The majestic Taj Mahal in Agra is the universal symbol of India, and as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and official Wonder of the World, it certainly deserves its millions of visitors. But as with all major tourist attractions, it’s also a magnet for huge crowds, pickpockets, and other scam artists, which can leave some travelers underwhelmed by the experience. Even if you enjoy your visit to the Taj, there’s far more to the globe’s second most populous country.
You might know this western coastal city as Bombay, but in the mid-‘90s, the Western world wised up to the fact that Bombay was actually an English corruption of what locals call their hometown. While we may have updated our pronunciation skills, what hasn’t changed is Mumbai’s countless attractions. Explore the rock-cut temples of Elephanta Island, or tour the city proper’s landmarks like the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus train station, the imposing Gateway of India, or the golden Global Pagoda. More importantly, as the capital of the Bollywood, this is the only place you can get a true behind-the-scenes look at the Hindi-language film industry on an in-depth studio tour.
You’re probably already familiar with Delhi and Agra, but the third point in India’s Golden Triangle may not have attracted your attention before. The capital of Rajasthan, this eighteenth-century city is home to the “Pink City,” an opulent complex filled with rosy-colored architecture. Browse traditional textiles and art at one of the many museums within, or make a beeline for the Amer or Amber Fort, one of India’s most impressive palaces. The hilltop complex dates back to the sixteenth century and offers visitors the chance to arrive via elephant ride.
Just south of Mumbai, the miniscule province of Goa is famed for its beaches. Its unexpected status as an erstwhile Portuguese colony has left historic churches, tropical spice plantations, and the melancholic wails of Old World fado music among its palm-fringed coastline. The classically laid-back province is the perfect place to unwind on an Indian vacation and get close to nature, whether through a jungle adventure in Mollem National Park or a snorkeling tour of life under the sea. 500 years of Portuguese rule have also left their mark on local cuisine. You can heat things up with a spicy vindaloo or easily find a joint catering to more European tastes.
Whether it’s the unrivalled quality of the tea or the challenge of reaching a small village in the Himalayan foothills you find more irresistible, the town of Darjeeling in West Bengal has a siren call for intrepid travelers. Beneath the towering peak of Mount Kanchenjunga – one of the world’s highest – lie sloping, verdant plantations chock full of the fruity, floral, and astringent tea that gives the town its name. Buddhist monasteries exist in a quiet symbiosis with colonial-era architecture amid a bustling web of steep and narrow streets teeming with international faces. The local hill station is a jewel in the crown of the Indian rail system, as the terminus for the nineteenth-century “Toy Train.” You can also delve further into Himalayan history at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, the prestigious training ground of many an explorer.