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Many new travellers to India tend to visit the bigger cities (and that is understandable), and their first experience can be daunting and exhausting. There is so much to see- so many people, traffic & chaos. The heat is draining.
Fortunately, there are many small, very interesting towns and villages that one can get to see, and many are just an hour or two drive out of the big cities.
We have found so many interesting things and places by hiring a car and just getting out of the city. Not only is the countryside beautiful, but one can see how people really live, and rural life is very different from city life.
A good example is driving from Udaipur to Chittor- lovely scenery and in Chittor see the mighty Rajput Fort that is there. It can be done in a few hours.
Ranakpur - with its exquisite Jain Temple complex is 2 hour drive from Udaipur
From Mumbai it is 403km to Aurangabad-(overnight by train) and one can see the awesome Ellora Cave Complex. I highly recommend this- it is one of the most peaceful and interesting places in India.
Most guide books will list side trips. So get out into the countryside- it will clear your head and refresh you.
Updated Dec 4, 2008
India is one of the top destinations in the world for adventure sports. Because of its diversity, almost all adventure sport is possible- and in levels of degree that cater for all ages and different levels of fitness.
There is trekking, cycling, gentle hiking, horse-riding, fishing, kayaking, white -water rafting, and skiing in winter.
Camel safaris can be organised in the desert regions, and in certain parts of north-east India elephant treks are available.
So go- do something different. Its a memory that you will always treasure.
Most importantly, get a good guide. I recommed Sanjeev Mehta- (Mohans Adventure Tours) he is one of the very best, and will advise you on any form that you may choose, He will devise and plan a personal trek/adventure for small or larger groups.
Updated Apr 4, 2011
Most visitors to India see the Taj Mahal. There is, however, another fascinating site nearby ( 25min drive from Agra)
This is the abandoned city of Fatehpur Sikri.
Fatehpur Sikri (City of Victory) is an abandoned city, built from red sandstone. A city of yesteryear, today lost in the mists of time. It was built by the Mughal Emperor Akbar during the 16th century. Akbar had no heir. He visited holy men to enlist their prayers for a son. He visited Sheikh Salim Chishti, who was living at the village of Sikri, and the Sufi saint prophesied that he would be blessed with a son. When the son was born, Akbar named the boy Salim, after the Saint. This son later became the Emperor Jahangir.
The grateful Emperor constructed this as his capital city and named it Fatehpur Sikri. Later, due to lack of water and unrest in North-West, Akbar had to abandon his capital. The beautiful marble tomb of Sheikh Salim Chishti still attract thousands who seek blessings of the revered saint. Women wishing to have children tie small bits of string onto a screen inside the tomb, after they have asked for a blessing form the Saint . When their prayers are answered, they return and remove the string.
. It has been rumoured for centuries that underground tunnels led all the way to Delhi , and Agra.
Fatehpur Sikri is a world heritage UNESO site, and is situated 39km form Agra. There is a small village nearby.
The wide, open square on this site displays perfect examples of Mughal Architecture, and the various buildings around it are all very well preserved.
The most outstanding are the Mosque, and the marble tomb of the Sufi Saint Salim Chishti. Intricate sandstone lattice windows filter the sunlight.
One has to be aware that on arrival, many touts and guides are ready to pounce on unsuspecting tourists. Having a guide is somewhat useful, and some guides have extensive knowledge of the old city. Many of them, unfortunately, have a hidden agenda
This site is definitely a must-see if you are in the Agra vicinity.
Updated Jul 12, 2009
One of my nicest memories of the Taj Mahal were the marble floors.
I had never seen such huge white marble tiles outdoors. All around the main building there is a huge terrace tiled with big marble squares. Walking around barefoot is a nice refreshing experience in the heat of Agra's summer. Being stepped by so many barefeet made the marbles incredibly soft, so I enjoyed very much lying down on the floor (see pic) while I watched the people pass by.
Written Mar 9, 2004
2.) Mcleod Ganj : The home to Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama & the seat of Tibetan Govt. in exile, situated near the Dhauladhar ranges with a cultural mix of Tibetan & Hindu environment in this region , just walk around this small chaotic hill station is a pleasure in itself. Great food & spiritual sense in the air are enough reason to go there.
1.) Varanasi : The oldest, continuously surviving civilisation ( & city ) in the world. Varanasi is situated in the heart of Hindu cow belt region of India, it is famous for the Ghats ( banks ) of River Ganga & a holy city for Hindus all over the world. It’s a chaotic city, filled with cows, hotels, yoga centres & temples here & everywhere all vying for a spot on the holy Ganga. You’ll find a snake charmer, a palmist, internet centre, hindu saint & a thug all jostling for some Karma in this holy city. This place takes everyone by surprise & to some extent symbolises the very essence of India.
Ladakh : the most amazing place I have ever been to in India & around the world till now, its different topography & landscape takes your breath away. Reaching Ladakh from Manali or Srinagar is half the fun filled with adventure. The Manali to Leh road built in 1970’s purely to effectively counter Chinese threat to Indian sovereignty over Kashmir and to make alternate road to the Ladakh district other than Kashmir is most treacherous road journeys in the world, almost 500kms long road takes you through the highest passes in the world & is a highly militarized zone. But once there its well worth all the pains, Leh is the highest altitude capital district in the world, Leh city airport is the highest altitude airport in the world. This region will take you by surprise, if you have not been here you have been no where. Go… Go ….
Written Feb 5, 2005
If you are given peace and quite by the Souvenir sellers, the Rickshaw wallahs, and the myriads of others who want your time and your tourist rupee. Wlak along the Yamuna River from the fort. To get a very different view of the Taj Mahal.
Even though the Taj Mahal is beautiful up close. Its also incredible from afar too.
Do check it out.
Written Feb 5, 2005
Head with a Cobra Sculpture...... Hmmmm? What do you think? Could it be someone's incarnation of Shiva.
These fantastic Little Beach is 22 km north of Panaji. In the Small Indian State of Goa. Vagator beach is about half way up the 30 km coastline stretch of Northern Beaches of Goa that covers the most popular hotspots of Goa and India tourism. Its a hop, a skip and a jump to the north of the This party Beach.
Vagator by day is more salubrious and laid-back than Anjuna. Relatively secluded, The Three little beaches that make up Vagator are situated on the crescent shaped Caisua bay, along the Chapora river basin, in the shadow of the ruins of Chapora Fort.
Vagator is one of the most beautiful beaches of Goa, and India, laying on inviting sandy coves, between coconut palm shaded rocky headlands. Generally peaceful, in peak season it attracts day-trippers, and during the night typically boisterous Goa beach parties are a regular feature, especially at Disco Valley between Vagator and Little Vagator, and at Banyan Tree, east of Vagator. Not to mention, The Hill Top above Little Vagator Beach. Fun Fun Fun.
On the cliff above Little Vagator Alcove offers delicious location, ambiance and food & drinks. Restaurants in Vagator dish up tasty seafood, continental dishes, health foods and fruity shakes.
Little Vagator and Ozran (Spaghetti Beach) are two gorgeous small Goa beaches just south of Vagator. Ozran is nestled at the bottom of a palm-covered cliff. Both have been discovered by youngsters on a Goa holiday seeking beaches in Goa to call their own. It has thus become a Frisbee type hangout. This is where You'll find the sculpture here of Lord Shiva on a rock, created by a long-stay visitor.
Give Vagator a Go. Its a Fantastic Little Beach.
Updated Dec 20, 2004
There is no better way to see the Rural Indian life than by train. Because India rail crosses India like a spiders web, it passes different kinds of scenery, often giving us the chance to witness farming practises, beautiful scenery, amazing architectural examples, incredble bridges and the stops at the stations are wonderful too.
In india the railway station is unlike others you'll find in the world. Indian Railway Stations are full of life, with Chai Wallahs, Samosa sellers, shoe shiners, beggar boys, porters, railway workers, and of course passengers all off descriptions, littering the Railway platforms, with shouts, bustle, smells and sights to behold. Its a carzy mish mash of comings and goings, that had me as a New Zealander utterly enthralled.
rail travel is the most convenient way of travelling if you are travelling on a budget. The types of class available are 1st class, AC 2tier, AC 3tier, 2nd class sleeper & chair car. The 1st class being phased out being converted in to AC 2 tier/AC 3 tier (recently being introduced in some of the trains).
Some guff: The trains usually run at a speeds of between 60 km - 130 km per hour depending on the type of trains e.g. Passenger train, Superfast trains, Shatabadi train (the fastest among all these, covering only some of the destinations). For all the major destinations superfast trains are running and the same are being recommended if you are ready to spend the night on a train.
I recommend spending a night on the train. As a tourist you owe yourself the experience. It was a wonderful way to learn about local food, attractions and just speaking with the locals was excellent. Travelling overnight by train aslo subtracts from Hotel bills. I am an absolute advocate of killing two birds with one stone; in this case travelling and accommodation.
Written Feb 6, 2005
Jami Masjid is one of the largest mosques in India. Built in 1571 A.D., it is the most scared building in Fatehpur Sikri and has, therefore, been built on the highest point. The mosque has a vast courtyard. Towards the corner on the right side, is the Jammat Khana hall and next to which is Zenana Rauza, the Tomb of the Royal Ladies.
Originally it was built in red stone and was later faced in marble by Jahangir. It's lattice screens are the most intricate and beautiful in the world.
Jama Masjid is beautifully decorated with paintings, inlaid stones, carvings and glazed tiles. The building comprises of pillared Dalan, a beautiful 'Chhajja' and the 'Chhatri' on the roof. The main Iwan of the building is rather simple and contains a central arch with geometrical designs.
The siting of the Jama Masjid marked the actual beginning of the city which came up around it. The palace courts were laid out parallel to the cardinally aligned mosque and the sequential order of the palaces were emphasized by change in level. The most public space was at the lowest level, while the royal harem was at the highest.
Jama masjid Agra
There are several historical places to see in the town. The main being the palace complex and the Friday mosque (Jama Masjid). Towering gateway of the mosque is fittingly called the Buland Darwaza. There are the two tombs of the saint, the white marble one erected by Shah-Jahan, and the original red sandstone one of Emperor Akber. There are government information plaques near all the monuments.
Emperor Akbar, the greatest of all the Mughal rulers, had no heir. In a desperate attempt, he beseeched the saint Salim Christi at Sikri. Through divine grace, an heir was born and the emperor, in the grand manner of all true emperors, decided to dedicate a magnificent city in honour of the saint.
Written Feb 5, 2005
As I mention in my "Colorful Festivals" Tip, I recommend that you spend a little time learning about Hinduism before your visit to India. So much of what happens everyday in India involves 900 million people's relationship and practice of Hinduism.
My wife bought a book while we were in India entitled HINDU GODS AND GODDESSES, and it added a lot to our look and understanding of day-to-day sights. Suddenly, we were able to identify what was being said by the many colorful murals you'd find on private dwellings, at hotels and such. And when we'd come across one of the many humble shrines throughout the country, it made us feel a little closer to local culture to know which God or Goddess a particular shrine may be honoring.
There are also some magnificent Hindu temple structures throughout the country. As is the case with most world religions, visitors to holy shrines are generally welcome, assuming that they are respectful and civil in their visit. Given the opportunity, I would very much suggest that you take an opportunity to visit a few of India's temples, it'll give you a deeper feel for the country's soul.
The photo accompanying this tip was taken in Mathura, which is "almost" a suburb of Agra. There's only a bit of "space" between the two cities as you drive on what I think I remember as NH1 (National Highway 1). Mathura has a special point in Hindu faith, as it is the hometown/birthplace of Lord Krishna, THE most identified and revered God of Hinduism.
Updated Nov 15, 2008
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