On 23rd December 2019, I found myself at London Gatwick Airport about to board a flight to India. India had been on my mind a lot in the few years prior to my trip. I couldn’t get away from this nagging feeling that I had to go. So on a whim, in May 2019, I booked the trip of a lifetime. With a group of likeminded travellers and our brilliant Intrepid Travel guide Afsha, we would travel from Delhi to Goa, via Agra, Jaipur, Pushkar, Udaipur and Mumbai, over the course of 15 days.
To read more about the pull I had to visit India, and the epiphany I had which forced me to book the trip, check out my blog post, My Indian Adventure.
The trip was to be full of vibrant colour, chaotic roads, honking horns, delicious food and the most incredible people.
We only spent a couple of days in each place, so although when you look at a map we covered a reasonable distance, in reality we only saw a small area of the country, during what became quite a gruelling schedule.
Choosing My Top 5 Places to Visit in India has been difficult, but the places I have chosen to share with you in this post, are , these are the places which will stay in my heart forever.
1. The Taj Mahal
The Taj Mahal took me by surprise. I’m almost embarrassed to say, that despite it being one of the new Seven Wonders of the World, it wasn’t even on my wish list for my trip to India.
I’d seen hundreds, if not thousands of photos of the Taj Mahal, yet none of them could prepare me for seeing the real thing.
The Taj Mahal is set back from the main entrance, and therefore the walls around the UNESCO World Heritage Site keep the majestic building well hidden. There are various places you can spot the Taj Mahal from outside the grounds on a clear today, but we were not fortunate enough to see the Taj Mahal until we reached the archway shown in the above photo.
Even before we reached the main entrance, I could feel a buzz of excitement in the air. Traffic is not allowed close to the UNESCO site, so we left our bus on the road, and started to walk with crowds of others towards the main entrance.
There was an embarrassing moment as we queued for our tickets, when I thought I was about to become the first victim of the infamous Delhi Belly, but thankfully, it soon passed.
As soon as we reached the arch in the photo above, I felt my breathe catch in my throat. Tears sprang to the corners of my eyes. I felt so moved, I could’ve wept. There, in the distance, was the magnificent Taj Mahal.
Once we were through the crowds, we moved to a quieter section of the grounds where Afsha explained some of the history behind the site. I just couldn’t stop looking at it. It was magnificent. There were thousands of people visiting at the same time as us, yet, as I looked at the beautiful marble structure, I felt calm, and a sense of peace washed over me.
For anyone who is reading this and is unaware of the history behind the Taj Mahal, it was built between 1631 and 1648. Mughal emperor Shah Jahan ordered it to be built in memory of his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Today their cenotaph’s lay beside each other within the Taj Mahal.
Many tours of India include a stop at this famous World Heritage site, and I can promise you that a visit to the Taj Mahal will be time and money spent well. I would however recommend finding a quieter time to visit if you can. Although in places we were able to find space from the crowds particularly around the edges of the site, if you wish to capture some of the famous angles of the Taj Mahal, you are better to arrive first thing in the morning or later on in the day. We arrived around 2pm and whilst we were able to capture some great photo’s, we couldn’t get anywhere near the infamous Princess Diana bench for example.
My visit to the Taj Mahal was a truly magical experience, one which I shall never forget.
To discover more about Agra and to check out more photo’s from my visit to the Taj Mahal, click here.
2. Amber Fort, Jaipur
I couldn’t wait to get to Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan. For me it was the first place on our itinerary I was really excited to visit.
Yet, once again, it would be a place which I hadn’t looked into before my trip which took me by surprise.
We were lucky enough to have had a glimpse of Amber Fort the day before our visit as it sits on top of a hill overlooking the city, making it difficult to miss.
We made an early start the next day, and travelled from our hotel to Amber Fort on tuk tuks – always a fun experience, and definitely not for the faint hearted!
I make no apologies for describing everything about India as magical by the way. To my eyes it was simply that. Yes we saw a lot of poverty, and a lot of pollution etc etc, but for me it was like stepping into a dreamy fairy tale.
Talking of fairy tales, I have long had a love for all things Walt Disney, and for me Amber Fort was the closest I will ever come to being in my all time favourite film, Aladdin.
I don’t know if it was the beautiful Mughal architecture or seeing elephants transport tourists from the bottom of the hill to the top, but I truly felt as though I might see a magic carpet or a genie jumping out of a magic lamp at any moment.
Amber Fort is also known as Amer Fort, as it actually sits 11km outside of Jaipur in the town of Amer.
The Fort is predominantly constructed of red sandstone and marble, and as with the Taj Mahal, Amber Fort is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and has been recognised as such since 2013.
It is a little walk from the road to reach the entrance of Amber Fort. Many people choose to reach the Fort by elephant, although there is some arguments about how well the fort look after them, so companies such as Intrepid chose not to use them. So for us, the only way up was by foot.
The steps up to the fort can get pretty crowded, and we often found ourselves sandwiched between people and elephants, so it’s not a quick task, but the views were stunning and along the steps to the entrance we were entertained by men and women selling gifts, and playing traditional Indian instruments.
Thankfully, by now the temperatures were also starting to rise, and by the time we reached the top it was time to shed a few layers and to find my sun lotion.
We had a guide take us around the fort, but we were also able to wander off on our own for a reasonable amount of time, once he had told us a little bit about each part of the fort we visited.
It was at Amber Fort that I also tried Chai for the first time! Which surprisingly I enjoyed, considering I hate English tea and I don’t like milk! Maybe there is magic in the tea in India too!
To find out more about my visit to Amber Fort and to find out more about the wonderfully brilliant vibrant city of Jaipur, click here.
3. The Holy Lake, Pushkar
I also couldn’t wait to arrive in Pushkar. A place I had never heard of until I started to research my trip. As soon as I started to read about it, it went straight to the top of my list of places I couldn’t wait to visit. It definitely didn’t disappoint.
Pushkar has a much quieter, much more bohemian feel to it than a lot of the other towns and cities we visited during our trip. There are far fewer cars for one, particularly in the centre of Pushkar, and therefore much less honking!
Pushkar sits on the edge of the Thar Desert, and it’s main focal point is Pushkar Lake, known as the Holy Lake, which is a sacred Hindu site. It has 52 ghats where pilgrims go to bathe (Ghat’s are staircases which lead down to the lake).
Each year thousands of Hindu’s arrived in Pushkar to bathe in the lake in order to gain spiritual distinction and to attain salvation.
Pushkar Lake is said to be one of the most holy sites for Hindu’s to visit.
Before booking my trip to India, I knew something was pulling me there. I had been on what I can only describe as a spiritual journey in the lead up to my trip, and even today I feel as though Pushkar was one of the reasons behind my need to go to India. As soon as I arrived at the edge of the Holy Lake, I felt at home.
Pushkar was the first place on our trip that I was sad to leave.
I really hope that one day I will return.
For more photo’s from my time in Pushkar, click here.
4. Sunrise from Savitri Temple in Pushkar
On our second day in Pushkar, we had the option to set an early alarm, in order to get up and visit a Hindu temple at sunrise.
Now, if you ask me which I prefer, sunrises or sunsets, I’m hands down a sunset girl. However, that is largely because I have seen more of them (I’m rarely up before the sun!) than I have sunrises.
I have to admit, the sunrises I have seen, have always been pretty spectacular.
I’m also not the kind of person (anymore!) who says no to new experiences. So when we were given the opportunity of getting up at 5pm in order to go and see the sunrise, this was another opportunity I was not going to say no to.
We got into our tuk tuks and I soaked up the ride around the sleepy backstreets of Pushkar. The small bohemian town which had stolen my heart, was yet to wake.
We were to climb 650 steps in order to climb up to Savitri Temple which sits at the top of Ratnagiri Hill. Although, when I say steps, I really mean steps! They made me feel as though I was in Alice in Wonderland. They were huge in places and I felt like my knees were up to my chin as I tried to climb up them!
It was exhausting work, but I knew it would be worth it to reach the temple and to see the sunrise over the beautiful town of Pushkar and the Holy Lake.
Despite the steps being hard work, as we stopped to catch our breath, it gave us chance to stop and see the daylight start to creep over the tops of the hills which surround Pushkar.
The views from the top of the hill were spectacular. It was quite misty down in the valley, but this added to the atmosphere of the entire experience.
Thankfully it wasn’t overly crowded at the top, and we were one of the first groups to arrive so we were able to get first pick of where to stand. There are no ‘seats’ at the top, but we were fine sitting on the walls around the edge of the temple.
I was incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to get up early to see this wonderful spectacle. Not just to see the sunrise, but to see it rise from a Hindu temple, on top of a hill.
Before we knew it, it was time to turn back and head back down the 650 steps we had climbed on the way up, ready to go and meet up with the rest of the group ready for breakfast.
India is a truly special place. Life doesn’t get much better than waking up before a place comes to life, and watching the sunrise over the most holiest of Indian town’s.
To see more of my adventures in the beautiful Pushkar, click here.
5. City Palace, Udaipur
By the time we reached Udaipur, tensions within the group I was travelling with were starting to fray. We had been divided on what to do for New Year’s Eve, and it had caused a lot of unnecessary tension. Whilst a small group of us dined out at a hotel on the river, dancing the night away and watching the fireworks display at midnight, the rest of the group had decided to stay back at our hotel and relax on the terrace.
On New Year’s Day, thankfully we had a free day so we could do as we pleased. It gave everyone time to do their own thing if they wished. I for one was looking forward to having some time to myself.
I loved travelling with a group, and discovered I have a far higher tolerance level than I knew I had, but there still comes a point when you just want some peace and quiet and to escape from the drama group travel sometimes brings with it.
That is quite possibly one of the reasons why City Palace in Udaipur comes up so high in my favourite places to visit in India. It was the first place I went to on my own. There was also something quite empowering about meandering through the streets of Udaipur on my lonesome and just seeing where the paths took me.
Whilst most of the group stayed back at the hotel to get their palms read (I ended up getting mine read the following day as intrigue well and truly kicked in – you can read more about my experience with the palm reader here), I packed up my rucksack and headed out into the streets of Udaipur.
Udaipur had a similar vibe to Pushkar in some ways. It felt safe, the streets were quieter (with the exception of NYE!), and it had a lovely bohemian vibe. I actually think it’s somewhere I have also appreciated more since I returned home than I did whilst I was there.
As I walked up to the entrance to the City Palace, I felt a sense of calm and peace again.
As it was a bank holiday due to it being New Years Day, the Palace was bustling and full of Indian families enjoying a day out.
City Palace was built on the banks of the beautiful Lake Pichola. Building began in 1559 and was started by Maharana Udai Singh, although it was not completed until sometime during the 18th century.
City Palace has a unique blend of Medieval, European and Chinese Architecture. It‘s full of intriguing towers, domes and arches and it really is a fascinating place to explore.
Looking up at the high palace walls from the ground below, once again, I found myself feeling as though I might spot Aladdin and Abu.
City Palace was also like the lull before the storm. From here we would go on to experience two overnight trains as we made our way to Mumbai, and then finally onto Goa, before I would return to London.
For more photo’s and stories from my time in Udaipur, click here.
Whilst my entire trip was full of amazing experiences, for me the 5 places I have shared with you here, they are the real reasons I felt the pull to go to India in the first place, even if I didn’t realise it when I booked the trip.
For me, India is full of magic, and I can’t wait to go back again one day.