Travel insights from Jenna Buege, associate editor of The Compass

6 of India’s Most Popular Tourist Destinations

India is an exhilarating destination with countless sights to be seen and can create the perfect holiday for travelers who are looking to get out of their comfort zone and fully immerse themselves in a unique cultural experience. Here are five favorites among travelers around the world.

1. Taj Mahal

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🕌 Alternative views of the Taj Mahal 🇮🇳 . . . . #tajMahal #taj #india #agra #tajMahalIndia

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One of the most famous attractions in the world, India’s Taj Mahal is an architectural dream that sparks some major wanderlust. The building is a memorial to Mumtaz Mahal, Emperor Shah Jahan’s third wife who died giving birth to the couple’s fourteenth child in 1631. Construction on the Taj Mahal began a year after her death in 1632 and was completed in 1653. It took more than 20,000 people to bring the emperor’s vision of exquisite marble and rare stones to life but all of their hard work was worth it as the Taj became a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. 

Inside the grounds, travelers can enjoy the ornamental fardens, complete with beautiful greenery, massive reflecting pools and a number of fountains. The central Taj structure is an example of perfect symmetry as each wall is adorned with identical scrollwork and elaborate calligraphy. Beneath the main dome, visitors will find the Cenotaph of Mumtaz Mahal, a beautifully decorated false tomb designed to deter people from finding the actual resting place of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan in the basement below the main chamber.

2. City Palace

Located in the center of Jaipur’s Old City, City Palace is a complex of gardens, courtyards and buildings that date back to the early 20th century. The palace was built by Jai Singh II in 1729 and showcases a striking blend of Mughal and Rajasthani architecture. In its heyday the palace was a site for cultural and religious events; today the building houses the Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II Museum and remains home of the Jaipur royal family.

City Palace is available to tour and visitors can explore the complex’s various buildings, courtyards, galleries, restaurants and offices of the Museum Trust.

3. Sun Temple

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Erected in the mid-13th century, Konark’s Sun Temple is an earthly gift to Surya, the sun god. The temple was built by King Narashimhadev I and it features seven horses to represent each day of the week and 24 stone cartwheels to represent the hours of the day. Each day at dawn the light illuminates the interior of the temple sanctuary, an act that is meant to please Surya.

Over the years, the temple has faced natural damages such as recurring cyclones and unnatural damages such as ransacking and marauding, resulting in a state of constant and careful restoration. Those who visit Sun Temple can enjoy intricate stone carvings of lions and elephants, a dramatic assembly hall, beautiful murals and thought-provoking tours.

4. Kanha Tiger Reserve

Big cats roam wild at Madhya Pradesh’s Kanha Tiger Reserve where approximately 125 tigers and 100 leopards explore over 508,000 acres of forest and swamp land. In addition to felines, the park is also home to a huge population of deer and antelope including the rare southern swamp deer which can only be found in India. Travelers will also see various birds, Indian bison, wild boars and curious jackals lurking in the wilderness.

To ensure visitors have the best shot at seeing local wildlife, Kanha Tiger Reserve offers safaris that venture into four different zones within the park including Kisli and Mukki which are the best areas for tiger sightings. Travelers can also tour the park via Gypsy, a six-passenger four-wheel drive vehicle, however, the reserve only admits 140 of these vehicles per day and demand is high.

5. Hazrat Nizam-ud-din Dargah

One of Delhi’s most mystical attractions, Hazrat Nizam-ud-din Dargah is a marble shrine that honors Nizam-ud-din Auliya, a Muslim Sufi saint. The shrine is hidden away amongst a maze of bazaars that sell perfumes, rose petals and offerings, and the crowd in this area is also known to break into qawwali, or Sufi devotional singing, adding a truly magical feel to the experience. 

Nizam-ud-din’s teachings were and continue to be a source of inspiration to not only Muslims but people of all walks of life. Because of this, travelers will find a number of tombs in the surrounding area belonging to kings and nobles who wanted to be buried close to Nizam-ud-din including Jahanara, the daughter of emperor Shah Jahan, and famous Urdu poet, Amir Khusru.

6. Hawa Mahal

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The 1,000 windows of Jaipur’s magical palace of the winds (📷: @ananewyork )

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Taking the expression “pretty in pink” to a whole new level, Jaipur’s Hawa Mahal is bright and bold with its pink facade and honeycombed windows that rise an impressive five stories. Built in 1799, the building was constructed by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh as a place for the royal ladies of the household to observe life and the happenings that took place in the city below. Today, the Hawa Mahal is famous for its breathtaking views of Jantar Mantar, the City Palace and Sireh Deori Bazaar.

Spend some time exploring the building’s narrow corridors and local shops – there’s even a small museum that showcases miniature paintings and royal relics.

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