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Posted by Laura Orange | File under : , ,

Taj Mahal

When visiting India, don’t let fears of tour buses or hordes of visitors get you thinking you can skip the Taj Mahal – you can’t. Even on a crowded, hot day, this world wonder is still the ‘Crown of Palaces’, a monument to love whose very walls seem to resound with the emperor Shah Jahan’s adoration of his beloved Mumtaz Mahal, the ‘Gem of the Palace’. The marble mausoleum of the Taj Mahal is inlaid with calligraphy, precious and semiprecious stones, and intricate flower designs representing paradise.

Holy Varanasi

Everyone in Varanasi seems to be dying or praying or hustling or cremating someone or swimming or laundering or washing buff aloes in the city’s sewage saturated Ganges. The goddess river will clean away your sins and help you escape from that tedious life-and death cycle – and Varanasi is the place to take a sacred dip. So take a deep breath, put on a big smile for the ever-present touts, go to the holy water and get your karma in order. Remember, you are in India.

Holy places #2: Hinduism

Alluring Darjeeling

Up in a tippy-top nook of India’s far northeast is storied Darjeeling. It’s no longer a romantic mountain hideaway, but the allure remains. Undulating hills of bulbous tea trees are pruned by women in bright-coloured dresses; the majestic Himalaya peek through puff y clouds as the sun climbs out from behind the mountains; and little alleys wend their way through mountain mist, past clotheslines and monasteries. Ride the ‘toy train’ and drink it all in – the tea and the town’s legendary enchantment.

Kanchanjanga peak of the Himalayas from Darjeeling

Backwaters of Kerala

It’s unusual to find a place as gorgeous as Kerala’s backwaters: 900 km of interconnected rivers, lakes and lagoons lined with tropical flora. And if you do, there likely won’t be a way to experience it that’s as peaceful and intimate as a few days on a teak-and-palm-thatch houseboat. Float along the water – maybe as the sun sets behind the palms, maybe while eating to-die-for Keralan seafood, maybe as you fall asleep under a twinkling sky – and forget about life on land for a while.

God's Own Country - Kerala

Caves of Ajanta 

They may have been ascetics, but the 2nd-century-BC monks who created the Ajanta caves had an eye for the dramatic, in India. The 30 rock cut forest grottoes punctuate the side of a horseshoe-shaped cliff , and originally had individual staircases leading down to the river. The architecture and towering stupas made these caves inspiring places in which to meditate and live, but the real thing came centuries later, in the form of exquisite carvings and paintings depicting Buddha’s former lives. Makes living in a cave look pretty good.

Buddha (Ajanta)