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Essential India

VISIT THE MUST-SEE SPOTS

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If this is your first India travel experience, there are some iconic cities, sites and destinations located throughout the country that are simply a must-see for first-time travel to India, which include Delhi, Udaipur, Jaipur, Jaisalmer, Varanasi and Agra. If this is your second trip to India or you prefer to get off the beaten path, explore our Extended India travel page.

DELHI

Steeped in history and legend, the Indian capital Delhi was the magnet that drew the Mongols, Turks, Persians, Afghans, Mughals and finally the British, all of whom contributed to its glorious but turbulent history.

In Old Delhi visit the Red Fort, once the most opulent fort of the Mughal Empire, and the Jama Masjid, one of the largest mosques in the world. Visit the Raj Ghat to witness the location of Mahatma Gandhi's cremation.

New Delhi was built in true colonial style. Walk past its tree-lined avenues, Victorian bungalows, the Parliament House, the War Memorial Arch and the Viceregal Palace, now the residence of the president of India. Other invaders left their architectural legacies, including Humayun's Tomb, Jantar Mantar, the observatory of Maharaja Jai Singh of Jaipur, and the marble Hindu Temple, Birla Mandir.

UDAIPUR

Situated on the shores of Lake Pichola and surrounded by hills, the "Venice of the East" is a romantic setting with its serene white palaces on the banks of blue water.

During your tour of India, stop to explore the City Palace, one of the largest palace complexes in the world, containing the Moti Mahal with its mirror inlay and the Chini Mahal's iridescent tile work.

At the nearby Jagdish Temple, there is an impressively carved image of Lord Vishnu. A sunset cruise on Lake Pichola offers spectacular views of Udaipur. The City Palace towers over the lake and you will also see the merchants' havelis (richly decorated homes), temples, royal hunting lodge and the exquisite Gul Mahal Pavilion on Jagmandir Island.

JAIPUR

The gorgeous city of Jaipur is known as the "Pink City" for its many buildings painted pink, the traditional color of welcome. Visit the City Palace, still inhabited by Jai Singh's descendants: it's a superb fusion of Rajput and Mughal architecture.

See the temple of Govind Devji, the Jantar Mantar astronomical observatory and the Maharaja's museum with his personal collection of weaponry, miniature paintings, royal attire and jewelry.

The Palace of Winds is an elaborate pink sandstone façade behind which the ladies of the court used to watch the daily goings on in the street below. Ascend the path to the ancient Rajput capital of Amber on elephant back. Jaipur is home to world-class artisans who employ traditional techniques and skills to create old-world treasures. You may want to visit a gem-cutting factory, or a center where Jaipur's shimmering blue pottery is made.

Jaisalmer

No other city in India exudes the fairytale aura of this exotic desert outpost on the ancient spice route from Arabia. Called the Golden City for the glow reflected on its sandstone ramparts by the setting sun, Jaisalmer is a promise kept, epitomizing the desolate, awesome medieval desert city.


VARANASI

The holy city of Varanasi is perhaps the oldest living city in the world. It is said that the city rests on the trident of Lord Shiva, thus imparting an incomparable energy to it. A ritual cleansing in the holy waters of the Ganges at Varanasi absolves the believer of all sins: it is the aspiration of every devout Hindu to die at Varanasi, thus ensuring a direct passage to heaven.

A cacophonous jumble of merchants, barbers, wandering ascetics and tea stall proprietors provide a backdrop for the extraordinary rites of life and death taking place on the sandstone steps, which descend into the river

Agra

A stop in Agra to experience one of the country's most iconic sights is a must on any tour of India. In the medieval period Agra rose to prominence as the capital of the Mughals when the city was beautified with gardens, waterfalls, bathhouses and canals.

Built as a monument of eternal love by Shah Jahan to his wife Mumtaz Mahal, the Taj Mahal was built over a period of 20 years by 20,000 laborers and artists, and 1,000 elephants. It is transcendently beautiful, as if touched by the divine. Dazzling at first sight, the first glimpse can be a moving experience.

Stroll through the UNESCO Heritage site Agra Fort, which consists of marble palaces, ornate alcoves and terrace pavilions. Then visit the famous tomb of Itimad-ud-daulah, often called the "baby Taj."