The Taj Mahal is, simply, as breathtaking as the stories say. India’s most iconic building, a monument to love, and mausoleum to a favourite wife, the Taj Mahal is built entirely from white marble, its exquisite symmetry mirrored only by the reflecting pool that runs down the centre of its gardens. It was built by Shah Jahan for his third wife Mumtaz Mahal who used a purported 20,000 stone carvers, masons and artists. Striking as it is from a distance the building’s beauty is also in its detail – semiprecious stones, intricate carvings and calligraphic verses from the Koran grace the main mausoleum. Shah Jahan, imprisoned by his son just down the river in Agra Fort, lived out his days with a view of the Taj Mahal before he himself was interred inside with his wife.
Just a kilometre upstream from the Taj Mahal, the 16th century Mughal fort rises magnificently from the banks of the Yamura River. Built entirely of red sandstone in 1565 by Emperor Akbar, this was the imperial city of the Mughal rules when Agra was their capital. It was originally constructed as a military fort, surrounded by two kilometres of impenetrable double walls – within you’ll be able to explore exquisite palaces, spacious audience halls and intricate mosques, set amongst lush, landscaped gardens.
Built between 1638 and 1648 by Emperor Shah Jahan, the Red Fort is considered the pinnacle of Mughal architecture. A sprawling complex of marble palaces, intricate pavilions and landscaped gardens all protected by 18 metre high walls, the unfortunate Shah Jahan was imprisoned by his own son before he could take up residence and enjoy his paradisiacal vision. The last Mughal emperor was forced to leave in 1857 – today many of the buildings now house interesting museums and the grounds are just as delightful.
Ganges Boat Ride
The ancient ghats that run along the banks of the holy Ganges are at their most vibrant as the sun rises. The best way to experience this colourful and clamorous sight is from the river itself. As the sun rises the vast stretches of ghats become packed with worshippers wading into the waters of the Ganges to perform puja with prayers, songs and ritual bathing. Whilst dawn is the best time to take a boat trip, the early evening is also a good time to venture out. Release a lotus flower candle into the Ganges and watch the nightly ganga aarti ceremony from your row boat.
Kerala Backwater Cruise
The backwaters of Kerala are a unique waterborne world – a colossal web of lakes, lagoons, canals and rivers lined with towering palms and lush foliage. The waters are plied by kettuvallams, or houseboats, that were originally barges used to transport grain. Now they offer the very best way to explore the backwaters, cruising lazily amongst the maze to give you a chance to enjoy life on the water and anchoring overnight for you to drift off to the sound of lapping water. Local food is prepared on board for an all-round authentic Keralan experience.
India’s largest mosque, built to accommodate 25,000 worshippers, Jama Masjid looms over the maze of narrow streets that is old Delhi from its hilltop perch. Built by Shah Jahan (of Delhi’s Red Fort fame) between 1644 and 1658, the mosque is a magnificent structure of layered red sandstone and white marble, and crowned with three huge white marble domes. Entering through the great gates you will leave the bedlam of Delhi behind and find a welcome sense of calm as you stroll across the courtyard and watch people come and go to worship or admire.
Ghats on River Ganges
The ghats are Varanasi’s most fascinating area, offering the perfect place for people watching and an introduction to the traditions and rituals of this ancient city. There are 87 ghats in total, running along the west bank of the Ganges, all of which are usually buzzing with activity. The ghats are used for bathing, performing puja and cremation – Varanasi’s ghats are the most auspicious place for Hindus to be cremated. The best way to view the day to day life on the ghats is from the river, though walking along them through the throngs of people is also a wonderful way to experience Varanasi.
Created in 1362 and expanded when the city was founded in the 1500s, Lake Pichola is the centrepiece of Udaipur, often heralded as India’s most romantic city – when its calm surface perfectly reflects the surrounding mountains and Rajput-era palaces that line its banks it isn’t hard to see why. A boat tour of the lake is a best way to see the city’s opulent architecture and can include landing on Jag Mandir Island, which has its own exquisite palace, and time to admire the Lake Palace, which seemingly floats on the water’s surface, now a luxury hotel.