For little archaeologists and explorers, head to the Ajanta Caves in Maharashtra where ancient history comes to life. The spectacular collection of 30 caves rises out of a massive horseshoe-shaped cliff face deep in the forest. The earliest cave excavations date back to the second century B.C. while later excavations were completed, due to royal patronage, as a series of worship halls for traveling monks and priests. Beautifully preserved statues, ornate pillars, Buddha figures and painstakingly restored Buddhist paintings and murals decorate the caves at this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Wander the soaring caverns with one of the on-site guides, flashlight in hand, and contemplate the effort and time that went into this awesome feat of stonemasonry and artistry that has managed to survive, mostly undisturbed, for so many centuries. The Ellora Caves, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, lie 62 miles southwest of Ajanta and are an awe-inspiring example of India’s long and unbroken history. Of the nearly 100 caves at the site, 34 are open to the public and feature many Buddhist, Hindu and Jain monuments. Young archaeologists will enjoy Cave 16, where they can see the world’s largest single monolithic rock excavation, a chariot dedicated to the god Shiva. Fly into Aurangabad or make the stop aboard a luxury train journey from Mumbai.
WHEN TO GO: Visit these historical caves during the months of October to December before the heat picks up, so your tours aren’t stuffy and uncomfortable.
FOR KIDS: This activity is safe and enjoyable for children of all ages.
Hampi is a fantastical landscape of otherworldly rocks, nestled within the ruins of the city of Vijayanagara where evocative tableaux remain from the 14th century empire of the same name. Monuments are scattered along the banks of the Tungabhadra River in a surreal landscape of precariously perched giant boulders strewn across the Deccan plateau between glistening paddy fields and verdant groves of banana and palm trees. Founded in the 14th century by the Telugu princes Harihara and Bukka, Vijayanagara grew into one of the largest Hindu empires in Indian history over the course of two hundred years. Among the hundreds of monuments still standing, there are architectural gems like the 16th-century Vittala Vishnu Temple with its musical pillars around a courtyard where a giant golden granite chariot is perched. Other highlights include the Royal and Zenana Enclosures, an eleven-domed elephant stable; a Queen’s Bath House; and watch towers, step wells, and colossal monolithic statues galore. A striking bulging-eyed Lakshmi Narasimha and a seated image of the elephant-headed deity Ganesha sit in a holy cave. The only living temple left is Virupaksha Temple, located in Hampi Bazaar. It is one of the city’s oldest structures with its beautifully carved colonnaded halls, gateways, a 50-meter high Gopuram tower, and a temple elephant named Lakshmi.
WHEN TO GO: This breathtaking area is best visited from March to May so you can see the growing fruit and the green areas amidst the statues and rocks, and to experience the ancient bath houses.
Named after Maharana Kumbha, but often referred to as “the great wall of India,” Kumbalgarh is among the most formidable forts in Rajasthan. Built in the 15th century and protected by seven gates and approximately 22 miles of defensive walls, Kumbalgarh houses the deserted palace of Fateh Singh as well as some 365 temples and shrines. Strategically located in the heart of the Aravalli Hills, on the border between the Rajput kingdoms of Mewar and Marwar, the near-impregnable fort was defeated only once throughout its turbulent history when enemy Mughals poisoned the water supply. Reputedly, the village inside the fort could be self-sufficient for up to a year. Today, visitors can walk around the fort’s perimeter in a single, long day, while taking in superb views over the land to the northwest and into the surrounding Kumbalgarh Wildlife Sanctuary, home to Indian wolves, leopards, sloth bears and striped hyenas.
WHEN TO GO: Take in the breathtaking views on The Great Wall of India from March to May, when wildlife are active and the weather is comfortable for a day-long trek.
From the turn of the 14th century until it was abandoned almost 300 year...
From the turn of the 14th century until it was abandoned almost 300 years ago, Mandu was a fortified city of immense wealth that expressed its prosperity with building sprees. The result was a profusion of palaces, tombs, monuments, mosques, caravanserais (hotels that could accommodate caravans) and hilltop pavilions across an elevated plateau of southern Madhya Pradesh. Today, the uninhabited structures are scattered across a stark landscape freckled with mighty baobab trees imported long ago from sub-Saharan Africa. The Jahaz Mahal palace towering above two lakes is especially atmospheric, as is the Rupmati Pavilion, an old watchtower perched on the edge of the plateau.
WHEN TO GO: Perched high above the rolling landscape below, this is a great place to clear your head. Spend a spring afternoon visiting Mandu and feeling at one with the world. March-May will yield the clearest skies — without rainfall or intense heat.
This soaring tower is found at the extensive Qutb complex, once the Capi...
This soaring tower is found at the extensive Qutb complex, once the Capital of Delhi Sultanat in the Mehrauli area of Delhi. Built by sultan Qutb-ud-din Aibak in the 13th century, the tower was also used as a minaret and is decorated with intricately carved sandstone bands bearing Quran verses. It stands nearly 240 feet tall, tapers dramatically at the top and is surrounded by other impressive remnants of Mughal architecture, including the first mosque to be built in India, Quwwat-ul-Islam.
WHEN TO GO: Visit this soaring tower during the warmer months of May to June, as the destination is completely outside. Visit before the weather turns chilly or rainy.
Dynasties of the great Rajput clans left behind palaces, temples and mon...
Dynasties of the great Rajput clans left behind palaces, temples and monuments in this city in Madhya Pradesh. The most famous remnant, Gwalior Fort, occupies a sandstone plateau overlooking the city, accessed via a winding road lined with Jain statues carved from the cliff walls of a deep canyon. The fort has a bloody history of sieges and clashes, was controlled by Raja Man Singh between 1486 and 1516, and was later occupied by the Mughals, Maratha and the British. Mementos of this fascinating past are on display in the museum of Jai Vilas Palace.
WHEN TO GO: This expansive palace is accessible by winding road. Visit before winter snow arrives, in October or November. Avoid it in the summer months, as this region gets very hot for prolonged periods of time.
Founded by Rao Jodhaji in 1459 and built on sandstone hills, Jodhpur is ...
Founded by Rao Jodhaji in 1459 and built on sandstone hills, Jodhpur is the best-preserved city in Rajasthan. A wall surrounding the city features seven gates fortified with bastions and iron spikes, while the magnificent hilltop Mehrangarh Fort towers in the distance, nearly 400 feet above the city skyline. The fort’s lavishly decorated palaces, staterooms and courtyards, along with its compelling museum, deserve several hours’ worth of exploration. Afterwards, head downhill through a labyrinth of blue abode houses, and the shops and alleyways of the Sadar Bazar.
WHEN TO GO: Enjoy this colorful and winding city during the mild days of September to November, as a long afternoon of walking and sightseeing is necessary to take the whole area in.
When a prophecy delivered to Emperor Akbar came true, the Mughal heir ce...
When a prophecy delivered to Emperor Akbar came true, the Mughal heir celebrated by building a new capital blending Hindu, Persian and Indo-Muslim architecture. Unfortunately for Akbar, the life of his grand red-sandstone city was cut short due to a water shortage, leaving it permanently abandoned shortly after his death. However, the spectacular remains of Fatepur Sikri remain one of the most popular destinations in India.
WHEN TO GO: A building with three diverse types of architecture is a must see on the outside and inside. This can be explored on a sunny or rainy day, so visit anytime during the year. Bear in mind that it is one of India’s most popular tourist destinations.
A visit to the Taj Mahal tops the list for most first-time visitors to I...
A visit to the Taj Mahal tops the list for most first-time visitors to India, and rightly so. This iconic monument is one of the wonders of the world and an unforgettable sight, especially when illuminated by a full moon. Built by the doomed Shah Jahan as a lasting tribute to his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal, the structure features white domes and spires that shimmer in the sun. Arrive at sunrise with the crowds and expect to hear audible gasps. Rooftop restaurants in town also offer a tantalizing view.
WHEN TO GO: Visit this iconic structure any time of the year, but be sure to catch it glimmering in the sunlight and illuminated by moonlight. It is worth a few trips.
Mysuru (formerly Mysore) is a charming town rich in reminders of its opu...
Mysuru (formerly Mysore) is a charming town rich in reminders of its opulent past. Known as the Cultural Capital of South Karnataka, it was largely ruled by the Wodeyar dynasty, famed patrons of art and culture. Highlights include the fortified palace at the city center, which is illuminated by over 100,000 lights every Sunday night. Chamundeshwari Temple, located at the top of the Chamundi Hills above the city, is another must-see. Back in town, the Devaraja spice, flower and vegetable market is one of India’s most colorful and atmospheric places to shop.
WHEN TO GO: Visit this charming town during comfortable weather, either early spring (March to May) or late spring (September to November) and make sure to check out the Devaraja spice and vegetable market, open from sunrise to sunset.
Orchha translates to “hidden” and the name is fitting. Located in th...
Orchha translates to “hidden” and the name is fitting. Located in the middle of rural Madhya Pradesh, the town was founded in the 16th century as the capital of the Rajput state of Bundelkhand. Today, visitors can see magnificent chhatris (cenotaphs) along the Betwa River, explore the gardens and frescoed walls of Orchha Fort and take in beautiful religious and secular paintings at Raj Mahal Palace. Orchha is also known for Ram Raja Temple, a sacred Hindu pilgrimage site and the only palace-turned-temple in all of India where Lord Rama is worshipped as a king.
WHEN TO GO: Visit this hidden city from October to March to avoid the heat of the summer in Madhya Pradesh. Sightsee the gardens outdoors and the large religious paintings in indoor areas.
Built for the Mughal emperor by his Persian wife in the mid-16th century...
Built for the Mughal emperor by his Persian wife in the mid-16th century, the tomb marries Persian and Mughal elements. Restrained decorations such as marble and sandstone mosaics enhance the architecture, and the octagonal design follows Islamic geometry rules, emphasizing the number eight in its arches, pillared kiosks and fountain-filled gardens. Set among vast manicured lawns that offer a welcome escape from urban Delhi, this venue calls to mind the Taj Mahal in Agra.
WHEN TO GO: Visit in the spring time months of March to May so you can experience the beauty of the outdoors and indoors.
This 16th-century Deccan citadel was the capital of the Qutb Shahi Dynas...
This 16th-century Deccan citadel was the capital of the Qutb Shahi Dynasty and surrounded by over six miles of concentric circular walls. Today, though most of the limestone structure lies in various states of ruin, it is the largest fort in south India and a highlight of any visit to Hyderabad. A very colorful and busy Hindu temple sits at the summit, which offers extensive views over the miles of ramparts winding around the foothills of the Deccan Plateau.
WHEN TO GO: Visit the fort and Hyderabad prior to snowfall, so from September to November. The summit offers a beautiful view of the region, but winding stairs need to be ascended that are easier to navigate in clear skies.
High up in the Nilgiri Hills of the Western Ghats in Tamil Nadu, Ooty (s...
High up in the Nilgiri Hills of the Western Ghats in Tamil Nadu, Ooty (short for Ootacamund or Udhagamandalam) is the former summer capital of the Madras Presidency. The town remains one of South India’s most popular hill stations and is surrounded by pristine lakes and forests of pine and eucalyptus. Once an untouched area and home to the aboriginal Todas tribe, Ooty was made a hill station by the British in the early 1800s. Relics from that period remain, including the Botanical Gardens, several clubs and St. Stephen’s church.
WHEN TO GO: This scenic green rolling lands of Ooty should be visited from March to June. The hills and mountains are filled with flowers and botanic gardens if you visit at the right time.