mandi
Eating out in Agra is an unforgettable experience that can take you back to the bygone era of mughlai food and dining, where spices, essence and hospitality come together to create the magic, right in your plate! Several of India’s famous meat dishes come from the north where Mughal influence introduced considerable sophistication. The superb Mughlai cuisine with its luscious sauces of milk, curd, cream and crushed nuts is a hit in major restaurants of this city. There is rich, creamy kormas; tender steak like pasandas in an almond sauce; nargisi kofta; an array of kebabs; dalmoth; petha and more.
Esphahan, located in the plush Oberoi Amarvilas, will have you feeling like an emperor after eating one of their extraordinary meals. Inspiring Awadhi fare, traditionally from Lucknow, is recreated here with outstanding aplomb. Enjoy the live classical Indian music and exceptional service while you work your way around one of their Thali (plate) — it’s the best way to taste as many of Esphahan’s delectable dishes as possible.
Taj Khema is in the proximity of the Taj Mahal and offers a great view of the Taj Mahal. In Hotel Taj Khema, the guests can choose from a wide range of Indian and continental delicacies. Relax and enjoy the scrumptious food here, overlooking the Taj Mahal in all its pristine glory. Along with food you are also entertained with beautiful Indian folk music and cultural shows with a new theme every month.
At the Only Restaurant, bamboo-lined walls and red tablecloths set the scene and attentive staff serves up a big range of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes in styles such as Mughlai, Afghan, Chinese and Continental. Do not miss the Maharaja Thali here, showcasing a traditional meal – good variety and taste.
Visit Pinch of Spice for a quick buffet or an Indian meal. Quick service accompanied by generous portions of good food with typical spices, kormas, and tikkas.
Some Boutique hotels in close proximity to the Taj Mahal provide amazing rooftop restaurants where you can enjoy a sundowner cocktail with scrumptious kebabs of Mughlai cuisine, with Taj as a backdrop.
Indulge in a lifetime journey with your partner…
Indulge in a lifetime journey with your partner…
Jaipur city was founded in 1727 by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II of Amber who ruled from 1699–1744. The construction of the city started in 1727. It took around four years to complete the major palaces, roads and square. The city was built following the principles of Shilpa Shastra, the science of Indian Architecture. The city was divided into nine blocks based on the anatomy of the human body, two of which contain the state buildings and palaces, with the remaining seven allotted to the public. Huge fortification walls were built along with seven strong gates. During the regime of Sawai Ram Singh, the whole city was painted pink to welcome Prince Edward of Wales (who later became King Edward VII). Today, avenues remain painted in pink, giving this famed city its distinctive appearance – a pink hue that is resplendent of their hospitality.
The city is remarkable among pre-modern Indian cities for the width and regularity of its streets which are laid out into six sectors separated by an elaborate road structure. The urban quarters are further divided by networks of gridded streets. Five quarters wrap around the east, south, and west sides of a central palace, with a sixth quarter immediately to the east. The Palace quarter encloses the sprawling Hawa Mahal palace complex, formal gardens, and a small lake. Nahargarh Fort, which was the residence of the King Sawai Jai Singh II, crowns the hill in the northwest corner of the old city. The observatory, Jantar Mantar, is one of the World Heritage Sites. Included on the Golden Triangle tourist circuit of the North, along with Delhi and Agra, Jaipur is an extremely popular tourist destination in Rajasthan and India.
Sightseeing, Shopping and Eating in Jaipur — Suggestions and Options
Go sightseeing in Jaipur. Start with the old part of the city which tells the tales of great wars, the stories of royal romances and the intricately etched yester years in its every corner. From Panch Batti circle and the old world Raj Mandir cinema, head along M.I. Road, the main thoroughfare. Continue along M.I. Road, and you’ll come across the pink walls of the Jaipur Old City on your left. There are three gates, spaced around 500 meters apart, which provide entry into the Old City. The first one is Ajmeri Gate, followed by New Gate, and lastly Sanganeri Gate.
The Old City is surprisingly well laid out, with its wide, straight streets running in a grid which forms a series of bazaars. Make a photo-stop at Hawa Mahal, which was constructed for ventilation for the women who used to watch the royal march through the screens of this building. This was built by the poet-king Sawai Pratap Singh in 1799.
Visit the Amber Fort, which is known as one of the most fascinating of the Indian forts which includes an amazing set of palaces, temples, gardens and halls. The Shila Mata temple has a great religious importance. If you want to tread up the fort on elephant back, rather suggest you start here early in the morning. Other attractions include Diwan-e-Aam, Sukh Niwas, Jas Mandir and Sheesh Mahal, all of which gives a glimpse into the majesty of days gone by. Do stop at Artchill – showcasing Indian art.
Enjoy a photo-stop at Jal Mahal, the monsoon palace of the Jaipur Maharajas, located in the middle of the Man Sagar Lake. Proceed to City Palace, where several courtyards and gardens provide wonderful contrast to its many palatial structures including Mubarak Mahal, Chandra Mahal, Badal Mahal and the Sri Govind Dev temple. Also visit Jantar Mantar- the Observatory, a world heritage site. This wonderful astronomical observatory is famous throughout the world and bears the hallmark of exceptional astronomical development of the medieval period.
Other sights worth seeing in Jaipur include:
- Albert Museum
- BM Birla Planetarium
- Laxmi Narayan Temple
- Sisodia Rani Ka Bagh
- Nahargarh Fort (spectacular sunset)
- Jaigarh Fort
Shopping experience in Jaipur can give you an insight in the contrast of old bazaars and modern high end shops of the city. The local ‘Kundan jewelry’ is famous for the intricate work as much as the ‘Navratan jewelry’ (9 stones) that is believed to bring good luck to the users. The exotic blue pottery, the batik work and block printed textiles of Sanganer and Bagru, tie & dye fabrics, Mojaris (the local shoes), sandal wood carving items, beautiful stone carvings etc. An entire street and several city sectors were earmarked for artisans and traders in the past, and they continue to display their rich heritage to this day.
Near the Hawa Mahal are many shops dealing in pseudo-antiques and souvenirs. Some shops opposite Hawa Mahal stock the famous Jaipuri quilts, weighing from a few hundred grams to some kilograms. Nehru Bazaar, situated on the road between Ajmeri Gate and New Gate, is a favorite with the women of Jaipur. Many shops here are selling bright colored fabrics, shoes, trinkets and local perfumes. Bapu Bazaar lies on the road between New Gate and Sanganeri Gate, many shops here sell ethnic and modern clothes, copper utensils and patch-work bags that are famous with locals and tourists alike. Keep an eye out for the marvelously huge banyan tree on the right of this bazaar with its massive intertwined branches.
Stroll along and browse through the shops at Johari Bazaar. If the jewels at the high-end stores were a little out of your taste, you might find other options here that are more pocket-suitable. Johari Bazaar and the lanes that run off it are known for gold and silver jewelery, as well as inexpensive costume jewelry and bangles.
For an unforgettable shopping experience:
- Ramganj Bazar for shoes or jootis (local styled shoes)
- Kishanpol Bazar for tie and dye textiles
- Maniharon Ka Rasta (Tripolia Bazar) for bangles and other items
- Emporiums for hand-made rugs and carpets
- Khajano Ka Rasta for marble carving
- Sanganer village for block printing and hand-made paper
- Blue pottery manufacturing units
Eating out in Jaipur can leave your heart & stomach filled with the unforgettable aroma of the delicacies of the Rajasthani cuisine and the local flavoring spices. The capital of Rajput kings had an impressive array of mouth-watering delights, kept closely guarded by the royal chefs. Legends tell tales of cooks trying to impress their guests by presenting at least one unforgettable item on the menu. The royal guests were served savory dishes made from stuffed camels, goats, pigs and peacocks. The food was served in gold and silver utensils, with a display of heartwarming hospitality that surpasses every imagination. Jaipur is famous for its Dal-Batti Churma, Mawa Kachori, Mirchi Bada, Rajasthani Subjis, Ghewar, Feeni, Gajak, Chauguni ke laddu and different kinds of Rajasthani breads.
You can visit Laxmi Mishtan Bhandar, a very popular food joint as it is easily affordable and serves famous local snacks and sweet dishes – such as mouth watering Raj Kachori and Rasmalai. It is situated in the busy market of Johari Bazaar and serves other authentic Rajasthani specialties too.
Chokhi Dhani is one of the most popular places to sample traditional food, and of course, a slice of true Rajasthani culture. Enjoy camel rides and traditional performances or splurge in the in-house flea-market. This village-style restaurant serves authentic Rajasthani cuisine in an authentic ambiance with is several course fixed menu.
Pamper your taste buds at Handi Restaurant, on M.I. Road, which specializes in Non-vegetarian biryanis, curries and tandoori items. The atmosphere is great aligned by traditional interiors and a matching decor. Nearby Copper Chimney restaurant is a chic, elegant place with a friendly waiters’ army and a rollicking horse mural to compliment the decor. It offers vegetarian and non-vegetarian Indian food as well as a small selection of Continental and Chinese food. Indian wines are available to accompany the exquisite food, flattering the taste and the aromas.
Spice Court is a relaxed clubhouse restaurant, with a blue-tiled roof and a splendid evening courtyard, the food is fresh, the kitchen spotless, and the kebab platters are a serious business. Folk dancers play perfect companions to the tasteful display of dishes that leave gastronomes asking for more. Choose to order as per your preferences rather than opting for the buffet.
Last but not the least, there are several houses and havelis offering you a flavour of royalty, by giving you an opportunity to dine with a royal family, witnessing the authentic royal hospitality, listen to their tales and savor culinary specialties that have traveled several generations. Not a difficult possibility is to a cooking demo.