Steeped in history, India has a unique blend of cultures and religions, attracting travelers from all over the world. In this article, we explore five of the most incredible tourist attractions India has to offer.
1. The Red Fort – Delhi
Dating back to 1648, the Red Fort in Delhi served as the principal residence of the Mughal emperors. Emperor Shah Jahan, who had previously commissioned the construction of the world-famous Taj Mahal to honor his late wife, used the same architect to design the Red Fort. Shah Jahan built the Red Fort after deciding to relocate the capital of India from Agra to Delhi. The Red Fort was once home to the priceless Kohinoor diamond, which was at one point part of Shah Jahan’s Peacock Throne.
The octagonal fort was originally decorated in red and white and known as Qila-e-Mubarak or “the blessed fort.” The complex lies on the bank of the Yamuna River, with moats surrounding most of the fort’s walls.
In 2007 the Red Fort received UNESCO World Heritage Site status. It is also Delhi’s largest monument and a place of national significance. The prime minister of India visits the complex every year on August 15, India’s Independence Day, to raise the country’s flag and deliver a nationally broadcast speech from the fort ramparts.
2. The Palace of Winds – Jaipur
Hawa Mahal or “Palace of Winds” was commissioned in 1799 by Maharaja Pratap Singh. Featuring more than 950 small windows and intricate latticework, the five-floor exterior resembles a honeycomb. It was designed this way to allow royal ladies to observe everyday life, as well as festivals, on the streets below without being seen since they had to conform to the strict rules of purdah, which forbade public appearances without a face covering. This architectural feature also facilitates the passage of cool air, keeping the building and its occupants cooler in the stifling heat of summer.
The palace is shaped like a mukut, the crown that adorns the head of Lord Krishna, a Hindu god. Maharaja Pratap Singh was a Krishna devotee, and he dedicated the Palace of Winds to his deity.
3. The Golden Temple – Amritsar
Also known as Harmandir Sahib or “abode of God,” this open house of worship brings together people of all faiths, from all walks of life. Records show that Lord Buddha stayed at the sacred site, which at the time consisted of a lake surrounded by thick forests. Lord Buddha declared the site an ideal meditation ground for saints and sadhus.
Today, more than 100,000 visitors flock to the Golden Temple daily. The Golden Temple was built around 400 years ago, taking almost eight years to complete. It gets its name from the layer of gold foil that covers the building. It is the most spiritually significant Sikh shrine, attracting devotees from all over the world.
Constructed around a manmade pool, the temple complex comprises a collection of buildings, including Akal Takht, the principal center of religious authority of Sikhism. The complex also features a museum, a clocktower, and a langar, a Sikh community-run kitchen that serves free vegetarian meals to all visitors.
The pool surrounding the temple, Amrit Sarovar, is considered sacred by Sikhs. Before prayer, they bathe in the Sarovar’s holy waters, believing that the sacred pool can cure ailments and disorders, as well as enabling them to connect with the spirits.
4. The Ellora Caves – Aurangabad
Dating back to the fifth century, the Ellora Caves at Aurangabad were built by Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain monks. This UNESCO World Heritage Site features 34 intricately carved chapels, monasteries, and temples. With temples for different denominations built in proximity, this site shows the elevated level of religious tolerance that existed throughout this period of Indian history.
In the Buddhist monastery caves, visitors can see shrines and carvings of Buddha that date back to the fifth century. Carved from the top down, the Hindu caves are much more complex, with just one rock-cut temple requiring the removal of around 200,000 tons of rock.
5. Taj Mahal – Agra
This UNESCO World Heritage site was built by the Mogul emperor Shah Jahan in honor of his late wife, Mumtaz, who died in childbirth. Surrounded by tranquil gardens, the white-domed structure is ornately decorated inside and out, the gleaming white marble studded with precious and semi-precious stones.
The building’s most spectacular feature is the tomb’s marble roof, which stands almost 115 feet high. The dome is decorated with a lotus design, accentuating the building’s height. The building itself contains inscriptions of passages from the Qur’an. The Taj Mahal’s architecture combines Islamic, Indian, and Persian styles, and its construction cost somewhere in the region of $1 billion in today’s money. In 2007 Taj Mahal was named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.