Most people consider Delhi to be the main entry and exit point to the wonderful country that is India and the splendours which abound therein. It therefore stands to reason that news of the cholking smog plaguing Delhi is bound to be detrimental to the tourism industry. However, there are plenty of other international entry points into India, most into wonderful destinations in their own right.
Here’s a list of India’s airport cities, what you can discover in the cities themselves and the destinations they give access to.
List at a glance: Jaipur, Amritsar, Lucknow, Varanasi, Ahmedabad, Kolkata, Nagpur, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Goa, Bangalore, Chennai, Trichy, Kochi, Kannur & Trivandrum.
The region: An integral part of the Golden Triangle & the gateway to Rajasthan.
The city: Jaipur is one of India’s fastest growing cities, showcasing the juxtaposition of ‘new meets old’, yet even in the most modern parts, ancient traditions remain. The new city has spacious roads dotted with upmarket luxury showrooms and high rise apartments; the old city remains a heady mix comprising a labyrinth of fascinating, colourful and hectic bazaars, opulent palaces and historic sights. Providing a stunning backdrop to the city are the ancient forts and palaces which create a dramatic picture of a bygone era. On every tourist’s tick list are the City Palace, Palace of Winds, The Observatory and the Amber Fort, but there is much more to discover.
Take a privately guided walk into the back streets of the old city and you will come across men, in tiny workshops, polishing priceless precious stones, diamonds, emeralds and rubies for Jaipur’s famous jewellery industry as well as a workshop for world class enamel work. Encased within the old city are over 4500 temples, there are even public ones in private houses! There are textile shops where clothes can still be made to order and a wonderful, if slightly spicy, array of street food. Within an hour and a half’s drive of the city are fascinating monuments, rarely visited by tourists including, the deserted town of Bhangarh, allegedly India’s most haunted destination and the Chand Baori step well at Abhaneri, one of Rajasthan’s most impressive sites.
Discover the city on a walking tour: https://cityonpedals.com/tours/jaipur-heritage-walking-tour
Discover the city on a cycle ride: https://www.letourdeindia.com/tours/pedal-to-heritage-jaipur-bike-tour/
Soar over the city and surrounding countryside in a hot air balloon: http://www.skywaltz.com/
The region: Punjab and Himachal Pradesh.
The City: Home to the Harmindir Sahib Gurudwara (better known as the Golden Temple), Amritsar is an important destination for the Sikh community. A visit to this temple is a must, priests and musicians keep up a continuous chant from the Guru Granth Sahib (the Sikh holy book), underneath an elaborate domed ceiling made from 750kg of gold. Up to 100,000 devotees are fed daily for free from the kitchen, more impressive when you realise that the entire organisation is run only by volunteers. Amritsar is also a hot bed of British History, Jalianwala Bagh is scene of the infamous massacre, the gardens have been kept intact and an eternal flame is kept alive here, in honour of the victims. The new partition museum is also very well done and well worth allowing a few hours for. No trip to Amritsar can be complete without trying some of the street food and witnessing the unique Punjabi culture out in the countryside of this region, which is also referred to as the breadbasket of India. Visit the Wagah Border for the Beating Retreat Ceremony with its ceremonial closing of gates and lowering of flags between India and Pakistan. This is quite the spectacle and the displays between the soldiers on either side of the border, of pomp and triumph make for a loud and lively show.
Discover Amritsar: https://cityonpedals.com/tours#amritsar
The Region: Uttar Pradesh, home to Varanasi, Agra Chambal & Dudhwa National Park.
The City: Lucknow was associated with the princely court of Oudh and then with the British in the famous uprising in 1857 and both histories linger on in the city which claims to be one of the 3 C’s, culture, craft and cuisine and they are not wrong. Lucknow once enjoyed the patronage of the Nawabs, who raised its profile as a centre for dance, music, and culinary arts. To this day, it retains its reputation for producing great music, art, and poetry.
Each of its monuments, being immaculately maintained and having a fascination history, are worth visiting. La Martiniere is architecturally one of India’s most impressive schools, The Residency was the scene of the Indian Mutiny or the First Battle of the Indian Uprising for Independence, depending on whose side you are on. The Bara Imambara which was commissioned by Nawab, Asaf-Ud- during the drought year of 1784 AD to help the poor make a living is an extraordinary building; try and find your way around its first-floor labyrinth! Close by is the Chota Imambara less impressive but charming in its own way.
Beyond its monuments, Lucknow is also famous for its shopping, perfumes and food. It’s beautiful chikan kari work, detailed embroidery on colourful fabrics, usually cotton is a trade mark of the city. Oil-based, naturally scented perfumes have been family businesses here for generations; scents from rose to jasmine to the smell of an impending rain storm and even biryani! Speaking of which, don’t miss a food tour here (not great for vegetarians) but the Pasanda kebabs, Tunday kebabs, nihari and gilafi kulcha and kheer are delicious.
Discover Lucknow: http://www.tornosindia.com/
The Region: Uttar Pradesh, home to Lucknow, Agra Chambal & Dudhwa National Park.
The City: Varanasi is unique, ancient and spiritual, artistic and paradoxical. It is one of the most important places of Hinduism as to die here and be cremated is to achieve moksha (freedom from the cycle of rebirth). The essence of the city plays out in its daily rituals which are like no other; people bathe in the Holy River Ganges to absolve themselves of their sins, semi naked sadhu’s sit around practising yoga poses, bodies are cremated in the open air, ancient prayer ceremonies take place on the ghats, tourist glide by on row boats and amidst all this, daily life goes on. A visit to Varanasi is a visit to another world, ancient and spiritual, overwhelming yet enthralling.
Don’t miss the boat ride to witness early morning life on the ghats. The evening arti witnessed from the ghats or a row boat which is India at its spiritual best. Sarnath where Lord Buddha gave his first sermon which is particularly beautiful at sunset. The outstanding woven silk saris with intricate patterns. And lastly, exploring the ghats on foot, where you can visit akharas (traditional wrestling centres) try a chai and learn about the city’s architecture.
Discover Varanasi: http://www.experiencevaranasi.com/
The Region: Gujarat
The City: Gujarat’s largest city, Ahmedabad is dizzying mix of modern and medieval; architecture ranges from ornate Indo-Saracenic forms commissioned by 15th-century Muslim sultans to the stark concrete structures built by Le Corbusier; spend a day wondering through intoxicating bazaars, mosques, tombs, bazaars, Hindu and Jain temples and marvellous step-wells not to mention the fascinating Calico Museum, the Sun Temple at Modera and the impressive step wells of Patan.
Discover Ahmedabad: https://www.soarexcursions.com/
The Region: West Bengal
The City: Of all India’s cities, Calcutta, or more recently Kolkata, has to be the biggest living paradox of them all. As with all Indian cities, there is a chaos to it that is inevitable, but the people are gentle and welcoming and always seem to have time to help the hapless visitor. Being the former capital of British India, there is a nobility in its crumbling architecture, which, together with hand-pulled rickshaws and centuries old markets adds to its old-world charm. It is easy to be captivated by this city with so much on offer from historic landmarks, its extraordinary temples, its cultural heritage, plentiful bazaars, leisurely boat rides, and a constant whirl of photo opportunities. Ignore the Black Hole stigma, visit and learn about the history and be captivated by its present. Visit the Victoria Memorial, a beautiful building crafted entirely from white marble; Dalhousie Square, an architects delight, being the former financial, political and social nucleus of the British Capital of India; The Mother House, former home of Mother Teresa; Kumartuli, the Potters Colony where throughout the year, huge clay idols are created by these skilled craftsmen, then elaborately adorned and painted; the Flower Market – requires an early start but it is a fascinating and colourful insight into the culture of West Bengal; the exquisite Jain Temples beautifully ordained with ceramic tiles and mirror work and treasures brought over to India by rich merchants from Europe. Don’t forget to end the day with a sunset boat ride on the Hooghly River.
Discover Calcutta: https://www.heritagewalkcalcutta.com/
The Region: Located in Maharashtra, Nagpur also gives access to Madhya Pradesh
The City: A large city located in the central Indian state of Maharashtra, Nagpur is not what one would call, ‘on the tourist map.’ There are a couple of museums including the 19th-century Nagpur Central Museum which displays items found locally, including fossils, sarcophagi and Mughal weaponry and the Raman Science Centre which has hands-on exhibits and a planetarium. To the southwest, the immense, domed Deekshabhoomi is a Buddhist monument and pilgrimage site but it is a great access point to the national parks of Madhya Pradesh, just a two hour drive from Pench, which then connects to Kanha and then onto Bandhavgarh. It is also just a six hour drive from Satpura National Park.
Discover Madhya Pradesh: http://holidaysinruralindia.com/
The Region: Maharashtra, also with internal flights to most of India’s must visit destinations.
The City: The transformation of Mumbai (formerly Bombay) from a small cluster of fishing villages to India’s most dynamic and cosmopolitan city is nothing short of miraculous. It is the country’s financial capital and centre of business, fashion and film-making. Mumbai’s intensity is almost contagious – outlandish fashion and mind-boggling traffic, glistening skyscrapers and slums, bars and restaurants, mayhem and order, ancient bazaars and swish malls, loud temples and rare moments of tranquillity. Sample local seafood in one of the city’s many restaurants or check out its upbeat bars and nightclubs. Mumbai also retains signs of its colonial past with a wonderful collection of British-era architecture and it has the biggest collection of art deco buildings outside of Miami. The city has a furious energy, a destination that will leave you mystified yet marveling at this extraordinary country.
Discover Mumbai: https://www.mumbaimagic.com/
The Region: Telegana
The City: Steeped in history, thronged with people and buzzing with commerce, the Old City of Hyderabad is one of India’s most evocative ancient quarters. Looming over the Old City is some of Islamic India’s most impressive architecture, in varying states of repair. Exploring the lanes of this district, with its chai shops and spice merchants, you’ll encounter a teeming urban masala of colour and commerce. The Charminar, a 16th-century mosque whose 4 arches support towering minarets, is an old city landmark near the long-standing Laad Bazaar. Most visitors concentrate their time in this area, though the magnificent Golconda Fort should not be missed either. However, Hyderabad is also emerging as a Hi-Tech City, or ‘Cyberabad’, and its other districts like Banjara Hills and Jubilee Hills are replete with glittery malls, multiplexes, clubs, pubs and sleek restaurants.
Discover Hyderabad: https://www.hyderabadmagic.com/
Goa: Portuguese influences, imposing basilica’s, unique cuisine and wonderful beaches make Goa a must visit destination, it is synonymous with good times. Discover beyond its beaches and you will find Panajim, its laid-back capital city , a stroll down its old streets, could leave you wondering if you were in Portugal. Panjim’s main church, Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, is nearly five centuries old. The annual fete held here in February is an experience to cherish, a big chunk of the largely Catholic Goa converge to make it a gala affair! To explore more of the Portuguese legacy head to forts like Aguada and Tiracol. Fort Aguada was an important military fort that was never conquered despite the repeated efforts by by Dutch armies. While there, clamber atop the spiral staircase of the old lighthouse for a beautiful view of the Mandovi river that flows around it.
Discover Goa: https://www.goamagic.net/
The Region: Northern Kerala.
The City: Kannur is a coastal city and was once an ancient trading port, indeed explorer Marco Polo christened it a ‘great emporium of spice trade’. Having had the usual suspects vie for it or control it at some point, The British, Dutch and Portuguese, it isn’t surprising that its enduring monuments are forts. Housed in a former palace, the Arakkal Museum highlights Kerala’s one Muslim royal family. The palm-fringed sands of Payyambalam Beach run along Kannur’s western shore but many people use this as a gateway to explore the delights of northern Kerala.
The Airlines: Air India Express
The Region: Kerala
The City: Cochin, with its enchanting Jewish quarter, picturesque Chinese fishing nets, Portuguese churches, Dutch streets, and British influences still showcases itself as having been the oldest European settlement in India. With its Hindu temples, churches, synagogues and bustling spice and antiques bazaars, it has a seamless blend of diverse architectural and religious influences. The old town of Fort Cochin is on a peninsula with winding alleyways lined with merchant houses and spice markets. This is a wonderful place to wander around at leisure. Take time to explore the cafes and small art galleries and to buy fish from the fishermen at the Chinese Fishing Nets and have it cooked at a nearby stall.
Discover Cochin: https://www.cochinmagic.com/
The Region: Kerala & Karnataka
The City: Thiruvananthapuram (or Trivandrum) is the capital of the southern Indian state of Kerala. It’s distinguished by its British colonial architecture and many art galleries. It’s also home to Kuthira Malika (or Puthen Malika) Palace, adorned with carved horses and displaying collections related to the Travancore royal family, whose regional capital was here from the 18th–20th centuries. However, most people head out of the city quite quickly to head to the beaches of southern Kerala and beyond.
The Region: An ideal gateway to northern Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka
The City: Bengaluru (also called Bangalore) is the capital of India’s southern Karnataka state. In the 19th century it was known as the “Garden City” because of its many parks and gardens and gradually began to attract grand residents. Since the 1990s it has been re-christened “India’s Silicon Valley” and has sprouted shopping malls, bars, micro breweries and fast-food joints though it still has excellent traditional arts and crafts and some lovely colonial buildings. Bangalore is still full of green spaces, including the famous Lalbagh Gardens, and its altitude – 1,000 metres – means that its climate is relatively cool. Main sights include the Bull Temple, Tipu Sultan’s Summer Palace and the Dravidian-style Venkataramanasvami Temple.Former royal residences include 19th-century Bangalore Palace, modelled after England’s Windsor Castle, and Tipu Sultan’s Summer Palace, an 18th-century teak structure.
Discover Bangalore: https://yourstrulyindia.com/
The Region: Tamil Nadu
The City: Chennai, on the Bay of Bengal in eastern India, is home to Fort St. George, built in 1644 and now a museum showcasing the city’s roots as a British military garrison and East India Company trading outpost. Religious sites include Kapaleeshwarar Temple, adorned with carved and painted gods, and St. Mary’s, a 17th-century Anglican church. Most travellers move on to nearby Pondicherry and into Tamil Nadu but if you do stay then there are some museums and temples to visit and its definitely worth sampling deliciously authentic South Indian delicacies or taking a sunset saunter along Marina Beach – the world’s second-longest urban beach. Recent years have thrown in a new layer of cosmopolitan glamour with luxury hotels, fun boutiques, quirky cafes, and smart, contemporary restaurants.
The Region: Tamil Nadu
The City: Trichy is best known for its incredible temple architecture. The magnificent Rock Fort Temple dominates the city. Its 437 steps are cut into the rock and interspersed with shrines and lead to the Vinayaka Temple built at its highest point. The Sriranganathaswamy Temple is an extraordinary and massive temple complex built on an island in the Cauvery and dedicated to Lord Ranganathaswamy. The temple has 21 magnificent gopurams and is adorned with exquisite sculptures.