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Travel: India
October 30, 2016, 11:00 am

India is a vibrant land of startling contrasts where both the traditional and modern worlds meet. The world's seventh largest nation by area and the second largest in terms of population, India boasts a rich heritage - the result of centuries of different cultures and religions leaving their mark. Highlights for travelers include the opportunity to experience an array of sacred sites and spiritual encounters, while nature lovers will enjoy its sun-washed beaches, lush national parks, and exciting wildlife sanctuaries. From the magnificent Taj Mahal in Agra to the holy sites of Harmandir Sahib (formerly the Golden Temple) in Amritsar and the Mecca Masjid mosque in Hyderabad, visitors to this exotic country will discover a trove of spiritual, cultural, and historical treasures.

Cities to visit:

Delhi: India’s capital city, here museums, art galleries and cultural centers attract the finest exhibitions and performances from India and abroad. Shopping encompasses virtually everything that can be bought in the country. Most fascinating of all is the character of Delhi which varies from the 13th century mausolea of the Lodi Kings, set in a sprawling park, to ultra modern chrome and glass skyscrapers; and from imperial India’s parliament house and the President’s palace to the never-ending bustle of the walled city surrounding Jama Masjid.

Mumbai: This city is full of dreamers and hard-laborers, starlets and gangsters, stray dogs and exotic birds, servants and crorepatis (millionaires). Mumbai has India’s most prolific film industry, some of Asia’s biggest slums and the largest tropical forest in an urban zone. Mumbai is India’s financial powerhouse, fashion epicenter and a pulse point of religious tension. The heart of Mumbai contains some of the grandest colonial-era architecture on the planet, but explore a little more and you will uncover unique bazaars, hidden temples, hipster enclaves and India’s premier restaurants and nightlife.

Chennai: For a visitor wishing to explore southern India extensively, Chennai, the capital of the state of Tamil Nadu is the most convenient point of entry. Chennai has an international airport, a seaport, a rail and road network that links it to all major towns and cities of the region. It also has several deluxe hotels and others to suit modest budgets.

Kolkata: If Delhi is the elegant capital of the nation and Mumbai its major industrial city, then Kolkata ranks as the intellectual capital. Poets, thinkers and film directors of international renown hail from this city where avant garde plays and exhibitions go on practically every day of the year.

Sightseeing in this fascinating city includes the Raj Bhavan, the residence of the Governer of Bengal; Victoria Memorial, the city’s landmark; Botanical Gardens, notable for the oldest banyan tree, and the orchid house; Armenian church, Marble Palace, one family’s collection of memorabilia and the Birla planetarium.

Meghalaya: Separating the Assam valley from the plains of Bangladesh, hilly Meghalaya – the ‘abode of clouds’ – is a cool, pine-fresh mountain state set on dramatic horseshoes of rocky cliffs. The state's population predominantly comprises the Jaintia, Khasi and Garo tribes, who live in the eastern, central and western parts respectively. A good time to be in Meghalaya is during the Wangala festival in the Garo Hills in autumn.

Places to see:

Ajanta and Ellora caves: Astonishingly carved into hillside rock, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, the Ajanta and Ellora caves are located in the Marthwada region of Maharashtra State. There are 34 caves at Ellora dating from between the 6th and 11th centuries AD, and 29 caves at Ajanta dating back to between the 2nd century BC and 6th century AD. While the Ajanta caves are rich in paintings and sculpture, the Ellora caves are renowned for their extraordinary architecture. The most incredible aspect about these caves is that they were crafted by hand, with only the use of hammer and chisel.

Red Fort: Converted into barracks by the British, this massive fort is a sandstone carcass of its former self, but it still conjures a picture of the splendor of Mughal Delhi. Protected by a dramatic 18 meter high wall, the marble and sandstone monuments here were constructed at the peak of the dynasty’s power, when the empire was flush with gold and precious stones. Every evening, except Monday, the fort is the setting for a bombastic sound and light show, with coloured spotlights and a portentous voiceover, highlighting key events in the history of the Red Fort.

Taj Mahal: Built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan to house the tomb of his favorite wife Mumtaz Mahal, this ivory-white marble mausoleum is situated on the south bank of the Yamuna River in Agra. The tomb is the center-piece of a 42-acre complex, which includes a mosque and a guest house, and is set in formal gardens bounded on three sides by a crenellated wall.

Hawa Mahal: Jaipur’s most distinctive landmark, the Hawa Mahal is an extraordinary fairy-tale palace of pink sandstone constructed in 1799 by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh. The façade of the palace, with its delicately honeycombed exterior that rises a dizzying five storey’s, allowed ladies of the royal household to view life and processions in the city without being observed by outsiders. The top of the façade offers stunning views over Jantar Mantar and the City Palace on one side and over the Siredeori Bazaar on the other. Within the palace is a small museum with miniature paintings and several rich relics, such as the eremonial armor that evokes the royal past.

Golden Temple: The legendary Golden Temple is actually just a small part of this huge gurdwara complex, known to Sikhs as Harmandir Sahib (or Darbar Sahib). Floating at the end of a long causeway, the Golden Temple itself is a mesmerising blend of Hindu and Islamic architectural styles, with an elegant marble lower level adorned with flower and animal motifs in pietra dura work. Above this rises a shimmering second level, encased in intricately engraved gold panels, and topped by a dome gilded with 750kg of gold. In the gleaming inner sanctum, priests and musicians keep up a continuous chant from the Guru Granth Sahib (the Sikh holy book), adding to the already intense atmosphere.

Kanha National Park: This Park is among the most beautiful wildlife reserves in Asia and one of best places to catch a glimpse of a tiger in India. The lush sal and bamboo forests, grassy meadows and ravines of Kanha provided inspiration to Rudyard Kipling for his famous novel, Jungle Book and make this one of the top attractions in India.

The Gateway of India: Standing an impressive 26 meters tall and overlooking the Arabian Sea, the iconic Gateway of India is a must-see when in Mumbai. Built to commemorate the arrival of King George V and his wife Queen Mary in 1911, this stunning piece of architecture was opened with much pomp and ceremony in 1924 and was, for a while, the tallest structure in the city. These days, the huge archway provides a stunning backdrop that is as popular among locals as it is tourists. 

Mecca Masjid: Construction of Hyderabad's Mecca Masjid, one of the world's largest mosques (and one of the oldest in India) began in 1614 during Mohammed Quli Qutub Shah's reign and took almost 80 years to complete. Large enough to accommodate 10,000 worshipers, this beautiful mosque's 15 enormous arches and pillars were each wrought from single slabs of black granite dragged to the site by huge cattle trains reputedly consisting of up to 1,400 bulls. Taking its name from the bricks above the central gate that were brought here from Mecca, this impressive complex features highlights such as its main gateway, huge plaza, a large manmade pond, and a room that houses the hair of Prophet Mohammed. Other notable features include inscriptions from the Quran above many of the arches and doors, the exquisite roof of the main hall, the cornices around the entire mosque structure, and the floral motifs and friezes over the arches.

Mysore Palace: The sprawling city of Mysore is a delight to explore thanks to its eclectic mix of fine old colonial architecture; regal Indian palaces; and lush, well-manicured gardens. While those inclined towards shopping will enjoy spending time in the city's famous silk and sandalwood bazaars, the main attraction is magnificent Mysore Palace. Completely rebuilt in 1897 after a devastating fire, this beautiful three-storied palace features highlights such as its elegant square towers and domes; the many ornate ceilings and pillars in Durbar Hall; and the splendid Marriage Pavilion, with its glazed floor tiles, stunning stained glass, artworks, and displays of jewelry.

Jaisalmer fort: Jaisalmer’s unique fort is a living urban centre, with about 3000 people residing within its walls. It is honeycombed with narrow, winding lanes, lined with houses and temples – along with a large number of handicraft shops, guesthouses and restaurants. Founded in 1156 by the Rajput ruler Jaisal and reinforced by subsequent rulers, Jaisalmer Fort was the focus of a number of battles between the Bhatis, the Mughals of Delhi and the Rathores of Jodhpur. In recent years, the fabric of the fort has faced increasing conservation problems due to unrestricted water use caused by high tourist numbers.

Vikramsila University: Not many people are aware that India had many excellent educational centers in the past including Vikramsila University, located 50km east of Bhagalpur in Bihar State. It was one of the largest centers of Buddhist learning and spread over hundred acres of land.  The center has an astonishing fifty two rooms spread on both sides of a corridor with an elaborate stupa at the center. What is even more marvelous is the enormous library that has been excavated and which testifies to the rich history of India. A visit to this glorious and historical university is highly recommended just to get a sense of advancement that India had thousands of years ago.

The beaches of Goa: Long known within India as the ‘go-to’ destination for those seeking a great beach holiday, Goa's beautiful western coastline, overlooking the Arabian Sea, has only recently been discovered by tourists from overseas. Goa's more than 60 miles of beautiful coastline is home to some of the world's loveliest beaches, each with their own particular appeal. For those looking for peace and quiet, isolated Agonda Beach is a good choice, while Calangute Beach is by far the most commercial and crowded. For those in search of posh resorts, yoga getaways, and spa vacations, the beaches of Mandrem, Morjim, and Ashwem are fashionable among wealthy Indians and Westerners alike. Palolem is another popular option in a beautiful setting.

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