India was a country steeped in mystery until British rule began and opened the country to the Western world. Visitors began to discover the incredible man-made sights and the natural beauty of this large nation. They also began to uncover the extraordinary history and heritage of the Indian people. Today, India remains open to the world, and more and more travelers are exploring its countryside. I have narrowed the awesome man-made attractions of this land down to the following seven:
1. Taj Mahal, Agra. This mausoleum dedicated to love was built by the Mughal Shah Jahan upon the death of his favorite wife, Mumtaz. Besides being a World Heritage Site, it garnered the most votes in the recent competition for the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. The gorgeous, completely symmetrical structure is made of white marble with many details and inscriptions. It is thought by many to be the most beautiful building in the world.
2. Ajanta Caves, near Aurangabad. This complex of 29 rock-hewn monastic residences (Viharas) and monument halls dates to the 2nd century BC, although some are more recent, dating to the 7th century AD. Cave facades range from simple to ornate and the interiors are all different and exceedingly interesting.
3. Ellora Caves, near Aurangabad. This complex of cave architecture, considered the epitome of this genre, contains 34 caves. Twelve are Buddhist, seventeen are Hindu, and 5 are Jain. Cave 16, the Kailasanatha Temple, is considered the finest of them all. The earliest structures at Ellora are thought to date from the 5th to the 7th century AD.
4. Pink (City) Palace, Jaipur. Hawa Mahal, known also as the Palace of the Winds, is the most imposing building in what is known as the City Palace of Jaipur. Built of pink sandstone, like the rest of the city, it is one of the most popular attractions in this capital of Rajastan. Other important tourist sites in Jaipur include Jantar Mantar, an observatory, and the Amber Fort (see below), just outside the city.
5. Golden Temple, Amritsar. This Sikh temple’s real name is Harmandir Sahib and it is the most holy Sikh shrine in the world. The site is actually a complex of buildings surrounded by a lake. It was originally built in 1604, but the gold was added in the early 1800’s. Non-Muslims may enter the temple as long as they are dressed appropriately.
6. Red Fort, Old Delhi. This stunning Mughal palace was built in 1639 by Shah Jahan, the builder of the Taj Mahal (see above), when he moved his capital from Agra. The fort is surrounded by a 1.5 mile wall, which is as high as 60 feet, on the sides facing the city. Its architectural design is meant to be an imitation of paradise as described in the Koran.
7. Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur. One of the largest forts in India, this complex is located high on a hill above the city of Jodhpur and is surrounded by thick walls. Inside the complex are several palatial buildings. Noteworthy are the Chamunda Mataji Temple, the Hall of Mirrors, and the Palace of Flowers.
Other sights considered:
Temples of Khajuraho
Banks of the Ganges, Varanasi
Lake Palace, Udiapur
Sun Temple of Konark, near Puri
Jaisalmer Fort, Jaisalmer
Amber Fort, Jaipur
Fatepur Sikri, near Agra