My Ten Favourite Places in India

I’d always dreamt of going to India, but being saddled with a job and a mortgage had held me back from any kind of lengthy travel. Getting made redundant (this was in 1991) was the best thing that could have happened to me, and I’m jolly grateful to Rupert Murdoch for it. While my colleagues all fretted about job security, the recession and an upcoming war, I sat at my desk poring over an atlas, planning my round-the-world trip. There was no doubt in my mind as to where I’d go first: India.

I flew into Bombay, as it was then, and promptly caught a flight down to Goa. I use the word ‘promptly’ in the loosest of senses, of course, because nothing’s ever prompt in India, but having arrived at six in the morning, I was on a flight by the afternoon, which was really very good going. Oh, how I loved Goa. The endless beach, the simple restaurants perched on the sand, my sparse but clean hotel room, the jewellery shops on the strip. It’ll all be unrecognisable now, I know – far more developed and mainstream – and so in many ways I don’t want to go back, but would rather hang on to my somewhat romanticised memories.

From Goa I took a train to Mysore before venturing down to Kerala, where I took the inevitable backwater trip and had my bottom pinched in Cochin. Then, with some sense of trepidation, I flew up to Udaipur, and The Real India . I did a relatively standard tour of Rajasthan, going from Udaipur to Jodhpur and Jaisalmer, Pushkar, Jaipur, and then on to Agra, and the Taj Mahal. A four night camel safari in Jaisalmer was a highlight, losing my camera in Jaipur was a downer. But India is full of highs and lows – it’s part of the adventure. I got as far as Varanasi before being distracted and venturing into Nepal for a two week trek – possibly the subject of another hub. Then down to Calcutta – which was much nicer than I’d been expecting, and on to Madras, from where I caught the flight out to Singapore – a world apart.

Three months that little trip lasted, and I’d always wanted to go back. A business trip from Hong Kong took me to Delhi, but that didn’t seem to count. Then three years ago two things happened: I began writing an Indian-based novel I knew I couldn’t finish without another visit, and I got a windfall from an insurance company. This time I was travelling in the company of my boyfriend, which I thought would make life easier, and I was able to prepare ahead with the help of the internet. We stayed for a month, and spent all that time in the north. Despite my beloved one being ill and grumpy most of the time, it was a fabulous trip. A year later my mother requested a post-Christmas trip, and I caught myself escorting two septuagenarian ladies around Rajasthan, on my budget, not theirs.

There’s nowhere on earth like India – no matter how much of a cliché that sounds, it’s true. The colours, the smells, the sounds, the images – once you’ve experienced India, the rest of the world seems muted. Booking a train in five minutes in Thailand, I felt almost cheated – in India I’d have allowed an entire morning. And India’s chaos is part of her charm.

This is of course a subjective view, and it doesn’t include the south, but here are some of my favourite spots, in alphabetical order:

It's just as lovely from the back
It's just as lovely from the back

AGRA

OK, let’s get this over with. If it weren’t for the Taj Mahal Agra just wouldn't be on the tourist map. It’s a dirty, polluted industrial city which just happens to host arguably the most beautiful monument in the world – and because of its popularity the city’s horrible – aggressive, overpriced, unattractive and, did I mention the pollution? It’s the one place where it’s worth paying extra for your hotel, because the cheap ones are terrible. The Lonely Planet even warns of food poisoning scams going on in restaurants, with crooked doctors sharing the spoils of customers’ travel insurance policies. But there’s the Taj Mahal, shimmering ethereally in the smog. If you’re a sucker, like I was with my mother, you spend around fifteen dollars each to go in; if you’re smart, like I was with my boyfriend, you nip round the back, and get much better photos for free. (You could always do both.)

Pink is the navy blue of India
Pink is the navy blue of India

AMBER

A short drive from Jaipur, which, along with Agra, ranks as one of my least enjoyable Indian cities.  Too touristy and aggressive by half, and I hate to say it, but the famed Palace of Winds is a terrible letdown.  Eleven kilometres away, Amber feels like an oasis of calm by comparison.   Imagine a rocky mountainside, on which sits a magnificent Rajput fort in a delicate shade of pink; a dreamy, romantic sort of place complete with mosaics, carved marble relief panels and intricate, elegant archways.  Indulge in your Far Pavilions fantasies and enjoy. 

Blinging
Blinging

AMRITSAR

A five hour journey north of Delhi, Amritsar is gloriously untouristy, but its Golden Temple – the holiest of Sikh shrines – is stunning enough, in my opinion, anyway, to rival the Taj Mahal.  Here, you can walk, unbothered, around the Parkarma , or marble walkway, taking in the tranquillity and a genuine sense of reverence you don’t seem to find in other holy sites.   It’s absolutely breathtaking in all lights, and the round-the-clock singing from the temple is mesmerizing.  The architecture is a mix of Hindu and Islamic styles, and the dome is said to be made of 750 kg pure gold.  Representing an inverted lotus flower, this is a symbol of the Sikhs’ aim to lead a pure life.  For its beauty and elegance alone, it should be up there with the Taj Mahal.

Moody and mysterious, and that was just the boyfriend
Moody and mysterious, and that was just the boyfriend

BUNDI

A small Brahmin-blue town in Rajasthan, it takes a little work to get there (five-hour bus from Jaipur) but is well worth the effort. Built around a man-made lake, it’s the sort of place where children fly kites and monkeys bound across rooftops, pinching shoes and any washing left out by unsuspecting travellers. Not many shops, but plenty of temples and an extravagant old fort, slowly going to ruin. Rudyard Kipling spent some time here, and you can go and visit his lakeside house. Bundi is one of those places where not very much happens, and when you’re travelling for a few weeks, you need spots like that. Our hotel had installed solar-heated plumbing to be proud of – all the water in our bathroom came out scalding hot, even in the loo. One flush and the next occupant would get a nicely steamed butt.

Sadly it's falling apart
Sadly it's falling apart

JAISALMER

A gorgeous sandstone desert fortress town, where it’s possible to take four-day camel treks if you feel inclined, Jaisalmer is mesmerizing – the whole city, not just the fort. Sadly, having allowed guesthouses and restaurants to establish themselves within the fort’s walls, the place is gradually crumbling away under the pressure of the requisite drainage system, a victim of its own popularity. Walk around the back streets and you’ll come across incredibly beautiful havelis – smart traders’ houses – a reminder of the old camel routes between India and Central Asia. And everything is coloured in a soft golden hue, and there are some gorgeous shops. It takes some effort (an overnight train) to get there, but it’s definitely worth it.

Don't look down...
Don't look down...

JODHPUR

Jaipur’s lesser-known neighbour, but so much nicer!  When I first went, I got off the train, took one look at the place and got the next train out.  Going back  three years ago, I totally fell in-love, and realised, to my embarrassment, that I’d simply been in the wrong bit.  The medieval part of town is Brahmin blue with labyrinthine streets and alleyways, and is fascinating, even if the children relish hassling you.  The vast Meherangarh Fort is fantastic, and with a brilliant audio guide, the place really comes alive.  Whatever you do, don’t choose a hotel in the ‘modern’ part, which is soulless and dull.

...there's just an average night on the town going on
...there's just an average night on the town going on

KHAJURAHO

Home to a collection of erotic temples, and an extraordinary spot.  Built by the Chandelas between 950 – 1050 AD, they are a celebration of life, love and sexual pleasure.  Khajuraho was abandoned while under threat from Afghan invaders, and fell into ruin, until discovered in 1838 by a certain TS Burt, a British Officer, who described the erotica as ‘a little warmer than was any absolute necessity for.’  

As the sun set over the temples, those G&Ts tasted great
As the sun set over the temples, those G&Ts tasted great

ORCHHA

One of those lovely, smaller places where you can relax a little, Orchha boasts a wonderful complex of palaces and temples, and is charmingly untouristy. We took the train from Agra to Jhansi, and got a car from there, and from Orchha it was about a four and a half hour drive to Khajuraho. Well worth the visit, and the smart hotel near ours served gin and tonics, which were highly appreciated by my oldies (not to mention, me). If I remember rightly, the tonic cost more than the gin.

Time for some special tea
Time for some special tea

PUSHKAR

When I first went to Pushkar it felt like an oasis of calm, a stunning white town built around a lake so holy Gandhi’s ashes were scattered there. These days it’s a lot busier, but as it’s essentially a pedestrian town, it’s still a lovely place to visit. There are temples aplenty, including one of the few Brahma temples in the world. Today the shopping area is really bustling and somewhat aggressive, but the lake itself remains tranquil, if you can avoid the monkeys and the pushy priests, who want you to pray with them (at enormous expense). There are some fantastic book shops and cafes, but for some reason Pushkar’s strict vegetarianism forbids eggs, so the bakeries are full of innovative egg-free cakes, pastries and brownies.  We spent New Year's Eve here, and our host laid on fireworks and cans of 'special tea' (otherwise known as beer), which we had to hide under the table whenever his devout father appeared.  The perfect place to stop off for a few days when you’re ready to put your feet up, read a good book and eat cake.

Glorious chaos
Glorious chaos

VARANASI

I’ve saved the best for last.  The most extraordinary, evocative, mysterious, fascinating place on earth, unless you’re my boyfriend, who couldn’t get over the dirt and shit everywhere he looked or touched.  Think of Don’t Look Now’s Venice and you’re kind of in Varanasi – the whole town’s built upon the banks of the Ganges, and lies shrouded in mist and mystery.   Everyday life continues on the river – women washing their babies, men getting shaved, holy men performing contortions, packs of dogs splashing about – it all happens here.  And most eerily there are the cremation ghats, or steps, where bodies are burned on funeral pyres, and dogs nurse their puppies in the cinders.  Away from the river, the narrow medieval streets are fascinating, and the silk is renowned.  There’s a slight edge to Varanasi so as dusk falls you don’t want to hang about, but that could be my imagination running wild.  I can highly recommend the Open Hand Café on the Assi ghat, which sells stunning silks for the home and does a fine cafetière coffee with delicious cakes.

So if you’re thinking of going to India, all I can say is go, go, GO, and have the time of your life!

With thanks to the Lonely Planet guide, for some of the historical details, and for refreshing my memory.

Comments 42 comments

CMHypno profile image

CMHypno 7 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

Great Hub on India, and some great pictures. Somewhere, I have never visited, but I now I really want to go!


Riviera Rose profile image

Riviera Rose 7 years ago from South of France Author

Thank you, CMHypno - and please go, India's somewhere everyone should visit once!


maheshpatwal profile image

maheshpatwal 6 years ago from MUMBAI

Hey Riviera great hub and a great trip report............

Though i'm also from india but never got a chance to exlpore so many parts of our beautiful country.................... thank you for sharing your experience with other hubbers


Hummingbird5356 profile image

Hummingbird5356 6 years ago

I like this hub. Your photos are very good. Maybe one day I will visit, but I have been to Pakistan and that used to be India too.


komila 6 years ago

hey friend ,im from agra.sad to know u didn't like the place.actually its a wonderful place .next time i hope u get to see the brighter side also.


Riviera Rose profile image

Riviera Rose 6 years ago from South of France Author

Hi Komila, thanks for your comment. Sorry to diss your town and I'm sure it's different if you live and have friends and family there, but from the tourist's perspective it does feel very aggressive and overpriced. I've been there three times now and that hasn't changed. Hopefully next time as you say I'll see the brighter side.


SinghRajput profile image

SinghRajput 5 years ago from New Delhi, India

Well documented...

Regards,

Surinder Singh

Landscape & Travel Photographer

New Delhi, India.

http://www.SinghStyleStudio.com


hafeezrm profile image

hafeezrm 5 years ago from Pakistan

Fantastic, vivid and superb. I have limited vocabulary to give my comments. It virtually took me to a tour I hanker after, doubling the pleasure since I know I would never move around like you did.

I have seen half of the world but would trade off the rest for one month of footloose and fancy free safari in India.


Riviera Rose profile image

Riviera Rose 5 years ago from South of France Author

Hello Hafeezrm, thank you for your lovely comment! Please, please, you must try your footloose month in India - it's an experience that'll stay with you for life!


Bbudoyono profile image

Bbudoyono 5 years ago

Very interesting. Have you visited Indonesia?


Riviera Rose profile image

Riviera Rose 5 years ago from South of France Author

Hi Bbudoyono, thanks for your comment. Yes I have visited Indonesia, but only Bali. I'd love to see more...one day, hopefully!


SANJEEV KHURANA profile image

SANJEEV KHURANA 4 years ago from New Delhi

Great hub! You have summed up the whole experience so wonderfully well.I ma sure a trip to India can be a life changer. You have to experience it to believe it....

htpp://www.indianhomestays.org - Your Alternative to Expensive Hotels in India


Sjlifed profile image

Sjlifed 4 years ago from Singapore, the little red dot.

Sounds like you had an adventure of a lifetime! There is just so much to see in INDIA - a place where you will always be surprised. Wonder if you had a chance to visit Darjeeling, a sweet place that was used as the summer "escape" (my own words) during the British Raj days. Anyways, great hub!


Mugdha Singh 4 years ago

Hi Rose (the author), Can I suggest few things about AGRA!! Though it is expensive but not more then any other place in India. You left with few travel aspect things, Beside TAJ we have Sikandra, Fatehpur Sikri, Red Fort, Buland Darwaza, Dayalbagh Temple, Taj Nature Walk, Soor Sarovar Bird Sanctuary and many more (can't name all in one comment). I know TAJ is glorious but we have much more to explore... You are welcome to come again :)


Riviera Rose profile image

Riviera Rose 4 years ago from South of France Author

Hi Sjlifed, thanks for your comment. No, I haven't been to Darjeeling, but it's on the list! So many fabulous places to visit, so little time...


Riviera Rose profile image

Riviera Rose 4 years ago from South of France Author

Hi Mugdha Singh, Thanks for your comment. I have been to Fatehpur Sikri and the Red Fort, and especially loved Fatehpur Sikri so perhaps I should have mentioned it here. There are so many amazing places in India it's hard to fit them all in! You have a wonderful country and I hope to visit again some time.


travelschooling profile image

travelschooling 4 years ago from Australia

Great Hub! I love India too, we have travelled much as you have. I'm about to do it all again with my children, show them some of India's wonders. It's a little scary, figuring out how to do it with the kids, but we'll find a way.


SANJEEV KHURANA profile image

SANJEEV KHURANA 4 years ago from New Delhi

One thing which I can very confidently suggest to tourists visiting India, if you wish to experience the real India then try staying at Homestays wherever you can. Homestays are not only reasonably priced but also offer much more value for your money as compared to hotels. The food served here is made fresh each time and you also get the advantage of the homeowner local experience in hiring a tuk-tuk or go shopping only to the right place.

You can book your stay online at: www.indianhomestays.org


Riviera Rose profile image

Riviera Rose 4 years ago from South of France Author

Hi Travelschooling, thanks for your comment. I've run into people travelling in India with their kids in the past, and although I'm sure there are easier holidays to be had (!), it's an incredible experience for them. Good luck!!


travelschooling profile image

travelschooling 4 years ago from Australia

Thank you both. We would be very interested in homestays, I'll check it out, although I do think it would be rather more expensive than budget backpacker accommodation ( our choice last time), with the kids, we may need a little more comfort now and again. I certainly won't be taking any rooftop bus trips with the kids..but it was fun!


India-Online Tour profile image

India-Online Tour 4 years ago from New Delhi, India

Fantastic and amazing ,,, Lovely India


tonymead60 profile image

tonymead60 3 years ago from Yorkshire

I love India, and really enjoyed reading your experiences of that fascinating country. I think you either love or hate it, and many tourists go expecting all the wrong things. I've been on several package holidays there and some of the other travellers should have stuck with Benedorm.

voted up

regards

Tony

PS would you like to share links to my India experiences and I will link back to you.


Riviera Rose profile image

Riviera Rose 3 years ago from South of France Author

Hi Tony, thanks for your comment. Have looked for your Indian hubs but couldn't find any?!


tonymead60 profile image

tonymead60 3 years ago from Yorkshire

Rose

there is one regarding my visit to the Taj Mahal and one about my encounter with a tiger at Rhantambore.

http://hubpages.com/travel/Taj-Mahal-Somewhere-you...

http://hubpages.com/travel/Tykes-Travel-in-India...

I will add your link to my pages too.

regards

Happy New Year

Tony


RylieStanton profile image

RylieStanton 3 years ago

Great Hub. I am going to India in October and have been doing a little research.


Riviera Rose profile image

Riviera Rose 3 years ago from South of France Author

Hi RylieStanton - how I envy you!! Good luck with your travels, and have an incredible time.


Global-Chica profile image

Global-Chica 3 years ago from New York, NY

Oh, I just love your hub! My boyfriend and I rented a car in 2010 to drive around Rajasthan for two weeks and we absolutely loved it. We cannot wait to go back so I was psyched to learn what your ten recommendations are so I can note them for our next trip. You're so right about there not being any place on earth like India - the sounds, smells, colors... it's a fab place that's hard to forget.


rajan jolly profile image

rajan jolly 3 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

RR, loved reading about your India travel experience. Truly, visiting India is a unique experience, with a variety and range of sights and sounds that is hard to come by in any one country. I'm glad you had a great trip. Though it is not possible to cover all places of interest in just one visit no matter, you still made it to a lot of tourist places spanning the length and breadth of India in this one visit.


Riviera Rose profile image

Riviera Rose 3 years ago from South of France Author

Hi Global-Chica, thanks for your comment, I'm impressed that you drove around Rajasthan - I wouldn't have had the nerve! It's such an extraordinary place, I sometimes think I could move to India...

Rajan Jolly, hi, thanks for your comment - I've now been to India four times (the last time escorting my 70-something mother!) and would go again in a heartbeat.


Gail Meyers profile image

Gail Meyers 3 years ago from United States

I am just amazed by some of your hubs! I just love the stunning pictures! This is also very well written and informative. Good job! Voted up and interesting.


Riviera Rose profile image

Riviera Rose 3 years ago from South of France Author

Thank you Gail for your lovely comment!


gags3480 profile image

gags3480 3 years ago from Kanpur, India

Being an Indian, I haven't been to some of these places. Thx for sharing your experience.voted up.


prasetio30 profile image

prasetio30 3 years ago from malang-indonesia

Beautiful and very well written. I hope I have a chance to visit India one day. I also enjoy the pictures as well. Thanks for writing and share with us. Voted up!

Prasetio


Riviera Rose profile image

Riviera Rose 3 years ago from South of France Author

Hi gags3480, thank you for your comment and vote. I do hope you get to visit these places one day!

And hello Prasetio - I do hope you get to visit India one day - it's sooo worth it! Thank you so much for the vote.


ud1093 profile image

ud1093 3 years ago from ?

portrayed india perfectly. i would say awesome hub about india makes you want to visit it. India loves tourists


Riviera Rose profile image

Riviera Rose 3 years ago from South of France Author

Hi ud1093, thanks for your comment - I love visiting India, I'd go back in a heartbeat if I could.


foolandhermoney 3 years ago

Hi Riviera, Absolutely love this post. You are soo right. I am an Indian and I feel like I am going to different country every 100 miles. Orchcha is on my list for a long time..Must do. I have been told its every photographers dream.


sunilkunnoth2012 profile image

sunilkunnoth2012 3 years ago from Calicut (Kozhikode, South India)

Wonderful job you have done. India is truly amazing. It is really the Incredible India. Great information and useful to the travel folks. Thank you for sharing.


Riviera Rose profile image

Riviera Rose 3 years ago from South of France Author

Hi foolandhermoney - love that name! - thank you for your comment. Do go to Orchha, it's just wonderful.

Hi Sunilkunnoth - thank you for your kind comment.


rambofen044 profile image

rambofen044 3 years ago from Raipur

Agra and varansi are my favourite ...... Thanks for sharing


Riviera Rose profile image

Riviera Rose 3 years ago from South of France Author

Hi rambofen - thanks for your comment. Of your two favourites it's Varanasi for me - what a place!


Sam Shepards profile image

Sam Shepards 6 months ago from Europe

Beautiful ! Absolutely a delight to read. I really need to travel more in India so many places to visit. So many inspiring places.

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