Exploring the Many Wonders of India - United Hub

Exploring the many wonders of India

By Nick Harper

A land of extraordinary beauty, history and diversity, India should be on every traveler's bucket list. With more than a million square miles to cover, one visit just wouldn't be enough. Often times, visitors to India try to cram too much into one trip. Seeing each city at a slower pace and experiencing the culture will be more rewarding than hurriedly checking off as many cities as possible. Here are five cities that should be at the top of your itinerary when visiting India for the first time.

Delhi

The temptation for many international travelers is to land in Delhi and head straight to Agra to see the majestic Taj Mahal or to visit the many ancient fortresses in Jaipur. To overlook India's capital is a crime — the city is a historic heavyweight and symbol of the old and the new.

From a tourist's perspective, the city can be split between New and Old Delhi. The latter is a frenetic maze full of backstreet bazaars and home to the mighty Red Fort and the Jama Masjid, India's most imposing mosque. Founded in 1648, Old Delhi was built as a walled city within Delhi that was home to elegant mansions where nobles and members of the royal court lived. To the south, the British-built New Delhi is a district of wide, tree-lined boulevards, museums and the impressive Rajpath, a ceremonial boulevard whose name translates as 'King's Way.' Now, New Delhi serves as the capital of India with all three seats of India's government residing there.

An incredible array of markets, some of India's most delicious street food and a growing number of chic cafés and bars should convince you to prolong your stay, before you head off on your next adventure.

Agra

A four-hour drive or two-hour train ride south of Delhi, you'll come to Agra. More specifically, you'll come to Agra and India's monument to eternal love, the magnificent Taj Mahal. Completed in 1653, the Taj Mahal was commissioned by the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan, as a symbol of love and final resting place for his wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Believe the hype: the ivory-white marble mausoleum is everything you imagined and reason alone to visit India — as eight million visitors do every year. Pro tip: visit as early as possible to give yourself a chance of capturing a photograph without anyone else in the frame.

As impressive as it is, the Taj Mahal is by no means Agra's only attraction. As India's capital under the Mughals, that empire also left behind a magnificent fort and a number of must-visit mausoleums and tombs. Most of the major monuments, including the Taj Mahal, are lined up along the banks of the Yamuna River, which runs down the city's eastern edge.

It's possible to visit on a day-trip from Delhi, but a fleeting visit won't do the city justice, so plan to spend a couple of days here. Most tourist itineraries include Agra as one part of India's classic 'Golden Triangle,' alongside Delhi to the north and Jaipur to the west.

Jaipur city palace in Jaipur city

Jaipur

Rajasthan's capital is the doorway into India's most flamboyant state. Juxtaposing centuries-old institutions and bazaars with its modern charms, the 'Pink City' (named for the color of the buildings in its historic center) is a tumultuous but utterly intoxicating city that dizzies the head but enriches the soul. Head for the heart of the city for a trio of must-visit attractions: the opulent City Palace, still home to India's royal family, the 18th century Jantar Mantar observatory, and the honeycomb Hawa Mahal palace.

The jewel in the city's crown lies further out, however. The 400-year-old Amber Fort is a shimmering complex of palaces and fortifications 8 miles north on the Delhi Jaipur Highway. It's home to countless treasures, artworks and the dazzling Sheesh Mahal hall of mirrors.

No trip to Rajasthan is complete without traveling to Udaipur. If you have a few extra days, head southwest from Jaipur to Udaipur, or the “City of Lakes," known for its lavish royal residences and opulence. While you're there, stay at the magnificent Taj Lake Palace located on the island of Jag Niwas in Lake Pichola. It's recognized as one of the most romantic hotels in the world — you'll feel like you're staying in a palace where luxury abounds.

Mumbai

After exploring the classic Golden Triangle, add Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay) to your itinerary. India's most westernized city is packed onto a narrow spit of land curling out into the Arabian Sea. Mumbai is technically an island, connected to mainland India by a series of bridges and causeways. Expect heat, humidity and an almost overwhelming number of human beings — the Maharashtra capital draws comparisons with New York City, but there's far more hustle and bustle because this city never sleeps.

Relatively young, the city was transformed from a fishing settlement into a trading hub in the 17th century, then slowly turned into the megalopolis it is today. India's largest city and financial hub, glass and concrete superstructures dominate the skyline, particularly in the city's center and along the opulent waterfront, yet historic treasures are there to be uncovered. From the gothic Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus to the city's most celebrated landmark, the Gateway of India, to Elephanta Caves, Mumbai has enough landmarks to sate your thirst and fill your phone with photos.

But to immerse yourself fully in the city and its people, consider taking a bike tour at dawn, or gazing in awe on a Bollywood studio tour.

Palolem beach in Goa

Goa

Tucked into the south-west coast of the sub-continent, India's smallest state is among its richest, in large part thanks to the tourists who flock here each year. With over 80 miles of coastline and a famously relaxed beach vibe, it's easy to understand why. While overcrowding has blighted the likes of Anjuna, Calangute and Vagator beaches, the alternatives further south still offer a taste of paradise.

For five-star resorts, long, empty beaches and the most obvious evidence of more than four centuries of Portuguese rule, head for Central Goa and the capital Panaji.

The north offers the best boutique properties, a beautiful crowd, India's most inventive food scene and a strong emphasis on yoga and wellness. Aim for the beaches of Mandrem, Ashvem and Arambol.

But, to escape the crowds as much as possible, head to the South Goa coast, from the Sal River to Canacona. There you'll find palm-fringed beaches, temples, coconut groves, fishing villages and an inner peace you never knew existed.

The basics

When to go

As a general rule, avoid the monsoon season and punishing heat from May to September and aim instead for the cooler and, dry season that runs from October to March.

The logistics

A vast country with huge distances to cover, where possible, take internal flights that will minimize your travel time. The largest distance of these five cities – from Delhi to Goa – takes 35 hours to drive, or around two-and-a-half hours to fly. Happily, all of the cities listed here can be reached through direct or connecting flights. If time isn't an issue, take a train at least part of the way. India's national rail network reaches every city listed above and is an experience not to be missed.

To first get over to India, United Airlines flies to both Delhi (DEL) and Mumbai (BOM) from New York/Newark (EWR). For further details and to book, visitunited.com or download our convenient United app.

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