As I wrap up my recaps of my trip to India, I’m struck by how much beauty I witnessed in one place. India is so colorful, so multifaceted and so special, one could spend the rest of her life exploring its cities and natural wonders and never run out of things to marvel at.
After only 3 weeks, I only scratched the surface of what India has to offer. I’ve talked about some of the most well-known landmarks already (including the Taj Mahal, the Red Fort and the caves at Elephanata Island). But I wanted to share 10 other places I heavily recommend any visitor check out.
I sometimes compare traveling to school. Going to a place like Europe is manageable for any travel neophyte — it’s like gym class. (Show up with a pulse, and you’ll be fine.) A place like Morocco is manageable, but a little more challenging — it’s more like a honors geometry class. (Get a tutor — aka a paid guide — and you’ll be fine.)
India is quite a bit harder. You won’t find many young backpackers or idealistic college kids. That’s because I equate India to Advanced Placement Underwater Basket Weaving. You show up thinking, “Yeah, this is AP but it’s basket weaving, how hard can it be?” And then you realize you skipped a bunch of pre-requisites, like scuba certification, and now you’re treading water and gasping for breath.
As intimidating as India can be for a tourist, I would never hesitate to recommend it. Just study up. This blog post is a good place to start. I’ve included 10 of my favorite things to do in India, along with plenty of photos and tips to further entice you. Have any questions? Just holler in the comments.
1. Lalbagh Gardens, Bangalore
One of my favorite aspects of India? Its transporting gardens. Because of the hospitable climate, India is home to an unrivaled array of biodiversity, from globe-trotting, migrating birds to trees that are hundreds of years old. At Lalbagh Gardens in Bangalore, I felt like I was Alice down the rabbit hole. There are plenty of notable gardens in the U.S. (hello, Central Park is 20 minutes from my house), but everything in India just feels older, bigger and more legit. My favorite part? The temple perched on top of a stony vista overlooking the entire city.
PS: The garden gets extra credit because its public bathrooms are CLEAN. (So tip the attendants well!)
2. The town of Bellur
There’s an episode of Aziz Ansari’s TV show, Master of None, that explores the backstories of oft-taciturn immigrant parents. The truth is, many immigrant parents faced extreme hardships that are unfathomable to many Westerners. (Imagine having to kill your pet for food.) My father-in-law was born and raised in the tiny village of Bellur, located on the outskirts of Bangalore. I remember him telling me a story about a common toy for the village boys — empty cigarette boxes. (Scorpions would sometimes nest in the boxes, making this a particularly hazardous pastime.) My father-in-law used education as his guiding light out of poverty — and he went from a one-room schoolhouse to Yale University. If that doesn’t give you a lump in your throat, you’re a robot.
We visited the village toward the end of the trip, and I was emotionally steam-rolled with humility and grace. When I went inside the school where my father-in-law had studied, and thought of how profoundly he had changed his life — and in the process, changed mine, I was nearly brought to tears.
This poor village is also the birthplace of BKS Iyengar, the man responsible for bringing yogs to the Western world. (BKS Iyengar also happens to be my husband’s great uncle.) The town was infused with donations from its famous son and his followers, which helped build a school and temple. The signs of BKS Iyengar’s profound impact are everywhere — even the snack stands, where a faded poster stands sentry.
3. A yoga class.
I would be remiss if I did not mention that India is the birthplace of yoga. Many Westerners come here to unlock the transcendent magic of meditation and hatha yoga. I admit, I was wildly optimistic that I would be able to squeeze in multiple yoga classes during my 3-week trip.
Well. That did not happen. I took one class at my hotel in Mumbai and managed to do three YouTube classes in my room (PS: Thanks to the jet lag, I fell asleep during every single Savasana, waking up hours later with my husband toeing my heavy corpse awake from the hotel room floor.)
I will tell you that the one class I took was a very different style than the sweaty asanas you find in American classes. In the U.S., yoga studios tend to focus on the athleticism of yoga, so you’re moving through poses quickly with an emphasis on challenging holds like chataranga.
In Mumbai, my class focused more on breathing and holding each pose for several minutes. (The teacher also had this habit of counting down the seconds of each pose like it was a rocket ship launch, which was distracting. So when I was balancing in Tree Pose, I kept thinking, “Only 30 seconds left of this pose!” — and then I would promptly lose my balance and fall out.
So why did I include a yoga class in my Top 10? Well, because yoga is all about intentions. And I fully intend to go to more classes next time I’m there.
4. The temples of Belur: Channakeshavaswamy Temple and Hoysaleswara Temple
Not to be confused with Bellur, which appears earlier in this list, Bellur is known for its beautiful temples.
The temples are best-known for the detailed carving depicting a variety of religious stories and deities. My favorites were the elephants — I consider these carvings the original viral animal meme.
5. Amoeba Bowling, Bangalore
Sometimes you need to get off the tourist train and just do something normal with the local kids. One afternoon, when my husband and I were walking around our hotel in Bangalore, we noticed a bowling alley. I was suddenly overcome with an urgent need to roll. (Frankly, this happens every single time I see a bowling alley, whether it’s in India or Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.)
We went on a big family outing with my husband’s cousins, and despite my abysmal score, it was a highlight. Sometimes, it just feels nice to do a familiar activity — like air hockey, which I also lost — in an otherwise foreign place.
One note: This place is PACKED, so you’ll have to sign up hours in advance of your turn. We booked our lane and then spent the next couple of hours playing games in the arcade and eating all the street food available in the neighborhood.
6. Gandhi Museum, Delhi
Some historical sites are so loaded with historical significance, you can’t help but be awed by the power that lingers there, like perfume in the air. The Gandhi Museum is one such place, specifically because it is where Gandhi spent his last days. The entire house has been transformed into a museum — the downstairs is filled with newspaper clippings and photographs detailing Gandhi’s work and political impact. The upstairs is less interesting to adults — it is mostly comprised of interactive exhibits of the “pull-a-lever-and-watch-a-light-go-off” variety. But the real power comes in the garden, where you can literally walk in Gandi’s last footsteps before his assasination. I dare anyone to walk those historical steps without feeling humbled. I was equally moved by the collection of Gandhi’s only possessions. As someone who just spent 4 hours rearranging her shoes, this was a hard check into reality — in the end, stuff means nothing.
7. Brindavan Garden, Mysore
We arrived at this garden just as the sun was about to set, and the timing couldn’t be more perfect.
The gardens border a dam and surround a man-made lake. The gardens are particularly well-known for their fountains, including a nightly water show timed to music.
The place gets PACKED, so I recommend leaving after the first couple songs play during the fountain show — just the beat the crush of people on the way back to the parking lot.
One last note — the gardens are home to a plethora of insects. See the hordes of flies hovering near the street lamps:
8. Janpath Market, Delhi
There are lots of markets in India, but Janpath in Delhi is my favorite for its nighttime scenery. The place is packed with street side delicacies, golden trinkets and sequined tote bags. (I’m still kicking myself for not buying more stuff while there — this market is home to things you just won’t find elsewhere.)
No matter the country, my happy place is the mall. It always provides some degree of cultural equilibrium — the stores may be different, but the activity is soothingly the same.
India’s malls have the added benefit of selling the most beautiful Indian clothes are fantastic prices. I walked out of there feeling like a bandit with my deals on tunics and leggings.
Side note: My husband had told me not to expect any Christmas decorations, but the mall was completely decked out for the holidays, including a Santa’s Village with a line around the block.
10. Gandhi Market, Bangalore
Jan path market may be my favorite nighttime shopping scene, but Gandhi Market is by far the most pleasant outdoor daytime destination. This shopping district is street after street of home furnishings, clothes, tchotchkes and antiques. I went absolutely crazy and loaded up on gifts and souvenirs that I’ll share on the blog at a later time.
One of the best parts of the bazaar? The hilarious hand-painted advertisements for ladies’ lingerie.
And the fake Chanel sweaters. (It took every ounce of restraint not to take this time with me!)
Oh, India — I love you! (Or more accurately: நான் உன்னை காதலிக்குறேன்!) I still have another India update in the queue — stay tuned!