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Must See Things in India

David Pettitt

As befits a country of such size and diversity, the landmarks of India are so plentiful it is almost impossible to mention them all. India is home to spectacular religious complexes, incredible archaeological remains, grand Islamic architecture, impressive colonial era buildings and astonishing natural wonders. Although many more places could have made this list, these are our top 35 incredible Indian landmarks.

1. Ranakpur Temples, Rajasthan

The Jain religious complex at Ranakpur is one of the best preserved in India and is rightly acclaimed for the delicacy and intricacy of its temple carvings. The most important structure at the site is the Adinatha Temple which dates to the 1400s and is planned around a central shrine. The temple has countless spires, gateways and porches, images of saints and 1,444 engraved pillars – each one with a unique design.

White spires of the Chaumukha Mandir Jain Temple in Ranakpur, India

2. Fatehpur Sikri, Uttar Pradesh

Located between Jaipur and Agra, the UNESCO protected remains of Fatehpur Sikri were constructed with the intention of being a new Mughal capital for the Emperor Akbar. Building began in the second half of the 16th century but within 40 years the city was completely abandoned. No expense was spared by Akbar and a number of monumental structures remain including the gateway, royal palace and Jama Masjid.

Red sandstone building at Fatehpur Sikri in India

Photo credit: Romain Pontida

3. Sanchi, Madhya Pradesh

The religious monuments of Sanchi are amongst the greatest examples of Buddhist art and architecture in India. Sanchi is also the oldest surviving Buddhist complex and was the principal centre for Buddhism in the country until the 12th century. UNESCO protected, the complex at Sanchi consists of stupas, monolithic pillars, temples and monasteries – all in different states of conservation and repair.

Ancient stone stupa at Buddhist Sanchi in India

4. Brihadisvara Temple, Tanjore

Tanjore sits in the heart of the religious landscape of Tamil Nadu and, in the Brihadisvara Temple, gives a home to one of the most impressive monuments of southern India. Over 1000 years old, the temple was funded by the Chola kings and has a 62m high vimana – the tallest in India – and a dome carved from an 80-ton block of granite. Inside there are a series of elaborate carvings and delicate fresco paintings.

Monumental stone entrance at the Brihadisvara Temple in Tanjore

5. Victoria Memorial, Kolkata

There are a number of impressive landmarks from the British Raj in Kolkata but none as grand as the imposing Victoria Memorial. Set at the southern end of the Maidan and constructed of white marble, the building was opened to the public in 1921 and dedicated to the memory of Queen Victoria. Today the Victoria Memorial houses a wide ranging collection of Raj relics and exhibitions on the history of the city.

Marble domed Victoria Memorial in Kolkata

6. St Francis Church, Kochi

The earliest European settlement in India, Kochi is also the location of the oldest European church in the country. Built in 1503 by Franciscan Friars from Portugal, St Francis Church is reflective of the wider town with Portuguese, Dutch and British architecture elements evident. The church was also the original burial place of the renowned explorer Vasco da Gama until his remains were taken back to Portugal in 1539.

Cream facade of the historic St Francis Church in Fort Kochi

Photo credit: Kandukuru Nagarjun

7. Jaisalmer Fort, Jaisalmer

Towering over the arid Thar Desert, the fort at Jaisalmer once presided over the valuable trade routes that linked India’s interior with the west. As the city’s wealth grew, residents invested heavily in the town and today many of the exceptional and beautiful havelis that remain can be visited. Retaining its medieval feel, the fort is a warren of lanes and alleyways which, to this day, are still home to over 1,000 inhabitants.

Panoramic view of Jaisalmer Fort surrounded by low-rise homes in Rajasthan, India

8. Khajuraho Group of Monuments, Madhya Pradesh

Arguably India’s finest temple site, there are few places that rival the monuments at Khajuraho. Built between 950 and 1050 AD under Chandela rule, only 20 of the 85 original temples have survived but those that have are in excellent condition. Striking a perfect balance between architecture and sculpture, the temples celebrate the joy of life and love for which there is probably no equivalent in the world.

Beautiful intricately carved stone temple at Khajuraho in India

9. Gateway of India, Mumbai

Standing proudly at the heart of the historic Colaba district with the world-famous Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel as a backdrop, the Gateway of India is one of Mumbai’s most instantly recognisable sites. Built to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary in 1911, the gateway opened in 1924 and is close to a number of grand Raj-era buildings including the Rajabai Clock Tower and Mumbai High Court.

Aerial view of people walking around the Gateway of India in Mumbai

Photo credit: Francisco Antunes

10. Chowmahalla Palace, Hyderabad

One of the official residences of the Nizams of Hyderabad, the Chowmahalla Palace was completed during the middle of the 19th century and hosted important royal visitors, guests and visiting dignitaries. One of a number of impressive monuments in Hyderabad, the design of the Chowmahalla Palace was influenced by a range of different architectural styles including Persian, European, Indo-Saracenic and Rajasthani.

Ornate facade of the Chowmahalla Palace in Hyderabad

Photo credit: Morgan Davis

11. Mahabodhi Temple Complex, Bodh Gaya

Forming part of what is one of the most important Buddhist pilgrimage centres in the world, the Mahabodhi Temple dates to the 2nd century BC, is the focal point of the wider Buddhist complex and was originally built by the Emperor Ashoka. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Mahabodhi Temple has been rebuilt, restored and extended over the centuries and today houses a gilded image of the enlightened Buddha.

Grand stone tower of the Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya

12. Yiga-Choeling Monastery, Ghoom

Set high in the Himalayan foothills in Ghoom, a short distance from Darjeeling, the Yiga-Choeling Monastery is a revered place of worship and attracts pilgrims from all over the subcontinent. Belonging to the Gelugpa sect of Buddhism, the monastery dates to 1850 and houses rare Buddhist manuscripts and scriptures as well as an image of the Maitreya Buddha resplendent with precious stones, diamonds and gold.

Multi coloured facade of the Buddhist Yiga-Choeling Monastery in Ghoom, India

13. Taj Mahal, Agra

There are a number of extraordinary buildings in Agra that befit a city that was once the capital of the all-conquering Mughal Empire. The Taj Mahal, however, is undoubtedly the finest, perfectly proportioned and with outstanding craftsmanship. Instantly recognisable around the world, the Taj Mahal was completed in 1653 and commissioned by the Emperor Shah Jahan as a memorial to his wife Mumtaz Mahal.

Iconic view of the Taj Mahal in Agra, India

14. Hemis Monastery, Ladakh

One of the wealthiest monasteries in the remote Himalayan region of Ladakh, Hemis Monastery is set high above the River Indus. Founded in the 17th century, the monastery’s interior houses silver chortens, a wooden throne, a library of rare Tibetan books and collection of thangkas. Hemis is also the location of a popular tsechu held at the end of June each year to celebrate the birth of the local Guru Padmasambhava.

White-washed Hemis Monastery surrounded by prayer flags in Ladakh

Photo credit: Michael Day

15. Sravanabelagola, Karnataka

Sravanabelagola, is a significant Jain pilgrimage site and the location of a monumental Gommateshwara statue. Over 1000 years old, the 17 metre high statue, said to be sculpted from a single piece of granite, sits atop a hill with far-reaching views from the summit. Seven hundred steps, carved into the steep slope, lead to the statue and several small shrines dating to the 12th century are passed on the ascent.

Close-up view of the monumental Jain statue at Sravanabelagola in India

Photo credit: Philip Larson

16. Chand Baori Stepwell, Abhaneri

Located between Agra and Jaipur, the unassuming village of Abhaneri is home to the astonishing Chand Baori Stepwell. Constructed between the 8th and 9th centuries to guarantee a year-round water supply in this most arid of regions, the stepwell is a masterpiece of engineering. Thought to be the deepest in India, the 3,500 steps descend an incredible thirteen stories before reaching the bottom of the well.

Lady in a red and green sari climbing the stairs of the Chand Baori stepwell in Abhaneri, Rajasthan

17. Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus, Mumbai

The Gothic and Art Deco architecture of Mumbai has recently attained UNESCO World Heritage Status. Fusing Indian and European design elements, the expansion of Mumbai in the 1880s transformed the city into an influential trading centre. Arguably the most impressive of the public buildings constructed was the Victoria, now Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, Terminus – one of the grandest railway stations in the world.

Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus Station surrounded by taxis in Mumbai

18. Palitana, Gujarat

Known as the ‘Abode of the Gods’, the hills of Palitana are dotted with over 900 Jain temples making it one of the largest religious complexes in the world. Palitana is also the most important of all Jain pilgrimage sites and every Jain aspires to make the ascent once in their lifetime. To truly experience Palitana, join the pilgrims at sunrise and climb the 4,000 steps to the temples – a hike that takes around two hours.

Aerial view of some of the many Jain temples of Palitana in Gujarat

19. Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur

Mehrangarh Fort towers above the blue-painted homes of Jodhpur. Surrounded by a huge curtain wall punctuated with fortified towers and a monumental gateway entrance, Mehrangarh is arguably the most impressive fort in India. Exceptionally well maintained, inside the fort there are palaces, temples and royal apartments that reflect Jodhpur’s status as one of the most influential and powerful states of India.

Panoramic view of the Mehrangarh Fort and Jaswant Thada Mausoleum in Jodhpur

20. Gol Gumbaz, Bijapur

Bijapur, in the north of Karnataka, is a relatively modest city but has one of the finest collections of Mughal and Islamic architecture in the whole of southern India. The Gol Gumbaz, a towering mausoleum with the second largest unsupported dome in the world, is a highlight and those that climb to the top of this huge structure are rewarded with a whispering gallery and views of the town and surrounding area.

Huge dome and brick frontage of the Gol Gumbaz in Bijapur

21. Chinese Fishing Nets, Kochi

These large shored-operated lift nets are one of the iconic images of Kochi. A simple weighted cantilever that suspends a net over the sea, they are operated by a team of fishermen and, it is believed, are unique to this part of the world. Numerous ideas abound as to the provenance of the nets with theories ranging from medieval Portuguese settlers, a Chinese explorer and traders from the court of Kublai Khan.

Chinese Fishing Nets in Kochi at sunset

22. Chandigarh Capitol Complex, Chandigarh

India’s first planned post-independence city, Chandigarh was built in a post-war modernist style in the words of Jawaharlal Nehru, ‘to be a new town symbolic of the freedom of India’. Responsibility for the project ultimately laid with renowned architect Le Corbusier who designed the Capitol Complex including the Secretariat and Legislative Assembly, multi-pillared High Court and iconic Open Hand Monument.

Open Hand Monument at the Chandigarh Capitol Complex in India

Photo credit: Raakesh Blokhra

23. Mandu, Madhya Pradesh

The ancient fort city of Mandu in central India is an architectural masterpiece of understated Islamic style. Believed to have been founded in the 6th century AD, Mandu’s heyday was under the Pathan sultans who ushered in a period of peace and prosperity and a resurgence of art and literature which lasted until the end of the Mughal period. A number of grand mosques, palaces, tombs, monuments and a stepwell remain.

Stone edifice of the Jahaz Mahal in Mandu, India

Photo credit: Varun Shiv Kapur

24. Kohima War Cemetery, Nagaland

Nagaland is rightly known for its proud indigenous culture and tribal traditions, however, the state capital of Kohima also played a pivotal role in the struggle against the Japanese in World War II. The Kohima War Cemetery is a memorial in honour of the soldiers killed in battle here during the Second World War with 1,420 Commonwealth burials. The cemetery is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

View of the Kohima War Cemetery with the town of Nagaland in the background

25. City Palace, Jaipur

Notably planned by Maharaja Jai Singh II in the early 18th century, the crowning glory in Jaipur’s city design is the superb City Palace. Painted pink as a mark of welcome, this royal complex houses a number of impressive structures including the Mubarak Mahal, Chandra Mahal and colourful Peacock Gate. Most famous is the five storey Hawa Mahal, or 'Palace of the Winds', with its intricate and elaborate façade.

Ornate frontage of the Hawa Mahal in Jaipur, Rajasthan

26. Paradesi Synagogue, Kochi

Surrounded by curio shops, spice stores, vegetable stalls and warehouses, the beautiful Paradesi Synagogue is hidden away in one of Fort Kochi’s oldest quarters. Built in 1568 to serve the needs of a growing Jewish community and housing Cantonese ceramic tiles and rare antiques, today the Paradesi Synagogue is the oldest functioning synagogue not only in Kerala but also in India and Commonwealth.

Opulent and historic interior of the Paradesi Synagogue in Kochi

Photo credit: Dennis Jarvis

27. Golden Temple, Amritsar

The Golden Temple is the holiest site in Sikhism and dates to the 16th century. Enlarged and embellished over the years, the temple acquired its distinctive golden exterior in 1830 after Maharaja Ranjit Singh donated 100kg of gold to be applied to the roof and walls. A deeply atmospheric and spiritual place, the evening Palki ceremony and veneration of the Guru Granth Sahib holy book is particularly memorable.

Two Sikh men sitting and looking at the Golden Temple in Amritsar at dusk

28. Basilica of Bom Jesus, Goa

The Basilica of Bom Jesus, along with the remains of the rest of Old Goa, are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The basilica holds the remains of St Francis Xavier, a Jesuit monk who undertook missionary work in 16th century India. As one of the oldest churches in the country, the Basilica of Bom Jesus is an important pilgrimage site and has an elaborate interior of marble and precious stones, paintings and sculpture.

Historic and towering stone frontage of the Basilica of Bom Jesus in Old Goa

Photo credit: Amarnath

29. Shree Meenakshi Temple, Madurai

Instantly recognisable, the towering multi-coloured gopurams of the sacred Shree Meenakshi Temple can be seen throughout the ancient south Indian pilgrimage city of Madurai. Constructed at exactly the same time as the Taj Mahal, the Shree Meenakshi Temple is a hive of activity – a living, breathing spiritual complex complete with flower sellers, pious pilgrims, religious musicians and a decorated temple elephant.

Ornate, colourful and decorative gopuram of the Shree Meenakshi Temple in Madurai

30. Ajanta Caves, Maharashtra

Hidden in a steep wooded hillside north of Aurangabad, the Ajanta Caves exhibit some of the finest examples of Indian fresco painting, easily comparable to the masterpieces of Assisi, Sienna and Florence. Hand cut out of solid rock, the caves were once a Buddhist monastery home to hundreds of monks, artists and craftsmen. The paintings tell the story of Buddha and portray scenes of royal, family and everyday life.

Interior of the one of the Buddhist caves of Ajanta in India

31. Konark Sun Temple, Odisha

Konark is one of Hindu India’s foremost architectural treasures and famous for its 13th century Sun Temple. UNESCO protected, the temple was built in the shape of a war chariot with twelve pairs of great stone wheels carved on either side of the main platform. It is said that the complex took 1200 masons over 16 years to complete and the beautiful carvings portray every aspect of life, religion and mythology.

View of the Konark Sun Temple in Odisha

Photo credit: Nomad Tales

32. Chittorgarh Fort, Rajasthan

A vast fort of immense size, Chittorgarh was once the capital of Mewar. One of the oldest inhabited places in Rajasthan, Chittorgarh was officially founded in 728 AD however excavations have discovered stone tools dating from nearly half a million years ago and 2nd century BC Buddhist relics. Encompassed by 5kms of walls, the fort contains many interesting ruins including palaces, Jain and Hindu temples and a museum.

Panoramic view of Chittorgarh Fort in Rajasthan

Photo credit: Jon Connell

33. Hampi, Karnataka

Heartland of the Vijayanagara Empire, at its zenith Hampi was the largest and wealthiest city on the planet. Despite being attacked, destroyed and finally abandoned in the 16th century, evidence of Hampi’s former greatness is clearly evident in the archaeological remains. Highlights include the Vitthala Temple, which is one of the finest carved temples of its kind in India, the Lotus Mahal, Queen’s Bath and elephant stables.

Panoramic view of the remains of Hampi in India

34. Living Root Bridges, Meghalaya

One of India’s least well-known natural wonders, the living root bridges of remote Meghalaya have no obvious comparison. Set in dense tropical forest close to the town of Cherrapunjee, the bridges are a form of tree shaping where roots of trees are manipulated to grow across rivers and ravines. It is said to take 15 years for a new root bridge to become strong and stable enough to bear the weight of people crossing it.

View of one of the unique Root Bridges surrounded by thick forest in Meghalaya, India

35. Varanasi Ghats, Uttar Pradesh

There are few places on earth that have the atmosphere of Varanasi and the ghats, which line the sacred River Ganges, is where the city’s energy is focussed. As India’s holiest place, the ghats are integral to both life and death in the city and are crowded with pilgrims, worshippers and sadhus performing their religious rituals. The evening Aarti ceremonies that take place on the ghats at dusk are especially unforgettable.

View of the River Ganges and ghats in Varanasi, India

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