Top 5 hotspots to visit in India
I’ll have to be honest; narrowing down a top 5 destinations list for a country as diverse as India is pretty tough. With a landscape that stretches from sleepy beachside bungalows to soaring mountain peaks, not to mention the chaos of the major cities, India is a country that can cater for all travel types, be it the traversing backpacker or the retired meanderer. However, where there’s a will, there’s a way, so here are my top 5 destinations for Mother India.
Step back into an ancient world of spiritual healing and salvation as Varanasi, formally known as Banares, offers an unrelenting insight into the largely unchanged rituals that have taken place along the river Ganges since the 6th century BC. Pilgrims from afar bathe in the holy river's waters, Hindu cremation ceremonies take place night and day, cows and buffaloes roam the streets, and the sick and dying dot the streets as they come to spend their final days in one of the holiest sites in India. Not for the faint of heart, Varanasi is an assault on the senses. It’s a melting pot of religious celebration, philosophical thought and cultural exploration and is India’s cultural capital. An eye and mind opener to everyone who graces this ancient city's steps.
McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala
The home of the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Buddhism in exile, McLeod Ganj, a suburb of Dharamshala, perches itself at the foot of the snow-capped Himalaya Range in the north of India. As the Tibetan culture and lifestyle is increasingly threatened by the Chinese occupation of Tibet, their language and traditions thrive in this beautiful part of India. Tibetan prayer flags drape across the buildings, which look out over green valleys protected by the Himalayas. If you have a penchant for education, this is the place to go to learn everything from yoga to ancient philosophy. If you’re seeking a respite from the chaos of India’s cities, the clean air will filter out your lungs and the peaceful atmosphere will put your mind at ease.
Mumbai, where millionaires and street sleepers alike call home, is a city of diversity and contrasts. Grand Gothic architectural buildings kiss the sky next to luscious, green open parklands where 20 cricket games may be played simultaneously. Hot, sweet chai is dished up at every corner and the scent of Mumbai’s famous street food greets you along the way. It’s an enduring city that, like most, has its darker sides, however it’s these aspects that make Mumbai’s grandeur all the more enjoyable.
Fringed by palm trees and fringe dwellers themselves, Goa is home to some of India’s best beaches. At the southern tip, Palolem perches itself on the crescent bay edged by palm trees and small vendors selling all kinds of hippie paraphernalia. With quieter beaches and quieter streets, Benaulim is a peaceful escape in busy Goa. Anjuna is Goa’s central hub; a melting pot of backpackers, beachfront restaurants, families and what’s left of Goa’s psychedelic party scene. Vagator, which neighbours party central Anjuna Beach, hosts its own share of beachfront raves. Ozan, or Little Vagator beach, is made up of three small coves and is slightly more laidback with a number of beach shacks and restaurants littering the shoreline.
On the other side of Vagator Beach Road lies Chapora where resident weathered hippies puff on chillums to the soundtrack of Goan psychedelic trance. Chapora really captures the two worlds that collide in North Goa – a synthesis of hippies who’ve possibly been there since the '70s hippie trail and are now bordering on being 70years old themselves, and the European '90s trance revellers, lapping up what’s left of a once thriving party scene. In the north of Goa, Arambol’s vibe is relaxed and friendly and live music is ample, whether it be on the beach or on the varying humble bars that line the main drag. Arambol is the perfect way to cap off your Goan adventure.
What’s a visit to Mother India without seeing her greatest and most recognisable monument of love? The subtle ways the marble changes colour under the moving sun will mesmerise you and strike a chord on your heart strings. All the photos and all the images you have seen throughout your lifetime will not do it justice as the beauty of the Taj Mahal can only be experienced on the ground.
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