Traveling to India was one of the most exciting adventures i’ve ever been on. The country is the second most populous in the world and has one of the oldest histories on the planet. There are many unique regions that make up India, and within each region there are many wonderful things to do. Today i’ve decided to take a trip down memory lane with a look back at my 2006 trip to India. These are the 8 incredible things I did in India that stand out after all these years.
Traveling in India can be a wild ride at times and it’s the most “different” place i’ve ever been to.Traveling in India at times can be a little bit challenging. It is unlike anywhere else in the world. There are many cultural barriers you must learn to understand. Trying to coordinate trains and buses to reach your destination isn’t always easy, but the reward is always worth it. It takes the excitement of traveling and adds in a new sense. In many ways, it’s like trying to explain taste to someone for the first time. It’s overwhelming and exhilarating, all mixed together into one spicy dish.
Looking at all these pictures from this trip has brought back some great memories. It’s been fun to re-live this trip many years after the fact. As a westerner visiting India, at times it feels as if you’ve crossed the threshold into a new world. This trip took place almost 14 years ago. Despite all the time that has passed, there are many incredible memories that still jump out.
India is the birthplace to one of the world’s most ancient civilizations. With so much history, it becomes difficult to know where to start. There are so many different landscapes, each one more amazing or breathtaking than the last. India is full of many awe-inspiring temples and hidden gems just waiting to be discovered.
India is definitely one of the most exciting places I have ever traveled to.
The best advice I could give; don’t try to do too much.
Planning a trip is never easy. This becomes especially difficult to do so when it comes to India. The country has so many distinct regions and cultures, and is home to over 1.3 billion people. Just walking around the streets of any city, you quickly become part of a living organism. India is quite the ride.
If it feels like there are many countries within the country, that is because it is partially true. Many of the provinces are equal in size to countries around the world. Maharashtra (114 Million), Rajasthan (68 million) and Madhya Pradesh (73 million) all have more people than Canada. There are 22 official languages in India and 1600 different languages are spoken, although only about 150 that are widely used. That’s right, only 150. Where do you even start trying to explore a country of this size?
We spent just over five weeks in India. Our itinerary included a lot of overnight busses and long train journeys. There was also plenty of time to stop and relax along the way. We were able to see some far-out attractions. While our journey covered a lot of territory in a relatively short time. Don’t expect to visit all of these attractions on a single trip. Unless you’re planning to hop around with a few flights, expect to spent a lot of time on trains.
Indian culture is very friendly and welcoming. Make sure you make many stops along the way. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Its the not the Destination, It’s the journey.” India has a lot to offer if you’re willing to accept the terms of service. There are many incredible things waiting to be explored.
It’s been difficult to narrow down my favourite experiences from this trip to a short list, but today I have decided to try; These are the 8 Incredible things I did in India.
8 Incredible things I did in India
1 Sunrise Boat Trip on the Ganges (Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh)
There is something special about Varanasi. The author Mark Twain described the city as being “older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together.”
According to mythology, the city was founded by Vishnu and it is one of the oldest inhabited cities on the planet. It’s recorded history dates back to the 11th century BCE. The city is today home to over 1.2 million people and it welcomes over 1 million pilgrims every year. It is one of the 7 holiest cities in India and there are over 20,000 temples in the city.
The city is located on the bank of the Ganges River, which is the holiest river in Hinduism. The waterfront is the most important part of the city, with all roads leading to the many staircases that lead down to the water. These are known as Ghats. There are also many shrines and temples along the river. We even saw a group of kids playing cricket.
I found that the best way to experience the magic of the city is to take a sunrise boat trip on the river. In the morning the city comes alive along the water. Every morning people will come to bathe in the holy water of the river. It is a moment that makes the city feel timeless. India is the most colourful country i’ve ever traveled to, and this show is on full display along the Ganges. The historical and spiritual importance of the city is evident from the moment you arrive.
There is certainly something about Varanasi that you can sense, but could never touch or see with your eyes. Visiting Varanasi was an unforgettable experience. Much like the millions of pilgrims that visit every year, it is a city you simply must visit once in your lifetime.
2 Ellora Temples (Maharashtra)
Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983, the Ellora Temple complex is one of the most amazing things we saw on our trip to India. The site features over 100 temple caves – 34 of which you can visit – and is situated along a natural escarpment that stretches over 2-km in length.
One of the things that makes the Ellora temples so unique is that there are Hindu, Buddhist and Jain temples all built in the same complex. The temple caves are built side by side and have been carved into the landscape.
The temples are carved into the basalt rock formations of the Deccan Plateau by Hindu, Buddhist and Jain monks over a period of around 400 years, from 600–1000 CE.
Over time the temples became more intricate and the construction more challenging. The highlight of this temple complex is located at Cave 16 – also known as the Kailasa Temple – which is the largest single monolithic excavation in the world. It is close to twice the size of the Parthenon in Athens.
This structure would have been carved from the top down and built out of one solid piece of rock. This temple itself is shaped like a chariot and there are life-sized carvings of elephants and a 7-meter tall shrine dedicated to Shiva. It is one of the most important historical sites in the region.
What was most impressive to us was the religious harmony that existed at this location. There are Hindu, Buddhist and Jain temples which were all constructed in the same area.
The temple caves are located 45-km north of Aurangabad. They were carved into basalt rock that was formed millions of years ago during a volcanic eruption. Alongside the nearby Ajanta Temples, this is a can’t miss attraction to visit on a trip to India.
3 Ajanta Temples (Maharashtra)
Similar to the temple caves at Ellora, Ajanta is deserving of it’s own spot on this list. There are slightly more than 30 Buddhist temples located at the Ajanta Temple “caves”. These temples were constructed in two phases between the 2nd Century BCE and 6th Century CE.
They are built into the side of a horseshoe shaped valley which had been carved out by a river over thousands of years.
These temples were meticulously carved into the rock by Buddhist monks. The first stage of construction took place between the 2nd Century BCE and the 1st Century AD, with the second stage taking place in the 5th Century.
Inside the caves are many intricate carvings, sculptures and paintings. The temples were carved into the side of a nearly 75-meter tall rock face in the canyon walls. It is similar in style to the nearby Ellora Caves (although with origins much older), and the major difference that this one contains only Buddhist temples and monasteries.
The temples are now over 2000 year old. They were mentioned in the memoirs of medieval Chinese Monks that visited India. The temples at Ajanta were eventually abandoned and were accidentally re-discovered in 1819 by John Smith, who was cutting through the jungle while leading a British hunting party in search of tigers.
Ajanta is located just over 100-km from Aurangabad, and we were able to visit here the day after visiting the Ellora Caves. Both the Ellora and Ajanta temples caves are protected by the Archaeological Survey of India and were both classified as UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1983.
4 The Pink City (Jaipur, Rajasthan)
Jaipur is one of country’s most popular travel destinations. Alongside Agra and Delhi, it makes up one point of India’s “Golden Triangle”. Once you start to explore the city, it becomes easy to see why it’s so popular. The city is remarkable!
Jaipur is the 10th largest city in India (and the largest city in Rajasthan) and today is home to over 3 million people. It is a wonderful city to explore with many great attractions.
Jaipur was India’s first planned city, designed in 1727 by the Raja of Amer Jai Singh II. Jaipur is worthy of being one of the great capital cities of India and the Palace Complex is filled with many grand plazas and beautiful buildings.
The City Palace complex has two main palaces – Mubarak Mahal and Chandra Mahal – and is where the descendants of the former royal family still live today. The complex has an inner courtyard with four grand archways, including the brightly coloured Peacock gate, dedicated to Vishnu.
Many of the buildings in Jaipur are painted in different shades of red, which is how the city got the name “The Pink City”.
The Pink City has many famous attractions, including the Amer Fort, Jantar Mantar, Hawa Mahal and the aforementioned City Palace complex that is in the heart of the city.
Hawa Mahal is one of the most photographed buildings in the city. It is a multi-storied red and pink sandstone building, known as the palace of the winds. There are 953 windows in the palace.
My favourite attraction in the city was the Jantar Mantar, a massive plaza that has the world’s largest sundial as well as 19 other astronomical instruments designed for viewing the stars. You can climb on top of many of these structures. It was much like an adult playground, which allowed for some incredible pictures. The Jantar Mantar was completed in 1734 and is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Jaipur is spectacular and it quickly became one of my favourite cities in India. I would jump at any opportunity to go back again.
5 Historic Ruins of Old Goa (Goa)
Located along the Mandovi River not far from the ocean, Old Goa was the historic center of the Portuguese Empire’s colony in India. This region was ruled by the Portuguese for 450 years and today it is a unique cultural blend of cultures.
Goa Province is just a little bit different than the rest of India. Goa may be India’s smallest province, but this small coastal region is blessed with tropical white sand beaches and is surrounded by dense jungle. It is a small slice of paradise. It’s easy to see why the Portuguese held onto this territory.
When the Portuguese arrived during the 16th Century, they took over the existing port city that had been founded by the Bijapur Sultanate in the 15th Century. They quickly turned the conquered city into their own.
Old Goa has many great examples of Colonial architecture, such as the Basilica de Bom Jesus. There is a lot of history to take in. Much of the colonial buildings found in Old Goa still remain in good condition today, and you can still take a tour inside. The Church of St Cajetan, inspired by St Peter’s Cathedral in Rome, is one of the many buildings from this period have lasted the test of time. The tower at the church of St. Augustine did not. Old Goa was the perfect place to explore for an afternoon, and we enjoyed exploring the many well preserved buildings and ruins left from this bygone era.
Goa Province may be small, but there is a lot to do in the area. It’s more than just full moon parties. The region is 23% Christian, and there are many great historical Mosques, Churches and Hindu Temples to visit. Goa is a blend of many things. The amazing colonial architecture in Old Goa was definitely one of the highlights.
6 Agra and the Taj Mahal (Agra, Uttar Pradesh)
The Taj Mahal needs little introduction. This magnificent marble monument is already one of the most recognizable buildings anywhere on Earth. It was recently named as one of the 7 Wonders of the World and is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Even with all the hype and our expectations on high alert, the Taj Mahal didn’t disappoint.
This is certainly India’s most famous attraction. Since it’s completion in 1643, the Taj Mahal has inspired every visitor who has set their eyes on it. Made out of ivory white marble and situated along the banks of the Yamuna river, it is truly something that you have to see with your own eyes.
The Taj Mahal is a monument to remember the favourite wife of Shah Jahan, the then leader of the Mughal Empire (who controlled most of India from the 15th-18th Centuries). Unfortunately for the Shah, he was eventually deposed by one of his sons and forced to live out his remaining years locked up in the nearby Red Fort. He spent the last 8 years of his life looking out the window at his greatest achievement. Upon his eventual death, he was buried inside the Taj Mahal next to his wife.
Today there are 7-8 Million tourists visit the Taj Mahal each year which makes a trip to the Taj Mahal no easy task. The touts and salespeople are very persistent in Agra and there is a gauntlet of scams, pickpockets, and other hassles that one has to fight through in order to visit. It’s the drawback to having one of the country’s most beautiful and popular attractions.
Despite the hassles, the Taj Mahal is well worth the effort. Once you make it inside, you will find sanctuary from people trying to get a piece of your wallet. The best time to visit is either sunrise or sunset, as the building’s white marble reflects the light and changes colour alongside the rising or setting sun.
7 Kanha Tiger Reserve (Madhya Pradesh)
With wild tiger populations dwindling and habitats shrinking, places like Kanha National Park are important to keep this majestic species alive. This large wildlife reserve is located in Central India’s Madhya Pradesh Province. The park is home to an impressive number of flora and fauna, including big cats like the Bengal Tiger and Leopards.
Legend has it that the author Rudyard Kipling visited Kanha Reserve as a child. As a result, later in life it inspired him to write the Jungle Book. It is one of the greatest wildlife viewing experiences in India.
This national park protects a large wilderness. It has a large central grass meadow surrounded by forests, plateau’s and meandering rivers. It was first protected as a reserve forest in 1879 and became a Wildlife Sanctuary in 1933. Eventually it received full National Park Status in 1955.
Today the park covers a large territory of 940km sq. The park supports a large number of animals. It is home to over 90 tigers and 100 Leopards as well as many other animals like spotted deer, wild dogs, and over 400 swamp deer (which exist nowhere else in the world).
Without conservation efforts like this, it is almost certain that the wild tigers of India would have been driven into extinction. We visited for 3 nights, staying in a small village on the outskirts of the park. We took two trips into the reserve, riding in the back of an open-air jeep. There were no tiger spotting on the first day.
Undeterred, we went back out the next morning to explore the park once again. Midway through our adventure, our driver received a phone call. He quickly changed course and raced across the savannah in a new direction. We considered ourselves quite lucky to get to see a female Bengal Tiger enjoying a freshly caught Spotted Deer. It was an unforgettable sight.
Our wildlife tour was a success! Kanha was one of the most memorable experiences during our trip to India. The efforts that they have made in order to ensure the conservation of the tiger is quite incredible. It took us almost 3 full days to get here. It was an amazing experience and well worth the effort it took to get here.
8 Vagator Market (Goa)
Goa is one of the most unique provinces in the country. It is the smallest of India’s 29 provinces, and has a special blend of European – in this case Portuguese – and Indian cultures coming together. It has a quiet, secluded and remote feel not found elsewhere in India.
The small size of Goa Province (bordered by the Arabian Sea to the west and Maharashtra and Karnataka provinces to the east) means it must make up for its lack of size in other ways. The region has become known internationally as a party spot for most travelers, with legendary full moon parties and stretches of white sand beaches drawing most visitors. There is much more to the region than just the beaches and parties.
The capital of the province is located in Panajim. From here you can easily travel north or south to any of the smaller beach towns or fishing villages located along the coast.
We stayed at three different towns on our trip. Our favourite ended up being the Vagator beach area. There is a weekly beachside market that we enjoyed shopping at; it was our first introduction to bargaining in India.
“How much you pay?” This style of shopping may not be for everyone. At times it feels like harassment. You need to think of it as salesmanship. If you can find a souvenir you find value in, haggling can become quite a fun game to play with the locals. The memory of buying the trinket will out-value the actual item anyways.
Goa feels quite modern and it was a much different experience than you will find elsewhere in India. It has an amazing culinary scene, with many spice farms located throughout the jungle. The combination of fresh seafood and spices are a good mix. The Portuguese left at least one good legacy behind; we ate very well in Goa.
While it may be the countries smallest province but it makes up for it’s small size and offers a lot of really amazing experiences. The people are very friendly and the scenery is stunning. It is one of the most popular beachside vacation spots in India for good reason. There is nowhere else in the world like it.