“To other countries, I may go as a tourist, but to India, I come as a pilgrim,” said Martin Luther King Jr. of his visit to India in February 1959.
This quote perfectly sums up an experience in India. There’s something spiritual in the air here. Belief systems, social systems, caste systems and an inescapable proximity to life and death in the same breath make India an intense place to visit.
According to Intrepid Travel’s Intrepid Adventure Index, the number of solo travellers visiting India is on the rise. Not because they want to meet new people, but because they want to connect with themselves.
And, after Vietnam, India is the most popular travel destination for travellers wanting to find themselves. So, with this in mind, I encourage you to throw yourself in the deep end. Roll with the punches and allow the intensity of the country to engulf you. And what better way to do this than visiting some of India’s most mesmerising sites?
The Taj Mahal is hands down one of India’s most glorious sites. It’s one of the world’s most extravagant dedications of love, and boy, can you feel it. But here’s a list of six other mesmerising sites you need to get on your bucket list.
#1 Golden Temple, Amritsar
The Golden Temple is one of the oldest and holiest sites for Sikhism and can be found in north India’s Punjab region. Many believe the temple has healing powers, hence why pilgrims visit to bathe in its sacred waters. The site’s gold aesthetic (yes, real gold), manmade lake filled with tropical fish, and the 100s of pilgrims make visiting the Golden Temple a soul-touching experience.
#2 The Blue City, Jodhpur
The Blue City of Jodhpur is a photographer’s dream. The second largest city in the state of Rajasthan is home to an abundance of blue-painted houses that give the city its beautiful, unique hue. So why blue? Some stories state that it’s simply to keep the houses cool in summer. Other sources state it was once a sign that a Brahmin – priests in the Indian caste system – lived there. Either way, the Blue City is majestic and needs to be on your list of must-sees when visiting India.
#3 Jama Masjid, Delhi
Mughal emperor Shah Jahan had quite the eye for magnificent architecture. He was the same emperor who built the Taj Mahal as a tomb for his favourite wife Mumtaz Mahal. But after her death, he moved the capital city from Agra to Delhi and commissioned one of India’s largest mosques.
The place of worship is simultaneously calm and busy. Entry is free, but visitors are charged for photography. Note: for places of worship in India, you’ll be required to remove your shoes, and you may not be allowed entry if you aren’t appropriately covered. Do not enter during prayer time and women should cover their hair.
#4 Hawa Mahal, Jaipur
Located in Jaipur, also known as the Pink City, Hawa Mahal was built in 1799 to allow the royal women to experience the street festivals and city life from the safety of the palace. Be sure to visit Hawa Mahal in the mornings when then rising sun’s rays fall on the building. It’s open from 9:30am-4:30pm daily.
#5 The Ganges, Varanasi
The Ganges is a sacred river for Hindus who believe in its purity, despite being the world’s sixth-most polluted river. Hindus believe bathing in it cleanses away sins, and liberates them from the never-ending cycle of life and death. Burning ghats line the river’s edge, where the deceased are publicly cremated after being cleansed in The Ganges. Witnessing this is commonplace, but is an emotionally intense and life-changing event. Traditionally, women are not allowed at the burning ghats and photography should be avoided.
#6 Kerala Backwaters
At the very tip of India’s south, the Kerala backwaters twist and turn in swollen rice paddy fields passing villages and palm trees. Hire a houseboat for a night or more with your own personal chef for a luxe experience. Alternatively, you could consider a homestay for a night or two. If you go in peak season, beware the noise; the backwaters have been likened to a car park filled with house boats jostling for territory. However, during low season the backwaters are serene, slow and oh so lush.
(Lead image: Ravi Skekhar / Unplash)
This post was originally published on June 4, 2018 and has since been updated.
Alex is a travel writer and Managing Editor of festivalfans.com.au. She’s a cheese enthusiast, loves camping beachside, and keenly hunts out small bars with warm fires and jazzy beats.