Planning a holiday is one of the easiest tasks in India. With a history dating back to over 5,000 years and still counting, our country is dotted with scores of places that effortlessly speak about our rich heritage. Every city is beautiful in its own way, be it with its unique history, grand monuments or its varied cultural styles.
In the run up to World Ethnic Day, let us take a dip into a handful of these cities across the country that are steeped in our culture and heritage.
The ancient city of Varanasi is not just a poignant Hindu pilgrimage site, but also has iconic Jain and Buddhist structures. The city of sages is literally seeped in myths and history, and it is not hard to believe when it is said that it was created by Lord Shiva. A magnificent tableau of multiple temples, riverside ghats, colourful markets and saffron-clad sadhus transport you to another world altogether. Take a boat ride on the Ganges, explore the tiny alleys in the old town and try the local delicacies at the numerous halwais, to experience the true taste of Varanasi. In the evenings, soak up the spirit of the Ganga aarti, a truly uplifting experience with pealing bells, chants, fire and incense. The 5-day classical music and dance festival of Ganga Mahotsav is a great draw for patrons, as is Diwali when the ghats are lined with thousands of diyas.
A city that’s home to prominent freedom fighters, illustrious poets, novelists, film-makers, actors and Nobel Prize winners, has been a cultural hotbed since time immemorial. Bengalis take pride in their rich heritage and undeniable love for food. The city may shock the unsuspecting traveller with its amalgamation of extremes, from awe-inspiring British structures to by lanes dotted with delicious street food like jhalmuri, Chinese delicacies, phuchka and more, from its stunning gardens to its heritage colleges. Steeped in culture, the city is known for its celebration of performing arts, colourful Basanta Utsob, Durga Pujo, Christmas, Book Fair and so much more.
3. Udaipur and Jaipur
When asked which is the most colourful city in India, Rajasthan is the first one to pop up in our minds. Jaipur, the capital city, makes for a stunning picture with its endless forts and palaces. Many of these have been converted to heritage hotels that still hold a mirror to the majestic grandeur of the royal era. One can experience the life of a royal at these palaces and enjoy the rich folk culture comprising beautiful folk songs, dances and puppet shows. The city of Udaipur has been termed as a lover’s paradise with its many beautiful lakes, gardens and architecture. With fairs and events dotting the city throughout the year, travellers are exposed to traditional Rajasthani food, clothing and more.
One of the most well-planned cities in the country, Mysore is one of the best cities in India. People of various sects, religions and cultures co-exist peacefully and constantly thrive to better the city. It has a rich heritage which dates back to the time of the Mughals and the British. The Wodeyar dynasty is still the ruling force in the city and the stunning Mysore Palace is a treat for the eyes.
Termed as the heritage city of 2015, Gwalior is a quaint city in Madhya Pradesh. The Tomars, The Marathas and the Marwahs ruled Gwalior, a north Indian princely city. The fortress of Gwalior is still a symbol of the grandeur of the ancient Hindu kingdoms. This is over 1000 years old and is the largest fort in the country. Gwalior is a photographer’s delight with its many Hindu, Jain and Buddhist ruins that quintessentially speak of India.
The gateway to the South of India, Kochi has retained its importance in the modern era. One of the most developed and industrially forward centres in Kerala, Kochi presents a beautiful canvas of the old and new. From Fort Kochi, Bronze Stucco walls to Anglo-Indian Bakeries, the Portuguese have left an inedible mark making the city unique. Take a ride on the many ferries in the backwaters and watch the fishermen catch their fares in the traditional way as you enjoy the ride.
Not just the capital of India, Delhi is also the cultural hotbed of the country. With a history that is reflected in bazaars like Chandni Chowk and monuments like the Qutub Minar, the Red Fort, the Bahá’í Lotus Temple and Jama Majid, Delhi has been the centre of everything happening since one can think back. A centre for arts, culture, fashion and gastronomy, Delhi is as enchanting as its history.
The capital of Tamil Nadu, Chennai is a wonderful mix of the old and the new. With traditional practices still being in vogue here, at least one child in every household is trained in some form of classical arts. With the IT industry fast developing in this city, this city of temples and bazaars is fast morphing into one of the most modern cities in the country.
Nested in the hills of Meghalaya, Shillong is a quaint city, rich in all forms of performing arts. With music being the anthem of both the old and the young, this city thrives on indigenous culture particular to the native people. Take a walk through its manicured gardens, Ward’s Lake and walking trails and enjoy nature’s serenity at its best.
10. Bhubaneshwar and Puri
Not just for temples, Bhubaneshwar is home to one of the biggest indigenous groups of people in the world. With their own trademark folklores, songs, dances, arts and crafts, these cities have carved a niche for themselves for their distinct taste. Then there’s the seaside temple of Jagannath in Puri, where the Rath Yatra is worth watching. The sunset at Konark Sun Temple, just 35 kilometres away from Puri, is a sight worth watching.