Here at Western & Oriental we’re experts in putting together incredible India travel experiences and passionate about all the wonders that the subcontinent has to offer. In fact, our destination experts Nikhil Chhibber and Deepavali Gaind both hail from India itself as well as having travelled extensively through this vast and varied nation, so it holds a special place in their hearts.
Throughout 2017, the year that marks 70 years of independent rule in India, we’ll be posting blogs about the most popular aspects of travel here; from ancient architecture to the bustle of modern metropolises; enthralling festivals to mouth-watering food! Today, 26th January, marks Republic Day in India. So to join in the celebrations we’re starting our series with a look at four of India’s most iconic architectural feats…
The most northerly of our four monuments, the Taj Mahal rises out of the dusty city of Agra, sitting on the banks of the majestic River Yamuna. One of the seven wonders of the modern world, this white marble edifice represents an age-old story of love and tragedy, dedicated as it is to Shah Jahan’s lost wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Jahan swore to his dying wife that he would build a monument in her honour over her burial ground. Over the next 20 years around 20,000 people worked to create this labour of love, which still stands today.
The Taj Mahal’s striking white marble exterior, intricate carvings, precious gemstones and picturesque location makes it one of the most recognisable buildings on the planet. Visitors can meander through the manicured gardens adorned with cascading fountains and perfectly shaped hedgerows and of course watch the sunset turn the brilliant white building into dusky shades of pink and orange. Inside the small tomb, visitors can see the place where Shah Jahan and his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal lie.
Our India Destination Expert Deepavali visited the iconic monument just last year and says it never looses it's awe-inspiring impact!
Aurangabad (a six-hour drive or one-hour flight from Mumbai) has many monuments, but most travellers to Aurangabad use the city as a base from which to explore the ancient caves at Ajanta and Ellora. Both these sites have UNESCO World Heritage status, and it’s clear why when you visit Ajanta’s 30 caves and Ellora’s temples hewn out of the rocky ground.
Ellora’s famous feature, Kailasa Temple, is the world’s largest monolith. Both are remarkable feats of artistry, especially the monuments at Ajanta, some of which date back to the 2nd century BC. Note to visitors: Ajanta Caves remain closed on Monday and Ellora Caves are closed on Tuesday.
Return to the rich past of the Vijayanagar Empire at Hampi, otherwise known as ‘the Angkor Wat of India’. Hampi was once one of the largest and richest cities in the world. Unearthly large boulders sit alongside stunning palaces, their ruins still as breathtakingly impressive as they were in the 14th Century.
Hampi’s ruins are special – where else can you find the past whispering from musical pillars like you can at Vijaya Vitthala Temple? Its marvel of architecture and wondrous sculptures make it worthy of its status as a UNESCO Heritage site. If you can time your trip right, we recommend witnessing the majesty of the Chandramouleshwara Temple at a full moon.
Located in central India, Hampi is a perfect stop for a multicentre itinerary. Our Indian Destination Expert Nikhil was lucky enough to see Hampi in all its glory just last year, so he'll be happy to recommend the best guides and places to stay when putting together your bespoke India itinerary.
And last but not least…
You wouldn’t expect an ancient historical site to be erotic but that’s just what the many temples at Khajuraho
are. Sexually explicit figures adorn almost every inch of the ancient temples, reminding us exactly where the Kama Sutra came from. One temple has nearly 350 figures in total! The temples themselves are an incredible example of ancient Chandela architecture, some dating back as far as 900 AD.