India evokes at once the image of a large country that boasts so many attractions that tourists sometimes find it difficult to descale their routes to the country. From the majestic Himalayas in the north to the fascinating dunes of Rajasthan in the west, from the exotic hilly states of eastern India to the beautiful, idyllic beaches of southern India, India boasts several tourist attractions.
But India is much more. It is also the land of an ancient civilization, with countless cultures and history, rich places and forts of the era gone by that reminds us of its grandeur and antiquity. Agra, Varanasi, Jhansi, Orcha, Khajuraho, Gwalior and Panchavati are the seven leading tourist hubs in the country that lure travelers to a glimpse of India, its culture, its religion and its history.
Agra in Uttar Pradesh, India is a famous tourist destination. It finds mention in the Mahabharata, where it is referred to as Agrabana or Paradise. The world famous Taj Mahal is in Agra, as are the majestic Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri. While the Taj Mahal was built by Mughal Emperor Shahjehan, Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri were built by Akbar – the largest of the Mughal emperors.
The pearly white Taj Mahal, a romance in stone that is not only Agra’s pride but India, was built in memory of Mumtaz Mahal, Shahjehan’s beloved wife. The most beautiful monument ever built for love Taj Mahal is one of the seven wonders of the world and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
It took 18 long years (1631-48) and more than 20,000 artisans to build this amazing structure that has not only stood the test of time, but remains a symbol of love, even after so many years.
Taj looks breathtaking and graceful from almost any angle. Whether you see it from the front or from behind, at a distance or from an arm’s distance, it looks wonderful and breathtaking, although its close-up is more stunning. The semi-precious stones are marbled in beautiful pattern and with excellent craftsmanship in a process called pietra dura.
The 16th century Agra fort is another attraction in Agra. Like the Taj, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was the seat of the Mughal dynasty in the 16th century. Pearl Mosque, Diwan-e-Am and Diwan-e-Khas and Khaas Mahal are the main attractions of the impressive Fort built in red sandstone. Akbar built the Agra fort in the finest architectural style. The fort has magnificent gates and walls and a moat.
Fatehpur Sikri, the last of the three major attractions in Agra, is 35 km away from Agra. This is where the first Mughal Emperor Babur defeated Rana Sanga, the great Rajput warrior. The best part of Fatehpur Sikri is the impressive Buland Darwaza. Built by Akbar to celebrate his victory over Gujarat, Buland Darwaza is not only the tallest gateway in the world, but displays the Mughal architecture at its best and also the most robust.
Agra is located at a distance of 250 km from Delhi and is well connected by road, rail and air.
City of Learning, Varanasi, is located on the banks of the Ganga River in the state of Uttar Pradesh in India. Legend has it that the city is one of Lord Shiva’s many favorite places of residence and lies on his trident.
Beran for its beautiful Ghats (over 100) and temples (over 1,000), Varanasi – also called Benaras and Kasi – is to the Hindus what Mecca is to the Muslims and the Vatican to the Christians. Varanasi presents all that is beautiful and divine in Hinduism. No wonder Hindus from all over the world make it a point to visit the holy city, at least once in their lives.
Varanasi finds mention in Rigveda, Ramayana and Mahabharata. Varanasi was founded over 5,000 years ago and is probably the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. To quote Mark Twain, Varanasi is, “Older than history, older than legend, and looks as old as everyone else”. In ancient India, Varanasi was the capital of the Kashi kingdom.
The beauty of the old city is that although it was destroyed and ravaged many times by some of the Muslim invaders such as Mahmud Ghazni and Mohammad Ghori, it not only managed to survive but continued to show the right path to millions of Hindus from everyone all over the world.
Besides being the religious capital of the Hindus, Varanasi is also the cultural capital of India. Interestingly, it occupies a high place in the heart of not only Hindus but Buddhists and Jains. Sarnath, the place where Lord Buddha gave his first sermon, is located near Varanasi.
The city’s claim of world fame and honor is also linked to some other facts. Tulsidas wrote Ramcharitmanas here. Ayurveda, the ancient art of alternative healing, has its origin in Varanasi. Varanasi brass and silk works are much loved for their finesse and beauty and have few parallels elsewhere.
The city’s cuisine is also well known and much loved. And so is Benarasi Paan (a sweet power made of arecam nut and other fragmented fabrics wrapped in a betel leaf) that finds much benefit from lovers of paan who simply love Benarasi paan’s unique flavor and aroma.
Varanasi is located 780 km away from New Delhi and is well connected by road, rail and air.
Jhansi, originally known as Shankargarh, is one of the many destinations in India that attract tourists from all over the world. Its proximity to other tourist attractions such as the world famous Khajuraho, Agra, Orcha and Delhi makes it a much sought after destination. Located in the state of Uttar Pradesh, India, Jhansi’s claim to fame rests on several factors.
It was Jhansi who, in 1857, gave the freedom fighters one of the most inspirational leaders in the brave and legendary Rani Laxmi Bai, who fought the fiercest battle against the British, which inspired all freedom fighters in India by her unmatched chivalry and love for the country .
Among the famous landmarks and tourist attractions of the place comes the name of Jhansi Fort first. Built in 1610 Jhansi Fort is famous as the Gateway to Bundelkhand. The fort has a good collection of sculptures that shed much light on the history of Bundelkhand. Rani Mahal, Ram Temple and Maharaja Ganga Rao ki Chatri are some of the other major tourist attractions in Jhansi.
Jhansi is located 415 km away from Delhi and 292 km away from the state capital, Lucknow, and is well connected by road, rail and air.
Orcha is a village located in the Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh, India. The splendor of the place has been beautifully caught in stone and frozen in time. Orcha boasts the massive Orcha Fort-Palace-Temple Complex, which is a major tourist attraction.
Situated on the banks of the Betwa River, the Orcha Fort was built by 16th-century Bundela Chief Rudra Pratap Singh. It houses many ‘architectural wonders’ such as Raja Ram Mandir, Laxmi Narayana Mandir, Jehangir Palace, Raj Palace and Rani Praveen Palace.
The Orcha Fort has glorious pasts and mythological affiliations. It is the only place where Lord Rama is worshiped as a king and not as a god. The statue of Rama inside the Rama Raja Temple – a famous tourist attraction in Orcha – was brought from Ayodhya by Madhukar Shah, one of the Bundela rulers.
Jehangir Palace, another pride of the Orcha Fort complex, is a layered palace, crowned by graceful chatris. The castle was built in honor of Mughal Emperor Jehangir when I had visited Orcha.
In its heyday, the massive and powerful Orcha Fort stored enough rations and ammunition that could last for a few years if it was besieged by the enemies. No wonder the fort did not remain conquered and proudly tore over the mighty Marathas who could not conquer it despite having done all they could.
Orchas 15 km away from Jhansi and 110 km away from Gwalior and is well connected.
Khajuraho – also called the temples of love – is a UNESCO cultural heritage located in the state of Madhya Pradesh, India. The Khajuraho temples were built by the valiant Chandella Rajputs over a period of 100 years between 950 and 1050 AD. Chandella Rajputs claimed to be the proud descendants of the Moon God.
Although there were originally 80-odd temples in Khajuraho, only 22 of them have survived the weaknesses of the times and the destruction that some Muslim rulers brought. Khajuraho temples were discovered by T S Burt, an Englishman. But it was General Alexander Cunnigham, another Englishman, who really made the place famous all over the world.
The Khajuraho temples are unique. Many of them boast erotic sculptures of full-breasted, successful women with wide hips. Interestingly, such sculptors make up only approx. 10 percent of the total sculptures.
When Khajuraho was first discovered partially hidden behind adult bushes and shrubs, many people had found the erotic sculptures adorning some of the temples rather repulsive and vulgar. Perhaps they had failed to realize that such sculptures were carved out for a purpose. The purpose was to lure people back to married life to enjoy the many joys of married life.
In those days Buddhism flourished in India. It had almost destroyed the concept of marriage and family life as encouraged by Hinduism and inspired many people to ward off the community and family life to meditate in seclusion. Apart from regaining the lost field of Hinduism, through such sculptures, the importance of sex that is considered essential to achieve absolute and human development was emphasized.
Whatever the purpose behind decorating the walls of the Khajuraho temples with erotic sculptures, it is still these very sculptures that have really made Khajuraho what it is today – a world-renowned tourist attraction.
Khajuraho is located about 620 km away from Delhi and is well connected.
Gwalior is one of the well known cities in India and is located in the state of Madhya Pradesh. The city was founded by Kachwaha chief Suraj Sen in honor of a saint called Gwalapa who had cured him of a deadly disease. Very well known as the seat of the mighty Scindhiyas, boasts many tourist attractions.
The 15th century Gwalior Fort is the pride of Gwalior and the most significant landmark. Much of the fort was built during the reign of the greatest of the Tomar rulers, Man Singh, to his queen Mrignayani. Situated on a hill, the fort offers good views of the city. Strong and well-built, it is called the massive fort “Gibraltar of India” because of its size and strength. Even Babur, the mighty Mughal, emperor was very impressed with the fort and called it ‘the pearl in the necklace of obstacles’.
It was at Gwalior Fort where the fiercest battle was fought between the freedom fighters and the British. This is where Rani Laxmi Bai showed exemplary chivalry and love for the country as she took on the British soldiers with a handful of fighters and died fighting for the cause of freedom, but not until she had driven a chill down the enemy’s back, inspiring all Indians to to throw the British out of India.
Gujari Mahal and Man Mandir located inside the fort are important tourist attractions that have added to the fort’s appeal greatly.
Jai Vilas Palace, Mia Tansen Tomb and Mohammad Ghaus Tomb add to the magic of the city, making it a much sought after tourist hub. Jai Vilas Palace and Mia Tansen Tomb need special mention. While Tansen was a famous singer-musician from India, whose lineage almost all the Gharanas of classical Hindustani music claim any connection; Jai Vilas Palace is a beautiful palace. This palace is the Scindhia family’s current residence. It was built on the pattern from the Palais de Vieillesse, France.
Gwalior is well connected by rail, road and air. It is only 122 km from Agra, which is world famous for the majestic Taj Mahal, which is one of the seven wonders of the world.
Panchavati is a small place located on the banks of the holy river Godavari in Nashik in Maharashtra, India. Panchavati makes up five banana trees (Vats) which are said to be part of the legendary Dandakaranya forest.
Panchavati occupies a rather high place in millions of Hindus all over the world, as this is where Lord Rama – along with Laxmana and Sita – spent much of his time, having been exiled for 14 years from Ayodhya by his father Dasharatha.
Although all of Panchavati is sacred and revered, there are some places including Rama Kund, Sita Gumpha, Laxmana Rekha, Kalaram Mandir (built in black stone by Peshwas), Naroshankar Temple, Sundar Narayan Temple and Godavari Temple which attracts tourists and others with a religious bend of mind in good numbers.
Perhaps the most famous attraction is Rama Kund. As the name suggests, Rama Kund is the name of Kund (Dam) where Lord Rama used to take bath when he was in Panchavati. A dip in this sacred pond cleanses one of all worldly sins. Besides being associated with Lord Rama, Panchavati is also related to Mahatama Gandhi. This is where the ashes of the Father of the Nation were immersed.
Sita Gumpha is another prominent attraction in Panchavati. It is a small cave under a Banayan tree. One can enter the cave using a narrow staircase. It was from Sita Gumpha that the demon king Ravana abducted Sita. Currently, Gumpha has the idols of Sita, Rama and Laxmana.
Nashik is 180 kilometers away from Mumbai and 220 kilometers away from Pune. When you are well connected by road and train, you can easily reach it.