Places & Monuments: 5 Interesting Places for Cultural and Nature Experience

Mumbai: The Gateway of India

Standing an impressive 26 meters tall and overlooking the Arabian Sea, the iconic Gateway of India is a must-see when in Mumbai. Built to commemorate the arrival of King George V and his wife Queen Mary in 1911, this stunning piece of architecture was opened with much pomp and ceremony in 1924 and was, for a while, the tallest structure in the city.

Constructed entirely of yellow basalt and concrete and notable for its Indo-Saracenic design, the Gateway of India was also the scene of a rather less jubilant procession of British soldiers in 1948 when India gained its independence. These days, the huge archway provides a stunning backdrop that is as popular among locals as it is tourists. Hot Tip: After visiting the Gateway of India, pop over to the adjacent Taj Mahal Palace and Tower for a delectable High Tea, a fun thing to do in Mumbai since this lovely luxury hotel opened in 1903.


Mecca Masjid, Hyderabad

Construction of Hyderabad's Mecca Masjid, one of the world's largest mosques-and one of the oldest in India-began in 1614 during Mohammed Quli Qutub Shah's reign and took almost 80 years to complete. Large enough to accommodate 10,000 worshipers, this beautiful mosque's 15 enormous arches and pillars were each wrought from single slabs of black granite dragged to the site by huge cattle trains reputedly consisting of up to 1,400 bulls.

Taking its name from the bricks above the central gate that were brought here from Mecca, this impressive complex features highlights such as its main gateway, huge plaza, a large manmade pond, and a room that houses the hair of Prophet Mohammed. Other notable features include inscriptions from the Quran above many of the arches and doors, the exquisite roof of the main hall, the cornices around the entire mosque structure, and the floral motifs and friezes over the arches.


Amer Fort, Jaipur

Amer Fort (often also spelt "Amber") was built as a fortified palace in 1592 by Maharaja Man Singh I and has long served as the capital of Jaipur. Carved high up into the hillside, the fort is accessible on foot via a steep climb or by shuttle rides from the town below (better still, let an elephant do the work). Highlights include Jaleb Chowk, the first courtyard, with its many decorated elephants, and the Shila Devi Temple, dedicated to the goddess of war. Also of note is the adjoining Hall of Public Audience (Diwan-i-Am) with its finely decorated walls and terraces frequented by monkeys.

Other highlights include Sukh Niwas (the Hall of Pleasure) with its many flowerbeds and a channel once used to carry cooling water, and the Temple of Victory (Jai Mandir), notable for its many decorative panels, colorful ceilings, and excellent views over the palace and the lake below.

Just above Amer Fort is Jaigarh Fort, built in 1726 by Jai Singh and featuring tall lookout towers, formidable walls, and the world's largest wheeled cannon. Be sure to also spend time wandering the walled Old City of Jaipur with its three fully restored gates and splendid bazaars, as well as the delightful City Palace, a massive complex of courtyards, gardens, and buildings.


The Beaches of Goa

Long known within India as the "go-to" destination for those seeking a great beach holiday, Goa's beautiful western coastline, overlooking the Arabian Sea, has only recently been discovered by tourists from overseas.

Goa's more than 60 miles of coastline is home to some of the world's loveliest beaches, each with their own particular appeal. For those looking for peace and quiet, isolated Agonda Beach is a good choice, while Calangute Beach is by far the most commercial and crowded.

For those in search of posh resorts, yoga getaways, and spa vacations, the beaches of Mandrem, Morjim, and Ashwem are fashionable among wealthy Indians and Westerners alike. Palolem is another popular option in a beautiful setting.

While in Goa, be sure to visit the Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary. This superb attraction is home to thick forests and plenty of fauna, including deer, monkeys, elephants, leopards, tigers, and black panthers-as well as India's famous king cobras-and some 200 species of birds.

Also worth a visit is Divar Island, accessed by ferry from Old Goa. Highlights include Piedade, a typical Goan village and home to the Church of Our Lady of Compassion with its interesting stucco work, Baroque plaster decorations, and altars, as well as stunning views of the surrounding countryside.


Periyar National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary, Madurai

One of South India's most popular tourist attractions, Periyar National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary is centered around a lake built by British engineers in 1895 for irrigation and to provide water to the city of Madurai. Established in 1934, this beautiful park is home to numerous species of mammals, including a large free-roaming Indian elephant population, wild boar, otters, the lion-tailed macaque, and more than 20 Bengal tigers. Bird watching is a popular activity with frequent sightings of species such as darters, storks, kingfishers, hornbills, and racket-tailed drongos, along with many interesting varieties of butterflies.

The best ways to enjoy the park's splendid mountain scenery are to take a lake cruise or guided jungle walk, the latter allowing visitors a chance to come face to face with elephant herds and observe other wildlife from watchtowers and viewing platforms. Hot Tip: Be sure to stop at one of the many nearby spice, tea, or coffee plantations for a tour.