28 April 2021

10 Amazing Places to Visit in India that Aren’t the Taj Mahal

If you are planning on doing some India travel as a tourist then the likelihood is that at some point during your stay you will find yourself at the Taj Mahal.  This glorious white marble mausoleum located in Agra, Uttar Pradesh remains one of the country’s sites that simply should not be missed.  Yet in this vast subcontinent there are hundreds of other places that could crown a visit for one reason or another.  They may be less well known than the mausoleum built by Shah Jahan but they linger in the minds and hearts of all who visit them. Here are just ten of those amazing places you could visit while in India that aren’t the Taj Mahal.

Meenakshi Amman Temple
While the Taj Mahal dazzles with its vast marble sheen, the Meenakshi Amman Temple is resplendent in a blaze of colors. The city of Madurai in the South Eastern Indian state of Tamil Nadu is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world and has been a functioning metropolis for over two thousand years.

Image Credit Flickr User Pabloneco
Image Credit Flickr User Bryce Edwards
At its heart lies something extraordinary – a temple to the Hindu Goddess Parvati and her husband consort, Shiva. The vast temple complex is guarded by ten gateway towers, known as gopuram.  The tallest of the ten is the south tower which was built in 1559 and stands over 170 feet tall.  The most antique is the eastern tower which dates back to 1216 built several centuries before Columbus sailed away to discover a faraway land.

Read more about the Meenakshi Amman Temple on Kuriositas

Jantar Mantar
Image Credit Flickr User Guy Incognito
These remarkable constructions appear to all intents and purposes as if they could have been built to create the set for a new science fiction blockbuster set on a planet light years away from Earth. Yet these are centuries old instruments, designed and used in Jaipur, India, to explore the heavens. Their production was ordered by a great Maharaja in the early decades of the 18th century and they have been in constant use ever since.

Image Credit Flickr User McKay Savage
Image Credit Flickr user Phillip Cope
Jai Singh II was born in 1688 and at only eleven years old became the Maharaja. He was born in to a life of extreme privilege but inherited a kingdom which was on the brink of impoverishment. The Kingdom of Amber (what would eventually become Jaipur) was in dire straits with a cavalry of less than a thousand men. Yet by the time he was in his thirties he would have turned this around and built Jantar Mantra.

Read more about Jantar Mantar on Kuriositas

Kumbhalgarh – The Great Wall of India
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Long overshadowed by its lengthier neighbor to the east, this is the second largest continuous wall on the planet. Some call it by the name of the fort it surrounds – Kumbhalgarh. Others simply refer to it as The Great Wall of India. Yet bewilderingly, it is still little known outside its own region.

Image Credit Flickr User Lamentables
Image Credit Flickr User Beth
In its entirety the wall extends for 36 kilometers and is, simply put, massive. In many of these photographs you might be forgiven for mistaking it for the Great Wall of China. However, many centuries and cultures separate the two. Work on Kumbhalgarh only began in 1443 – just under fifty years before Columbus sailed the Atlantic Ocean and discovered something rather large on its other side.

Read more about Kumbhalgarh on Kuriositas

Karni Mata Temple
Image Credit Flickr User alschim
From the outside the Hindu temple of Karni Mata in the small town of Deshnoke in the Indian province of Rajasthan looks much like any other. Ornate and beautiful and with a steady stream of worshippers arriving it holds a surprise for the unsuspecting visitor. The temple is inhabited by rats: thousands of them.

Image Credit Flickr User owenstache
Image Credit Flickr User micbaun
Inhabited, too, is the correct word for this is no accidental infestation. The Hindu adherents encourage their presence as we might other mammalian visitors to our gardens with sustenance both liquid and solid. They are there in memory of a remarkable woman – Karni Mata.

Read more about Karni Mata Temple on our sibling site,  Ark in Space

Jodhpur - India's Blue City
Image Credit Flickr User bodoluy
Travellers journeying through the desolate landscape of the unforgiving Thar desert in the Indian state of Rajasthan would know when they had reached their destination.  The sky would fall to the ground and everything would become a single color – blue.  Jodhpur would lie before them, opening up like a blue treasure in the desert.

Image Credit Flickr User Christopher Walker
Image Credit Flickr User Il Fatto
Why the population of the fortress city – the Blue City as it is universally known – took to painting their houses in various shades of blue is not completely certain.  Yet most believe it is to do with the prevailing caste system in India.

Read more about Jodhpur on Kuriositas

Leh Palace
Image Credit Flickr User watchsmart
In the early years of the seventeenth century the Lion King of Ladakh, Sengge Namgyal ordered the construction of a great palace.  Situated atop the Himalayan city of Leh, now in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, it was the home of his dynastic descendants until their overthrow and exile in 1834.  Once the world’s highest building, Leh Palace has been abandoned since then.  Yet it remains a majestic presence in this area of India often referred to as Little Tibet.

Image Credit Flickr User teseum
Image Credit Flickr User Matt Werner
If it seems familiar that is because it is thought to be modelled on the more famous Potala Palace in neighboring Tibet which was the home of the Dalai Lama until his flight from the country in 1959.   Some say that it is the other way around but the similarities are remarkable. It is smaller than Potala but nevertheless Leh Palace is hugely impressive in its own right.  Towering nine storeys high, its upper floors once echoed to the sounds of Namgyal royalty and their throngs of courtiers.  The lower floors were used for storage and to accommodate the precious horses of the army.

Read more about Leh Palace on Kuriositas

The Living Root Bridges of Meghalaya
Image Credit Flickr User Ashwin Mudigonda
India has a population of over a billion and our ideas about the country are often informed by that statistic.  Yet there are places on the sub-continent which are still almost inaccessible.  Meghalaya in the north east of the country is home to mountainous subtropical forests.  In order to get around, local people have come up with an ingenious form of natural engineering – the living root bridge.

Image Credit Flickr User rajkumar1220
Image Credit Flickr User ARshiya Bose
It always seems to rain here – the rivers are often very dangerous to ford.  This is one of the wettest places on the planet. The steady precipitation combined with the rugged terrain, steep hillsides and thick foliage of the forests would make many parts of the Meghalayan jungles unreachable.  Yet the inventive and resourceful people who live here have found a way – but they had to be very patient, at least to begin with.

Read more about the bridges of Meghalaya on Kuriositas

The Ajanta Caves
Image Credit Flickr User ashok66
Two thousand two hundred years ago work began on an extensive series of cave monuments in Maharashtra, India.  Over a period of hundreds of years, thirty one monuments were hewn piece by piece from the rock face.  Then, some speculate around the year 1000AD, they fell in to disuse.  Dense jungle grew around, hiding the caves away from human eyes.

Image Credit Flickr User franekn
Image Credit Flickr User wl
They Ajanta caves lay undisturbed for hundreds of years.  Then, in April 1819, during the time of the British Raj, an officer with the unassuming name of John Smith came rediscovered a doorway to one of the temples.  He had been hunting tiger – something of which many would disapprove today but his next step was disrespectful in the extreme.  He vandalised one of the walls with his name and the date, something which is still visible today.

Read more about the Ajanta Caves on Kuriositas

Bhangarh – India’s Haunted City
Image Credit Flickr User Tushar Pokle
It has lain abandoned for the best part of 400 years and is said to be the most haunted place in India. Situated between the cities of Delhi and Jaipur in the state of Rajasthan the true reason for its abandonment has been lost to history, though there are several legends surrounding its fate. Even today no-one is allowed to enter the ghost city of Bhangarh after twilight – it is said that if they do they will never return.

Image Credit Flickr User parth joshi
Image Credit Flickr User parth joshi
Within the grounds there are still majestic temples to major Hindu deities: Shiva, Lavina Devi and Gopinath are represented among others but the throngs of worshipers who clamoured for entrance to the temple are long gone. The town was first built in the reign of Bhagwant Das, a powerful maharaja, in 1573. It is said that a local guru was asked for permission to build the city.

Image Credit Flickr User saad.akhtar
Read more about the Bhangarh on Kuriositas

In deference to the myriad of amazing places we have left out here, the tenth destination is India – the country itself. It’s such a big place, has thousands of years of history and a myriad of different cultures and languages. So, how do you sum it all up in three minutes? By cutting to the chase, as you can see here in this very cool animation by Kashyap Bhatia.

First Image Credit User Dennis Jarvis