The Palaces of Mysore

The Palaces of Mysore are grand and surrounded by very pleasant gardens.  Definitely worth a day trip if passing through some of the big nearby cities like Bangalore, I’m just a bit surprised, considering the main Mysore Palace is the second most visited sight in all of India only behind the Taj Mahal, that they manage to attract quite so much attention


Very brief review this time as it was years ago that I visited

The pink city of Jaipur

Jaipur is part of India’s classical Golden Triangle route and represents the natural gateway into the gem that is the state of Rajasthan.  For sure it is nice walking through the chaotic pink city with monkeys jumping everywhere, visiting the nearby Amber Fort and you’ll naturally pass through Jaipur as part of any visit to this part of India.  But . . . I wouldn’t say it is a highlight and you shouldn’t prioritise it over the real Rajasthan highlights of Jodphur, Jaisalmer or Udaipur

The Taj Mahal

One of the 7 Wonders of the World, said by its imperial creator to “make the sun and moon shed tears” and put so eloquently by poet Rabindranath Tagore “a tear drop on the edge of eternity” . . . big hype . . .
. . . the thing is, the Taj Mahal is one of those rare sights that does indeed match the build up.  And this is despite it being such a simple experience – you find yourself staring at it, for hours, happily soaking up it’s perfect geometrical beauty.  Cheesy indeed, but I surprised myself by just how much I enjoyed just staring at it. A must if visiting India
Top tip – you don’t really need tips for visiting the Taj as it’s very straightforward.  But, one thing I would recommend is to try and have a tea, beer, breakfast, meal, whatever, within sight of the Taj.  Doing so just offers a different perspective, and slightly different experience as you enjoy your food and drinks overlooking this world famous site, rather than being surrounded by the crowds all try to get a look at it

Seeing the abandoned former Mughal capital at Fatehphur Sikri

Just outside of Agra, which tends to be the highlight visit for most people visiting this part of India as they get to see the Taj Mahal, is the very underrated and magnificent fortified ancient city of Fatehphur Sikri.   The sight, which was the former capital of the Mughal Empire and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, dominated nearly all of South Asia for almost 200 years before the arrival of the British, includes 3 palaces and a mosque all with gorgeous architecture and without the crowds of some of the main Indian sites


Give it a go for a day trip from Agra, or simply replace Jaipur with Fatehphur Sikri in your itinerary for the Golden Triangle.  I actually recommend this along with 5 other changes in my travel entry for India’s Golden Triangle – getting the most out of it

India’s Golden Triangle – getting the most out of it

The Golden Triangle is viewed as the classical India trip – fly into the nation’s capital of Delhi, then to the country’s most famous site of the Taj Mahal, dip your toe in the highlight state of Rajasthan in the Pink City of Jaipur, and then a short ride back to Delhi.  All sites within around 200km / 125miles of each other, a very relaxed week-long itinerary or a rapid 4/5 days.  It will certainly give you a feel of India . . . BUT . . . it’s only major downside is that it only really includes one highlight of India and that is the Taj Mahal.  Delhi is a big dirty Indian city that I would struggle to put in a highlights reel of India and Jaipur, whilst nice to wander around the Pink City and visit the Amber Fort, is a far distant second to the outstanding highlights of the wonderful Rajasthan (Jodhpur, Jaisalmer and Udaipur in particular)


My suggestions to enjoy your week in this part of India:

  • You will naturally fly into Delhi, but don’t spend too much time there.  The Red Fort is worth checking out, but other than that it is a big polluted Indian city
  • The Taj Mahal in Agra is a must and lives up to the hype.  One of the 7 Wonders of the World and described as “a tear drop on the edge of eternity”, you will find yourself staring at it, for hours, happily soaking up its perfect geometrical beauty.  Cheesy indeed, but I surprised myself by just how much I enjoyed just staring at it.  See the individual review here – The Taj Mahal
  • Fatehphur Sikri – before heading over to Rajasthan from Agra (or maybe just on the way), give yourself half a day to see the ghost city of Fatehphur Sikri, the magnificent ancient city that was the former capital of the Mughal Empire.  See the individual review here – Seeing the abandoned former Mughal capital at Fatehphur Sikri
  • Spend only a short time in Jaipur, or skip it altogether.  Walking through the Pink City is nice and so is the nearby Amber Fort, but deprioritise behind Rajasthan’s real highlights. See the individual review here – The pink city of Jaipur
  • Visit the magnificent Mehrangarh Fort and Blue City of Jodhpur – that view of the the bright white memorial of Jaswant Thada, with Mhrangarh Fort and the blue city of Jodhpur peering out in the background must be one of the most dramatic in all of India.  Combined with the exotic vibe of the Rajasthan desert, this one of the unmissable highlights of India and is in a different league to Jaipur.  See the individual review here – Viewing the Jodphur’s Blue City from the spectacular Mehrangarh Fort
  • If you have the time, make sure to visit Jaisalmer and Udaipur – other than the Taj Mahal, they, along with Jodhpur, are the highlights of this part of India

Viewing the Jodphur’s Blue City from the spectacular Mehrangarh Fort

That view of the the bright white memorial of Jaswant Thada, with Mehrangarh Fort and the blue city of Jodphur peering out in the background must be one of the most dramatic in all of India and evokes that immediate reaction of WHERE IS THAT???!!!  Once you’ve put it on your must-see-list and actually made the trip to Jodphur, you won’t be disappointed.  The stunning views along with that exotic vibe of the Rajasthan desert make this one of the unmissable highlights of India


Top tip #1 – you’ll naturally visit the fort for its beautiful internal architecture and amazing views, but few people make the relatively short (500m / 0.3mile) walk north to the Jaswant Thada memorial.  Its far less busy and the views of the fort in the background are sublime


Top tip #2 – similarly, you’ll also naturally stay around the Old Blue City area Makrana Mohalla where most of the hotels and hostels are and the general hustle and bustle, but also make sure to wander around the Navchokiya area of the old town which has the same pleasant vibe, but not quite as busy.  You can access it from the fort via walking through the gorgeous Rajput Garden and exiting at the Victory Gate


Top Tip #3 – be sure to book a place to stay with an accessible roof for views of the fort, especially in the evening.  There’s something quite magical about looking over the brutal looking fortifications as the sounds of evening kick in and you can see the Old Town wind down in the streets below.  The place we stayed at has long closed down, but the Pal Haveli had a wonderful rooftop restaurant which you can enjoy whether a guest or not

Joining the Sikhs for their pilgrimage to Amritsar’s Golden Temple

The golden temple itself, and the complex it forms part of, is impressive – gleaming marble paths, the exotic architecture of the surrounding buildings, and with the golden temple of 750kg gold sitting in the middle of a central lake.  But it is the overall experience of being so openly welcomed and very much part of this most sacred pilgrimage for thousands of Sikhs as you wash, eat and move en masse through their holiest site that makes this such a unique and unmissable experience


It’s very simple to join in. Simply rock up any time, no entrance fee, just take off your shoes and socks, wash your feet and borrow a head scarf that they provide. Then follow the crowds – they even feed you!


Whilst there isn’t that much else to see in Amritsar, and the Golden Temple is very much the highlight in this part of India, the nearby border crossing with Pakistan offers a very unusual display of transborder pomp as the two sides send in their tallest, most curly moustached soldiers to goose step at each other as they slowly lower their flags before the border closes . . . yes, super random.  Easy to get there – just get a taxi for the Attari-Wagah border and try to get their an hour before the start to get into the grandstand (yes, they have a grandstand).  Ceremony starts 530pm except for 430pm in winter

Getting lost in the kaleidoscope of colours in Varanassi

Varanasi feels like a microcosm of India – nowhere else will you see such such a vibrant variety of cultures, religions and colours, yet this is also combined with the thronging masses of people all around you and the rubbish and pollution that comes with such numbers


I loved my time in Varanasi as I just headed off to get lost in amongst the lanes, wandered into incense-heavy temples and looked over the riverside ghats as people washed themselves for ritual, or just washed themselves.   I can also understand though why some might find it a bit oppressive.  Either way, it feels like one of the must do experiences of this wonderful country


Some simple tips:

  1. Get lost in the small alley ways – its all part of the experience and you’ll no doubt find some cool temples and views of the Ganges that aren’t in the standard tourist route
  2. Try to avoid taking a standard tourist tour of the Ghats.  Instead, find one of the guys with his own boat near the water and get him to take you out.  It just avoids being crammed into a boat with 40 other fellow tourists
  3. Its India, so be ready for people near-constantly nagging you to sell you something, but it is probably a bit worse in Varanasi and it is a tourist hotspot where people tend to have spent a lot to visit

A day in Calcutta

Whilst it does have some interesting spots of architecture from the times when Calcutta was the capital of the British Raj, there isn’t much else worth really seeing in Calcutta, unless that is that you want to experience a big Indian city, and then again you can experience that in various places across India.  My suggestion is to deprioritise Calcutta for many of the other wonderful experiences across India